Everyone knows the old test to determine whether someone is an optimist or a pessimist: Show them a glass partially filled with water, and see whether they say that the glass is half empty or half full. The cliché is so far ingrained in our culture, that it has become a popular subject for clever jokes: The glass is all the way full, half with air and half with water; I’m not an optimist or a pessimist, I’m a realist—tell me whether I started with a full glass or an empty glass—did I drink it (in which case it’s half empty) or did I fill it (in which case it is half full); and so on.
Perhaps my favorite deconstruction of the old paradigm comes from the great Sir Terry Pratchett:
“There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world.” Pratchett writes in The Truth,” There are those who, when presented with a glass that is exactly half full, say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty.
“The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What’s up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don’t think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass! Who’s been pinching my beer?”
In this post, I would like to explore how we, as writers, can acquire that bigger glass.
Most writers whom I know are searching for ways to grow their audiences, but our audiences are limited by a number of factors, some of which are in our control, and some of which are not. Without the backing of a major publisher, or a professional level marketing and press budget, the extent to which we are filling our glasses is not nearly as consequential to our ultimate success as the size of our glass. Our limits, in terms of time, money, marketing and social media skills, determine the size of our glass, and therefore our potential audiences way more than many of us would like to admit.
Recently, I have come across a strategy to expand my audience which I would like to share with you. The idea is to grow your potential audience by cross-promoting with a group of other like-minded authors.
I was introduced to this idea twice in the last week, by two very different and disparate sources.
The first instance, came when I was asked by Buddy Scalera, of Comic Book School, to join a group of independent comics creators, which included writers, artist, retailer, and educators in the world of independent comics. This “Coalition of the Willing” as Scalera describes it, agreed to try to keep the enthusiasm of the panels that Comic Book School runs at New York Comic Con (NYCC) going throughout the year. If successful, this initiative would have a number of benefits. First, if the participants are able to keep the enthusiasm which they had when they left the show, they will be more productive in the coming year. Second, by keeping the discussion going throughout the year, the profile of independent comics in general, and Comic Book School in particular will be raised, giving the organization a bigger platform when it comes time for NYCC to select panels and give out panel times for the following year. (In recent years, there have been fewer professional panels at NYCC, a subject which I will address in a future blog). And Third, and most relevant to this post, the participant will cross promote with each other and with Comic Book School, gaining more eyes on their social media, thereby growing their audiences.
The way an initiative like this can help grow a creator’s audience, can be seen in the first challenge presented to the group. Each member was charged with posting about an independent comic that he or she enjoyed with the hashtags #MakeMineIndie (a play on the old Make Mine Marvel advertising campaign) and #ComicBookSchool, and explain why she or he enjoyed that comic. We each posted about a book that wasn’t our own, and the posts, depending on when you’re reading this, either will be—or will have been—collected on the Comic Book School page. By combining their efforts, liking and sharing each other’s posts, each member of the group raises the profile of all. Through the hashtag, we are also raising the profile of our medium by posting about independent comics. We each bring our own audience, our own glass if you will and pour our water into a larger pool which we all can share. Over time, our pool will grow as we add to it, and everyone will end up with a bigger glass.
We can also learn from each other. I am much more successful on twitter, than I am on facebook or instagram. Some of the other creators are more successful on the other platforms and less successful on twitter. Collaborating in this fashion will allow us to learn from each other as well as bring built-in audiences to the platforms with which we struggle.
I also encountered the idea of pooling audiences in the November/December issue of Poets and Writers. The cover story of the issue, “The Future of Indie Publishing” is comprised of eight stories, written by eight different editors of independent literary presses. Each was asked what independent publishing needed to do be successful in the future. The articles offered a variety of suggestions, but the one which caught my eye—perhaps because I was just starting to get involved with the Comics Book School project—came from Molly Barton, of Serial Box. In her article, entitled, “Right In Front of You + Immersive”, Barton relates a story of “The Silicon Guild” a group of “future-focused business writers who agreed to promote each other’s work through their social channels and newsletters.” By doing this, she claims, “just by combining their individual followings, they suddenly had a direct collaborative audience of millions.” (p67). Barton suggests that this not only raised their profile and expanded their audience exponentially, but that in her professional opinion, they could have started their own publishing company. She suggests that more writers engage in similar tactics, which will not only enhance their profiles, but make them more attractive to publishers as well.
Looking at these examples, one in the field of comics, and one about future-focused business writing cited in a magazine aimed largely at literary writers, I couldn’t help but be struck by the power of this strategy, especially in a world where an author’s social media footprint is so important. I am glad to be part of the Comic Book School group, and hope to find similar groups for the other genres and mediums in which I write (which include literary fiction, Science Fiction and Fantasy, and poetry). That way, no matter the vagaries of the glass—whether it’s more full or more empty—it will become a larger glass.