Last time I revealed what to me was the most significant lesson learned during my last thirteen years running Wheatmark: that publishing success requires actively building an audience. A natural question many authors have about this is: Should I start building an audience for my book before or after I write it?
Ideally you’d write your book and build your audience simultaneously, so that your audience-building activities could inform the content of your book, and you could use your writing as a resource for your audience-building activities. But the deeper answer is: It doesn’t matter, because you’re going to have to do both to achieve publishing success, and you have to start somewhere! Let me illustrate this with two very different publishing success stories:
1. Start with an audience, then write a book: Just over a year ago, when Mark Baker published The Game Changer: A Simple System for Improving Your Bowling Scores, he was a renowned bowling coach with top-tier clientele, including several of the best bowlers on the PBA Tour. He had lots of fans and followers both online and offline. He’d been involved in bowling for over thirty years: as a competitive bowler earning four PBA titles along with numerous other awards and accolades, as a sales manager for Cal Bowling Supply, and as the developer of Camp Bakes, one of the premier bowling camps in the world. In short, Mark had an audience. As a direct result, The Game Changer sold over 2,000 copies in its first month after publication and 6,000 in its first year.
2. Write a book, then build an audience: Over twenty years ago, when Angelyn Miller first published The Enabler, she was not a recognized expert on codependency and enabling—the subjects of her book—nor had she published any books before. She wasn’t a degreed practicing psychologist with a large clientele, either. In short, Angelyn had no audience. Her first publisher, Hunter House, invested substantially in getting The Enabler placed in brick-and-mortar bookstores (in the age before Amazon mattered) and listed in the right catalogs. Angelyn pursued and obtained a master’s degree in counseling psychology. She appeared as a guest on several radio shows and at a conference. The Enabler was recommended in several nationally syndicated self-help newspaper columns. Angelyn has built a substantial audience since the first publication of her book, and it shows. The Enabler has sold tens of thousands of copies, including over 30,000 since its republication with Wheatmark in 2001. When Angelyn publishes her second book, her audience will be there, ready and eager to buy it.
So don’t beat yourself up if you’ve spent all your time writing a book and haven’t built an audience for it yet. Pat yourself on the back for the major achievement that having written a book is, roll up your sleeves, and get to the work of building your audience.
Which came first the chicken or the egg? It doesn’t really matter if you’re making a chicken omelet.