The Internet has mixed feelings about John Scalzi. Personally, I’m a fan. Guy writes good sci-fi and remains down-to-earth despite his level of success. Not only that, he’s always up to talk to regular people and has a fair amount of integrity:
I need to re-think my goals as an author. I think what I want is to be as secure and comfortable with the truth as @Scalzi.
— InkICan (@InkICan) June 28, 2017
After trading tweets with him for a while, I decided to ask him a question that very few other people would be in a position to answer. As I’m getting started as an author, I’m running into a number of challenges I did not expect. How do I navigate this unknown territory?
Even established authors find audience engagement to be somewhat daunting, but Scalzi seems to have found his own personal comfort zone between writing and talking to people so that more people buy his stories. How does it work? I decided to ask the man himself and see what he said. I was pleasantly surprised by the 140-character insights that followed.
Insight #1: Keep Making and Cranking
For WordPress-formatting sake, I took a screenshot of the Twitter chat, but you can read it for yourself here. One key takeway from Scalzi is that, regardless of whether you’re established or not, you need to keep putting good material out there.
You may have different things that you want to share and that’s fine! Lord knows there are always new stories to talk about, or new concepts to consider in the science fiction world. The point is to keep it simple, organic and sustainable. The real mission is to tell stories, and we need to work at this every day.
Insight #2: Don’t Be That Guy
Admit it: You’ve watched people like Chuck Tingle or Lani Sarem and wondered “should I be doing that, too?” I have. I dislike that style of writing and/or monkey business, but until I talked to Scalzi, I had no rational explanation for why their strategies were ineffective.
I bang my head against the wall trying to answer these questions: Do we chase the dream or do we chase the attention? No one wants to be ‘that guy’ of the book world, but how *do* you introduce yourself? How much work should be going into the audience building versus the storytelling?
Scalzi knew what I was talking about, and in one move tells us that it’s okay to stop worrying. Focus on what is interesting, he says, and let the attention take care of itself. I felt myself breathing a sigh of relief and re-thinking everything I’d been stressing over.
Oh yeah, this has been stressing me out. I have an anxiety disorder and talking about my work with new people is stressful. That doesn’t give me a pass to hide under a rock. I still need to try to engage with people and that’s what I do, given my unique circumstances.
There’s no one right answer on how to do this. Even Scalzi admits that ‘your mileage may vary.’ The rule of thumb seems to be: Remember that when discussing your work with new readers that you relate to those people as human beings, instead of a problem to be solved.
I finished the conversation with Scalzi and then I went back to re-think everything I had been doing up to this point. One of my favorite parts of writing is how it challenges you on so many levels. I’ve found that solving problems for my stories also means solving problems for me. That’s been very theraputic.
So to close this out, I hope you find these essay and my other notes on audience building to be useful. If you have some practical suggestions to offer that I can pass along, I’d love to hear them.