The smell of popcorn takes me back…backstage, that is. On Fridays and Saturdays during most of the years between 1998 to 2007, I played a variety of entertainers from 1950’s, ’60’s and ’70’s popular music. My husband and I, along with several other talented individuals, performed thousands of shows to enthusiastic crowds in two small-town Texas theaters. The experience taught me enduring lessons about creativity, professionalism, and making a living through the arts. These tenets apply to your writing life and other creative endeavors, as well. Here are five things the theater taught me about writing, in no particular order:
1. Word of mouth is the best publicity
Our audiences, though small, were passionate. We provided quality entertainment and our most ardent supporters talked about us…a lot. They brought groups, gave their friends tickets, and sometimes drove hours to see us. Local merchants also talked about the shows and encouraged tourists to catch a matinee or evening performance. Though we bought print ads, paid a few publicists, and had a large email newsletter, the theater’s best advertisement was—without a doubt—word of mouth.
It’s the same with promoting your writing. Today’s readers are consumers, just as our season ticket holders were. They long for quality and consistency. They’re busy, and they need a reason to keep reading past the first few lines. And when they are delighted by what they’ve read? They’re the most loyal, vocal folks around. Because we live in an instant-communication society, bad word-of-mouth spreads fast. Make sure your writing product is stellar, and great publicity will follow.
2. Give the audience what they want
One of the owners of the first theater in which I performed often said, “Give ‘em hamburgers!” He meant that we shouldn’t mess with success. If tickets sold quickly for a 1950’s music revue, we wrote another similar show. Of course, we also experimented and pushed boundaries (otherwise, all of us would have grown bored). However, we changed our product in small increments. We also created special experiences—behind-the-scenes tours, holiday packages, giveaways—for avid supporters. Cast members even called our VIPs (those folks who came to the theater over and over) on their birthdays and anniversaries, which the VIPs greatly appreciated.
In your writing, think about creating a memorable experience for the reader. How can you provide extra value (giveaways, incentives, free resources) in a professional, winsome manner? In what ways could you creatively and tangibly thank those who willingly support you and talk about your books?
3. Leave your ego at home
Most of the performers I worked with over the years have been gracious, humble, and diligent. A few, however, turned me off with their arrogance, over-the-top demands, or lack of discretion. The most successful artists, long term, are those who go out of their way to thank people and who treat the sound technician as well as the venue’s owner. Those are the performers who are offered more opportunities.
Since the beginning of my publication journey, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of my fellow authors and a few of my literary heroes. Most of them have been more wonderful in person than I expected. A couple, however, acted like spoiled children. Guess whose books I stopped buying? Yep. Ask yourself: am I approachable, warm, and thankful for the opportunities life has given me? Or I am on a mission to impress everyone I meet, in order to “build my brand”?
4. There are no small parts, only small actors
So said Constantin Stanislavski. When you perform a small role with professionalism and excellence, the people in charge notice–and they’ll eventually give you more responsibility.
The same goes for becoming a better writer. If an editor asks for a 400-word piece, I’ve learned to take it seriously and do my best work. In this age of instant access, anyone can read your work at any time, from anywhere. Who knows what small beginnings might lead to larger opportunities?
And, finally, in related wisdom…
5. Know When to Stop
On stage and in writing, creatives need to develop an important skill: how to bring a something to a close. In the theater, we say that last line, spin on our heels, and exit, stage left. In writing, we find the right moment, the right phrase, the right word, and that’s it. The end.
Want to become a better writer? Read a poem a day and see what happens.
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