Developing Natural Audience – A Correspondence with Rachel Thompson

Rachel Thompson image

As part of my continuing correspondence series, Developing Natural Audience, I decided to reach out to author, book promoter and social media consultant, Rachel Thompson. Many of you may know Rachel from her company, Bad Redhead Media. Rachel is also the brains behind the Twitter blog sharing meme, #MondayBlogs, which she started back in 2012.

Here’s a look at our e-mail exchange:

Dear Rachel,

As I mentioned to you, the interview I recently published with Marc Zegans, The Art of Finding Natural Audience set off a firestorm of a response. It seems that many writers and other creative people are experiencing real pain around the prospect of promoting their work after it’s been completed.

As someone who specializes in the area of book promotion, when dealing with the particular experience of authors who have put so much of themselves into their work, do you find a disconnect between how those writers see themselves engaging in the process of sharing their books out in the world? What sorts of issues do you have to help them overcome to get started?

Looking forward to hearing back,

Deborah

 

Hi Deborah.

Yes, there is indeed a disconnect between how writers see themselves engaging in the process of sharing their books out in the real world versus how they imagine it will be as they sit in front of their computer writing away.

Of course, we can’t really generalize because each writer is different, but there are some similar issues going on that I hear every day:

1) Writers don’t want to market, or simply don’t understand marketing at all, so they do nothing. Many times, they don’t realize there’s a difference between marketing their work (everything that goes into sharing their message) and selling their books (the interaction itself, many times which has little to do with the author themselves since it occurs online or in a bookstore).

The ‘ideal’ and the reason so many authors are enamored with traditional publishing, is that they think the publisher will do all the marketing for them. Wrong! I have traditionally published clients and they all either come to me to learn how to market or hire me to do it for them (or a combo of each). Regardless of how one is published (traditional, hybrid, or indie), you will need to create your own branding, your own platform. If not, how will people hear of you?

2) Writers don’t have time to both write AND market. I agree — who does? Nobody said this writing gig would be easy. Writers who think that all they have to do is write and the magical marketing gods will swoop in and market their work and take care of all that bothersome financial stuff? Fooling themselves.

Being a writer is to be self-employed. It is a BUSINESS. Many cities actually require writers have a business license. How is writing not a business, then? If you write books, you are buying and selling (usually via a vendor), but money exchanges hands and you will be paying taxes.

3) Social media is (insert here): a dumb waste of time, doesn’t work, too complicated, for teenagers, etc.

Most new authors are unsure of their branding, so they’ve no idea what to tweet about or post on their Facebook wall. They don’t know the difference between a personal account and an author page or why they do (or don’t) need one. They feel as if they’re speaking into a huge void and nobody cares.

As I always say, building relationships is the basis of social media. It’s social. It’s not one-way blast your message radio! We are all passionate about something — start with that. Even if has nothing at all to do with your genre, it’s okay. Be authentically who you are, and people will be drawn to you. Start there.

4) Be authentic. Creatives do find it painful to ‘sell,’ so…don’t. As I say above, be visible, be authentic, provide interesting content that you’re passionate about, interact with others — the selling happens organically. If there’s one hard lesson I learned from my 18+ years in soul-sucking Big Pharma, it’s that relationships matter, and sales cannot be forced.

Selling is a very…unnatural situation. We can discuss our kids, the weather, a great book, all with ease. But get down to the close: ‘will you buy (read, review, share) my book?’ and it gets very uncomfortable, very fast. So don’t do that! Instead, build relationships with readers, book bloggers, reviewers, via your blog, guest blogs, articles, even via advertising and promotions, that don’t bonk them over the head like Bam Bam. Subtlety wins, but not so introverted that they can’t hear you… Bottom line, there is no either/or in marketing or writing. We must do both.

 

D – Rachel, you touch on so many vital points in your response. And I agree with you about the fact that writing and marketing go hand in hand.

Perhaps what hangs people up is that many of those who create don’t want to feel like they are “selling.” I totally understand this. I don’t like the feeling that I’m trying to convince someone to buy something I’ve created. If they are drawn to what I’m doing, they’ll naturally want to partake – I won’t have to convince them.

When you talk about authenticity and being yourself as a way of connecting with other people, do you think this is the basis for marketing one’s creative work?

 

R – ​I do. We connect with people based on common bonds. When we are our authentic selves, we break through that ‘fourth wall’ barrier. Selling is a manufactured, fake situation. How can you truly build an authentic relationship if you only discuss a thing? So instead of pushing the ‘buy my book!’ model which doesn’t connect with people, building relationships instead is an investment — and that’s either intimidating to people or they’re inherently lazy — it’s effort.

 

D – Because I tend to see this as the central way to naturally create our audience . It’s kind of the opposite of the selling model.

 

R – Agreed. ​

 

D – Instead of addressing ourselves to a huge audience and trying to get them to see it our way, we do our outreach in a way that naturally attracts the people who are already likely to connect with us.

 

R – We can’t possibly attract everyone to our work. That’s why there are genres, keywords, and sales funnels. Marketing is about focus!

 

D – I see you doing this all the time through your blog posts and other social media messages. That is, I see you being very natural and direct in your communication.

 

R – Thank you!

 

D – Have you always been this way or did you have to strip away an instinct to act as a salesperson to get to where you are now?

 

​R – I spent over 18+ years either as a salesperson or training salespeople (in Big Pharma). I found that when I spent time building relationships with my customers (physicians and their staff), I was able to have incredible access to them, and they used my products (medicines) more than my competition because they liked me (and of course, I sold good drugs that didn’t ya know, kill people LOL).

Carry that analogy over to authors: be likable, have a great book. People want to like us, but they also want to read good work. The onus isn’t on the reader to recognize how amazing we are (sadly, that’s the belief of many authors). Too many also believe that just believe they have released a book, people will buy it in droves just because it’s there. It’s on US to provide a perfect (if there is such a thing) book: hire a professional editor, proofreader, graphic artist, etc. AND it’s our responsibility (no matter how one is published) to connect with readers, book bloggers, and reviewers.

Too many indie authors argue: but I can’t afford it! But I say yes, yes you can. With crowdfunding sites like PubSlush, that are specifically geared to literary projects (and if they don’t fulfill, you still keep all pledges!), anyone can afford to create a great work.

That said, some writers may not be ready to release their work. Work with other writers, editors, critique groups, write a blog and get feedback. We cannot write in a bubble. I look at my first book (A Walk In The Snark) and cringe a bit. But you know what? Some people loved it, some hated it and it’s all okay. We all grow as writers. And there’s nothing stopping us from going back and making our first books better! Or leave it alone — it’s kind of fun to see our growth, also.

Comments
34 Responses to “Developing Natural Audience – A Correspondence with Rachel Thompson”
  1. Great interview! You always have the best advice Rachel.

  2. All good points. I love Rachel’s posts on Facebook. I wish I was as adept at communicating as she is but I keep trying.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kathleen. Rachel offers a tremendous example of authentic communication by simply being herself and turning her enormous passion and imagination loose on us! She sets a great example of how being ourselves can really allow others to feel connected to us.
      -D

    • Thanks Kathleen — haha, sometimes I think I’m too honest in my responses and posts but hey, I’m authentic! I love what you share — especially the funny pix and quotes. You’re on target there.

  3. It sounds so simple yet so complicated that I’m not surprised that so many don’t put in the time (or don’t realize they have to) to build and maintain an audience. And we all wander in with no clue just what it is we’re becoming a part of (some don’t see it as being “a part of” more “apart from”) with even less of a clue as to how to actually do what needs to be done for any chance at success. Rachel is good at showing clueless souls some strategy that can and does work.

    • Agreed, Will. One important thing that Rachel points out, is that if we break up our efforts to build and maintain our audience into do-able pieces, we can take it one step at a time. Also, we should work with platforms that feel comfortable to us. If we don’t feel natural in our communications to the world, people will notice, and it won’t help us further our goals…

      • Thank you both! It’s definitely about having a strategy and focus to manage expectations — whether it’s as simple as creating an expectation that I’m going to talk about Nutella — whatever! It’s authentic, fun, and makes us approachable. Thanks for commenting, Will. xx

  4. Great interview indeed!! Rachel is spot on in so many ways! Being a writer is being in business! More entrepreneurs need to realize this, but especially writers!

    • Thanks, John! I love Rachel’s no-nonsense approach to book marketing and promotion. I also love the way she understands how important it is to make personal, authentic connections with her audience. It’s the thing that attracted me to her in the first place!
      -D

      • Thank you Deborah! I’m honored to be here and share my thoughts. I love this ‘correspondence’ style format, too. You’ve really latched onto something dynamic here.

    • Thank you John! It’s interesting how many authors don’t see themselves as business people at all. That writing is IT — that’s all they need to do. Maybe it’s my marketing and sales background, but I just never have understood that mindset. How can you connect with readers without connecting with readers??

      Thanks again for commenting. I learn so much from you.

      • Marc Zegans says:

        Rachel, I love your question, “How can you connect with readers without connecting with readers? Things get easier for writers who just want to write when they realize that there are people out there who genuinely want to know what they have to say, it’s just a question of finding ways to connect.

  5. Reblogged this on Savvy Writers & e-Books online and commented:
    “The ‘ideal’ and the reason so many authors are enamored with traditional publishing, is that they think the publisher will do all the marketing for them. Wrong! Regardless of how one is published (traditional, hybrid, or indie), you will need to create your own branding, your own platform. If not, how will people hear of you?
    Writers don’t have time to both write AND market. I agree — who does? Nobody said this writing gig would be easy. Writers who think that all they have to do is write and the magical marketing gods will swoop in and market their work and take care of all that bothersome financial stuff? Fooling themselves.
    Being a writer is to be self-employed. It is a BUSINESS. Many cities actually require writers have a business license. How is writing not a business, then? If you write books, you are creating and selling (usually via a retailer), but money exchanges hands and you will be paying taxes.”
    Read more what Rachel Thompson sayd in a recent interview at projectmavens.com

  6. Great info and advice. Shared! Thanks, both of you!

  7. Reblogged this on Sally Ember, Ed.D. and commented:
    Great info and advice for #writers about #bookmarketing (I know; our favorite thing to do!).

  8. Beth Caplin says:

    I’ve learned so much from Rachel in the short time I’ve known her, and I wish I had known her back when I first started publishing. It’s amazing how much a little research can change one’s ability to sell books and connect with other authors.

    • Hi SaraBeth and thank you so much for reading and commenting. I’m glad to know you and happy I’ve been able to help. It is amazing how a little knowledge can change our perspective so much. You’re doing good work. I’m thrilled to know you. xx

    • Thanks for commenting, Beth. I agree. Rachel is so knowledgeable… I learn from her all the time, and I’m so glad we are getting to know one another better…

  9. A lot of great tips! Thanks! I think we forgot that a lot of marketing in any business is relationship building, and I think this is more the case with writers, because in books we are selling ideas more than if we were selling cars or clothes. To do that, having the respect or interest of our readers is crucial.

    • Hi Raelee. I agree that this is the case for writers, as it is for all artists who are looking to expand their audience. We creative types put so much of ourselves into our work. The language of selling that suits the marketing of traditional “products” doesn’t really fit our interactions in the same way. One could argue that all marketing is about building relationships, but I think the issues for artists become much more personal. This is why I resonated so strongly to Marc Zegan’s book, Intentional Practice and the Art of Finding Natural Audience (the thing that spurred this whole correspondence series). He put into coherent form the very things I was trying to accomplish with my approach to connecting my clients with their people out there in the world. Rachel uses a similar approach quite naturally with her people, as well…

      You can find the link within this piece: https://projectmavens.com/2014/10/06/the-art-of-finding-natural-audience-with-marc-zegans/

  10. Jess Alter says:

    Thank you for this informative interview with Rachel Thompson, Deborah. I appreciated the excellent advice on creating relationships with current and potential readers over the hard (or even soft) sell. As much as I would like to have the world beat a path to my typewriter, it’s not going to happen. Rachel’s answers and your questions offered an alternative to wishing for readers or broadcasting desperately that I have a product I want them to buy.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jess. I know this approach resonates for many of us who don’t like to feel like shoe salesmen! (Not that there’s anything wrong with selling shoes, mind you…) As I responded to Raelee, above, I was very inspired by the work of creative development advisor Marc Zegans in his book, Intentional Practice and the Art of Finding Natural Audience. It was after receiving such a huge response to my interview with him https://projectmavens.com/2014/10/06/the-art-of-finding-natural-audience-with-marc-zegans/ that I realized there were many great people out there putting this type of approach into practice. I decided to start a series of correspondences with them. Naturally, when it came to book promotion and marketing, I thought of Rachel…

      • Thank you both! I enjoyed this conversation so much, Deborah, and the comments have added such wonderful dimension and insight. you have terrific readers.

        Marc’s book is on my TBR list! Authors especially need to think long-term — it’s not a ‘here’s my book, now buy it’ kind of marketing tactic (which let’s be honest, we see a lot). It just doesn’t work. marketing our books needs to start LONG before we release it.

  11. Becki Rizzuti says:

    Shared on Facebook. I am more likely to purchase and complete novels written by authors who sell themselves before selling their books. If I know the author and what she stands for, it’s much more compelling than being bombarded with a series of links to the book on Amazon. As a reviewer, my opinion of the author as a person has a lot to do with how high I rate the book (even if it shouldn’t). It can make the difference of half a star (where half stars apply).

    • Becki, this squares directly with what Rachel and I and Marc Zegans all seem to agree on – that is, the relationships artists form with their audience are fundamental in supporting interest in their work. If you relate to an artist on a human level, you’ll be more interested in what they’re creating. I know I like to feel some connection to a writer before I read what they have to say. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!
      D

  12. Excellent post. I agree with everything Rachel shared.

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