14 June 2013

Building Your Reader Army

I'm yet to be published, and I have yet to finish a book so feel free to judge my opinions accordingly. However, (and this is a fairly big However) I have spent a couple dozen years or so studying consumer habits in my sales, media and marketing lives, and I'm a heavy media consumer myself. Okay, disclaimer done.
Me: Circa 1987

Even though I'm inexperienced on the publishing side of the media community, I have a TON of experience working with consumers and I'm willing to bet that experience is going to help my book sales.

You know, once I actually have something to sell.

Who's Your Community?

Do you talk to writers or readers? Who's more likely to read (and buy) your books? Writers are pretty busy, you know, writing. Sure, they read a little to keep their skills sharp, but if you want to find people that buy books, you want to find readers.

When you first joined social media to build your writing career--

(You are on social media, right? Facebook, Twitter, etc.? If not, go sign up for Twitter at least. It's simple. I'll wait. So how about that crazy weather, huh? Are you watching the Stanley Cup? That triple overtime game was wild! I sure hope the Hawks can pull it out, but that Boston defense is wicked.)

Oh, you're back. It was easy, right? Now that everyone's getting social, let me give you a tip to think about when interacting with other people on social media. Following writers is great for learning. Following READERS is best for EARNING. 

Pretty catchy, eh?

When I first decided "I'm going to be a writer" a few years back, I immediately ran to Twitter and started following writers. It was fun. I actually had writers following me back, including Sideways author and frequent follow-backer Rex Pickett, so that was a thrill. These experienced authors were sharing knowledge, giving tips, and most importantly, proving that writers are everyday people too. In fact, following writers is what connected me with Peevish Penman so it was most definitely a strong strategy.

But times they will be a changin'. When that first book hits shelves and/or Kindles, I need to expand my community so I'm not just talking to writers all day. I need to start talking to readers. I need to find those Tweeters and Facebookers who list reading as their number one pastime. These are the people that will seek me out and at the very least read my Kindle samples to decide if they should plunk down some dough and help put food on my kid's plate. They're readers. That's what they do.

Not big on social media? Then hit the streets! Go places where readers are. Jody already gave us a great strategy for book-signings, but there are other places readers gather. Talk to your local librarian and ask about special events where you might be able to mingle with local readers. Find trade shows and festivals where your book may be well-received and get a booth if not too cost-prohibitive. That's why I prefer social media, because it's FREE, but if you want a more personal approach, feel free to open up the wallet and get your meet-and-greet on.

Shifting your focus to readers is step one. Now let's take a deeper dive.

Find Your People!

Once you've found readers, you have to find YOUR readers. This part might get tricky, especially if you entered this career expecting to write books for the entire world. Time to admit an uncomfortable truth. Not everyone is going to dig your work. At least, not right away. I'll talk more about shifting customer bases later but for now, you just need to determine YOUR people. 

If you're writing general fiction, this may not be that easy, but if you're doing genre-specific stuff, there are any number of book clubs, internet forums, facebook groups, etc. that would be ecstatic to have an actual author of the genre they love interact with them. Use these groups to create connections and build a rabid reader base. They'll tell similar-thinking friends and you will start to grow your army.

This can happen for non-genre writing too, but the process seems to be much more hit-and-miss. One person who loves your work won't necessarily have friends and family who will be so readily convertible. It just means you'll have to talk to more people to find your groove, but it's out there somewhere.

Welcome Others

Building your army can be tough, and to make it even tougher, readers are constantly evolving. Ten years ago, nobody was reading zombie books except for a small devoted fan base. Now, everybody is crazy about zombies. 

Unfortunately, the authors who are really making money on zombie fiction began writing it before it really took off, and outright luck often comes into play when finding these new fans, but this is a good thing. It means there's always a chance the the stuff you love to write (and probably what you do best) is going to catch on with the general public and make your books extremely profitable. Don't ever underestimate the chances of making new fans. It can happen in an instant.

But this is not how you should measure your success. These happenstance tag-alongs will not be a given so don't start mansion shopping, but if it happens to you, just enjoy the ride because it appears to be a fun one.

Marketing your work (and yourself) can, and should, be an enjoyable experience. All you need is a solid strategy, a little persistence (read: a crapload of persistence), and an undying love for what you do. You're a writer. They're your readers. Now go find them!

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