A friend loves you. A fan loves your work.
It’s as simple as that.
Now if you’re lucky you will have both: friends who are also big fans of your work, and fans who become friends. But the distinction is important, and as artists, I believe our level of success is tied to how well we understand the difference.
And I’m not just talking to writers, here. I’m talking to all artists. For example, when Kinky Mink was in its infancy, we relied heavily on our friends to fill our audiences. This is normal—fans don’t just find you because you make a Facebook page after all, they have to be cultivated. And you do this by starting wherever you are.
But it’s a bit like your mother telling you how talented your death metal band is, or how your novel/sculpture/painting/play is brilliant. You’re always left with the lingering question: Does she love me or my work?
At some point an artist has to cut the umbilical cord and find his or her true fans. And I hate to break it to you, but these may or may not be your friends.
Don’t believe me?
Writers: How many of your friends bought your book but didn’t read it? Or read it but didn’t have much to say?
That’s because they are your friends, not your fans. They love you, not your work.
Think about it from their point of view: Imagine I have a friend who’s an amazing country singer. Well, I don’t like country music. So while I may genuinely wish her all the success in the world, and I may even go to some of her shows to show my support, I will never be a true country music fan. She may be brilliant, and I may be proud of her, but what she ultimately needs is a room full of country music fans, not a room full of others like me who would never attend if our friend wasn’t playing.
This is where many of us go wrong. During those early Kinky Mink shows when I was still relying heavily on friends, I would be hurt when certain friends wouldn’t come (and here’s a big loving shout out to all those who did!). Now when Kinky Mink plays I cast a much wider net, cultivating those who resonate with our music, not just warm bodies to fill the seats. This is true of literary readings, gallery showings, film screenings, and every other kind of event where an audience–live or not–is needed.
The truth is if we can’t expand our audience/readership/patrons beyond those we have a personal relationship with, then we aren’t reaching our full potential as artists. If you don’t find your fans, then you will be forced to make 10,000 new friends if you want to sell out an arena or a first-run of your book! Whew!
And this is why self-promotion is so important. If you continue to rely solely on your friends, you are doing everyone a disservice: 1. You are keeping yourself from finding your fans, and 2. You are keeping them from finding your work.
A true fan will resonate with your work whether they ever meet you or not. So thank your friends for holding down the fort while you got started (thanks!) and commit to finding your true fans.
And for every person who is (or becomes) both, consider yourself doubly blessed.