It’s challenging for creators to try to find an audience for their work. All advice for doing this amounts to: 1) find where people who like your sort of thing online are and 2) tell them about your stuff. When a creator first attempts to execute this, they find these people INCREDIBLY, and surprisingly, hostile.
One of the best pieces I’ve read on this was a blog post from a couple of months ago about “Self-Promotion, Capitalism, and The Unreasonable Demand of ‘Community Spirit'”. The writer talks about the hostility online communities have to creators promoting work they’re selling. In it, he talks about how communities demand that you “be a part of their community” before you share content you’ve created for sale (or often even for free). His objections are that being part of the community is inherently nebulous and intentionally undefined, such that people can attack you on this basis no matter what you’ve done to try to be a part of their community. He also talks about the widespread objection to creators earning money from what they create.
Beyond his objections, it seems crazy to me to expect creators to spends hours every week tending to every online community that they might want to mention their work to. This is the standard advice: don’t do a “drive-by promotion” where you pop up, post about your new work, then disappear. The idea is that you ease into the community, commenting on topics, reading and responding to people. Then one day, when the opportunity presents itself, you mention your own work and, because you’re a part of the community, everyone loves it and supports you. This seems manipulative and disingenuous to me and far too much to demand for the limited promotional value.
Trying to start a new blog and find readers has gotten more challenging as blogging matured and people realized there was money to be made. Many online communities got sick of random startup bloggers showing up and plastering the community with their posts to try to get readers and traffic. Some called this blogspam and most online communities have rules against it. Bloggers increasingly view one another as competition and are less willing to link to one another than they were in the past.
This has had a strong chilling effect and, as someone who has started multiple blogs over the last couple of decades, it absolutely has become harder to find an audience when starting a blog. It used to be that if you posted half decent content on a somewhat regular basis, you’d get readers and links from the blogging community. Now you need to have a fairly sophisticated launch strategy just to have anyone pay the slightest attention to you. I’ve been writing this blog for a year now, and the single, non-spam comment I got is from the wife of a friend of mine. When I was writing the Canadian personal finance blog, in my first month I had tons of comments, links from other Canadian personal finance blogs and ever increasing attention.
One of the big ideas for new writers is that you have to hustle to promote your work and convince people to read it. It’s ABSOLUTELY true that it’s an uphill battle trying to get anyone to look at what you’ve made. Reading a book is a big time investment, so I get this. When writers try to announce a book release in a community devoted to that specific genre, there’s usually an angry reaction and many of these communities have banned this sort of self-promotion.
The idea of banning self-promotion is strange to start with. If it’s ok for someone else to talk about a book they like, but not for the author to arrange it, this seems to just be encouraging creators to have a friend post that work on the author’s behalf. If a community devoted to science fiction books won’t let anyone talk about science fiction books they like there isn’t much left there. I’m sure it would be the easiest thing in the world to have two authors agree to promote one another’s works in a forum that doesn’t allow self-promotion. I won’t do this personally (have someone post on my behalf), but I’m sure this happens.
Having people who create works being part of a community that enjoys those works seems like a no-brainer to me. I’ve been in some Facebook groups that have had writers, artists, and game designers I’ve followed for decades and it’s a real thrill to see them respond to a question. I get that it’s less exciting when it’s a wannabe creator, rather than a famous name, but it still seems short sighted to push down creators working in an area someone claims to enjoy.
I’ve found that in communities I’ve genuinely attempted to participate in, there’s always been a group of hyper-sensitive, very rude, members who attack my posts, even when they follow that community’s rules. The community seems ok with this bad behavior, so for the most part I’ve found it just isn’t worth the emotional cost of trying to engage in this way. When people find creators to be aloof and reluctant to engage with people who appreciate their work, a history of experience like this might be behind this attitude.
Beyond all this, there has to be SOME way for new creators to find an audience. I don’t think anyone DESERVES to be paid or to earn a living from their creations, but I think everyone deserves the chance to pursue this.