Last week I started a conversation about “getting known”, or finding an audience for your work and if you didn’t see read that post – or see that episode, you might want to take a couple minutes to do that first because those ideas are foundational this article will be more helpful to you if we’re on the same page. If you’d rather see this on YouTube, click here. If you’d rather listen to this as an MP3, you can download that here. Enjoy.
OK, so you took some time to ask yourself what you want to get known for, why you want to get known in the first place, and to what end. That’s your core. Keep coming back to it because I promise you’re going to get sidelined once in a while. You’re going to get distracted by numbers and discouraged by others. Go back to The Fear and the Hunger, if you need a little re-calibration. Now I want to change the way we talk about all this stuff, I want to redirect the language we use and re-frame the question to this:
How do I find and connect to a growing audience for my work?
Here’s the simple answer: do your best work and find as many ways to get it out there as possible. In my experience the people asking this question haven’t done a thing. They haven’t submitted to major awards, to magazines, to popular blogs, they haven’t been intentional about their Instagram feed or their Facebook page. And I think mostly it’s because it all feels so – fuzzy. Go back to the questions we asked in part one again and again until you have a sense of what you want to share with the world. All of this is about that. Next, consider the following questions. These aren’t steps and there is no formula, but how you answer these questions and put them into practice is way more valuable than a 3-step process.
One. It is all about value. None of this is about what you can get. It’s about what you can give. It’s about value you bring to the table. So what do you give? What’s the one thing you want to leave as a legacy? Do you want to inspire people? Great! But inspire them to what? Do you want to educate them? Make them laugh? Motivate them to change? Challenge their ideas? Do you want people to stop killing sharks, or fall in love with puppies, or be inspired by your travels? All of these things are first about the audience. Give them something. Know what you bring to the table in this world, know what you’re really good at, and really passionate about, and find a way to tap that to give a constant supply of that to the world.
Two. Tell a Bigger Story. We respond to deeper and bigger stories. If you want a larger audience, go more universal – that doesn’t mean get less focused. Actually, it means the opposite. Be more focused on something bigger than just making photographs. For example, if you’re a wedding photographer, go all in on love stories. It’s not about your photographs. It’s about love. Is there anything bigger than that? I teach photography but one of the things I hear over and over from my audience is that what I write applies to so much more than photography and that’s because I’m really writing about life. Yes, I want you to make better photographs, but more than that, I want your lives to be richer, to be more intentional. I just think photography’s a great metaphor for that, it’s a good discipline to learn how to be present and alive. Find your bigger story. Go deeper on that. Your audience will find you.
Three. Authenticity and vulnerability are big words right now and I worry we’re using them so much they’re going to be meaningless, but for now let’s assume they still carry some weight. Putting your work out there is only as good as it is also putting yourself out there. The more real you are, the more open and honest you are, the more that work will connect with others. People hunger for authenticity and vulnerability because it’s rare and because it’s deeply human. Yes, be professional and no, don’t air all your dirty laundry on social media, but know that the more human you are in all your interactions, the less you use marketing talk and talk instead in terms that are real, and passionate – the more you’ll connect. And that applies to your photographs and any expression of who you are. Live deeply. Connect deeply. Make your art deeply. Make it unmistakably you.
“Give them something. Know what you bring to the table in this world, know what you’re really good at, and really passionate about, and find a way to tap that to give a constant supply of that to the world.”
OK, I had to get those three ideas out because they’re the big picture. Now, how, practically speaking do you “get known”? You did your homework, right? You sat down and asked yourself why you want to do this and what you want to get out of it? You asked yourself what you want to be known for? Now I want you to ask yourself one more question: who is your audience? Who are they? Are they other photographers? Are they wildlife people? Are they future brides? Car enthusiasts? Be as specific as you can. The more specific you can be, the better because everything comes out of this – you can’t speak to an audience if you don’t know who they are and what language they speak. If it’s not to other photographers to whom you speak then stop filling your Facebook feed with stuff only photographers care about. If it’s to people who love animals than give them pictures of animals and stories about animals and behind the scenes footage of you interacting with animals. If it’s brides-to-be then serve them – show them great photographs to inspire them, point them to great resources for weddings or list of great honeymoon spots. Focus. Don’t give them photographs of car races and your cats and what you ate for breakfast.
Now you know your audience – find them. Where are they? Which social media platforms do they prefer, which coffee shops, which galleries, which stores? Figure out where they gather – online or in real-life – and find ways to share your work. That’s the creative part, the problem solving part of all this – you’ve got to be creative about it. Immerse yourself in their world. Are they on Pinterest? Learn Pinterest and share your work there. Do they read Fish & Stream Magazine? Find a way to write or photograph for Fish & Stream, or Hot Rods Monthly or Modern Photography, or whatever. If they’re on a certain Facebook group, go there, interact, look for ways to serve them. Don’t “sell”. Don’t “network” – just be a human being in that space and find a way to share what you do. At this point I always get someone saying, “yeah, but how?!” Look, figure it out. Pick up a copy of the magazine you want to submit to and read it. They often tell you how to submit. And they always tell you who the editor is. Reach out. Ask questions. Be a human being and talk to them. Don’t sell them on something. Don’t pitch them. Ask them how you can be part of what they do, ask if you can share your work with them and see if there’s a way to collaborate. This is all human to human connection. Find out what they need and then find a way to meet that need.
Here’s the simple answer to this whole thing: you will get known as you put your best work out there in a consistent way, and as you connect to your audience. It will be different for everyone, but you’ve got to be there – sharing, giving, serving. You’ve got to be willing to learn new platforms if that’s where your audience is and if it makes sense to share your work there. You’ve got to be willing to learn how the world works in which your audience lives. Is it galleries? Don’t ask me, I don’t run a gallery. Go into a gallery that shows the kind of work that your audience enjoys and talk to someone. Ask questions. Take them to lunch.
Here’s what I think most people mean when they ask how to get known – they mean: how do I get discovered. You don’t. No one is scouring the internet looking for the miracle that is you, or me, just so they can tell the whole wide world about us. You do the hard work of putting your work – whatever that is – out there. Find your audience and connect with them. Connect. Connect. Connect. And at each point of connection serve them. Scratch their itch. Give them something. There is a world out there full of media – there are thousands of print magazines – to which of them have you submitted this month? Make a list of the top ten magazines and submit your work to one each month. There are hundreds of awards and competitions – some of them better than others – have you submitted your latest work for consideration? Make a list of twelve awards you want to submit your work to and do one a month. There are blogs out there for every conceivable audience – find them, do an interview with them, write for them, send them an email every two months and show them your latest project – find out what they need and help them with that. Collaborate with people that already speak to the audience you want to connect to. You don’t get known any other way than sharing your work with a small audience and then with a larger audience. Consistently. Relentlessly. And remembering that it’s about them, and serving. And connecting.
“Find your audience and connect with them. Connect. Connect. Connect. And at each point of connection serve them. Scratch their itch. Give them something.”
Alright, I’m going to leave you with one final thing. If you have no idea where else to start, then consider starting with a really well curated Instagram feed. Show work that’s personal, show who you are, be consistent. Take some time to look through some of the better Instagram feeds out there and ask yourself if yours could be more consistent? Are you really speaking to the audience you think you are, and being intentional about it? Is it your best work going up there? Some people don’t use Instagram for that – they use it as more of a sketchbook – that’s fine, but know that very few artists get known by a larger audience based on the strength of the work in their sketchbooks. If I looked at your Instagram feed would I get a sense that you knew who your audience is? Would I be able to figure it out based on what you’re serving up?
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