The Trouble with Tribes
Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Seth Godin got us thinking about our tribes in his book by the same name. Our tribe consists of those we lead or those who gather around us. Authors and authors-to-be are constantly encouraged to begin amassing a tribe. I agree with this wholeheartedly. It’s getting harder and harder to get a publisher to consider an author’s manuscript without having to quantify his tribe or platform.
So. . . you may ask. . .what’s the problem? Before I outline the problem, let me paint a few pictures for you.
Scenario #1: Jake is a chef. He loves nothing more than talking about food, unless it’s talking about the restaurant business. He’s getting ready to launch his own restaurant on November 1st in his medium-sized town. He has gathered quite a tribe both online and locally. He belongs to a number of online executive chef communities where he has spent hours cultivating relationships, sharing recipes and learning from more experienced chefs. He seems to be a rising star in this community of seasoned chefs. He’s also active on the blogs of several experienced restauranteurs. Again, he’s spent time building relationships and can sense he’s made many an influential friend. But he’s not content to only have online relationships. He’s joined a tri-city group of restaurant owners and even joined an organic food buyers’ coop. He feels ready to open his restaurant–he has influencers behind him, both far and wide.
Scenario #2: Janice is a C.P.A. She regularly teaches continuing education classes for other C.P.A.s and sits on a number of professional boards. Her colleagues know that when a difficult audit or a forensic audit is needed, there is no one better. They often come to her to help untangle difficult situations. She is proud to be considered at the top of her field.
Scenario #3: Clarice is an author. Well, almost a published author. Her first novel has been contracted by a major publisher, and she is poised for success. She’s spent hours painstakingly building toward publication. First she participated in agent blog communities, getting to know most of the agents in the industry. When it came time to choose an agent, she was already well-known and could have had her pick. She has long been active in writing circles, becoming recognized for her unique method of building characters in fiction. Her blog, Creating Characters, had been named a Writer’s Digest top 100 blog a number of times. Her metrics are pretty impressive. She has so many offers to teach at writing conferences she can now pick and choose. One of the bigger conferences just asked her to speak about building an online blog following. Her fellow writers have become friends, and she had no trouble getting stellar endorsements. She is looking forward to strong sales on her book right out of the gate.
Pretty impressive scenarios, right? WRONG!
Let’s look at each one:
#1 Jake spends time exactly where his passions are. His tribe consists of chef colleagues, famous restauranteurs and local competitors. Yes, competitors. Even though they are friends, they are still competing for the same dining dollar. When he opens his restaurant, how many of them will fill his seats? Few, if any. Why didn’t he start to build his tribe among foodies? Especially local foodies.
#2 Janice is the person other C.P.A.s go to when they get in over their heads, but why isn’t she getting those complex jobs in the first place rather than having them go to less-qualified accountants? It’s because she is building her tribe among competitors and not business people who could use her stellar services. Why is she not building her platform at the Chamber of Commerce and among NGO associations? She’s spending her time comfortably with her peers instead of with potential clients.
#3 Clarice has become a name in the publishing industry. Good for her if her readers were only publishers and other authors, but she’s not writing books on writing or publishing. She’s writing wonderful historical novels set during the Civil War. Why is she not building her tribe among Civil War enthusiasts? Shouldn’t she be hanging out at battle reenactments, collecting potential reader names?
As I write this, one of my clients, Lauraine Snelling, is just finishing up her week at the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota, where she sees tens of thousands of Scandinavians who love her Norwegian-American historicals. For this event her books are delivered to her on pallets by forklift, and she never stops selling and signing the whole time she is there. That’s a tribe.
Another member of our Books & Such family, Sherry Kyle, asked if we knew of young girls who would be influencers for her books. I gave her the name of one of the young uber-readers I know. Sunday, at church, this budding influencer told me she just got a package of books. She’d already read one and is taking the whole package to school to talk about being an “influencer” to her class. This is the same girl who stops at every bookstore with her parents as they travel and asks them why they don’t have her friend, Wendy Lawton’s books on their shelves. She tells them how much she loves the books and probably doesn’t leave until they promise to order them. Too funny. This is the kind of genre-specific person to have in your tribe! Sherry has the right tribe-building idea.
So to answer the question I posed at the top of my blog, I’ll tell you the trouble with tribes: Too many of them are made up of peers instead of potential customers.
So, it’s your turn. Chime in here. Do you see what I’m saying? Yes, it may be helpful to become known among the industry and among your peers when you are trying to get published, but these are not going to be your readers by-and-large. You need to be concurrently building a tribe of potential readers, or you will utterly fail to find your audience.
So what does your tribe look like? Where would you find your potential reader? Do you have some refocusing to do?
We keep hearing that we need to build a tribe. Could we be building the wrong tribe? Click to Tweet
What’s the trouble with tribes? Click to Tweet
It’s time to stop hanging with our homies and find our readers says literary agent @wendylawton Click to Tweet