Building An Audience Takes Time, But In The Long Run It Can Provide You More Time To Do What You Love
from the so-get-to-it dept
One of the regular complaints we hear when we talk about people like Amanda Palmer or Kevin Smith is that they have to spend so much time cultivating their “audience” that they don’t have time to actually “work.” Of course, that should be plainly ridiculous if you just look at those two. In the last year alone, Palmer has put out two full length albums and an EP (all excellent) while continuing to tour… and continuing to build her audience, brand and business (and now without any “help” from a label). Similarly, Smith has toured the country a few times, built a podcast network with a ton of shows (also excellent), released a movie he directed, and previewed a brand new movie at Sundance that he directed, edited, and cut. Oh yeah, and all the while continued to build an audience. Both seem a hell of a lot more productive than the vast majority of content creators I know who went “by the book.”
However, there is another (important) angle to all of this. Which is that while building an audience and a fanbase takes time and effort — which you might think takes away from doing the creative stuff — in the long run, it can do the exact opposite. As we discussed about Smith’s latest plan, the reason why it makes sense is because he’s cultivated an audience all these years. Because of that he doesn’t have to spend nearly as much time or money “marketing” the new film — just as Palmer didn’t have to do all the traditional “marketing” methods for her latest release, which quickly shot to the top of the Bandcamp charts.
This point was driven home in an even stronger way in looking at another content creator in a different arena. We’ve discussed novelist JA Konrath a few times in the past — including his explanation for why authors shouldn’t fear file sharing as well as his look at how much money could be made on ebooks. He’s continued to discuss this, highlighting how he sold over 18,000 ebooks on the Kindle in January (and that was as of the 26th, so there were still five more days) and how his income for the month would end up being somewhere around $42,000. Yes, for the month.
All very interesting.
But the rest of that post is where things get even more interesting. Robert Niles does a fantastic job comparing Konrath’s story to another author — a freelance travel writer, who complains that there’s no money to be made in writing. Specifically, that writer, Mark Hodson, complains that it’s tougher to get paying gigs these days and that blogging is all about “working for free.” Niles immediately notes the comparison, in which the freelance travel writer seems to be waiting for a paycheck, rather than building an audience who has a reason to buy something.
And here’s the key part: while building a loyal audience and community may take time and effort, in the long run, they provide you with the ability to actually focus more on creativity. Niles highlights how Konrath’s post talks about all of the sweat equity he put into book signings and blogging and building up his personal brand for a few years — all of which he no longer needs to do with each new book, because he has an audience who seeks him out (similar to Palmer and Smith). Niles concludes:
The irony? Those who put in the work of building a business often end up with more time to do the writing that they love. As Konrath wrote, he doesn’t have to press the flesh at bookstore any longer. He doesn’t have to devote time to promotion. With his social media support having reached a tipping point, he can spend more hours writing.
I’ve found the same in talking with colleagues who are still pursuing freelance work. They spend hours of extra time for each piece they write networking with editors, writing pitch letters, reviewing contracts and filling out various publications’ expense forms. I just write stories – what, when and how I want.
While some lament the loss of secure employment for a handful of writers, I’m thrilled to live in an era when anyone with the will to write and drive to connect with a community can earn a living, without having to wait for some editor’s approval.
This is the whole point of making sure people understand both sides of the CwF+RtB equation. It’s not just about giving people stuff to buy, it’s about connecting with those fans, and really building a community. Yes, it takes work at first, but what new job doesn’t take work? But the point is that if you’ve really connected and really built up a community it doesn’t take you away from being able to do what you love, it enables you to do more of what you love and do it under your own terms. That’s exactly what Konrath, Smith and Palmer have all done, and it’s a point that many others strive for, but miss out on if they just think that doing that work isn’t worthwhile because it somehow “takes away” from their creativity.