Don’t Be A Tourist In Your Community Of Readers

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?

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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.

Comments

    • says

      Alex,
      Thanks. Yes, this post was a bit more extreme, but I feel as though there is so much that is unspoken in terms of “community” and the very fine line authors need to walk in balancing their role as creator and (increasingly) marketer. I think it’s easy to make a mistake, and that is fine, that is life, you make corrections. But there are also lots of folks out there (within the writing world and outside of it) who are aggressively marketing, but pretending they aren’t. And I have been considering this in line with what I see in local communities for a long time. I appreciate the comment.
      Have a nice day.
      -Dan

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      • says

        I enjoyed your comments and as someone new to all this I will take your comments as good advice. I am learning to go slowly and test the waters. Looking forward to more good ideas.
        ML

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  1. says

    Brilliant and so true of our fast paced throw away culture these days. We all want so much time and yet seem to have so little time to give away. I’ve always thought the time someone gives somebody else is a true reflection of how much they care and a great leveller. A multi millionaire could give me £1 million without noticing but a hard up friend could buy me a gift for £10 – who has made the greatest sacrifice? But everyone has the same amount of time and can choose how much to share and how much to keep to themselves.

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    • says

      Maria,
      Thanks, great points. It is all relative, right? Also, this underscores how we each have to make proactive choices as to how we want to live, run our writing careers, and engage with others around it. Too often people feel the pressure to do things they aren’t comfortable with, they justify that because others do it, they should too.

      But just like all those people driving 40mph in a 25mph zone on street where kids play, it is a choice.
      Much appreciated.
      -Dan

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  2. says

    One of the very nice features of WU, both here and on FB, is the feeling of support and camaraderie. I’m honestly beyond grateful to have found a community where so many authors are so focused on supporting each other. I’ve made great friendships, both in person and online.

    On the other hand, I have witnessed the type of behavior you mention at other writing places, and it’s been a definite sign to me to reconsider how much time I spent there.

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    • says

      Liz,
      So true – that tone and style can be such a big differentiator. This is also the reason I was SO EXCITED to be able to contribute to Writer Unboxed, this is such an amazing community. Thank you!
      -Dan

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    • says

      In spite of my rant below, I so agree, Liz. I’ve made some great friends in the WU community, and find it to be a wellspring of sharing and support. Thanks for pointing that out.

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  3. says

    I’m in awe of those who interact in a deeper way, and am much more likely to buy their books and to help them spread the word when they do promote. I ignore or block those who do drive-byes.

    As one of the moderators of our (WU’s) facebook group, I see it all the time. New members show up, wanting to promote their new book, find out we are not a promote-and-go site, and either: a) try to spam us anyway, b) spend a bit of time trying to craft a few clever posts where they mention the title of forthcoming book in awkward queries for the group, or c) we never hear from them again. And often, after having a post removed or having no response from a group they’ve obviously done nothing to interact with before dropping the hidden promo on, they drop away anyway.

    If they only knew what a rich resource they had at their fingertips, if they’d just drop the me-me-me for a minute, listen, comment a bit, then post when it’s heartfelt sharing or earnestly looking for support or information and group-wisdom (of which there is an ample reservoir).

    Oh, and I’m all for reminding folks about speeding through the community in cars, too. Thanks for the wonderful reminders!

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    • says

      Well, I adore you Vaughn, but you already know that, don’t you? And I’m glad WU does not allow all the promo – it feels like a “safe place” – a community. *heart!*

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  4. says

    YES!!! THIS!!!

    Is it okay if I send this link to all the authors on twitter whose streams make me cringe because it’s tweet after tweet of “buy my book, buy my friend’s book, buy my book”?

    I KNOW self-promotion is hard. Most of the writers I work with have this not-so-secret wish that someone would say an incantation and magically make their books appear in the hands of every literate person in the world. Or at least DO all the promotion stuff for them so they can focus on writing. And I get that… but becoming a walking/talking billboard for your own work is the other terrible extreme of self-promotion.

    We should just remember that at our core, all humans have a need for connection. Writers (like the amazing Neil Gaiman for example) who understand that seem to instinctively get that this means not viewing the internet and social media as just another “tool” for promotions…but as a way to authentically connect and build relationships. When your focus is on building relationships, maybe your twitter and fan page follower count won’t rise as quickly, but the quality of the connections you make will and quality counts for a lot.

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    • says

      Shauntelle,
      Thanks! Thank you, and I love how you put all of this. It’s almost as if many writers feel they need to put on some new outfit and a mask and do these icky things, when LUCKILY, there are options. Neil is a great example of that, but so are so many authors who did not build their name decades ago. Maybe before the internet, interruption marketing was the only way, or at least one of the fewer options. But now… we can do more.

      Thanks so much for this response!
      -Dan

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  5. says

    Dan, your article hits the core of our self-centeredness. The best thing to come from attending conferences and writer’s events for me has been the opportunity to really connect and become friends with other writers. Bill and Sharon Woods Hopkins are now friends. Sharon’s second mystery novel has been #1 on Amazon’s Mystery Writer category. I love promoting Sharon and love seeing the success. That is the blessing of the writing community for me. Make sense?

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    • says

      Marilyn,
      Yes, that totally makes sense. The investment you make in individuals, in creating shared meaning – that is what is so powerful about engaging with the community. In-person events, and places such as Writer Unboxed are so great for that!
      Thanks.
      -Dan

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  6. says

    Dan,
    Thanks for a much needed and provocative post. It’s a fine line we are all trying to walk.
    The one thing I might take exception to is your statement that there are those writers who “find the time to not just engage with their community, but truly care about them. Every day.”
    I think this expectation that we’re going to be engaging and caring every single day is part of the problem.
    For instance, I’m sure that this well crafted post took hours to write, if not half a day. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t create that kind of engaging post every day and still do my job, which is writing.
    Can we find ways to reduce the pressure to produce online “every day” that might also reduce the amount of junk that’s out there?
    Just like the harried mom in your example: maybe she could slow down and her life would be more enjoyable if her kids could ride their bikes to and from school, or the library, etc.
    It seems that we’re all scrambling to meet our own over the top expectations. Who will be the first to dial it back? To post or tweet or Facebook two or three days a week instead of seven?
    Maybe social media needs to emulate the “Slow Food” movement a little bit. I realize that “Slow Media” is an oxymoron, but speed, carelessness, and egoism are harder to maintain when you slow down.

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    • says

      Laura,
      Great point, that you for that. I think “caring” can have lots of outputs though. Leaving this comment is your way of engaging with the community in a caring and meaningful manner. Perhaps it is more of a mindset than something measured by output alone. That one isn’t looking at a community searching for loopholes in which to promote their work, but tiny ways they can say “thanks” or create a small but meaningful contribution.

      Yes, we can learn a lot from the “slow” movement. I would MUCH rather see a writer engage here in a way that makes real connections than seeing them leaving comment after comment across a wide range of blogs, but without much depth.

      Thanks again!
      -Dan

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  7. says

    For some reason I still cling to the idea that if you write a damn good book with a great story, readers will sell it for you and at the same time accept your person as is. Therefore the perception of the author as being likeable or not, or having contributed honorably in the community is not quintessential to being a successful author. I haven’t published my novel yet. There, ok, that sends the value of my opinion down into the basement percentile for most writers. But I have self-published an indie broadsheet for six years and spent enough time in marketing and sales throughout my career to understand what motivates people.

    First things first. People don’t care about getting in deep or getting real with other people as a prime incentive in life period, unless it’s before the honeymoon is over and things are still juicy—the delerious stage of attraction to ‘the other’. And that means they’re latched onto something that’s charismatic, sexy and or turning them on in some primal way. On a day to day basis, people care about being made to feel good, and having someone solve their problem. Marketing 101. If what you’re selling doesn’t do one of those things, your nibbles go way down immediately, never mind hoping to land anyone in the actual boat.

    I’m writing this comment because the post inspired me, but I want people to read what I’m saying in hope that they’ll think I’m interesting as a writer and look me up. Of course people are self-motivated. That’s what we do from day one – we cry and make noise and the diaper gets changed, we get held and fed. “Hey wow it worked!” And once we learn to walk, there’s a whole world out there to manipulate.

    I think it’s admirable to hope people won’t be ‘tourists’, that we’ll have a more altruistic society, to hope that people will really care one day and ‘go deeper’, be real, love their neighbors with all their hearts and so on, but while we wait it’s good to remember, ‘sell the sizzle, not the steak’.

    When I was a kid, my mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was at a dinner party she was throwing, and a circle of her close friends stood by her all waiting for a reply. I stood silent for a moment, thinking quickly, wanting to impress everyone, but at the same time, my inner self had to tell the truth. “A tourist,” was my reply. Needless to say, inwardly, my mother was horrified and made that clear to me later, but they all laughed appropriately at the time. I truly believed that when you got on an airplane, they just flew around in circles for a bit and landed nearby, pretending it was somewhere exotic. That was part of the attraction, part of why I wanted to be a tourist, but the full understanding didn’t come to me until later. Now that I’m an adult, I can say without hesitation, that I have achieved my career goal and I have been on that airplane.

    I know this is kind of a long comment, but if you’re reading *these words* then it’s a dilemma isn’t it. Like the two ladies at the restaurant Woody Allen quipped about in Annie Hall:
    “The food here is terrible.”
    “Yes, and such small portions.”

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    • says

      Bree,
      REALLY interesting thoughts, thanks for this. Yes, motivation is so critical here, and good marketers understand this. And I love any comment that includes a Woody Allen quote, thank you for that. Yes, it makes sense to “get real” about what is kumbaya stuff, and what is the real business of being a write. Lots to think about here.
      -Dan

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  8. says

    “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.”

    Brene Brown speaks often about the difference between hustling and authenticity, and how we know when we’re selling out for approval, cash, whatever. I can tell which headspace I’m occupying by my body. It knows whether I’m at peace or working an angle, even if I’ve rationalized my behavior.

    The crazy thing is, what’s given in the right spirit is almost always what’s well-received by others.

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  9. says

    Your post is a great reminder to police ourselves for what truly matters. There is so much pressure to build, do and make yourself stand out as an aspiring writer that it’s easy to lose sight of the people behind the screen.

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    • says

      Lara,
      Thank you so much – yes, this is about building habits that empower others and are mindful of the writing career we want. Have a great day!
      -Dan

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  10. says

    Wow, great post, Dan! I have a couple thoughts:

    First, I trained under Shar McBee years ago, in her “To Lead is to Serve” program. It’s a version of servant leadership, and it’s very simple: it focuses on everyone but you. Do you make people feel welcome? Valued? Important? When you do, you create followers who are devoted to you because you put them first. You don’t have to sell to them; they will be your sales force.

    Second, we have two audiences here: other writers and readers (not necessarily the same thing). We’re pretty good at finding other writers, but not so good at readers. I decided to look for the people who either represent my audiences (nonprofits) or can connect me with them (media, bloggers, etc.). That’s why Goodreads (and Pinterest, I believe) serve such a good purpose in finding readers who will then gravitate towards our websites and FB pages.

    And lastly, yes, this is unusually harsh for you. Have you been hanging out with Porter again? ;)

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    • says

      Viki,
      Thanks so much, great points as usual. The Shar McBee program sounds really interesting – that makes so much sense, especially in the modern world of how we leverage digital media in conjunction with in-person connections.

      YES! Two audiences. So many writers focus only on connecting with other writers, that once they switch from “writing” mode to “launch” mode, they realize ( a bit too late) that they have not fully engaged with the community of people who would likely be buying their book and getting the most value from it.

      With regards to the “harshness”… I can blame Porter for this? Ooh, that is convenient! :) Actually, I am just removing a filter or two. There is so much advice out there about online communities, I feel too many skirt some of the realities. These things should be addressed with a language that is supportive, but honest.

      Much appreciated.
      -Dan

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  11. says

    What you say is true, Dan, but I think we all have new skills to learn. The digital age is making new kinds of demands on us and we have to find a way to relate to a much bigger audience in bite-sized expressions that are current, relevant and universal. Not an easy ask, but we are trying.

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    • says

      Leanne,
      SO TRUE! This is not easy. This is why I think we need a bit more forgiveness in terms of people making mistakes. For instance, I wrote a post on my blog a few weeks back analyzing Seth Godin’s Kickstarter project, and found a lot to be concerned with. Many folks responded that they agreed (online and off), and suddenly went from Seth Godin lovers to Seth Godin haters. For me, the analysis was not meant to demonize Seth, but to be honest about what is going on and what we can learn from it.

      And YES, there are so many new skills to learn, skills that didn’t even exist a year ago. This is why the basics of community engagement is so important. Pinterest is still very new, and many are trying to figure out the landscape. But we can’t forget basic decency while doing so.

      Thanks for the great comment.
      -Dan

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  12. says

    I think the writers who are relentlessly self-promoting generally don’t throw themselves at readers; they mostly bug other writers. Writers are the ones posting on blogs and swarming the forums, creating a seemingly ready audience for marketing. Readers are usually content consumers, not producers, so they’re not as handy for solicitation. Readers do not browse the topics shouting, “Let’s Share Blogs!” or “Promote Your Book Here!” Contrary to popular author/publisher belief, the vast majority don’t give a damn about our personal websites, blogs and Twitter feeds, unless we were already noteworthy for something other than writing (e.g. being famous comedians, activists, foodies etc.). They decide what to read based on what’s front and center in stores (brick and online), what their friends recommend, what the Smart Bitches are less bitchy about than usual…Not from the ads they ignore on Facebook.

    So I wouldn’t compare them to SUV drivers yapping on their cell phones in a school zone. They’re more like a bunch of salesmen hawking merchandise at a convention. Few people are there to buy; almost all are there to feel like they’re selling. They’re still tourists, but they don’t go to Chicago/Philadelphia/wherever to trample on the locals. They go to trample on each other.

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    • says

      T.K.,
      Oooh, very interesting perspective! Yes, at times it very much feels like authors promoting to other authors, that this is a problem that is very ‘inside baseball’ – that maybe readers never really experience it because they are elsewhere. A lot to think about – thanks!
      -Dan

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  13. says

    Hi

    I have been a blogger for precisely 6 days and I have nothing but praise and admiration for the people who have helped me thus far in my blogging.

    So far I have just 130 views of my pages, but to be truthful I am amazed at that number, at how many people are prepared to come and visit and offer encouragement.

    And I believe I have done my share of visiting and commenting. I have been to every blogger who has been to me plus gone to lots of others, like this one, to find out more. I have read what people have to say and commented if I have something to contribute. There is so much to read and so much to find out and so many interesting people prepared to give back to the community.

    I am sure you are right, you have much more experience than me, but to be honest, I do not recognise what you are writing about.

    People have been fantastic to me and I am trying hard to do my part.

    I agree with Laura Harrington above – as a new blogger, this is taking a great deal of time, time which I am prepared to put in, because this is what I have decided to do – to blog. But I do see that in the future – and that will have to be not too far in the future – that I will have to slacken off and not write so much each day. Not visit so many sites each day. Not comment on so many sites each day. If I continue as I am, then no original writing will get done.

    Surely as in so many walks of life, it is about balance.

    There will always be those who take, freeload, don’t pay for their round at the bar. But if we care about what we do, as well as others in our circle, we will find that balance and feel able to be happy in our skins and in our blogs.

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    • says

      Pat,
      Thanks, and congrats on your new blog! Yes, we definitely get to choose the world we want to live in sometimes. But, personally, I have given up on the concept of balance. It seems like an ideal I would always be falling short of. Instead, I want to focus on only what matters, and do so with complete obsession.

      I really appreciate your sharing your thoughts here – thanks again!
      -Dan

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  14. says

    Thank you for reminding people they need to offer something genuine and worthwhile to others on a daily basis while they flitter about the media. And connect–I think one has to invest some intellectual engagement, some part of your real thoughts and ideas, or sometimes a particularly important emotional process. It’s easy to throw links all over and otherwise get one’s presence out there without caring a bit about anyone on the receiving end and that does show, as you’ve so articulately shown in your post. Thanks. We all need the reminder.

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    • says

      Thank you so much Judith! What is interesting about real community engagement is that is often simpler (and more rewarding) this way – focusing on fewer real connections, instead of just posting links everywhere, as you said.
      -Dan

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  15. thea says

    I only feel annoyed reading this blither. I don’t have a problem giving a hand to another writer. Publishing’s a stone cold business, and promo these days is a factor in success. What you’ve written is just another drive by shooting towards people who have put their heart and soul into a book, only to find out that’s the tip of the iceberg. So sorry so many have not spread themselves thinner for you. And p.s. you could have made your point without throwing in all the gobbledeegook. And go buy your own kid’s case of chocolate bars next time they want to go to the jamboree.

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      • thea says

        my day is fine. look, you’re the guy who’s advising authors on creating their platform, branding, finding their audience etc. – you’ve made a job out of advising them how to use various media – you’ve created your own llittle monsters.

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  16. says

    Great post. And while I think many writers do worry that time with their community will take away from time for writing, it is a good investment both in terms of business and personal fulfillment. Some of the most well-loved writers I know about are so loved because of how much they engage with their readers, even if it’s something as simple as responding to blog comments. Readers love the idea that their favorite writers see them not as numbers but as people they can have a relationship with. They want something genuine, not a sales pitch.

    How much time to devote to this is something every author will have to figure out for him/herself. A huge quantity of fan interaction might not be possible, but if it is of good quality and is honest, people will respond well. (And heck, if the author needs to take a break to finish a manuscript or even just go on vacation for a week, I’ve found fans respond well to “be back later!” posts and then silence when they’ve been treated well earlier.)

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    • says

      Kristin,
      Thanks! Great point about the way fans actually APPRECIATE it when you take time to write! It is a reframing for most people too – that this is not “marketing,” but engaging with those who care most. And yes, managing the time for this is something each writer needs to contend with in their own way. Many writers are already juggling a family, job, home, hobbies and other responsibilities. Ah, the joys of being a writer!
      Thanks.
      -Dan

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  17. says

    Great timing for me! I was just talking of this very thing with a couple of author friends yesterday. None of us is great at promotion, although we recognize the need, and we’ve been really turned off by the constant stream of promo requests sent by “friends.” Good to hear another perspective.

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    • says

      Alice,
      Thanks! It is amazing how much pressure writers feel to do things that don’t feel right. And…. how powerful the things that feel good actually are.
      -Dan

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  18. says

    Dang, this is a great post. In August, I’ll be sharing a WU about indie bookstores, and some of the ideas on which I’ve been noodling appear in your post: That we, as humans, have certain responsibilities that should not be shirked . . . responsibilities to our fellow humans and to our community.

    Thanks for the very important reminder that just because social media makes it easier to connect, that doesn’t mean we can get sloppy or lazy or self centered. When we build community–authentic community–we will sell books.

    Thanks for the punchy post!

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    • says

      Sarah,
      Thanks! It’s interesting to consider “responsibility” vs “opportunity” here. Why does everyone seem to love Zappos, their fast delivery, friendly customer service and flexible policies? Because everyone else messes it up so badly! Sometimes being nice is a key way to differentiate, because everyone else is so busy focusing on other things!
      -Dan

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  19. says

    I’d like to jump in here again, if I may.

    It would be great if writers could spend all their time writing. But there is no business where the owner spends all their time doing one thing. They produce their product/service, they market it, they plan, they do research, they network, etc.

    Those whose product is creative do the same. Know any actors who only act? No, because they take classes, they go on auditions, they attend other performances, they sign autographs at the stage door.

    Do you imagine if you’re traditionally published (rather than self-published) then you won’t be expected to market yourself or engage your audience? Guess again. The burden is on you, the writer, to build your platform, find your audience, create a supportive posse of writers around you, learn your craft, regardless of how you publish.

    This may be a controversial topic to some, but I don’t think it deserves the level of snark I’m seeing here. There are great lessons here for all of us.

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    • says

      Viki,
      Very interesting to consider the professional life of a writing career as compared to other professions. Indeed – most would love to do the core of what they feel they do best, but there are trade offs. That is what happens when you take something from a “hobby” to a “profession,” or mix it up with business.
      Thanks.
      -Dan

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  20. says

    Dan, thanks for a thought-provoking post. I suspect one factor in the phenomenon you describe is the still-amorphous nature of “social media,” along with an unclear idea what online community means. There are so many possible online avenues: blogs, guest blogs, comments on blogs, FB, Goodreads, and on an on. Many writers feel obliged to try them all, because the rapid change and increase in platforms has also created much uncertainty about what works, and how.

    More and more now, I am hearing book publicists and other experts say ‘don’t try to do it all — just do what you like, and you’ll do it well.’ They are also emphasizing that social media is less about sales and more about relationships. Those two pieces of advice seem to be flip sides of each other: the more writers feel connected to our readers, the more they will feel connected to us. And buy our next books, yes, but also tell their friends, rave to their librarians and booksellers–not to promote us, but to expand the community.

    So, Forster was right: “Only connect.”

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    • says

      Leslie,
      Thanks! So so so true – many writers feel an incredible pressure to be involved, but arent’ sure where. So they try platform after platform, tactic after tactic. And yes, I like that advice you shared!
      -Dan

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  21. says

    I think we, writers/authors, do the best we can. I believe there is a small handful of people who are inconsiderate asses and they will be inconsiderate asses no matter what profession they are in – writer, butcher, baker, candle-stick maker. They are the exception.

    As for the rest of us, we love what we do. We love books. We love our readers. We love our potential readers. We love other writers. We love seeing others find success, even when it hurts because we wish it were us. We want to find success -and that is subjective – personal – to each writer.

    Writers read so much advice online that they begin to feel they aren’t “Doing Enough” so they do more, or they feel uncomfortable being a part of the “white noise” of everyone shouting for attention, so they pull back so they won’t be seen, as you put it, as “tourists.”

    I think it’s kind of a “we can’t win” thing – do too much and we are seen as opportunistic hacks. Do too little and we are seen as not promoting to our full potential. Sure, there’s a middle ground and that’s where many of us would love to be – it’s like the Holy Grail – all magical and if . . . we . . . could . . . just . . . get . . . there.

    But mainly, yeah -we just do the best we can.

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    • says

      Kathryn,
      Thanks, indeed, it often feels as though there is no clear middle path. I do find that many writers market their books out of obligation, that they pursue tactics they “sort of”understand, and are sometimes crushed under the weight of all the pressure they feel to be amazing writers, amazing community members, amazing spouses, parents, etc. It’s a lot. So yes, doing the best you can is often what we are left with! Thanks so much for the dose of reality.
      -Dan

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    • says

      Katherine, all I can say is, “Amen.” I have posted on this subject a lot lately, but as a seeker, not as someone who gets it.

      As you said, we’re doing our best. I can’t flog a book that isn’t yet in my hands, but I’d rather crawl under a rock than be pushy about it even when it’s there, fully touchable.

      Vaughn and the entire Writer Unboxed Facebook team, thank you for opening the way for many of us to discover tribe in a safe setting.

      And, Dan, you speak to my greatest worry: that I’ll somehow become an annoying gnat if I’m ever to market a book. Whenever I’ve fretted about this aloud, Vaughn has patted my head (figuratively) and told me to relax and allow that bit to grow organically. (Sigh. Big breath.)

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      • says

        Normandie,
        Thanks. The nice thing about considering all of this is the choice to become MORE like you already are, instead of something that feels, well, icky.
        :)
        -Dan

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  22. says

    Great post, Dan. I like the way you connect it back to the community involvement aspect of real life and how we volunteer or otherwise get involved in our communities.

    One thing to think about is how what can start as “because I have reason X” can turn into involvement for the community aspect of things. My mom got involved with the high school after-graduation party when I was a sophomore. My 20th reunion is closer than I would like, and my youngest sibling graduated from high school more than five years ago, and she’s still incredibly involved in the organization. Part of it is she enjoys her role and working with the other people involved, and she’s made a lot of good friends that way.

    I think if we can find the online communities that we connect to above and beyond the self-interested aspect, those are the ones we will (and should) focus on. The challenge I always have is getting enough involved to get that sense of if it’s a place I fit and a place that fits me. (Well, that and time. Much like volunteering, I always have more online communities I’d like to participate in than I do time to participate.)

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  23. says

    Jennie,
    Love that example! So true about the value of finding triggers that lead to deeper, long-lasting involvement. And yes, finding that “right fit” can take time. Much appreciated!
    -Dan

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  24. Cyd Madsen says

    Thank you so much, Dan, for this post. There have been countless days when I feel drained from all the self-promotion coming my way, and the way in which it’s done. So often marketing seems desperate, and when that desperation comes my way, I start feeling as if their livelihood and success is on my shoulders. It’s more than I can carry. It’s also an invaluable tool in learning how *not* to market. There’s one group I stay as far away from as possible because they’re a pool of self-feeding writers that lower the credibility of all indie writers. They all buy each others books, give two or three glowing reviews on Amazon under the same name (how do they get away with that?), and seem to have taken up writing as a social group instead of gardening or quilting.

    Even worse are the writers who pop on in the morning, wish everyone a great day (as if their word is our blessing), pop on mid-day to announce their progress, then say good night at day’s end (as if we can’t sleep without having them tuck us in). Those are the ones who never respond to any comments, just let their presence shine on us.

    My own solution is limiting my friend number to 500 on FB. I mean, come on, can I really be friends with more than 500 people at one time? More than 500 people whose ups and downs and turns through the journey of life I can be part of? I don’t think so. If I’m creative enough to write, I’m creative enough to find alternate ways of marketing and promotion. I’ll keep looking.

    The one place on FB I feel genuine support and community is at WU. People post questions about a wide range of subjects dealing with writing, and there are always terrific discussions. Something is always learned, something shared, and new relationships involved. I wish I’d found the community sooner and hope to be more active when I return to FB.

    Again, than you so much. This is an issue that we all need to be aware of and do our best to correct.

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    • says

      Cyd,
      Thanks! You have some great lines in here:

      “So often marketing seems desperate.”

      “Those are the ones who never respond to any comments, just let their presence shine on us.”

      “If I’m creative enough to write, I’m creative enough to find alternate ways of marketing and promotion.”

      Much appreciated – I really like your take on this.
      -Dan

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  25. says

    Saying it how it is Dan :)

    It’s a big fear of mien to be honest. At this moment in time I don’t think I do enough, but I do quite a lot. Saying that, I have plans to do more in the future.

    A big fear is in the future. What if I become big? What if I become a success? What if I turn into one those people I currently complain about? Those people you describe so well above.

    It’s for this why I feel setting your foundations is so important. It can help keep you on the right track and doing things that make you proud. Top post

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

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    • says

      Thanks Matthew. Interesting the way you describe it, I can’t help relate it to parenting, since I have a 2 year old. There are a bazillion “what if?” scenarios you can play in your head about your child and their future. So what you are left with – and empowers you as a parent – is indeed focusing on that foundation, and knowing that wherever life takes them, they have this to fall back on.

      Interesting to consider it this way. Thanks!
      -Dan

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  26. says

    Thank you for this post. One of the reasons I enjoy this blog is because it’s all about writing and no promotion. I’m told I have to be a marketer and look for any and all opportunities to promote my books. But I’m so sick of telling people about myself that I’m sure they’re sick of hearing from me. What to do? I’m developing an attitude of “who cares if I sell any books?” I’m happy I’ve written any at all since I didn’t believe I ever could. Can I take that happiness to the bank? No. But is that why I wrote in the first place? To increase the dollars in my checking account? No. I’ve read many, many times to write the best book I possibly can, get it published and see what happens. What I’ve found by following people’s blogs and being on Facebook are online friends. And do I think they’ve bought my book? Probably not, but that wasn’t supposed to be why I followed their blogs and write on FB anyway, right?

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    • says

      Patricia,
      Thanks – there is a lot in here! You really hit upon the first major thing: understanding one’s goals for writing. Is it for money, or something else. That is a HUGE question writers have to address for themselves.

      “I’m so sick of telling people about myself…” that is more publicity than real marketing… it’s a very tricky road. Great marketers make it look easy though.

      And YES, it’s awesome that you have found meaningful connections online! Thanks so much.
      -Dan

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  27. Heather Gale says

    Dan, this was a great article and I admit to chuckling though it and doing the ol’ head nod as I note all the blogs and other forms of media wanting to drown my Inbox with nothing but self-praise for what must be, a flailing ego.

    Someone needs to tell these people it’s not really that interesting to read all about ‘me’ all the time.

    Thanks for being brutally honest, with a dash of good humour.

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  28. Denise Willson says

    Hmm…so much to think about…. Ultimately, I’m reminded of the facts:

    As a writer, I read, A LOT

    I have never purchased a book (Donald’s Workbook aside) after hearing about it on Twitter / Facebook / Blogs

    Like most consumers, I riffle through pages and jacket blurbs for something that catches my interest. This could be anything on any given day

    I’m a sucker for cover art. This curse is annoying for several reasons (I’m a romance writer, yet I refuse to purchase a book with a buff naked guy on the cover! Go figure)

    I’ve met many people – friends – at writing conferences, and have even bought some of their books there, determined to learn. These books don’t always offer good lessons. Or good reads.

    I can list my top five authors with ease. They each wrote a book I love for one reason or another. I’ve never met a single one or bantered online

    I’ve checked-out writers websites. Not to learn about their books, but to hear what they say about being a writer. My book club friends couldn’t care less about a writer’s daily routine or their stand on plot vs pants

    After a year of following WU, I only recently offered up my two cents worth. It took me a while to feel comfortable, like I had something to learn and something to offer. I respect you all as fellow writers but I’ve never read your books. Would I like to? I’ll know when I’m flipping through your pages at the book store.

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth
    (Because in this forum, that is what I am, an author. And proud to be one of you)

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    • says

      Denise,
      Really interesting thoughts here, and something I have been chatting with a few folks about recently: do too many writers market purely to other writers, not readers. Or, as you put it:

      “I respect you all as fellow writers but I’ve never read your books.”

      Too many writers gloss over the critical aspect of identifying their reading audience and obsessing over them. Sometimes the easy path is to engage other writers because you are both on the same journey. But the other writers are not always (or even often) the readers you seek.

      Thanks for pointing this out so well!
      -Dan

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  29. says

    WOW! This is spot on. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts around this, I definitely saw myself in what you are describing. How do you suggest writer’s authentically engage their community and be a part of that community?

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    • says

      Ebony,
      Thanks – great question. If you look at things from a purely marketing standpoint, that you have a goal of moving product, then you can’t make the marketing about you at all, it needs to be about your audience. Look at the great marketing campaigns in history for any product – it often isn’t “look how great our stuff is.”

      Now, if we go beyond moving product, then it gets more interesting, but we have to define our goals too. I suppose the answer is long and highly dependent on what you hope to achieve.

      -Dan

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  30. says

    This has been an interesting discussion. Thanks for the post, which brings up such important points about contributing to community, both on the net and in real life. I tend to have the same experience in both places–everyone talking and very few people listening. Listening, paying attention to what another person is saying and trying to understand is a gift. It’s choosing to be present. We all do have limited time each day and can’t listen to very many people and respond in a heartfelt way. I choose a few blogs to read and comment on, and pass along via twitter info and articles I find interesting or valuable. I can’t say as I feel part of a community on line.

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    • says

      Mary,
      Thank you – yes, LISTENING is so critical. I think with all of these new tools, we feel a pressure to measure our identity and performance based on output. But input is critical. Thanks.
      -Dan

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  31. says

    Hard balance to strike — you don’t want to be self-centered but you also don’t want to be the writer who is too afraid of coming off as self-centered to do the publicity work that needs to be done.

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    • says

      Annabelle,
      Indeed – there is a fine line to walk, and I do encourage writers to push themselves a bit beyond their comfort zone somethings. What I do think is that there is room for course correction – you can experiment, learn, adjust.

      Thanks.
      -Dan

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  32. says

    Shoot, Dan. This was a gut check.

    I wish I could say I haven’t felt all of those selfish motivations inside of myself, but I have. I wish I could say that everything I do is for the sake of the community, not just my own slice of the pie, but I can’t. Sometimes, even my generosity is tainted by the chance of future favors. Like Don Corleone, I try to give, but I always expect to something in return.

    Thanks for reminding me that community is bigger than me and my needs.

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    • says

      Joe,
      Wow – thanks for so elegantly illustrating what many folks battle – the desire to give to the community, but a sense of hope that it returns with good fortune.

      Much appreciated.
      -Dan

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