[Tipster] The Discipline of Growing a Following for Your Writing

tipster post Aug 11, 2023

I guess I’m a gardener now. I do that gardener thing.

Every morning, I brew my coffee, slip on my Adidas slides, and head out back to do my daily garden walk. 

I poke around to see what’s blooming and what’s about to bloom. I wonder how an addition of some phlox or hollyhocks might add necessary height to a bed. And I curse myself for seeding zinnias (again!) in the shade when they need at least six to eight hours of sun.

Currently, I’m agonizing over my dahlias. They’re late summer bloomers in Zone 5. But this year, they’re unusually tardy to the gardening party. A few stalks don’t even have buds yet.

But the ones that do have tight-fisted buds I want to pry open. Force to bloom. I’m a child. “I want it, and I want it now! Bloom. Bloom. Bloom.”


Gardening is not for the impatient. And I’m impatient. Which is why gardening is a good discipline for me.

Growing anything demands patience—and discipline.

It’s what I remind people when they ask me about growing a following.

The Discipline of Growing a Following

This past week, we interviewed a book proposal expert on our podcast. The conversation moved to the inevitable topic: How important really is your following to literary agents and publishers?

“Not at all” was not her answer at all.

Followings (along with a fresh idea) are everything to publishers. They want to know that people will actually purchase something from you because they like you, trust you, and want more from you.

This particular book proposal expert said you must explicitly show the numbers in your proposal:

  • How many are on your email list?
  • How many podcast subscribers do you have?
  • How many podcasts have you appeared on?
  • How many speaking engagements have you done over the past year, and how many people did you speak to?
  • How many articles have you published on external digital platforms, and how many people have read and shared them?
  • How many influencers do you know personally who will help market your book?
  • How large is your social media platform, and what is your engagement percentage?

Numbers ratify your marketability. Numbers tell publishers people want what you have. Numbers tell publishers you can produce numbers for them. 

But most people writing books don’t have “those” numbers. (And agents as well as publishers can sniff out fake followings—usually because the author doesn’t produce real numbers.)

This particular book proposal coach said she often tells writers without followings, “Your book idea is great. But you need to spend a couple of years building your following first. Get to work.”

Yikes. That sounds like gardening to me.

Tending Your Following

Let me preface this section by reminding you that your “following” doesn’t need to be a social media following. If you hate social media, then you’ll hate growing a following. And you’ll likely abandon your efforts. 

The first hurdle in growing a following is to figure out what fits your personality, and what you can commit to for a two- to three-year period of time.

Because it’s going to take a two to three years of consistent effort to grow something. It’s like my garden.

When I began gardening three years ago, my plants were puny, many didn’t even flower. But I tended the garden.

Last year, they spread a bit and the blooms were more plentiful. I tended the garden.

This year, they are flourishing (except for those zinnias).

It took three years.

Create Remarkable Content

A couple of weeks ago, someone reached out to me for advice on growing her IG following. She’s understandably frustrated. She posts regularly. But her posts aren’t getting engagement.

I gave her a handful of strategic moves specific to IG. But my best advice—and the advice that applies to a person growing any type of following—was this:

Create remarkable, unique content. It’s that simple, yet that difficult.

Think about the people whom you follow on any platform. They have a unique perspective. They create content that excites you; they don’t bore you. They inspire you. They make you laugh. They help you see the world differently.  They connect you to resources and other people. They connect with you on a personal level.

They are remarkable.

On my own social media platform (@megillicutti on IG), “remarkable” is my standard—at least it’s what I strive for. 

Last night I hit 32k followers, after months of adding only a few followers a day. Growing can be slow-going. It took seven years to hit this mark.

But I like to think I’ve grown an engaged following because what I offer is remarkable to my target audience:

  • I educate people on antiques.
  • I offer vintage shopping tips.
  • I point to other inspiring homeowners and stylists.
  • I create visually arresting images to show how to style antiques.
  • I share from my heart things that I struggle with.
  • I share stories that make people laugh.

What can you offer that is remarkable? What platform fits your personality?

Tend it. And watch it grow.



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