I often tell writers that the "best practice" is to start thinking about connecting with their ideal readers as soon as they start writing. You want there to be people out there waiting for your book on the day it arrives because the most unhappy writers are the ones who publish into a black hole of nothingness.
But "best practice" is a slippery thing. Best for someone else might not mean best for you. Every creator needs to listen to their own heart and follow their own path -- and sometimes that means doing exactly the opposite of what "everyone" says to do.
Here is a case in point: A few weeks ago, I woke up to this letter from one of my clients -- someone who came to work with me to rescue a novel that was not working. We stripped everything back to work on the fundamentals -- including who the book is for. This writer is absolutely KILLING it on the writing part of this work. She has been brave and honest and is producing stellar work. But on the marketing pieces of the puzzle? Not so much. Here is what she wrote, and sent to me with the subject line, "A Midnight Missive" :
I’ve hit a wall.
It’s not about the writing.
It’s about the marketing, the “building an audience.”
It’s almost 2am (my time) and I can’t sleep because I’m convinced I can’t do what I need to in order to connect with audiences before my book is even close to being finished—which is what you and Dan Blank say is essential for success.
I finally received Dan's’ “Be The Gateway” book, as you recommended. I was so excited to read it, after the webinars you conducted with Dan in March and what you’ve told me. Instead, I threw it across my family room, in tears, because there is no way I can do what Dan suggests. I buy into his philosophy, yet he says to start with an audience who already knows and loves your work—except I don’t have “work” (or an audience) because I don’t yet have a finished product. I have what Dan suggests—a mission statement and an “identity” for my audience—but I still feel like I have no clearer way to connect to them.
And, despite everything you and Dan have suggested, I can’t use social media. It doesn’t work for me (the connection seems superficial and lopsided), and it’s more important for me to be authentic than anything else. Yet if I can’t use social media, then I have no chance at connecting with my teen (social-media-savvy) target audience, which means I have no chance at success (which begs the question why I’m even bothering…)
So far, Dan’s book and my ill-fated efforts at “connecting” have left me discouraged and despondent.
-- Author Name
p.s. I’ll probably regret sending this… wondering if I should be able to figure this out on my own…
There was also this second email, which came in at 6 am :
Ok… despair and despondency have passed (for the moment). The underlying concerns are still there, but I apologize for the rant in my previous email :(
I think I’ll focus on my writing right now, instead of marketing, so I can meet my deadline for tomorrow :)
(says an embarrassed) Author Name
Here is what I wrote back:
Oh sweet you, don’t be embarrassed! This is why I am HERE!!!!!! And this (agonizing) is what writers DO. Truly, they do.
So here’s the thing: the FIRST JOB of a writer is to write a good book — to get the idea out of your head and onto the page. You DO NOT have to simultaneously build an audience. If you write a great book, a publisher will take a bet on you, and you will have time and space and support to work on the audience part. (And if a publisher DOESN’T make you an offer, you can put the book out on your own and then work on the audience part.) In other words, you can do it step by step — first write the book, then find an audience. You do NOT have to do it at the same time!
You have to honor your truth — and if your truth is that you can't do both, so be it.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING is to just write the book. You are SO TALENTED. You really are. And you have such great motivations and such a great story that will resonate so much with your readers. Don’t NOT do this (sorry for the double negative.) Don’t let the marketing (or lack thereof) influence the writing. Just don’t. Yes, it’s “best practices” but that’s for EVERYONE collectively, not for you, personally. What’s best practice for YOU is what works for YOU.
Let’s make a deal: forget the marketing. I love Dan's philosophy and I love his book, but put it somewhere you can’t see it, for now. Don’t read ANY blog or article or book or podcast about marketing (including anything I might write!) Just write. Meet your deadlines with me.
And let’s channel Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games who didn’t do ANY interviews or social media or anything because she hated it all. She did just fine ;)