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How to Grow as an Author | Answering Questions No One Asked!

This might be one of my stranger posts, but just bear with me (pun absolutely intended). Growing as an author can be difficult, and there is no one right answer on how to do it. This post is my attempt to share something I am trying that has been a positive experience for me so far.

A waterfall behind some colorful fall leaves
The Brandywine Falls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

My journey as an author has been a long one, with ups and downs that I never imagined when it began. For those who may not be aware, I started this whole journey by creating a YouTube channel focused on photography. That channel morphed a lot over time, eventually leading to the decision to write a book that would turn into the decision to write more books. One of the biggest lessons I learned along the way was that writing was the easy part.

Anyone can write a book. It might not come out great, but sitting down and dedicating some time to writing each day will eventually get enough words written to make up something that resembles a full-length novel. Whether that novel is worth reading is up to the potential reader, but that is where the trouble begins. How do you tell people you've written something? And once they're aware of your work, how do you get them to actually buy it, read it and review it?

This particular post is only going to focus on the first part of that equation, the others will come in later posts if I ever figure them out.

I've tried a few different tactics to get the attention of people who might be interested in checking out either of my books. For starters, I dedicated an entire Facebook page to myself as a writer. Through trial and error and reaching out to other authors on the platform, I managed to meet a few other authors who were struggling with the same issues I was having with self-promotion. Some of them had managed to grow a decent audience of their own, and some were smaller than I was.

Through that process, and a lot of Googling, I picked up several pieces of advice. One tidbit I came across time and time again was to join groups on places like Facebook, Twitter (I refuse to call it "X") and other social media sites, build up a reputation by getting to know people and offering advice, and then sharing links or dropping a bit or two about the fact that I had a published book. This idea didn't really sit well with me because it feels so disingenuous. The concept is simple enough, but for someone like me who is naturally introverted it was a nightmare to think about. When you go through this process you're either joining the group because it really interests you and sharing your work is just a bonus, or you're joining to pull the wool over the eyes of the people who actually care about the group in the hope that a couple more people might see what you've written. Suffice to say, I didn't go this route.

The main thing I tried, through 2023 at least, was to build an audience on YouTube around my horror stories. I was really enjoying writing these stories weekly, and I was hoping I would capture the imagination of people who enjoyed listening to Creepypasta style stories and maybe get them to read my debut novel along the way. For months I pumped out a story a week, each with their own creepy twist. When people did bother to listen to them and leave a comment, the feedback was positive. The problem, once again, was reach.

I should probably take a second to explain the YouTube algorithm. Actually, that would take a lot longer than a second, and no one actually knows how it works, so I'm going to summarize my experience. I've got a few older blog posts talking about my early journey on YouTube, but the gist is that everyone claims there is a formula that you can follow to grow an audience on YouTube, but the truth is that it is about 30% skill and 70% luck. At the end of the day you can have the greatest, most highly produced videos on the planet, but unless you get lucky enough to get a big push it will never be seen. The skill part is super important, and you need to have some outstanding content for people to see if you ever do get lucky, but there is no way to force growth. Well, almost no way.

See, I made the decision to get back into Twitch streaming a couple months ago (as of this writing). I figured I'd play some games, maybe put some highlights on YouTube for fun and that would be that. I played a game called The Demonologist for the most part, but I decided to dabble in Minecraft early on as well. On one of the streams I made a passing joke that I would become a full-time Minecraft streamer if people enjoyed watching me enough. I didn't actually think much of it until I uploaded a short of me saying that to YouTube. That short quickly amassed over 2700 views and gained me 15 new subscribers. That may not sound like much, but when I was averaging less than 30 views and no new subscribers on a typical video, it was huge.

"But Josh..." I hear you not asking, "How is becoming a Minecraft YouTuber going to help you being found as an author?" (see, this is where I actually get to the question no one asked).

The truth is that there is an audience out there for everything, and most audiences have more than one thing they enjoy. The difficult part is getting what you have to sell in front of people. The market is full of people vying for attention, trying to sell themselves or a product to a public that only has so many hours in a day to take in any kind of media. In the past couple of years, really since the pandemic, the thing taking up more and more of that precious attention is shorts. There is a great demand for good, short form content and not enough people producing it. Sure, there are a ton of idiots doing the latest trendy dance, but there are also a lot of people looking for something more. And that's where Minecraft factors in for me.

See, me standing in front of the camera, or doing a voiceover or some other lame attempt at getting attention would only get lost in the sea that is YouTube Shorts, but me making a witty joke or having something crazy happen in a popular game is a little more likely to make someone pause. Millions of people grew up with Minecraft and either still enjoy it or are nostalgic for it. If my videos can bring them a laugh or cause them to pause, they have now been exposed to me in a positive way. Over time, with enough exposure in that way, I can solve the other big issue that plagues new, unknown, authors.

So what is that issue? No one knows who I am and so they have no reason to look into anything I've written. This is where I get really raw and will really offend a few people.

So many times on Facebook, I've seen "indie" authors going out and buying books of other indie authors to show support. Often they will read these books and even leave a positive review, but not necessarily because they loved the book. It's this idea of "we should support each other by buying each other's works and leaving reviews" and it sometimes even amounts to manipulation of the system. See, Amazon in particular doesn't like to show new products, especially books from new authors, without a decent number of reviews to prove the work is worth it to the shoppers. By reviewing works from fellow small authors, you help them get seen and potentially get more sales. But, it's a give and take system. In order to get people to review your stuff, you have to do the same for them in many cases. The whole process just becomes one big circle jerk and can even be harmful when a new author starts to get real reviews from readers who aren't authors themselves who are upset the book wasn’t as good as advertised. If you leave an honest review that isn't positive, you get scorned by the community and hung out to dry.

So why am I going over all this? Because I think it is important to lay the backdrop out and show the difference between growing an audience and engaging in what amounts to follow for follow politics. The goal for most artists, authors and other creatives is to have our work seen and be known for what we do best. The way to do that has changed immensely over the years. At one point in history you wrote to every magazine in existence in the hopes that just one would pick up your story and publish it. Often as a writer, you had to spend years pushing your work to different agents on the chance one of them would decide to represent you. Nowadays, with self-publishing being available as it is to the masses, it's harder than ever to get your work out there because the market is full of people who are sure they have the next big thing.

Statistically, if you can get your work in front of enough eyeballs, people will read it and a portion of those people will love it. In 2023 you have a couple of options to do this. You could just post into the void on one or more social media sites and hope for the best, you could post with a plan and build up a resume over time where you slightly increase your chances of being seen through keyword research and a lot of studying the market or you could pay for advertising. All of these options have their strengths and weaknesses, but what I'm trying right now seems to be working the best for me.

Full disclosure, I enjoy gaming and I love playing Minecraft as a creative outlet. If I didn't enjoy it then I doubt streaming it and sharing clips would do much good. You have to love what you do if you're going to make it in a creative field, otherwise you'll burn yourself out. Not only that, people are much smarter than they are given credit for most of the time and they can see through a facade. If you're doing something you hate just for the views, they can tell. I wouldn't advocate every author go out and start playing Minecraft, or even stream for that matter. What I'm trying to point out is that you need to think outside the box when trying to promote yourself. Sit down and figure out what passions you have outside of writing and try to find ways those things could be incorporated into your strategy for growth and helping people find you. You are someone's favorite author, they just haven't found you yet. Maybe that person is really into a game you would enjoy playing, maybe they are into a subject that you would be the perfect person to teach them about. Go out and experiment, see what you enjoy and find what works.

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