Thursday, October 25, 2018

Hey Writer Lady—How do You Get and Keep Fans

Photo via Unsplash by James Pond

A few months ago, follower Nick asked me on Twitter:

Any advice for aspiring creators on how you get/keep fans (without pandering)?

What a great question.

As soon as I read Nick’s tweet, I knew that I couldn’t answer it in a single tweet. I also immediately thought, “I wish I knew the answer to his question!”

If getting and keeping fans were easy, there wouldn’t be such a long list of one-hit wonders and endless lists of “where are they now” slideshows on Buzzfeed.

As I considered Nick’s question, what immediately came to mind was a quote from legendary dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham, a woman who transformed dance:

Martha Graham by Yousuf Karsh (1948)
There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

Writers are often looking for that elusive combination that will lead to the best-seller—the next big thing. They imagine themselves the next George RR Martin, JK Rowling, Stephen King, John Grisham or maybe Patterson.

While there is nothing wrong with aiming high or hoping to have the next breakout novel (or song, or dance, etc.), chasing someone else’s tail is a losing game from the start.

I’ve been creating things nearly my whole life, and now at half a century and counting, I can say without the doubt that the more I follow Martha Graham's advice above, not only am I more content in life, but my work is more successful as well.

Look inside anything highly successful, and you'll be sure to find a person or people following their individual muse as they seek answers to their own questions. Each of us indeed is unique. When we unplug from the noise, ignore the inner and outer critics, and focus on that little voice inside that nudges us toward creation—then and only then do we create art.

Okay, you say, fair enough Natalie, but how do I get and keep fans?!

It is as simple—and ridiculously difficult—as this:

Consistently create content that you are passionate about.

Let’s break that down a bit.

1. Create content…

First, you need to have content. What do I mean by content? From blog posts to articles, poems to novels and short stories, songs, videos, social media memes, and posts, or any other creative content. The saying goes that “content is king.”

When getting ready to post or share any content, ask yourself this question: “Does this entertain, inform or provoke thought?” This is another way of saying, “Is it engaging?” If the content you created doesn’t help people in some way (i.e., entertain, educate, inform, etc.), then consider if you need to share/publish it. Not everything we create needs to be given voice to an audience wider than one.

2. With Passion…

If you are a creative person building a brand, you need to build your brand around something you are passionate about. You will spend countless hours talking about your product/idea. It’s something you may be working on for years. 

And, if you aren’t passionate about it, why should anyone else be?

Consider the Harry Potter franchise of books. Do you think JK Rowling was anything less than 100%+ into her story? Her passion for the characters and world she created is evident on every page. And that passion for her work comes through in her writing (and of course has led to a devoted following).

If you are new to creative work, take the time that you need to consider what it is that you are passionate about. What do you want to say? What is your unique contribution to the world?

Find the heart of your work, then throw yourself into it 100%+.

3. Consistently.

True confession, this is likely the hardest part of the formula for me. Being consistently productive can be difficult. Passion is great, but consistency takes planning and hard work.

Life can lead to setbacks, shifting priorities and unexpected pitfalls. (For example, my broken foot last year!)

Consistency may be the setback experienced by all those one-hit wonder creators out there.

As difficult as it is to have a bestseller, it can be even more difficult to have two.

Writers such as John Grisham, Robert Patterson, Nora Roberts, Stephen King, and Danielle Steele are like freaks of nature. These writers have not only (1) found their passion, but they (2) consistently produce works in their chosen niche year after year.

This is damned difficult to do.

Some creatives like to dabble in this genre and then try that one. There’s nothing inherently wrong with trying new things (and if you are a young/newbie at being creative, you definitely SHOULD dabble). 

But swerving from lane to lane is generally not a viable way to create—and keep—a fan base. Creating and maintaining fandom should not be confused with the creative process itself.

If you are fortunate enough to gain fans of your work, they will want more of whatever it is that you create. And they’ll want it often, or at least know that it’s coming their way.

To sum it all up, I’ll leave you with this:

Consistently create work that you are passionate about.

That is the first—and most important—step to creating and keeping a fandom of your work.

Do you have any tips for Nick and others about creating and keeping a fan base?

If you are part of a fandom, what keeps you coming back for more of your favorite book/movie/art/music?

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