I’ve been a writer for 9 years and I made this mistake. There are three types of audiences:
- An audience you don’t own
- An audience you do own
- A community of readers
99% of writers are stuck in category one or two. Over the last year I’ve progressed into category three. Community requires 3x less work, as a writer, than the other two categories.
Why should you build a community as a writer
Because the alternative feels like death.
Think about it. The typical writer publishes to an audience they don’t own. This means if they speak to a reader today they may not be able to speak to the same reader tomorrow.
So all you’re doing is building one-off transactional relationships that’ll get you nowhere. The only way to build a writing career is to understand the holy grail that the software world discovered: recurring relationships.
Without recurring relationships you’re always on the hunt for new readers.
You find yourself saying “views are down. Money is down. What the heck do I do now?! The only solution for most writers is to become a content mill and churn out writing like you’re a worker who helped build the Egyptian pyramids for 5 cents a day.
That’s no way to live, man.
To access the good life you need recurring readers, and they come from building and cultivating a community. When you do it, your writing stats — views, money, shares, affiliate income — will go through the roof.
Community has one more superpower
An audience for your writing is one-directional.
A community is bio-directional. That means readers can interact with you and your other readers. This makes the sharing loop of your work 10x more powerful. It looks like this:
Here’s how to build a badass community to attach to your writing.
The 101 version of community
Let’s not overthink. We’ll start with the easiest community model.
Get good at this basic community function
Many writers are loudspeakers.
They talk often but they don’t reply a lot. The most basic function of a community is for you to interact with your readers in the comments section of your work.
If you’re crazy then you’ll cherish every single comment you get and reply to every reader (for years). This makes them feel heard and starts to build community.
A community should feel like home where you are welcome.
The easy way to find your community
Writing content is how you find your community members. If you want more members, in the early days, you have to write more content in places like LinkedIn and Twitter.
Once you’re consistent with content then community becomes your retention strategy to keep people in your community.
Funnel readers into an app
If your readers are only ever present in the comments of your social media content, you’ll get nowhere, fast.
To build a community you have to link people to your offline community. The best way is through email. To get a reader’s email address you offer them a free eBook or email course.
Once they’re in on your email list your job is to resist the overwhelming urge to ask them for money. So many writers stuff this up.
You want a relationship, not a one-night stand.
To have a relationship with a reader the key is to invite them to your free community. Some writers choose to only run a paid community for $5–10 a month. The challenge with this approach is you make peanuts on the front end but give up the long-term value a reader can bring to your writing.
It’s better to get readers to join a free community centered around one topic. The choices for community apps are typically:
Apps like Discord and Slack can feel like a firehose of information and notifications being blasted in your face.
Newer options like Skool and Circle are taking over. They operate more like an early 2000s online forum. The information is more organized and there’s some level of curation that’s occurred for readers before they join.
Money isn’t required to build community
The apps are mostly free. What you need to spend is your time to create a community. It’s worth it though.
A community can take you to so many new places if done right and for long enough. When times are tough people need people even more. Instead of one-way writing, we lean towards communities full of people just like us.
Most unusual ambitions fail unless the person who has them manages to find the right community — Paul Graham
The next level of community
Many communities are full of tumbleweeds. I’ve built many over the years and found the following techniques to work:
Have a powerful community mission
Example: My community’s mission is to inspire each other to create the next generation of writers who have opportunities come to them on auto-pilot instead of having to ask for permission.
Memes are how culture is formed. We now communicate with memes online more than we do with words. Memes sum up how we’re feeling.
Feedback on a common goal
The best communities allow readers to get help and then seek personalized feedback. Rather than the community leader doing everything, great communities help each other.
It’s the “I scratch your back you scratch mine” approach.
Practically, this looks like feedback and question channels inside your community.
Have regular rituals
My community has a monthly masterclass.
In my paid community we have weekly coffee chats run by community leaders. Every community needs regular events to keep members engaged. We all want to feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.
Cut off negativity asap
The worse communities are cesspools.
They’re like what Facebook has become. Everyone argues with each other. If you post what you had for breakfast some random will reply with a comment about the president that has nothing to do with anything.
Have a zero tolerance for negativity.
How to reach cult status
I love cults.
The best communities turn into cults over a long enough time period. Once they do, then as a writer, you can monetize it ethically.
If you’re going to do this then I strongly urge you to reinvest some of the profits back into the community to make it better. To monetize a community you need their help to find a painful problem.
Once you’ve found one, you work with your community to build a service or product that solves the pain. It’s likely your writing already has some clues as to what might be helpful, and a product/service related to what you write about will likely work best.
Here’s why you should build a community-based product:
Community-based products drive purchases through the roof. Why? Because they reinforce identity. And identity is a hell of a drug.
The best type of product to offer a community
One-off products are nice.
But products, where there is recurring action required by community members, work best. This is because every interaction becomes like a form of indoctrination into your world and way of doing things.
Find ways to keep readers coming back from more.
Gamify the community
This is expert level … and I’m not there yet. Gamifying a community is where you make the whole experience like a video game.
There are challenges, quests, group tasks, milestones, points for certain actions, redeemable prizes, and democratic ways for leaders in the community to emerge.
Don’t use this tactic for evil. Use it to do more good in the world.
Ask yourself: what can you and your community build? Then go build it together and change the world.
The best communities start by creating content.
Write your little heart out, build your email list, invite readers to become community members inside a common app, set a mission, have fun, cultivate culture and then … monetize if you dare.
The best writers in the future won’t earn a living from writing. They’ll earn a living from their community members who need what they have to offer.