Friends vs. Fans: What’s the Difference?

Fans of German rock band Tokio Hotel scream during a concert in LisbonA 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.

Self Promotion is Not a Dirty Word: Six Tips For Writers

ImageIf I hear another writer tell me they are no good at self promotion, I will eat my computer. Let’s face it: We all want to be left alone with our writing and let someone else handle the promotion part. I mean, I’d love to have checks arrive effortlessly in the mail as well. But most of us realize that this is not a reality in today’s world, and that the fantasy of someone important happening to stumble upon us in our scotch-laden bunker and catapulting us to success with little effort is just the last dying breaths of the Oprah mythology.

So let’s get to work. Here are six basics to help every writer step confidently into their own advocacy.

Step One: Write a good bio. I emphasize good, here. We are writers, this one should be easy—so why does your bio put me to sleep? It’s because even writing a bio is often the first resistance that writers must face. If you find yourself saying, “I don’t like to praise myself” then I ask you this: If you can’t praise your work, how do you expect anyone else to? Find that balance between impressive and humble, between professional and still reflecting your writerly personality. Read lots of other bios and make note of the ones that stay with you. First impressions are important, and your bio is often the first contact a potential reader has with you.

 Step Two: Take a real bio picture. You don’t have to spend money on this, but don’t just crop your face from the group New Years Eve shots.  You must know someone who knows someone who is dabbling in photography—do a little bartering. Buy them lunch in exchange for giving them a subject to practice on. Take a walk and take a few dozen interesting pictures. My first author headshot, taken by Ivan Gomez, was shot while we were playing with his new camera and walking around my neighborhood, and I still use it today. Again, it’s all about first impressions: your potential reader will only take you as seriously as you take yourself.

Step Three: Have a website. Facebook doesn’t count. It’s important for people who are or will be looking you up on the internet to land on a real website: one concise place where they can find out about you, see your pic, read your publications, check out your upcoming events, and purchase your work.  Again, you don’t have to spend money on this. My website (here) is hosted through, which is free, and there are plenty of other free sites. If later you want to upgrade to a particular domain (such as my above), you can always reroute your domain name to your blog for minimal fees—less than $20 a year.

Step Four: Publish stuff. This kind of goes without saying, but you would be surprised how many writers guard their work as if it can only be published in one holy glob—and it ultimately puts them in a position of trying to publish a novel with no other publishing credits. The best way to get people excited about your work is to let them read pieces of it. It’s impossible to be excited about your work if it is guarded away in your bunker. So publish stories or excerpts, offer to guest blog or write book reviews for your colleagues—but publish stuff. I personally aim to publish 12 pieces a year—which means I send out at least three times that many.

Step Five: Thou Shalt Not Promote By Internet Alone. Get out of the house! Again, the days of hiding in your bunker are over. If you want to gain readers you have to be part of the community and publicly promote your work by reading it at literary events in your town. Can’t find a literary event in your town? Then it looks like it’s time for you to start one. Some of my earliest public appearances were “salons” held in the generous living rooms of others. Invite some other writers, bring some wine, and you have just created a literary event that may grow legs and a become a vortex of community.

Step Six: Support other writers. It’s easy to get into a scarcity mindset—a fear that there is not enough money or readers for everyone, and that every other writer is a threat to your success. That is just not true—there is plenty for everyone, and the best way to get the flow coming back to you is to send it out to others. Openly support the work and promotional efforts of your colleagues. We are all in this together, and we all do better when we all do better.

Happy Writing!

~Nancy Stohlman

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