[Tipster] The Expense of Building an Audience

tipster post Nov 11, 2022

First I got rejected, and then I got paid.

At the Big Bang of my writing life, years ago (in the heyday of magazines), I submitted an article to a publication. And it was promptly rejected.

I persisted in my writing aspirations, begging the editor for an opportunity.

He finally threw me a bone: "Here's a book to review. If we like your review, we'll publish it."

I was ecstatic. And became obsessive-compulsive.

My wife reminds me that I worked on the small project during our honeymoon. 

Whoops!

But in the end, the book review (400 words) was accepted. I think the payday was about $75.

Today, however, no one pays a dime for content.

A client (for my strategic marketing business) recently published a piece in the online version of Kiplinger's Personal Finance.

No payment. Just the satisfaction of publishing with a brand name.

Another landed a column in the online version of Psychology Today.

Nope. No payment. There's no money in writing.

But there are expenses. 

Here's one expense (of many) to consider when thinking about your writing life:
 
Audience Building Comes Before Publishing

Melissa and I repeat this truism again and again and again:

Only writers who have a "platform" get picked up by a traditional publisher.

Platform is another word for an "audience," such as:

* You have an active email list (5,000 or more);

* You've attracted a large following on Instagram or another social platform; Melissa has grown her Instagram following for her Vintage side hustle to almost 30,000 followers;

* You have a history of speaking engagements to large audiences; a few of our writers speak regularly and thus can sell their books at their engagements; or

* You are a regular columnist for a major publication (such as the Wall Street Journal).

So, if you don't have an audience, you need to invest in building an audience.

To write requires that you grow an audience for what you want to publish.

That involves both time and money.

The Podcast Approach to Building an Audience

In 2015, a friend and I started a fly fishing podcast: 2 Guys and a River.

In five years, we built our subscriber base to about 10,000 subscribers. We published an episode and one article on fly fishing every week.

Our costs included:

* audio editing software (about $20 a month / Adobe Audition);

* microphones for podcasting for the two of us - about $300;

* monthly fee for hosting the podcast with Podbean ($9 a month, if paid annually);

* website hosting fee ($34.99 a month with Go Daddy);

* images for the articles on the website ($100 a year with iStock); we used images from our fly fishing trips for many articles;

* email marketing software ($20 a month); and

* graphic design; we hired a fabulous designer who helped us with our quirky logo and all the icons for our brand ($2,000).

There were a few other costs, of course.

We spent some money on promoting posts on Facebook, since a large chunk of our audience was on the social platform.

But we did everything ourselves, including editing the podcast, implementing the website, and posting all our articles.

We didn't outsource a thing, with the exception of the design.

I should mention another expense: lunch on Friday's. 

We batch-recorded one Friday afternoon a month, burping out four episodes at a time. Took about four hours - which included lunch.

There are definitely cheaper ways to build an audience, of course, but that's pretty much our outlay for the audience-building part of our project.

Was It Worth It?

The main reason we started a podcast was that we were (and still are!) best friends; we wanted to do something together.

And we both loved the outdoors. And fly fishing.

But we also wanted to write a book together.

We eventually self-published a fun little paperback: The Fly Fisher's Book of Lists: Life is short, catch more fish.

To date, I think we've sold a couple thousand copies. No New York Times bestseller!

So did we recoup our investment?

Absolutely not. There was no return on investment.

We even landed a sponsor for the podcast (Dr. Squatch soap for men), but in the end, we laid out way more money than we took in.

If you want to publish today, you need to invest both time and money into building an audience.

This is true whether you self-publish, publish with a hybrid publisher, or land a traditional publisher.

Even with a traditional publisher, however, you will need to promote your book.

Are you willing to spend money to do that?

There is no scenario in which you "make money" writing a book.

Unless you have the same luck as winning the lottery. And a few do.

I don't write to make money. I write because I must.
 
Now buckle up and start to grow your audience.