Kath here. Please welcome Dan Blank to WU today. Many of you may already know Dan as the founder of WeGrowMedia.com, providing writers and publishers the strategy and tactics they need to impact their communities and build their legacies. He has worked with more than 500 writers, a wide range of publishers, and regularly speaks at conferences about branding, content strategy, social media, and marketing — necessary tools for writers as we work toward finding our audience and making connections with readers. Follow him on Twitter at @DanBlank or his blog.

Take it away, Dan!

Don’t Be A Tourist In Your Community Of Readers

We speed through our community on our way somewhere else, both online and offline. In my town, I see the parents driving 40mph in a 25mph residential zone with “Dodger Pride” bumper stickers, showing their support for our community sports teams. They may or may not be on their cell phones; they may or may not actually stop at stop signs. They will talk endlessly about the value of this community, while endangering others as they drive through it.

And I see writers speed through their writing career, through social media, through the reader community, so focused on their personal goals, it comes at the expense of those around them. They are so desperate to get the word out about their book, that they cut corners, miss stop signs, and do more talking than listening.

We idealize what it means to be a part of an online community, even though we haven’t yet perfected our involvement in our real-world communities. I know, I’m not supposed to talk about these things:

  • We make token efforts to give back. We attend a parade as our sole “community activity” for the year; we place bumper stickers on our cars supporting a cause, but devoting no time or money to the real work of it.
  • Our community involvement tends to focus on things that directly benefits us: volunteering at our kids’ school play production; chaperoning a boy scouts trip because our kid is in it; putting up signs to stop some political initiative because it will affect our property value. We donate money to charities when our friends are involved, so we get the social capital that comes with it.
  • We rush to beat others to a line at the foodstore, nudging them out, but then smiling cordially when they are a few feet away. We cut people off while driving, and pretend we didn’t.

A lot of what we do is under the guise of “community” online is similar to this. It is self-centered. It is squeezed in when convenient. We overlook the ways we take from the community so that we feel better about ourselves.

We justify this saying that there are only so many hours in the day. That no one could do it all. And yet, we are confronted with those writers who do find the time to not just engage with their community, but truly care about them. Every day.

Folks who are “big names,” obviously very busy, and producing lots of writing too. Check out the Twitter feeds of Susan Orlean, Neil Gaiman, and John Green for interesting examples.

They are part of their community of readers, not just leveraging them, treating them as “an audience.” My advice to writers can be summarized as this:

DON’T BE A TOURIST

Don’t be a tourist in the community that loves great writing, great stories, great books. Don’t be a tourist with those who go out of their way to spend hours and hours reading the work of authors you love. Don’t be a tourist with those who support the work of writers. Don’t be a tourist gleaning only the Cliffs Notes version of what your community has to offer – go deep – go for meaningful connections.

In considering all of this, I began daydreaming about a character in my head – the worst case author-marketer. Not someone who shouts at the top of a building to buy their book, but someone who makes a half-hearted effort to be a part of their community of readers, but only to exploit them.

So here is me channeling the worst of what I sometimes see. I think too often, we feel a pressure to do publicity, but under the guise of engaging with our community. We don’t see clearly the lines between the two. I LOVE writers. And I know how hard it is for writers to navigate some of these things. But I also think we don’t talk about these things openly as much as we should – that line between being a self-centered self-promoting egoist, and being a member of something larger than yourself. So, give me a moment while I channel the “modern author marketer…” And please take the following with a grain of salt…

Hi there.

Let’s face it… you, dear reader, are a stepping stone.

One of many I need to accumulate on my way to the bestseller list.

Thank you for buying my book, now please tell 10 friends how much you loved it.

Oh, yes, I DO love you. I love you exclusively because you love me. Because you bought my book or raved about it. What was that? You have something to say? Well, please understand that I am busy. Oh, I “care,” but I’m not superman, you know? I can’t care right now. Maybe you could leave a message. Or just comment on my blog. When you comment, that little number counter goes up, and it makes me feel awesome.

Wait, you are reading my blog, right? Are you following me on Twitter, and my boards on Pinterest? Those boards share my deepest inspiration as a writer. What? No, I don’t really follow other people’s boards.

Did you Like me on Facebook? If you do, you will see the constant updates asking you to sign up for my newsletter. It is there, in my newsletter that you should sign up for, that I give you my best stuff. Where I share updates about my book, tell you about my writing process, and “curate” all the things I love. Oh, it’s also where I will send you promotion after promotion about my book launch.

Can I guest blog for you? A week before my book is released? Yes, a link to my Amazon page would be appreciated. Wait… your audience doesn’t care about the genre I write about? I didn’t know that. Um, sure I’ve read your blog, I’m a huge fan. Um, what is the URL again? Hmmm, how can I say this politely? Buh-bye.

Who IS my ideal audience, you ask? Great question, because there is nothing I love more than my readers. My readers are women. And men. Definitely it’s teenagers too, and perhaps even some preteens. You know what they love more than anything: a great story. They want something REAL, something complex but universal. Something engrossing. I can spot my ideal reader a mile away. If you put me in a crowded room with them, it is like the seas part… and it’s just me, and that dear reader across the room. We just “get” each other, you know? Where do they hang out online or off, you ask? Oh, everywhere. They come from all walks of life. You want to know a specific website you fan find them? No problem. They LOVE Facebook.

These are definitely “my” people. My tribe, if you will. It’s like, they were just lost in this big desert, and then, you know, I came along. And I had this writing – my book – on my tablet, I mean my Kindle, and I showed them this tablet, I mean, Kindle, and their eyes just got so wide. It was like they had seen a light or something. My tribe, I tell you.

I give back constantly. I give and give and give. I attend this convention every year that is just for readers of my genre. I come loaded with bookmarks and business cards and postcards with my amazing cover image on them. I create buttons that has a quote from my main character, because I find that people really “get” this character. It is almost as if the character is them. But written by me. Did I mention my tablet…

How else do I give back? Oh, I totally promote the work of this other author. Do I think she will one day blurb my book? OMG, I hope so. I mean, how cool would that be? She has such a bigger audience than I do. Having her talk about my writing would be AMAZING. What is my favorite book of hers? Oh, that one, um, what was it called… you know. THAT one. My favorite author, she is. She would totally be part of my tribe. I should show her my tablet.

I know, this is not you. But I do wonder about the fine line between community and publicity. As authors become a bigger part of developing their audience, there is always a risk of going too far. That happens. The key is an author’s awareness of this fact, and making corrective actions where needed. It is about being honest about motivations, and making proactive decisions to truly differentiate yourself not with a more clever marketing tactic, but by actually caring and giving back to the community you serve.

How have you seen authors go too far in their marketing? How have you seen authors do incredibly things to give back to the community of readers?

About Dan Blank

Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he helps writers share their stories and connect with readers. He has helped hundreds of authors via online courses, events, consulting, and workshops, and worked with amazing publishing houses and organizations who support writers such as Random House, Workman Publishing, Abrams Books, Writers House, The Kenyon Review, Writer’s Digest, Library Journal, and many others.