More than 10 years ago, I began sending out an email newsletter every Friday. Each week, one by one, I sent out a message. Over time, I made these public via a blog. Then social media came along, so I Tweeted the links to the blog and shared other updates.
In that time, I shared:
- More than 500 email newsletters
- More than 1,000 blog posts
- More than 24,000 Tweets
I even began sharing photos on Instagram, with more than 1,500 shared to date. No, I am not “promoting” any of these things here to get more followers, which is why I’m not linking them.
In total, there have been tens of thousands of times that I have clicked “publish” on something. In each of those times, there was a momentary pause where I tensed up. Where I wondered if what I was sharing was meaningful. Was authentic. Was worthy. And in many of those instances, I worried about what could go wrong. What I risked in sharing.
Today I want to talk about why, as an author, you want to increase your ability to share your voice. Because, in each of those times I clicked “publish,” I was not only using my voice, hoping it was heard, I was also attending to the practice of developing my voice.
A Conversation is happening, whether you know it or not
Plenty of authors tell me they have zero interest in social media. In having to share 20,000 pithy updates that don’t feel meaningful. Nor do they want to develop an email list, or start a blog, or podcast.
Do you need to do any of this to be a successful author?
You don’t need social media.
You don’t need an email newsletter.
You don’t even need a website.
But what you do need is a voice. Now, you may be thinking, “Dan, that voice is in the book. The story that is crafted. It is not my voice.”
Do you remember that scene from the Wizard of Oz. (Oh, spoiler alert.) When the projected voice of Oz — this big bold earth shattering confident voice — turned out to be a little nervous man, whose authenticity, while flawed, deeply resonated with others, and helped them in ways that his projection never could?
What I asked today is that you pull back that curtain.
Do you know how many authors I have spoken to, who have written wonderful books, that are published by awesome publishing houses, which FAIL to find an audience? Lots. Too many.
This is why an agent asks you about social media. Why a publisher asks you about what influential people or organizations you know, which they can then reach out to for marketing. Not because they are trying to hollow out the most meaningful thing you have ever created, your book; but because they want to ensure the book turns into conversations.
Conversations that turn your ideas into a living reality in the lives of readers. Conversations that take your work and expand upon it, because the story takes hold of a group of friends who can’t stop talking about it. Conversations that lead to word of mouth marketing — where one reader just can’t help but tell a friend about your book.
It all starts with your voice.
Obviously, that voice begins within the story you craft. The voice you give to the characters you create, the stories you tell.
But it also extends to the path you take in trying to get your book published: it should be all about you connecting your voice with your audience, potential readers.
For nonfiction and memoir authors, this is a process that may naturally lead you to your next book via conversations.
For novelists, this is about understanding the marketplace as people, not a “thing.” And that your book is not a product, but rather, a conversation. At the most basic level, this is a conversation between what you say in the book, and what happens when someone reads it. It happens entirely in the readers’ head, with each reader experiencing the same book differently for thousands of personal reasons. But it can extend beyond that — which is why you see see hundreds of people lined up to meet an author whose book moved them.
These are conversations waiting to happen; conversations that are related to the book, but outside of it. This is how a book not only encourages you to share your voice, as the author, but where it encourages the reader to share their own voices.
Voices are powerful, only if we use them
Every day, we read stories that move us; we have ideas; we have deep beliefs that can help others. Within our heads, these things shoot around like fireworks. Within our heads we are certain that our voice big, bold, powerful. That it is caring and reasoned and unwavering.
I would simply encourage you to share that voice. To consider that having a voice is about the ability to communicate with others.
Honing this ability takes time. It is why I look back on the thousands of times I have hit “publish” and consider how my voice has evolved. And how it is still evolving.
When a partner in your writing career — an agent, a publisher, etc. — asks about social media, what they are really asking is if you have honed your ability to connect your voice with the world.
A voice without action, is silence. In that silence is the potential where you could be connecting with people who will be moved by your stories.
Finding your voice is a process
Honing your ability to find and share your voice is not about getting a great tagline, designing a great website, or having a big publisher back you.
Finding and sharing your voice is a practice.
Whenever I ask authors that I work with about their goals, I don’t use that term. Instead I ask them, “What kind of conversations would you like to be having?”
When considering how to create the foundation for your books in the marketplace; when considering how to grow at any stage in your writing career — I would encourage you to focus on the conversations you are having. On how your voice reaches others in a variety of ways. That this process is more about establishing means to share your voice, than a product to sell.
Let me frame this in a non-author example, with filmmaker and YouTuber Casey Neistat, who I have written about before. In a recent talk he gave, he discussed a pivotal moment in his career about six years ago.
At that moment:
- His original HBO TV series was launching.
- He had just won a big award for the movie he produced.
He had hit the zenith, but found that it felt hollow. His time was spent waiting for his products to be released to the masses. He had achieve milestones every filmmaker dreams of, but found he wasn’t creating, and didn’t have a voice with his audience.
Slowly, he focused more on sharing videos on YouTube while he did videos for private advertising clients. He posted around two dozen videos per year for awhile. He did pretty good with this, amassing about 500,000 followers. A few of his videos went properly viral. They received millions of views.
But, about a year and a half ago, he doubled down. He began posting daily videos. And that changed everything. He now has well over 4 million subscribers. This is not about him becoming a “YouTube Celebrity,” but about his voice changing people’s lives for the better.
What he found in the years since then was that YouTube wasn’t just a distribution channel for his videos, but it was a way of having a voice with his audience.
When Casey talked about his childhood, he describes it this way:
“I was the third of four kids, the forgotten one. I always had to scream the loudest to get what I want. When I was a teenager, I was always frustrated, because I could never be heard.”
We each have our own motivations, and this is Casey’s. And now his voice is being heard.
Sometimes we pursue publication of our work as a means of validation. I would encourage you to consider the many ways that your life as a writer can share your voice in a way that makes people’s lives more meaningful. Where it helps them in some way, even if it is merely to entertain them for a moment.
In many ways, your voice becomes your identity. That can feel scary at times, just as I was nervous in many of the times I was about to click “publish” to something online.
But it is also a responsibility is yours and yours alone. No one else — no agent or publisher — can magically give you a voice.
What I have found not only in my own personal experience, but in working with thousands of others, is that finding small meaningful ways to share your voice is a powerful process. How, very often, the smallest things you share can have the biggest impact with and connection to others.
I would love to know: do you feel your voice is being heard? If not, what is a single action you can take to develop a practice of sharing your voice?