Audience Anxiety…

Guest post
by Ken La Salle

I coined a new term today, which I’m calling “Audience Anxiety”.

Here’s how it came to be: I was out having breakfast with my best friend, Sean, this morning. (As it turns out, most of my Indies Unlimited pieces are inspired by breakfast.) I was telling him about the new podcast – So Dream Something, now available for FREE on iTunes – and asked him if he had listened to the most recent episode. Sean gave me one of those looks. You probably know the look. It was one of those, “Oh no. He’s hitting me up for something again,” looks. I usually see those when I’m talking up my new book, article, podcast with my friends and family. It took a few moments for Sean to get his response out, a rather sheepish sounding, “Uh, no. I haven’t.”

I’ve noticed there’s no better conversation killer than when I start asking people how they’re digging my new writer stuff. You know why? Because they’re not.

There’s a simple explanation why they’re not. Because they can’t!

And that’s why I’m writing to you today, because I’m sure you’ve run into this yourself with your families and friends. Maybe you see them as a source of support. Heck, it’s only natural. But I’m here to tell you that’s a losing strategy.

Emotional support? Sure, friends and family should always be there for that. But the kind of support where they buy your stuff and read your stuff? Where they’re your biggest fan? No. Absolutely not.

Because, like I said, they just can’t do it. It’s expecting too much out of them.

They’re only human, after all. They’ve got jobs and families and homes to keep up. They’ve got pets and chores and maybe even kids to take care of. They’ve got things to do and DVR’ed shows to watch and… and even if they didn’t, even if they had none of that, think about the pressure? “Hey Bill? Have you bought my new book? What about the new blog? Have you read it? What did you think? You know, I’m guesting on a podcast next week. Don’t forget to listen.”

I know your instinct is to enlist your friends and family when you’re starting out – and when you’re starting out, that’s no problem. You only have one book then, maybe a novella, maybe a short story collection. It’s easy to read and the commitment isn’t too overwhelming. In my own case, though, I’ve come to realize that it’s too much to expect after a while. Hell, I’ve got over a dozen of books out there and sometimes I’m lucky enough to have a play produced. I write two weekly blogs, with an article on the Recovering The Self site each month, and some articles here on Indies Unlimited. I host a podcast twice a month and I update my website each week. I post on Facebook and Twitter. Keeping up with me at this point could be seen as a full time job!

That’s why, when Sean gave me his sheepish “Uh, no. I haven’t.” I let him know that I didn’t mind. It wasn’t a requirement, after all. Besides, expecting that much help out of friends and family is thinking small.

Really. How many close friends and family do you have? Most of us only have about a dozen or so – no, those big numbers of Facebook friends and Twitter followers do not count. And I don’t care how supportive they are, a dozen book sales means nothing.

You’ve got to think bigger, beyond those friends and family. Sure, they were essential when you were starting but after a while you have to move beyond them. You have to build your audience and expand them to people who follow you because they like what you’re doing and not because they’ll feel guilty at Thanksgiving dinner.

All this leads me to my newly coined term, Audience Anxiety. In the story about my breakfast, Sean had anxiety over feeling like he had to be my audience. And that’s just wrong. I’m never going to have a loyal readership who does it out of guilt. And so, my own audience anxiety has to move on from my first audience (those friends and family) and into a more rewarding audience – you know, those total strangers who probably don’t give a damn about me.

Scary, isn’t it? Somehow, I’ve reached the point where I’m learning to let my first audience go. Facing the anxiety of that second, bigger, scarier audience… that’s still going to take a little work.


Ken La Salle is an author and playwright out of Anaheim, California. His passion is intense humor, meaningful drama, and finding answers to the questions that define our lives. You can find his books on Amazon and Smashwords and all major etailers. His philosophical memoir, Climbing Maya, is available in ebook and paperback. His audiobook, The Worth of Dreams The Value of Dreamers, is available on iTunes, Audible, and all major etailers. You can follow Ken’s writing career on his website at www.kenlasalle.com.

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34 thoughts on “Audience Anxiety…”

  1. Hi, Ken. I took a totally different approach. Friends and family discovered I wrote and published a book, and then short stories, and now that I’m writing the sequel to the first story. They have been the last ones to know.

    Actually, I’ve never told them, “hey, I wrote a book, have you bought it?” The way it went has been “Hey, is it true you are on Amazon?”

    I didn’t want, from the beginning, to be one of those dreamers who ended up selling those 20 copies to family and friends and nothing more, or a couple more here and there.

    Only after I got on the best 100 paid for my categories, won the 2012 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Award in Science Fiction, collected reviews from strangers on both Amazon and Goodreads I found on a better turf to talk with friends and family about my writing.

    Even yesterday, one of my Aunts called my mother to ask, “But is it Massimo the writer who won the prize in December? My son saw a press release online.”

    BTW, she’s not going to buy the book either 😀

  2. Great post, Ken, thank you! I hear you. I have a third book out, and while family and good friends are lovely and supportive, I long ago stopped asking if they’ve read my books/blog posts/whatever and especially their opinions on them. I know they don’t have time and some of them rarely read, if at all. If they want to volunteer a comment, that’s a treat. To avoid that awkwardness, sometimes I’ll just begin a conversation with, “So, what’s new with you?” Then we don’t have to talk about that “writing stuff” at all.

  3. Agree! What is really neat is to have a community of writers with the same ideas that you can connect with. Indies Unlimited provides that outlet for us here and people that we can relate to. Indies Unlimited is great for bringing people together with similar visions. Great article!

  4. Good post Ken. I agree. We cannot expect the people in our inner circles to be as enthusiastic about our work as we are. Often, they do not even read, or if they do, they gravitate to a different genre. And that’s OK.

    On the other hand, when close family change the subject to an obscure memoir by a member of their church congregation, someone you’ve never met, and don’t even say ‘Hey, congratulations”, that hurts.

    We have to find our support where we can. Those closest to us are often NOT it.

    1. Thanks, Yvonne! I’m glad to hear that someone else has experienced the rage of the family shun, too. 😉
      I guess it’s just a step we all have to take.
      Thanks for reading!

  5. Great post, Ken. I agree – it’s scary switching audiences!

    Have to say though, I’ve personally been thrown a loop by my family’s reaction to my work. Thankfully, my husband is my biggest fan and reads everything I write, my next closest family are the ‘good for you’ people without actually reading much/any of what I produce… but some of the wider family (brother/sister-in-laws, nieces and nephews)? Now THEY were the surprise – they follow everything, buy everything, share everything and nag me to write faster. So far the wider audience has held a few fans who are just as supportive, and I’m looking forward to finding others just like them over time. It will certainly make me a VERY happy author.

    1. Sue,
      It does seem like the career path of an author is laid with one surprise after another, and moving beyond those near you as an audience is tricky. When I wrote this piece, I wasn’t too sure how many other people had faced it, or if it was just me. I’m glad to see I’m not alone.
      Thanks for reading!

  6. Great article, Ken. Since I don’t yet have a published book, I have no idea how friends and family will react. Well, I did publish a book – when I was totally wet behind the ears with no idea about publishing at all – with PublishAmerica (but please don’t tell anyone! I’m not proud of the fact.), and many friends and even cousins bought a copy. Those who know I’m writing ask me from time to time when it’s going to be published, but there again, I have no idea if any of them will purchase or if they will just want to hold my copy in their hands to glance through. Once I finish editing someone else’s book and help her to get it ready for CreateSpace, I will be working on a revised edition of the PA book for CreateSpace. We’ll see what happens with friends I have made since the first issue of the book (and I’ve made quite a few friends since 2004).

  7. What a great article! My daughter was the first person to ever read my novel, back when it was a 2nd draft, but I know she hasn’t read the final, finished product. Her boyfriend designed the cover for my enovel, and did an amazing job of interpreting my wishy washy wishlist, but he hasn’t read it either. In fact I think I can safely say that none of my real-life family and friends have read it. They may have bought it out of solidarity but none have read it. Definite audience anxiety there.

  8. I love your post, Ken. I could totally identify, especially with this “Somehow, I’ve reached the point where I’m learning to let my first audience go. Facing the anxiety of that second, bigger, scarier audience”
    Love it!
    I built momentum with my first book by getting friends to read it and asked them to leave reviews. The common comment was “I couldn’t put it down”.
    Fast forward ten months and book two comes out but the friends aren’t quite as excited about this one and when they do start reading it I get “yeah, I started it but haven’t quite finished it yet”.
    So, is book two not as good or is the thrill of having a friend who wrote a book wearing off? It’s hard to say, but like you, I’m going to let friends discover book 3 (when it comes out) all on their own. I want a total unprejudiced opinion of my work and although the support has been awesome, really awesome I don’t want anybody leaving a review out of guilt.
    Great post, really made me think!

    1. Thank you, Martin. I’m sure there are plenty of people like myself who applaud the fact that you got such great help on one book. You may be ahead of the game with that alone!
      Thanks for reading.

  9. Totally get the whole audience anxiety thing–I quit asking friends and family if they’d read my stuff early on–it seemed so awkward when they inevitably said no 🙂 Now, I get distant cousins asking when the next book’s going to come out, so I think laying off the expectations worked well!

    Great post, Ken. Thanks!

  10. Loved this post, Ken and I just read through all of the comments. It is comforting but also a little disconcerting that so many of us are experiencing the same kind of reactions. Due to my ‘audience anxiety’ or possibly my own insecurities, I think I was a bit extreme the other way. Some of my family members found out about my book on Facebook! But now, to have an audience that enjoys my work ‘just because’ and not ‘because they have to’ is the best feeling! Great post!

    1. Megan, I’m sure there are many of us who wish we were in your shoes. (Okay, maybe it’s just me.) The goal must surely be finding an audience who reads your work because they want to, not out of guilt. I like to think the first step it to leave the guilt or sense of obligation behind – and it looks like you’ve shown that to be true.
      Thanks for reading!

  11. I identify so strongly with all of the points in this great post. I think Martin Crosbie summed up my similar experience when I released my second book. The novelty of them “knowing” /being related to an “author” has worn off.

    This time, I did send a bulk email to some of my friends and family members, telling them that the book was finally available and that ,so was I, if any of them wanted to join me on a night out for a few beers now that I was taking a week off before retreating back into my writer’s hovel to work on the next book.

    My local newspaper and radio station both did very nice features on me (local news and all that) so THAT got the word out without me having to push it on my neighbors in a face-to-face manner.

    1. Dianne, Great job with the local media! Many markets are tough to get in, so anyone who does deserves a high-five.
      All the best in the writer’s hovel working on the new book and thanks for reading!

  12. Great post Ken! You are so right, as we our moving along with 4 published books, blogging, posting, tweeting, etc. we realized some time ago that we had to do the same thing. We don’t ask our friends and family any more. If they bring it up, we share what’s going on, but we don’t ask “What did you think of my last blog?” Sound advice, scary too, but a very necessary step in order for us as authors to think large.

  13. That was a great post. I really enjoyed it and needed to hear that message once again. It is so true and I have learned to accept that my friends and family should NOT be my audience. If they were it, I would surely be disappointed! Nicely written, by the way!

  14. Yes, but I have to realize that I got into the “writing game” to be able to communicate to the anonymous reader out there who doesn’t know me from Adam (or Even, depending on who I am portraying at the time). It’s much more of a high for me to get accolades from a stranger than it ever was from my family and friends. Besides, they know what a boring dude I am in real life! How could I ever compare to my fantasitic characters?

  15. I’ve had a lot of family and friends who were gung-ho to read my books without realizing that the books might not be a genre they usually read. Afterward, many of them never wanted to speak of books or writing with me, of any kind. I can almost hear them thinking, “Oh no, I hope she doesn’t ask what I thought of it’. Rest assured, I never will. The stories I write aren’t for everyone and it’s quite all right for people who know me not to like them. I just wish they understood that.

  16. Great post. For the most part I never expected my family or friends to be interested in my writing. I have been surprised at how many on and offline friends actually seem interested… Although I know they are not reading my blog or FB page based on stats. Family has told me they won’t be buying my books as vampires are just not there thing. For me the fact that they aren’t telling me to go get a real job is all the support I need although there have been some funny conversations when someone more interested asks how I’m going to get around x issue and all of a sudden several people are suggesting solutions.

    My mother and MIL like me to send them links to interviews/guests posts which is nice.

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