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Six years ago, I didn't know any authors. I thought they were magical beings that lived in another realm entirely, one that I could never reach.
That all changed when I started using Twitter to talk about writing and publishing, and started blogging here in 2008, as well as starting a podcast to actually talk to ‘live' authors. I started to find a community.
In the last few years, I've found that the best opportunities for connection with readers has come from other authors that I've connected with online, as well as live events I have attended. I had short stories commissioned by Kobo because of a meeting at London Book Fair. I've spoken in Bali, Zurich and Berlin because of Twitter. And I am part of The Twelve, hitting the NY Times and USA Today list together, via twitter and a live conference meeting. I cannot emphasize enough how important community is, and I have built mine online over the years – perfect for an introvert!
Today, author Daryl Rothman explains how he has grown a literary community and how you can too.
Grow an audience
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship,” notes Phillip Pullman, “stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
Indeed. We each have a story to tell. But how do you build an audience, a platform, so that there will be people to hear them? Unless you’ve already landed a contract with one of the big publishers, then you are facing the same reality as most of us—that to achieve the success you want, to ensure as many people as possible hear your story, and read your book, you must become your own best advocate.
Take matters into your own hands
How to do it?
This is something which confounds many writers, and with which I struggled mightily for years. There is no shortage of advice out there, much of it good, but far and away, what has made the biggest difference for me—and it can for you too—was the realization that I needed to grow a literary community of my own.
Not join one, grow one. There’s nothing wrong with joining one. Or two. Or twenty. I’ve joined some myself, and it can be very beneficial. But it’s not what I’m talking about here.
I’m referring to building a literary network of resources, opportunity and mutual support which can help take your writing and publishing dreams to the next level. Yes, you must be your own best marketer and advocate, but no one of us can do it alone.
Reach out to your community
Don’t fret. If, like me, you are reserved by nature, you need not be deterred. Some of the shyest people make the boldest writers. You do not need to metamorphosize into a social butterfly, but you do need to network and interact, in a way that works for you.
There are no shortcuts, but growing your own literary community can fast-track your progress and bring you closer to realizing your goals. And, the great thing is, you can (and should) start now. Here are four ways how.
No, this isn’t market advice, but it is market advice, as in, how to. And diversifying is one crucial way. After writing my novel, I found I was focusing all of my efforts and expectations around the annual writers’ guild conference, with an eye toward the pitch sessions. I did generate some interest, and got to send writings samples, but I realized I needed to be doing so much more.
Stay strong. There are so many options it is all too easy to get overwhelmed and end up with just one more excuse for not getting started. Don’t succumb! We need stories, as Pullman reminded us, and we need yours. But we need to know they are out there and that you are out there. So, you’ve got to get in the game, in as many ways as possible.
Capitalize on social media. Almost everyone is engaged in some form of social media. Focus on a preferred few—Facebook, Twitter, whatever you choose—and get a little buzz going about your work. Don’t spam, but let people know you’re writing (you’ll be amazed at how going public with this comment will motivate you), show them some snippets or link to a piece you’ve penned.
I stumbled, recently, onto a bit of Twitter serendipity, spotting fleeting mention (tweets scroll past awfully fast and can submerge out of sight) from a writer looking to assemble a team for a horror-writing contest. This was the genre which had, decades ago, stoked my literary embers (yes, I was that 12-year-old kid who liked to write about murder), and it sounded fun, and I reached out to her. The process has been great, the team has created some good, scary stuff, and best of all I’ve gotten to know four wonderful people who happen to be talented scribes.
Start a Blog, if you don’t have one already. It should be of course be professional and you had better have some good content (i.e., writing, which is what this is all about, right?)—but you don’t have to be all fancy-schmancy and super high-tech. I have received good feedback on mine and I am a Luddite if there ever was one so if I can do it so can you. T here are simple templates you can use, and I can almost guarantee you have at least one friend who could lend you a hand.
Building a literary community is, of course, about more than just the avenues through which to do so. More critical than what you do, is how you do it. I’ve written pieces on the importance of relationship-building and there has, for me, been no principle more essential.
Build relationships. And remember, it is relationship-building, not relationship-collecting. I recently saw an ad wherein a company promised to buy you x number of “likes.” Balderdash, I say. Precious little in life is that simple—nothing meaningful or enduring, anyway. Relationships must be built and attended to, one at a time. It takes longer, but there is a fair bit of magic in the grind, and every so often there are some astounding leaps forward. And you’ll have communed and connected with some amazing, talented people.
Reach out to bloggers. I mentioned the blogging: I began to research and read top literary blogs, and I reached out to many of the authors. A surprising number replied, not always immediately, and with a varied degree of receptivity, but connections and opportunities began to flourish.
Contact fellow authors. Anytime you submit a story, read a blog or comment in a forum, look for chances for further outreach. Contact with the author herself. If she has hosted a guest-blog, contact that author. You must, of course, have something to say. Don’t fawn, but do compliment. Share that you read their piece and note what you found particularly interesting or beneficial. Mention your work and interests and describe how their work has motivated yours or provided a fresh angle.
If you are ready, consider asking them if they would guest-post on your website. Inquire if they’ll consider letting you guest on theirs. You won’t know unless you ask, I’ve learned, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many were amenable to at least being pitched. Again, it then comes down to content—you better have something good. But this is what you’ve been waiting for, the chance to show what you can do!
Look for opportunities. Find the manner of outreach which best suits you. Opportunity begets opportunity. If you land a guest-post, it will be incumbent upon you to respond to any comments you receive. That, itself, is a great chance to network, make additional connections, and build your platform and brand.
When you conduct research for something you are writing, you’ll find additional opportunities. Contact the authors in the material you find; discover who and where they link and contact those authors too. If a given connection is not a good fit for proposing collaboration or guest-post, then don’t force the issue. But, in reaching out and connecting, you will have assembled a few more valuable members of the community you seek to build.
(3) Be Authentic (and Reciprocate)
Remember, this is not throwing pencils at the ceiling, it is not buying likes, and building a community means building relationships, and this must be done authentically, one at a time. Nobody likes a step-skipper! Robert Steven Kaplan, Baker Foundation Professor at Harvard Business School, speaks of the importance of giving something of oneself when building relationships. This is inherently true. A relationship is just that—a relationship, entailing an authentic give and take and sharing.
Ask how you can be of service. Even when—especially when—connecting with prominent authors or figures of any kind, I am sure to inquire whether there is anything I can do to be of support to them. This could mean being a beta reader, or linking them on my site, commenting on things I like in theirs. Again, it must be authentic. You must know what you’re talking about and have read what you say you’ve read. Most of all, if you offer to be of support, be prepared to make good on that pledge.
Practice reciprocity. If someone has retweeted a link to your website or an article you penned, inquire if you may do something similar for them. The more you concern yourself with giving, and less with what you get, the more you shall receive. The benefits will often prove tangible in terms of greater exposure, a recommendation to an agent, a critique of your manuscript. But, whether they do or whether they don’t, you’ll have gained something of infinitely more value—a genuine human connection, and all that comes with it. It may be schmaltzy, but it’s true.
(4) Write (and then write some more)
I said it always comes back to the writing, and it does. Building a literary community is a beautiful thing, because it builds your platform and audience and better positions you for success, and because the process itself is so inherently enriching.
Create value for your audience. That’s really what it’s about, isn’t it? You want people to see your work, hopefully even buy your work, so you must have writing which you believe is worth reading. Not only your novel, not just your “endgame” project to which you hope readers shall ultimately flock, but you must use your writing to create value and pique interest and build relationships along the way. Again, when done authentically, it is a win-win. It will accentuate your marketing efforts and exposure, while also allowing you to commune with kindred literary spirits.
You must write and you must read. And, you must write and read some more. Diversify here, too. In addition to landing some guest posts, I tried my hand at flash fiction, and was even able to get one of my works published. A small success to be sure, but who knows what additional exposure or opportunities may be engendered from there? Best of all I quickly learned that flash fiction as a form exacts of me cleaner, tighter prose, something which has proven of great utility.
Branch out. If you are in the thick of writing your novel, I am hardly suggesting you abandon it and commence a book of poems. But as an overall strategy to hone your craft and expand your network, consider a variety of forms. If you want, as I did, to let your novel breath a bit before diving into revisions, try cranking out a short story. Or write and pitch a guest-post. The benefits are multi-fold: writing is writing so you will be improving your craft; if you submit something, you may end up getting published. And, just the act of submitting your work and engaging others on these sites provides additional opportunities for exposure and community.
Share your stories with the world
So yes, in the end it is all about the writing, the “stories,” of which Pullman spoke. And we, as Shakespeare noted, are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams. Ok, I confess I still associate the quote more closely with Willy Wonka. But, we are the writers, and we have stories to share. Building a literary community has better positioned me to share mine, and it is my hope that it may do the same for you.
Best wishes in your journey…
What do you see as your literary community? What has worked for you and how have you benefitted from it? Please leave your comments and questions below and join this community 🙂
Daryl Rothman is a father, author and early childhood leader. He received his BA from the University of Illinois, MSW from Washington University and is a licensed clinical social worker. He is a registered trainer, has given innumerable seminars and enjoys presenting on both literary and early childhood/leadership topics.
His website features his blog, short stories, publications, guest interviews, and news about his novels, and he has guest-blogged for KM Weiland, CS Lakin, Joanna Penn, Firepole Marketing and additional authors and publications. He may also be found on Twitter (@daryl_dcrdrr), Linked In (www.linkedin.com/in/darylrothman/ )and Google +. From early in life he harbored three aspirations: become a father, become a writer, and become a ballplayer for his hometown Cardinals. He is blessed to have achieved the first, is happily continuing his journey regarding the second and he will neither confirm nor deny holding out hope for the third.
Top Image: Flickr Creative Commons circle of friends by roger price