Building an Audience from the Bottom Up

When I decided to return to writing, in Canada, after a long hiatus, I wondered how the heck anyone was going to notice me. I did not belong to the literary community; I had not been educated in this country, had no industry contacts, no MA, MFA or other academic title that seemingly confers literary potential. I had no published works that had sold millions. I was just starting out (again). And like many hundreds of those in my demographic and education level • who all believed they had a story or two to tell • I realized that there were many of us in the same boat • in other words, I had competition without customers.
The writing returned easily. I had to find the time and calmness to tap into that divine conduit that writers seem privy to, and once there, the characters, situations and stories began to flow. Before long I had more stories and manuscripts sitting around me than I had ever imagined. It was like that 20 year hiatus I had taken to immigrate (twice), grow a family and build a professional career had never interfered or dulled my literary senses. The stories had merely been stored in the hard drive of my soul with the pause button on.
But then came the hard part: who the heck cared? I was still a nobody. In the intervening years, we had also seen the advent of the multi•channel TV universe, the Internet, the mega•bookstore, the 5 –second commercial and politicians were the new movie stars! I was a nano•nobody!
There were two ways to getting noticed: top•down or bottom•up.
Top down is the writer’s dream – get picked off the slush pile of a major publisher, get an Oprah endorsement and get into the media machine that tells the world “Thou shalt read this book!” (and the world meekly complies, for who the hell has time to hunt for good books these days with all the choice out there?). I still pray for top•down, and so does my competition.
Bottom•up is harder but more enduring. And this means building your audience one reader at a time. I use the tools that this speeded•up world has given me. I have a web site now. I also blog like this and people are beginning to read me. I give free copies of my books to influential people. I give free copies to poor but intelligent people who connect with me on an intellectual or emotional level. I contribute a lot of free content. Whenever someone says, “Did you know this guy is a writer?” my response is, “Shall I do a reading?’ I solicit feedback from writing groups and engage people with my stories. I know the fan base I make this way is always going to be small, but I will own them – they will not desert me when the media next says “Thou shalt read this other book…” If top•down ever happens to me one day, I hope I will still have the time and energy to continue cultivating bottom•up.
I believe bottom•up is going to be increasingly called upon as the attention spans of people fragment further, when time becomes an even rarer commodity and online social networks proliferate. Isn’t there some age•old wisdom out there about how to eat an elephant? If I recall the answer, it was “One piece at a time.”

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