One of the most important things we want to do as writers is build our audience. Having someone actually read what we write is the goal, is it not? We want our thoughts to change lives, impact the world, and make a difference. An audience is also the path to monetary reward. Having readers is absolutely critical if we want to get paid. For these reasons, it’s safe to say that building a large audience is as important a goal as writing itself.
Based on my Google-fu, one of the most sought-after bits of information about how to build an audience is “how long does it take.” The response depends completely on who you ask.
The most common answer comes from the salesman. You’ve seen this technique, even if you didn’t recognize it for what it is. Everyone has fallen for it at some point. It sounds like: “Hi! My name is Bob. I’m a best-selling writer of 47 books and over 1,000 magazine articles. I started my career 17 minutes ago and I have grown my subscriber base to 141,000 – and you can, too! Just put your email address in below and I’ll send you my top-secret PDF that shares ALL the professional tricks you need to accomplish your dream.” Most of the time, we’ve already clicked “SEND ME THIS” and are checking our inbox for the promised guide to easy street before we realize that we’ve been had.
The second common answer is the “let it be its own journey” type of response. This usually comes from the insecure artist who has never had any success whatsoever and is content to build an audience in whatever time it takes, if ever. Instead, they concentrate exclusively on the art they are producing, a noble pursuit, but a cop-out nonetheless. Their lack of ambition makes me question the value of the art they work so hard to produce! If they are not passionate about getting their material in front of people, how is their art making a difference in the world? The answer is, it’s not. If you do not focus on getting your work in front of people, your art won’t matter, either.
Those are the two extremes – “impossibly fast” and “why worry just focus on the art”. As with most things in life, the truth is somewhere in the middle. The reasons are obvious when you look at the issue through the lens of common sense. No one can produce a large audience in a ridiculously short amount of time. Their “overnight success”, if it is real at all, took, at a minimum, two to three years. At the other end of the spectrum is the person who wants to claim an audience is not important because the art is the most important thing. It’s not. Art without an audience is personal therapy, nothing more.
So what’s the real answer? It depends! Can you develop an audience in less than a year? Sure. How about six months? That’s probably pushing it! The truth is you have to produce good content on a consistent basis while aggressively marketing your work via every method possible. You can not put your content out in the world without marketing and hope people beat a path to your door. That’s not the way the world works. It takes a coordinated, planned attack on both fronts to achieve audience growth.
Saying it is one thing. Doing it is another thing altogether. We all like to write. It sort of goes with the territory. Most of us hate to market ourselves and “sell.” Consequently, we tend to focus on content creation to the detriment of the marketing. There’s an easy solution to this problem, though: don’t sell yourself. Focus on helping people, instead.
The salesman says “here’s my product, please buy it.” The professional says “here’s my product, I hope it helps you.” The difference is huge. The former is an impersonal financial transaction – about as intimate as ordering a burger and fries. Its success depends on the customer’s ability to be swayed by your sales technique and their intrinsic readiness to buy. That’s a hard combination of attributes to consistently meet. The latter, however, is the first step in building a relationship with your reader. Your reader will consume your content because it helps them solve a problem. Consistently helping them will build a trust relationship with the reader. Then, when you offer something for sale, the reader will purchase because they already trust you, not because of a low price, a flashy headline, or any other showy sales techniques. That is what differentiates a true audience from others who happen by your site and get accosted with sales offers.
So to answer the initial question of “how long will it take?” I offer the following: the time period is not something you can control. Trying to force audience growth will only result in frustration. It will happen either relatively quickly or relatively slowly in direct relation to the degree your work helps your visitors. If you want to build your audience quickly, produce a lot of high quality content that truly helps people. If you want to build your audience slowly, produce content slowly, or of mediocre quality, or content that is deliberately written to be sold. People are not, for the most part, completely ignorant of a blatant sales pitch. Don’t be that type of author. Take the high road and write to help your audience instead.