One of the biggest questions for storytellers in the modern day goes something like this:
How do I get more people to engage with my stories?
The question can be reworded in multiple ways depending on where the focus of the storyteller lies, but the essence of the question revolves around building an audience and inspiring the audience to take some form of action. Just to show you what some of those questions might look like, here are a few more of them worded in different ways:
- Who do I know who will read my book?
- How do I reach people I don’t know personally?
- What are the best ways to let people know I wrote something?
- Should I self-publish or go the traditional route by selling to a major publisher?
- How do I get more reader reviews?
- Where should I promote my work?
- How should I promote my work?
- What should my PR plan look like?
- What’s the best way to pitch my book to audiences?
- What techniques will take my marketing plan to the next level?
- What relationships do I need to develop to grow my business?
- Now that my book is published, how do I increase sales?
- How do I sell my book to new audiences and break into the mainstream market?
- How do I convert my book into another revenue channel (e.g., movies, TV, etc.)?
- What do I need to do to hit bestseller lists?
That’s a sampling of the vast number of questions writers ask themselves, but all those questions fall under the bigger banner of engagement. And whether a given writer wants to reach millions or just a small circle of friends, engagement sits rooted at the core of most storytellers’ desires. Nathan (my co-writer) and I ask ourselves questions like these all the time.
I’ve studied this question from multiple angles. I’ve looked at how other industries tackle engagement and growth. We’ve done experiments (and continue to do so) to see what works and what doesn’t. I’ve even earned a marketing degree and an MBA, mostly because I wanted to learn more about how to build engagement and reach more people.
It’s a very challenging question. And while there are general principles to follow, the exact equation storytellers are seeking to solve for looks a bit different depending on the large number of variables at play.
For context, Nathan and I have self-published (under our small press) two novels, Timeslingers (an unconventional serial story) and Death of a Bounty Hunter. Both have been fairly well-received (Timeslingers is a bit unconventional, so the reviews vary widely based on preference). And that’s important because there is one question that precedes engagement, which is: Is my story compelling? Once the storyteller can assuredly say “yes,” that’s when all the other questions come rolling in.
For context, I would put Nathan and I in the “intermediate” category. We’ve done this for over a decade, but we still don’t have what I’d call a “repeatable process” that defines success for us. Here’s a quick synopsis of how we’ve tried to build an audience:
- Facebook ads (limited success)
- Google ads (little-to-zero impact)
- Starting a podcast (decent success)
- Similar works giveaway (little-to-zero success)
- Launch parties (limited success)
- Contest entries (limited success)
- Free promotion (little-to-zero success)
- Guest spots on other podcasts (little-to-zero success)
We’ll be trying a Goodreads giveaway soon. And we’re considering attempting to sell Death of a Bounty Hunter to a publisher (more on that in another post). But as you can see from what we’ve tried thus far… building an audience and selling books is difficult. And selling to a major publisher solves some problems, but not all of them, because major publishers won’t necessarily provide the author with a ton of marketing support.
Earlier this year, my wife and I decided to leave the crowded streets of Southern California and move to a much smaller city. And that got me reflecting on some of the research I’ve done on building an engaged audience. Now, I’m asking myself: How will this change my approach to building an audience?
In pondering this question, it occurred to me that there’s one strategy that’s used frequently across industries and has withstood the test of time: hyper-local, geographically-based, relationship-building. I’ve seen tech startups (including popular ones like Facebook and Uber), comedians, and franchisers use this strategy successfully numerous times.
Focus on those in your immediate vicinity, learn what works as you engage with them, and then expand your geographic reach.
That strategy has worked for thousands of years, but I’ve never tried it, partially because the geographic location I was in (Southern California) just seemed so overwhelming. How would one even begin to approach it?
So, that’s my 2022 goal, to pursue a local audience, engage with them, and then expand from there. Will it work? I’m not sure. But it’s a tried and true methodology that I have yet to try. Southern California felt overwhelming, because it was so big and there were so many competitors in the surrounding area. Every time you turn a corner there’s another human peddling a screenplay. But that doesn’t mean the strategy wouldn’t work, it just means I wasn’t confident that I could execute the strategy effectively. The variable that didn’t work was me.
As 2022 rolls around, we’ll see how this new strategy works. It will mean building new relationships in a new region. It will also mean figuring out how to convert those relationships into sales. And then, once that process has a proven track record, it’ll mean expanding the geographic region and seeing if the same processes can be repeated.
What do you think of this strategy? Will it work or will it crash and burn? Have you tried a geographically-based engagement plan? How did it work for you? And, if you’ve got some extra time, let me know what strategies have been most effective for you!
Thanks for reading! Keep writing, keep grinding, and stay tuned for more musings.