“Your job isn’t to find hundreds of thousands of fans,” I wrote in a previous post. “Your job is… to find your audience–even if it’s an audience of one.”
What, exactly, does that mean?
How are you supposed to find an audience, especially when no one’s letting you onstage?
Well, your first and most important audience is your support network–your “core fan club.” The most natural place to start would be, of course, your immediate family. But sometimes, even they can’t provide the support you need.
When Your Home Audience Isn’t Applauding
Author Hannah Ross recently published an important blog post about how to survive as an author when you have no support network. She writes: “You know those heart-warming statements by successful authors who say, ‘I would never have been able to get to this point without my spouse/family/significant other. Their support meant everything to me along the way’?… What you don’t often hear, despite how common it is, are experiences such as, ‘My wife would pull faces and come up with random to-do lists every time I sat down to write, and just couldn’t stand me ‘wasting my time’ like that. Whatever I have achieved, I have achieved despite her lack of support and appreciation.'”
Your first thought when you read this might be, “Well, what a terrible, unsupportive wife. He should divorce her immediately and find someone who supports his work.”
But it’s not nearly as simple as that.
I can tell you that when I threw myself into writing my sixth novel–eventually published as By Light of Hidden Candles–my husband had a hard time supporting me, and this is emphatically not because he is a jerk, nor because there is anything wrong with our relationship. Eitan is one of the most giving, generous, and supportive people you will ever have the privilege to know. But we were going through a super difficult period of our lives from every imaginable standpoint: we had three young kids at home, he was struggling to find work as a tour guide, and I was clinically depressed and was basically incapable of managing the kids and the household on my own, which meant that he couldn’t commit to jobs that would take him away from home for extended periods. On top of that, he was struggling with his own physical and mental health issues. We were drowning, and competing for precious resources, like sleep. I would say that of the almost eleven years we’ve been happily married, that was the period where our marriage was most strained.
And then, in the midst of all this, his wife suddenly began investing enormous amounts of time and emotional energy in this novel. My laptop lived on a desk in the middle of our living room at the time, and I sat there, tuning out everything going on around me, writing like my life depended on it–and in a way, it did. He wasn’t able to see that the writing was a lifeline I was clinging to as I clawed my way out of the darkness, trying to figure out who I was and how to make my life feel worth living. What he could see was that I was ignoring him, the kids, and the utter chaos of our house and our lives, in favor of a bunch of imaginary friends.
You have to understand: I owe Eitan everything. He has supported me in ways I could never have imagined asking. But how could he not be resentful in this situation? How could he not be jealous of the imaginary world that, as he perceived it, I had placed higher on my priority list than spending time with him and our children?
What’s more, we were hardly making ends meet; how could he support my investment of so much time and energy in something that was unlikely to yield any kind of return?
Thankfully, things have improved substantially in the years since then, and after a few painful discussions, we were able to understand and forgive each other for the resentments we felt during that period. I have become more able to assert my needs–time and space to write being one of them–and he has become more able to see the benefits of giving me that time and space.
I would never have written that book, though, if it hadn’t been for Abi.
Your Creative Greenhouse
I’ve mentioned Abi here and there before. She’s one of my very closest friends, and no one on this earth has supported my writing the way she has. I send every first draft of everything to her, and as I explain in this video, I was sending By Light of Hidden Candles to her chapter by chapter as I was writing it. I dedicated the book to her, saying that “if this book were Catholic, [Abi] would be its patron saint.” The enthusiasm she showed for my writing more than made up for the lack of encouragement I was getting elsewhere.
What is it about Abi, you may be wondering? Well, aside from being one of the best, most loving and goodhearted people I know, she has a way of responding to my work that nurtures me. She doesn’t always love everything I write, but she always loves me for writing it, if that makes sense. (And, well, she loves almost everything I write.) I feel comfortable sending my first drafts to her because I know that she supports my creative process and will always respond with enthusiasm, even when whatever it is isn’t complete or isn’t in what I’d consider great shape. She does provide helpful feedback, but she’s not who I turn to when I need a cold, sharp eye. She’s who I turn to when I need someone to love my creations like I do. She is my incubator, my greenhouse, where everything is warm and full of light and I know I’m in the best place to grow.
I know I’m very lucky to have someone like Abi in my life, for many, many reasons–and that not everyone is as fortunate. But what I’m trying to tell you here is that your first audience will be the people who nurture your creative process–the ones who respond to your work with enthusiasm and want to see you grow and succeed in what you’re doing. Yes, you will also need critique from people who are more objective, but that’s for a later stage. If creation is an act of love, what you need first and foremost is someone who responds to your act of love with love.
You may have noticed that I often ask my Rejection Survivor interviewees who they turn to for support in the tough times, and they always have a ready answer. A spouse, a partner, a best friend, a sibling, a parent. You probably already know who this person is. If not–find that person.
Then, once you have found your greenhouse, it’s time to move to the next phase:
The Community of Like-Minded Artists
Connecting with other people doing what you’re doing has many benefits. You can learn from them, commiserate with them, share resources, critique each other’s work, and help each other. Like-minded artists will give you the essential feedback that you need to grow in your art.
Most importantly, if you can find other artists in a similar stage of their career who are struggling to achieve the same goals as you, they can provide invaluable support for you, because they understand better than anyone else in your life what you’re going through. You may have an amazing friend you can turn to with every triumph and frustration, but let’s be real, our whining about rejection can be hard to listen to all the time, especially for someone who’s never been through that process themselves.
For many artists, connecting with like-minded colleagues happens when they are learning their craft: in classes or college. But going to school is not a crucial requirement. I never learned writing formally. I’ve always been fiercely independent as a writer–sometimes to my detriment–and I’m writing in a minority language in my country, which makes connecting with other writers particularly challenging. And yet, I discovered that it’s by no means impossible. Last year I attended an English-language writers’ retreat and mingled a little at some local English-language literary events. I am a poster-child introvert, so this was not easy for me in the slightest, but it was totally worth it.
Then there’s the online community. As I’ve mentioned before, Twitter is the social network of choice for many writers, and it’s very easy to find other writers to connect to on there. The hashtag #amquerying will immediately provide you with a range of potential “query hell buddies,” as my own query hell buddy Kiri Blakeley called them. Personally, I’m a bit of a social media grinch, so I’m not the best person to be taking advice from on this matter. But there are many, many ways to connect with other writers and artists through social media.
Your Actual Fans
When you start putting your stuff out there, whether it’s through traditional or nontraditional channels, chances are, someday, some stranger is going to stumble across your work–and like it.
That stranger might like it so much, they’ll decide to “like” your page on FB, or follow you on Twitter or Instagram, or sign up for your email list.
Such people are what we generally refer to as “fans.”
I tell you this laughing at myself because I am still pretty much incapable of referring to anyone as my “fan” unironically. But every now and again, I get an email or a Facebook message request or a mention on Twitter from someone who stumbled across my stuff and liked what they read. Just this morning I got a lovely note from a gentleman in California who will be leading his book club in a discussion on my book today. It’s a lovely feeling.
We live in an age where it’s easier than ever before to connect with your audience and get feedback from them. When you post something on social media, the feedback is almost immediate; sometimes you can even see the stats of a particular post and know how many people viewed whatever you shared, even if they didn’t “like” or react to it. There are advantages and disadvantages to this immediacy, and we need to be careful not to become too dependent on a need for this kind of feedback. Sitting there refreshing your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram notifications hoping someone will respond is a recipe for misery.
Embrace Your Audience, But Remember…
The only opinion that really matters is your own
The only opinion that really matters is your own
The only opinion that really matters is your own
In truth, it is you who are your own first audience, and you’re the audience you really need to please. Embrace the feedback that works for you, and let the rest of it slide.
And when you do get those lovely, lovely notes from people who have resonated with your work and engaged with it in some way, and you read their words and you brim with that sense of purpose and “this is why I’m here”… savor that feeling. And frame the notes. Because the more your audience grows, the more you’re going to need them.