Reaching your audience – questioning who, where and how
I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘how to reach your audience?’ after being a panellist on a discussion about this question at last week’s National Creative Writing Graduates Fair in Manchester.
To be or not to be…is not the answer. Or perhaps it is. In truth, I don’t think there is any one or even several definitive answers, just lots of possibilities waiting to be explored – with each individual writer finding, or creating, their own way based partly on who they are.
The breadth of the actual topic ‘reaching your audience’ is nothing to the potential breadth of a writer’s audience. But in reality, as in other areas of life, we all have to work within the limits of our resources and time.In this blog post then, I’m going to concentrate on a few of the many possible aspects, just as writers in practice are likely to have to choose where, how and when to focus their audience-reaching efforts.
Some of my thoughts here were inspired by questions asked at the graduate fair, and by the excellent advice and examples offered by my fellow panelists Tom Ashton (from Kate Nash Literary Agency), Kate Feld (Director of Openstories) and panel chairman, author Joe Stretch. But this post – along with any unappreciated advice herein! – is of my own devising.
One early consideration for a writer might be to look at how and what they write, in order to decide whether they’re going to start with the audience or the written words. By this, I mean, are you a writer who knows what they want to write but then need to find the audience for it? Or a writer who, having identified a target audience, can then write directly for those readers? Or perhaps you can combine a mixture of the two?
When I write, for example, it’s often in response to particular inspiration or creative spark. In these cases, once the poem or flash is written and properly edited, I will then try to find the ideal home (audience) for it, such as researching magazines and websites that might publish it. This may involve some editing or tweaking to perfect it for that market (audience) but I’m not writing directly for that audience.
Other times, I might respond to a submission theme or competition call out or a commission brief. In these cases, the audience (although not guaranteed) is implied. Another version of this is, for example, writing this blogpost. I am writing it specifically for other writers interested in this topic, for people who’ve already shown an interest in this through Comma Press and the National Creative Writing Graduates Fair. (Once written, I will therefore be linking it back to Comma Press and the fair in the hope of ensuring that it reaches as much of that audience as possible.)
While publication through a press, magazine, website…hopefully helps to connect with an audience – the readers of these books and journals – there are lots of other possible options for linking more directly with an audience.
Twitter, Facebook, blogs, youtube, vimeo, instagram, flickr, linked in, soundcloud, personal websites…maybe you’ll recognise all of these, maybe you’ll know about something about a few of them but be perplexed by the rest. They’re all various kinds of social media networking and micro publishing sites but only just a very limited sample selection of those available in different areas of the world. (China for example has its own versions of many western sites that aren’t allowed in China.) The range of such sites is potentially overwhelming and this just the internet. There are also more traditional avenues to audiences such as bookshops, libraries, spoken word events, poetry/literary groups and literature festivals.
These all have certain things in common though. They all involved interaction or engagement with a potential audience ( as individuals or through online writing/reading literary sites or groups on Facebook or # tags on twitter identifying common interests or themes such as #poetry, #flash…). This might be summed up as networking. But it needn’t feel or come across that way if it’s an activity that’s focused around a genuine shared love/interest in writing/reading/creating and one that works reciprocally/brings mutual benefits.
So, given limited time, how do you choose which of these routes to explore?
Try, try and try again
Part of finding what works for you and your audience may be research to identify which of the possibilities are more likely to reach your target audience or the widest selection of your target audience. I’ve mentioned ‘target’ and ‘market’ a few times now – these terms may be starting to sound a bit more business or marketing orientated rather than writing for the love or art of it. If so, don’t let this language put you off. If you don’t have a background in web analytics or marketing research, it may actually simply be a case of personal trial and error, of spending a little time looking at website or blogs, going along to a few spoken word nights, reading what other people tweet etc.
As you start to meet and talk to people, word of mouth is likely to come in to play. People will be talking about other events, where they go as readers/audience members or writers trying to reach an audience.At some point then, the trial and error method will probably move from simply researching/watching/reading/listening to actually actively engaging or trying out some of these things as a way of reaching your own audiences.
Something I’ve found useful as part of this trial and error process is what in more formal/business/planning terms amounts to the first two parts of SWOT analysis – identifying your strengths and weaknesses. (The O and T are opportunities and threats, which are also worth being aware of, and actively looking out for the former.)
When I talk about strengths, I don’t just mean writing talents but also personality features and wider skills. I also mean the things that you enjoy. Then play to your strengths, and either try to convert your weaknesses to strengths or find a way around them.(After all, when it comes to getting creative in finding ways around things, as writers, we already have a head start!)
Part II of Sarah’s Reaching Your Audience blog will be posted on Friday, and will explore public speaking and performance, the power of the internet, and why you should always be thinking outside the box.
Sarah James is an award-winning poet, fiction writer and journalist, with five published poetry collections, a touring play and a novella out next year. Her poems have featured on buses, poetry trails, phone apps, screensavers, poetry films, a café mural, at Edinburgh Festival Fringe and in the Blackpool Illuminations. Her latest books are Lampshade & Glass Rivers (Loughborough University Overton Poetry Prize winner 2015) and plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press). She also runs V. Press poetry and flash fiction imprint.