Authors, podcasters, bloggers, bloviators and cultural icons of all kinds: Everyone is subject to signal fade.
Signal fade equals audience entropy. Most people stop reading and listening over time because there are so many new things that demand our attention. Most of the fans and followers you have now will not be your fans and followers in the future. You might make one wrong move on Twitter and insult irradiated Japanese disaster victims like Gilbert Gottfried did. Maybe your fans will jump ship to the new simply because we’re programmed to seek out fresh experiences. They’ll get bored of your schtick. If you’re Jay Leno or Dennis Miller, it’s over, but for the rest of us, there’s still hope. What to do?
1. Don’t fall into schtick. Keep your writing and your words fresh. The person the masses will listen to the longest and with the most interest will be the one who says the unexpected. When I write a Facebook post or have some fun on Twitter, there’s probably a joke coming. Ah. But how will I arrive at that twisted coda? “Expect the unexpected.” That’s what my wife says when I tickle her. I didn’t take the threat seriously until I woke up in the middle of the night with her braining me with a frying pan. (See? Twisted coda sneak attack!) A better example is Chuck Palahniuk. He didn’t write Fight Club and then keep writing the same book again and again (as many authors do). He dipped into experimental fiction and several of his books are a jazz fiction fusion. It’s not all the same. You don’t have to change your unique voice, but be flexible how you use it.
2. Grow your base. This is tricky, because you don’t want to waste energy chasing down people who won’t dig you. Director Kevin Smith, for instance, was flummoxed to learn that one of his movies was advertised at great expense in The Ladies Home Journal. There’s not a chance that advertising paid for itself. That magazine’s readers probably couldn’t abide his penchant for profanity and Star Wars-obsessed dialogue. Instead, be you but in more places, so people can find you. Do guest blogs, grow your twitter following, appear on podcasts or whatever other book promotion you do. Most important on this to-do list, and the only one that is critical, is write more books. Be prolific. If your bookshelf and your base isn’t growing, it’s shrinking and dying faster than grandma.
3. Add to the mix. Host guest posts on your blog. Do interviews to get out of your head and into someone else’s. Link to a variety of blogs using Scoopit! to give your readers a smorgasbord. Bring more minds into your mix. Co-author a book. Have a guest on your podcast or play off your stooge of a brother. Try joining a writing group. Try a writing partner. Add a new voice to your old formula.
4. Set your mind free. This step is one way to accomplish #1. Too many people have the same thoughts because they’re talking to the same people all the time. Check out a book, a topic, a podcast or a blog you wouldn’t ordinarily read to get some fresh input to fuel your output. Go to court and watch arraignments for a couple of mornings this week. Get a tour of a morgue. Read this for a change of worldview instead of watching regular news. Take a language class and hang out with your fellow students. Learn the piano. Buy a homeless guy a coffee and talk to him. Go to a different church or hang out at a gay bar. Do something different from what you’ve done.
5. Step away from the keyboard. If it were up to me, I’d never go anywhere and never take a vacation. However, She Who Must Be Obeyed insists on vacations once a year at least. I hate leaving my writing bunker. I’m always here! Why try to alter my agoraphobic tendencies? However, every time I come back, I have fresh insights, more energy and new, aired-out ideas. You need a reboot, too.
6. Write in more than one genre. If you’re into different types of fiction or want to branch out into non-fiction, do that. Cross-pollination will feed both grafted branches on your tree. More new people will have another way to discover The Magic That is You. Aside from my crime novels, I’ll publish a book on writing and I just published another fiction collection of suspense recently. Don’t just sit there. Juggling is energizing.
7. Or narrow your focus. The alternative is to own a topic so much, to be so unique, that anyone interested in a particular topic will have to read you. Certain names spring to mind for this rarified stratum of writer: Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, and Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. Of course, these guys take on big topics like economics and entrepreneurship and how to achieve success, but maybe you’re the master storm drain coupler of the Midwest. If you can drill down deep and achieve mastery of a subject to the degree that it makes you a specialist, your audience will have to read you to know what’s up. Whatever you do, own your category or aspire to own it.
8. Expand your outlets. You write, say, books of horror. What about podcasting about it as well as writing it? What about audiobooks? What about t-shirt sales on Cafe Press or Zazzle.com? How about graphic novels of your existing work? What about serious speaking engagements or stand-up comedy? How else can you not just monetize, but be different? Different and more is good. Different boosts your signal to a wider audience. More is more. Some people say less is more, but those people flunked math.
9. Change your process. So you’ve always outlined and plotted your books in great OCD detail? Instead, start pulling it out of your butt and see what surprises you’ve got stuffed up there. Or vice versa. Do you write one book a year or one book every three years? Resolve to write your next book in one month and then hold yourself to that promise. Do you write longhand in a library? Go to the coffee shop opposite the men’s mission and get a window seat and write there. Surprise yourself not just in what you write, but how you write it.
10. Change your support system. For my crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, I added an ex-military buddy to my beta read team. I didn’t know he’d be interested in the book, but on a whim, I asked because of his military expertise. He read it in a day and was very enthusiastic. When he came over with the marked up manuscript, we talked for three hours. Not only did he give me helpful ideas for the current book, I got great ideas for future books in the series. For my next book, I’m hiring a new editor to add fresh insight and plan to mix and match my beta read team.
Your signal won’t fade so fast if you vary its energy, amplitude and range. New people will tune in to replace the fans who wandered away. As for the fans that stay with you through all your books, podcasts and creative incarnations? They’re the ones on your mailing list you should pay particular attention to. Encourage conversation with them. They may even hang in long enough to warn you when you are getting stale, selling out or losing your freaking mind.
- Author Blog Challenge 10: How to make me want to spread your word (chazzwrites.com)
- Author Blog Challenge (plus a sneak peek podcast*): Outlining, pantsing, spilling & sprinting (chazzwrites.com)
- PODCAST: The Letters Edition (allthatchazz.com)
- Get heard: Podcast Your Book (chazzwrites.com)
- Ultimate Blog Challenge: Top 10 What I’ll soon do differently with my book promotion (chazzwrites.com)
- Ultimate Blog Challenge: Top 10 things I wish I didn’t know about readers (chazzwrites.com)
- Ultimate Blog Challenge: Can you blog a book? Sure you can. (chazzwrites.com)