\”The only job you start on top is digging a hole.\”
I was a senior in high school when I first read these words on my guidance counselor’s wall. At the moment, I didn't think much of it. And quite frankly, I have no idea why I still remember this line. But here I am, more than a dozen years later, and those words are nailed into my memory.
This pithy advice is true in so many ways. Whether it’s learning a new skill, starting a new business, or climbing the corporate ladder, the only job you start on top of is digging a hole.
This is also true for authors interested in extending their readership by building an audience. Apart from your family, friends, and acquaintances, you do not start your writing journey with a ready-made audience of people who want to read—let alone buy—your book.
But your challenge is the same one the vast majority of authors face: obscurity.
It takes time to build an audience from scratch. And not just any audience you can buy for $19.99 on Twitter. But an audience of people who trust you and will consider buying your book.
To help you overcome the challenge of obscurity, your goal as an author is to “make [your] content available widely and freely.” Though there are multiple ways you can build an audience online by sharing your content, these methods take time and aren't for everyone. But there are two fast ways you can build an audience of people who take an interest in you and your knowledge.
1. Guest Posting
Guest posting is a powerful strategy. It’s a tactic that has helped launch books, careers, and new businesses.
Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares, authors of Traction, said guest posting is “one of the best methods of growing your audience…especially…in the early days when you essentially have no audience to work with yourself.” This was the case for Danny Iny.
Danny is the founder of Firepole Marketing. He began his business with no social collateral, no email subscribers, and a boatload of debt from his previous business. But he has been able to turn his business from nothing into a seven-figure revenue-generating machine by guest posting…a lot. It was one of the primary strategies he used to introduce himself to new audiences.
Guest posting has also proven to be an effective strategy for launching new books. Multiple bestsellers, such as Choose Yourself, Mastery, and Youtility, used this tactic to help launch their book, introduce themselves to new audiences, and drive sales.
The next way to quickly build an audience is the second cousin to guest posting: contributor.
Becoming a contributor for a larger platform than your own differs from guest posting in that you have an opportunity to regularly contribute content—not only one-time blog posts.
Regularly contributing content for a larger platform is a great way to quickly build an audience and position yourself as a thought leader. This method introduces you to readers and provides you an endorsement from the outlet you’re writing for. For example, if I write a column for a well-established newspaper, such as The New York Times, I’m not only introduced to their readers, but I can also reference my work for them, which would provide a significant endorsement.
To help you clarify whether or not this is a viable option for you, Tim Grahl, author of Your First 1000 Copies, provides the following helpful questions:
- Can you get stories published regularly on a popular website?
- Can you get a weekly column with an online platform, such as Forbes, Psychology Today, or The Huffington Post?
- Can you get your short stories published in a popular anthology or magazine?
- Can you work with an existing blog to provide weekly how-to articles for their readers?
Answering yes to one or more of these questions is a good indicator that you can quickly build an audience by regularly contributing content for a larger platform.
Making this Work for You
Both of these options have proven to be successful tactics throughout the years. Even though they work, I still suggest creating a website and an email list to refer readers to. So, if you have an opportunity to guest post or become a contributor, see if you can secure a link back to your website or email list within your byline.
And finally, before identifying websites you can either write a guest post for or become a regular contributor, take a step back and ask yourself:
- “What type of content do I write?\”
- “Who would most benefit from my writing?”
The answer to these two questions will help you clarify what outlets you should pursue.