Wednesday 23 September 2009

What Blogging Writers Can Learn from Street Performers

How do you build an audience?

Do you sometimes feel like this Elvis impersonator, spewing hound dogs into a mic with an empty pavement for an audience?

Last Monday, I caught Passing the Hat, a BBC radio feature by Jolyon Jenkins, about street performers (it's on iplayer until 28 September).

In the programme, the world famous street magician Gazzo serves up the following pearls:
People think it's the performer that gets the audience. But it's the audience that gets the audience.
Yes! That's it! I wanted to shout. It's not about YOU. It's about the audience!

If I were to put a FAQ on my website, I would put "Should I start a blog?" as the top question. When writers realise that I am involved in websites, this is the question most frequently asked of me.

A lot of writers skip the question and simply inform me, "My book is coming out. I'm going to start a blog."


A blog is an incredible way to reach out to an audience. But so many bloggers use it as an indulgence and forget about their audience in a way that goes against the spirit of blogging. I blog primarily because I enjoy it, and I really make an effort to make it an enjoyable experience for my readers too. It's not about broadcasting your message, telling people Ding Dong Your Book is Out. Unless you win the audience, your message will not be heard by very many people. You might as well dress up as Elvis and stand on a street corner.

There is, of course, the book. The book will draw readers. And then after the book, there is the huge marketing spend your publishers will put behind your book (is that hysterical laughter I hear around me?). And then after the marketing budget, there's you. How do YOU build that audience? And keep it?

If you haven't got the time to listen to the BBC programme you can go straight to 12:10 on the iplayer where the show goes into the nitty gritty of pulling a crowd. It's about "marshalling" people, "taking control of the situation". Here's how a magician named Neill described it:
It's about unifying the people who are watching you into an audience ... when we go to the theatre, a performance still has a job to do of turning that crowd of people sitting in the auditorium into an audience.

But on a street .. they are just individual people going about their daily busness. To get those people to stop, to stand in one place, to feel connected as a unified whole as disparate groupings ... then it's better for the performer and it's better as an experience for the people who are watching it as well
Like the street performer, your blog draws them in with your talent and your humour. You make them stay by forging bonds, not just between you and the reader but bonds between the readers themselves.
Here are some ways to keep your audience:
  • Be useful. Give stuff (information, freebies, anything that your readers like)
  • Be entertaining. Make an effort to put that extra something into your posts eg. pictures, design. Give them a reason to come back.
  • Be human. Don't just churn out the words. Reply to comments (and try to reply in a way that sounds like you are a real human being), praise, react, be real.
  • Engage with your reader. Remember, blogs are conversations. You have to show that you are listening too.
  • Visit your readers' blogs and comment on their posts. It's a relationship not a one way street.
Here are more tips from the Pro Blogger blog 9 Ways to Make Sure Your Post is Read By More than Just Your Mom
And if you care enough to do it right, your reward is a loyal reader who might just buy your book. As Gazzo says:
Every street trick needs some form of pay-off. That's what will get you the money


  1. Brillaint, candy - thanks for this. I'm going to blog about blogging and profile/platform building soon - or maybe actually just send everyone to you! I was going to blog about ways to use and NOT use social networking and this fits perfectly. I have tweeted your post.

  2. Fantastic and, for me, timely, blog. It is hard work and very much like nurturing a series of friendships. But I do think it's worth it, although no one should be fooled -- it takes up A LOT of time!

  3. Hi Nicola, Sue - it does call on your time and i'm lucky to have multimedia skills and a huge interest in the internet. there is a balance to be struck though. i am now blogging less frequently (apart from when i see something too cool to ignore) because i need to put in time at the writing coalface. but the less frequently i blog, the harder i work at the posts that i do put up.

  4. Thanks so much for this post. It's given me a lot to think about! I recently launched my writing site (middle-grade fiction, WIP) and a blog. I feel the tension of being true to my crazy writer self while still offering up something useful to readers. It does take a lot of work. I also find myself blogging less frequently, but putting more effort into individual posts.

  5. Excellent post, Candy. The only one I don't do is the last least, I DO comment on blogs by my adult writer friends, but not those of my readers (as in, readers of my books)...because if they do blog, I don't know about it! So maybe that's a question I'll have to put in my next blog post. But I suspect the bloggers among them are very much in the minority.

  6. i was really interested in how the buskers emphasised making disparate individuals feel like an audience - rooting for the same thing or, for that matter disagreeing on something. it's going on now in the comments section of nicola's latest post Dealing with Journalists, in which all the journalists appear to be coming out of the woodwork!

  7. Excellent post, as usual, Candy. As Sue says, blogging is worth it, but yegods it can take up a lot of time to build that audience and connect them - but that is very much part of the reality of the thing.

  8. Seth Godin has an interesting blog today on how marketing has been changed by technology and how old-fangled business plans (eg. book publishers) are struggling to keep up.

    he writes: "...when you buy something (that thing you used to call 'media'), you're not paying for eyeballs, you're paying for a platform. A platform you can use to build your own audience, one that you can nurture, educate and ultimately convert. You'll take care of this audience differently, measure them differently and have a different sales cycle."

  9. Thanks for this post, Candy
    I love the analogy of a street performer and I agree with everything you say - I started my own blog this May, and to be honest, this was partly for marketing my next novel, but if that had been my only motivation, I’d probably have given it up after the first few weeks.
    I wanted to write about the ups and downs of my own writing ‘career’ over the past 25 years because I thought that other writers might enjoy reading about someone who’s had similar highs and lows to themselves, and not just writers, but readers too. As a reader, I’m fascinated by the different ways that writers approach their work, so I was sure there’d be other readers who’d like to see ‘behind the scenes’ of the finished product.

    Once I’d started blogging I was hooked ! I’m finding it very useful to reflect on what I’ve learned about writing over a quarter of a century, and I’m enjoying visiting other blogs and learning from them. Every post I make gives me a (probably exaggerated) feeling that I’m communicating directly with like-minded people. Google Analytics tells me that my site is attracting visitors, and on the rare occasion that I get a comment on one of my posts from a ‘real’ person rather than automated spam , I’m on a high – (it could become addictive) .

    My book was published nearly four years ago now, and one of the most exciting things that happened as a result, was the contacts I made with people who’d read and enjoyed it. Lots of these had discovered it through the Bookcrossers – a wonderful organisation – If you don’t yet know about them, take a look at a recent post of mine, about what they do:

  10. hi christine, great to see you here. i'll check out your link and good luck on the book.

    i've got a few things coming out soon and am trying to decide how to expand my blog which targets writers to include readers.

    wondering whether i can do it with notes from the slushpile which has been going for years or start a new one.

    ah well, it's still early days. it's not like my writing is going to set the word on fire soon. meanwhile, i still enjoy notes from the slushpile!

  11. Hi Candy
    I've just put up a post about the LibraryThing- It's an excellent way to unite writers and readers. I expect you must know about it - I'm sureyou're readers would be interested.
    Am off to work in a few minutes, but first I must drop in on Nicola's bloggoffee.


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