How do I increase my fan base?

Hi everyone,
Jane Yolen

While we’re discussing the questions inherent in Jane Yolen’s suggestion about how we can maximize a poetry audience, here’s another part to chew on: How do I increase my own fan base?Sandy Asher
Here’s a quote from Sandy Asher in our WRITERS AT WORK series about The Joys and Perils of Writing in Many Genres (January 2011): “David, you’ve heard me say this before, but I think you’ll agree it bears repeating. The road to riches and fame is a direct one: Do one thing, do it well, and do it over and over. This applies to almost any field. There are always exceptions to the rule, of course, but when you think about the rich and famous, do you have doubts about what you expect of each of them? I think not. Oprah is Oprah every day. Her fans count on it; her sponsors bank on it. Riches and fame depend on building a huge fan base, and that’s done by delivering the goods so consistently that folks can and do keep coming back for more, bringing their friends and relations with them.”

Sandy wasn’t talking about poetry then but poetry would be included in her statement. One of her telling points is to remind us of how long it may take to build a fan base for our work. Another is to pick a genre and live it, be it, stick with it, become branded by it. I might add that a lot of famous people are multitalented and do more than one thing well, but generally speaking they’re famous first for one specific thing. Paul Newman drove race cars. Red Skelton painted. But Newman as an actor who happened to like fast cars and Skelton was a comedian who happened to paint. To see all the episodes in the WRITERS AT WORK series, here’s the link.

Sticking with one thing can be the hardest part. Jane has written so many books in so many voices that she’s the exception to the rule but it’s probably sound advice for most writers to choose one genre and keep at it until success (and fans) grow over time.

The floor is open. I hope someone is going to talk about the need to self promote these days and some of the ways to approach it. Whether we like it or not, today’s writers are required to thump their chests and yell through a bullhorn from the back of every wagon. The old adage, write a better book and the world will beat a path to your door (okay, something like that) may still be true, but kids there are a lot of books out there and many good ones are never discovered.


18 comments on “How do I increase my fan base?

  1. When you talk about discovery of authors or books.. I feel it is my job as a librarian to read and share as many of these books with the children/teens/adults in our area. RA is a BIG part of my job and I am very passionate about it. I really love sharing local authors with our families!! 🙂

  2. Ah, David–but I have also been punished for being (pun alert) sui generis or sui genres! Lee Hopkins was pushing for me to win the NCTE poetry award when I had (I think) 50-60 books of poetry and picture books written in poetry form already published. And one librarian on the committee said, “But she doesn’t write poetry.” Probably knew me as a novelist. And recently I was going to speak at a historical novels panel, and though I always call myself a short form writer–NOT a novelist–I counted the novels up to prove my point. Stopped counting the novels (middle grade and YA) at 60. So even I don’t know what genre to place myself in.

    • I get that, Jane. In your case it’s probably accurate to say that in place of one fan base you have many. If you had chosen one genre early in your career and stuck to it, today you might have published 350 books of poetry or fiction or nonfiction. You might also have missed out on a lot of joy. I think that’s a very tough decision to make and stick with. I, for one, am glad you let your talents and interests take you where they will. But it isn’t fair to be punished for it!

  3. I could sure use some tips. I spoke to a group of writers last night, and at one point I said, “This sounds like bragging,” and then said something about what I’ve done. I feel like I should apologize for talking about myself.

    • Yup. All of our mothers taught us it’s not nice to brag on yourself. And all writers were good little boys and girls I’m sure. Now the publishers want us to go against our natural grain to tell the world how great we are. Not that publishers don’t make an effort, but they figure it’s easier for us to shout out about talents when they have so many to promote. For many of us the stressful part of writing isn’t the work, it’s having to spend so much time and energy trying to help sell it.

  4. So glad you found a new use for my Writers at Work comment, David! I’m not sure sticking to one genre or writing in many genres is a conscious choice. At least, it’s certainly not for me. I get an idea and it chooses how it wants to be expressed. Every once in a while, I’ll tell a story or a picture book it also needs to be a play, but not often. My poems wouldn’t make sense as novels and my magazine stories wouldn’t work on stage. But they all insist on getting written! I suspect that some people are born to write a certain kind of story in a certain style, and that’s simply what they do. I admire the great ones, Jane Austen among them. But I can’t emulate them. I just can’t. So I don’t even try. “To thine own self be true.”

    • Hiya, Sandy. Thanks for the additional thoughts. It’s a tough issue and you’re probably right in saying that the genres find us more often than we find them.

  5. I did not choose my brand, my fanbase chose it for me. I listened to them. How can authors build a true fan base when they appear (from what I observe on social media) to build them with other authors? That makes no sense because it keeps the ripples waves of getting your books out there in small limited orbits.

    • So true, Melanie.
      So, that raises the question, as a children’s poet, is your fan base the children you are writing for or the adults and school librarians who will purchase your books?

      • I write and illustrate picture books. One was with a poet friend who was the first Poet Laureate of Brooklyn, Norman Rosten. I think it’s great to bounce ideas off fellow colleagues and share that way. What I think does NOT work is *using* fellow colleagues to buy and promote our works, especially without proper exchange. I see lots of bad promoting on social networks that includes cliques, power tripping, nepotism, envy, TMI, drama kings / queens, weekly publishing outrages, and harems. Personally, those are immediate turn-offs. AND now, I’ve become turned-off to the *product* the authors are pitching. Due to lack of marketing on the publisher’s end we’ve become publicly part of our product. We need to sell our products to the correct target audience. That audience consists mostly of parents (at least in my genre), kids don’t have buying power. Yes, kids need to know reading/poetry is fun but they are not buying the books. Time to rethink and stop doing the above list I gave because what’s considered cool or hearing every iota of an author’s mind matter on social network, our very small inner publishing circles just ain’t flying with folks outside of these circles. My parents have no clue about publishing’s current darlings nor their books. Think annoying political campaign ads as a reminder of what we might sound like to those outside our field (and inside, too). ps stop trying to correct your audience’s grammar and spelling, not a great way to lure them in. So you can spell? How wonderful for you!

  6. Some good thoughts here, David. I’ll add my two cents.
    David asked a question prompted by Jane Yolen about how to build audiences for children’s poetry. So let me pull up my high chair. I’m going to stand on it so I can pontificate. Pardon me.
    For some reason, to me, this question sounds whiny. Does it to you?
    It took me some thinking to figure out that the question is about the past, it has the built in assumption that in the past audiences weren’t big enough, so they need to expand. This focuses on the past. What has already happened. The answer lies in the future.
    For me, to gain greater audiences, I need to think outside the box. And I need to be passionate about children’s poetry. This is based on my belief that change only happens with passion. Cages need to be rattled to make changes. Isn’t that what spoken word and rap poetry did. Thinking outside the box, they took their poetry to the streets. They made poetry a game and had competitions. They took their poetry to the people.
    In a sense, isn’t that what we do with out blogs—we’re saying, “Here it is. You want this. You need this. Come and get it.” If you want a greater audience for your poetry, look outside the box. Give people (in our case children) something they want and need. Make it fun, painless.
    I once had the idea it would be fun to have a poetry bus that would drive across the US picking up and dropping off children’s poets. Like the old medicine show caravan, the bus would stop at school sites and do readings and workshops for children. Think of a whole bus full of poetry TED TALKS pulling up to a school parking lot to entertain and amuse kids with our poetry. Then, think of the bus as being the venue for a reality TV show and take that to the next step of Poetry with the Stars. Start with a dozen poets and fans can vote for their favorites each week. (Sound familiar?)
    We need to take to the streets, infiltrate—use buses, cabs, subways as venues for our poetry. Oh wait. That has been done.
    The audience exists, we just need to look at new and exciting ways to present our poetry and ourselves to our audiences.
    If you aren’t excited and passionate about what you are doing, the problem is within, not outside with the audience. I feel excited and passionate about children’s poetry. I can’t help with your problem. I can’t fix you. If there is a problem, it will be solved one poem at a time—like reading a poem one word, one line at a time. Who knows where the poem will take you. It is the journey. Show some gratitude for the fantastic gift you have been given.
    So now I’ll climb down off of my high chair and go find a quiet corner to meditate in and hope my muse throws me a great idea to write a poem about. The good news is that poetry audiences actually are growing. Look at the popularity of National Poetry Month and Poem in your Pocket Day. Look at the popularity of verse novels for teens and the popularity of Children’s Poetry Week. Even the support of a Young Peoples Poet Laureate is proof of the value people put on children’s poetry.
    Children’s poetry is a part of you, who you are, what you do, and how you define yourself. Children’s poetry resides in you. This was written in a white hot heat—my fingers are all tingly from thinking of the possibilities and from gripping my pen.
    Thanks for a good question.

  7. Thanks for a great Chair Talk, Joy! I’d love to be on that bus if it ever gets rolling. In the meantime, you’ve inspired me to share my own idea, and I welcome others to use it, build on it, and maybe even offer advice, since it’s still in progress. As Lancaster County Children’s Laureate, appointed by the Lancaster Literary Guild and working with the county library system, I’ve given five of my poems on the topic of libraries to county librarians with the challenge to share them with their local folks any way they like. They’re also to invite those folks to respond to the poems creatively, celebrating libraries in any way they like — song, skit, video, story, art, sculpture, dance, whatever — including more poetry. Some librarians will do so as a family activity; others will limit participation to children in certain age groups. One mentioned store posters; another, puppets. The sharing and inviting will be the librarians’ creative effort. One hard-and-fast rule: No contests. Just celebration inspired by poetry. I’ll be available for kick-offs and culminating events as needed, including a county-wide event on April 1, 2016, at Millersville University’s beautiful Ware Center in downtown Lancaster. Final planning will happen this fall; the full launch and implementation are scheduled for January – March, 2016. Stay tuned, and chime in if you like. Thanks for this conversation, David!

    • Oh what wonderful ideas, Sandy. I can see you make a great Lancaster County Children’s Poet Laureate. I do like the “no contests” rule. I hope you encourage David Harrison to help you with the library programs. Wish I lived closer so I could help. We have a Read to a Dog program at my local library which is a great success because the dog never says, “You’ve got that wrong.” or corrects the young reader. Twice now when I’ve done Poem in your Pocket day with the kids it occurred at the same time the dogs were at the library and some of the kids chose to write poems to the dogs–too precious. The dogs really seemed to enjoy having the creations read to them, and not a one of them said, “You didn’t get that right,” or “You need to correct this.” It was just poetry written for the joy of it and shared too. The celebration, sharing the happiness, is for me what poetry is all about.

      • Thank you, Joy. I love the idea of children writing poems and sharing them with “reading dogs.” I’ve seen such dogs and they’re marvelous. My Rudy, unfortunately, was NOT interested in the job. In Therapy Dog Class, he’d “down” and “stay,” but facing AWAY from the reading children. In dog terms, “No, thank you.” And, alas, David and I no longer live in the same state, ‘though we do still projects together via email.

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