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Audiences Have Agency

Know your audience, but don't coddle them

Megan Preston Meyer
Megan Preston Meyer

Last week, I gave a talk about the ins and outs of self-publishing. Most of it was a screed about how Amazon is necessary and evil, and dealing with them is distasteful but a cost of doing business, like paying bribes to corrupt government officials.... but some of it was about marketing.

Overall, the talk was great. I spoke eloquently, offering lots of gems and behind-the-scenes peeks at my world of writing.

One gem, however, sparkled less than the rest.

I was recounting vulnerably a marketing mistake I’d made: When I launched my first book, I naively expected it to sell itself. “I fully believed in the Field-of-Dreams model,” I said, expecting laughs.

Instead, there were crickets. 🦗

“You know, If you build it, they will come?”

Blank stares.

I realized then that no one in the audience was American. This wasn’t surprising, because we were in Switzerland, but it still caught me off guard. I had to scramble.

“Field of Dreams is about ghost baseball players,” I explained, as if that explained everything. “There’s a guy who builds a baseball field in his corn so that ghosts will come.”

“Oh, okay,” someone said. I don’t think they fully got the connection to my Go-to-Market fail, but they were ready to move on. And so was I.

Spoon-feeding doesn’t make for a sophisticated palate.

I kicked myself later for being so ‘Murica-centric and not stopping to think about whether my examples would resonate with my audience…

…but I didn’t kick too hard.

If you offer your audience only familiar examples, you’re not expanding their horizons. Spoon-feeding doesn’t make for a sophisticated palate. I’d rather use interesting, colorful references – and risk them not landing – than have my messages be universally recognized but boring and beige.

Yes, you have to know you audience – but audiences have agency. I know I’ve looked up stuff that a speaker or an author refers to. Why wouldn’t my audience do the same?

I hope, if you check Google Analytics, you’ll see a recent spike in searches for Field of Dreams from Swiss IP addresses. I hope, also, that if my audience decided to watch it, they did so on Netflix and not on Amazon Video.

Communication Tips