Embrace Your Small Audience
I created a website and newsletter! Yay!
...But no one is reading it.
Why do I even bother??
Everyone who begins to publish online is hopeful for subscribers, followers, and engagement. It’s easy to get discouraged and feel like your content is being sent into the void.
But instead of asking for more subscribers, yearning for that big endorsement, or trying to craft that viral tweet, writers should embrace and honor their small audience. Because the small audience is fucking awesome.
Here are five reasons why:
1. Deeper Relationships
When I created my website and newsletter in February, I asked 12 people from my online writing course for their support. Each week, I thought about those 12 subscribers individually.
It’s comfortable to speak to a group of friends. They read. They engage. The manageable number allows me to respond to their feedback and continue the conversation.
Recently, a reader told me that he loved an introduction in my newsletter. But after he read the initial story, he had no brain space left to read the rest of it.
This honest feedback is priceless in helping me figure out what my audience enjoys and how to keep them engaged. The small audience allows me to connect with each and every subscriber.
2. Less Pressure
Imagine if tomorrow I woke up with 10,000 subscribers. I’d be thrilled, but I’d also be overwhelmed.
A small audience allows for imperfections. Imperfections are unavoidable, especially in the beginning. Sometimes I’m really proud of the content I produce and sometimes I’m not, but at least I’m hitting the publish button.
10,000 subscribers would lead to a lot of pressure. Perfectionism could take over. My focus might shift too soon from, “What am I excited to write about?” to “What do my readers want to read?”
Don’t get me wrong, I still feel lots of pressure to deliver quality content to my small audience, but it feels more like we’re in this together, like they know I’m just starting out and they’re cheering me on. Like they’re on my team.
3. True Fans
I now have 51 subscribers. That might not seem like a lot, but I’ve quadrupled my numbers in four months.
At first, new subscribers were people I knew - more people from my online writing class. Even that was cool because they signed up without me asking them to. Then, complete strangers subscribed. I had no connection to them at all. That is thrilling.
It means that people are not only finding my work, they’re enjoying it. People aren’t signing up because of social pressure or because I have a million followers. They’re signing up simply because they enjoyed my content and appreciate my consistency.
True fans appreciate consistency.
Polina Marinova, creator of The Profile newsletter, shared the biggest compliment she’s ever received:
“Somebody said, ‘I get a ton of email and this is the one I consistently open every week.’ If people know there’s at least one thing in here [they] can learn, you’ve done your job.”
Even if your true fans don’t love everything you write, they love something you write, and they keep coming back.
4. A Body of Work
Ben Thompson is the author of Stratechery, a subscription-based newsletter featuring commentary on tech and media news. He believes that the most important story you write is the second story people click on.
“Anyone can write one good article. But if they go to your site and start clicking around and the second article they click is also really good, they’re like, ‘Oh, wow. Maybe there’s actually some degree of consistency.’”
The smaller your audience, the more time you have to build a body of work you can be proud of. I give myself a deadline to publish every Tuesday, so I’ve now written 19 blog posts. There’s a few I love, but mostly, I’m proud of the number. Not every post is going to be fantastic. Most will be just okay.
Thankfully, people don’t remember the crap you’ve published. They remember the good stuff. So when it comes to your body of work, quantity will eventually yield quality.
The more your produce, the better the quality gets.
5. Your Personal Monopoly
It’s great if you have a niche - something that sets you apart from other writers. Online writing teacher David Perell explains that once you start to write consistently about what excites you, you can develop your very own personal monopoly:
“Listen to the signals of the market. What do people want more of, what are people sort of bored by, what is your audience beginning to coalesce around? And try to, over time, find the unique intersection of the ideas you’re interested in, the experiences you’ve had, and your unique personality traits.”
What a lot of people miss in that quote is that this takes time. By starting with a small audience and slowly building a body of work, your personal monopoly will eventually materialize. So instead of deciding what you stand for up front, let your writing and your readers dictate it for you.
What’s my personal monopoly?
I’m still not sure. I identify as the Transparent Parent, speaking honestly and candidly about my approach to parenting. Looking back at my body of work, I’ve also written about writing, relationships, and insecurities. One of my peers recently told me that my personal monopoly is: transparency, sarcasm, and controversialism.
How dare he.
Finding your personal monopoly might take a long time and that’s okay. Especially starting out, it may very well change as you find your groove. Having a small audience allows you to experiment, adjust, and improve.
Likes and stats and recognition are nice, but they’re not a reason for putting in all this hard work.
Why do I even bother?
Because I have something to say. Because I want to connect with people on a larger scale. And I know that anything in life worth doing takes time.
So embrace your beautiful small audience who supports you and believes in you. Cherish these beginning months or years of writing and appreciate the time you have to stumble and fail in order to eventually succeed.
Like the successful entrepreneur reminiscing about the Ramen diet, these are the good old days we’ll remember forever.