The old axiom is that you should write for yourself. That’s true. You absolutely should write for yourself. There’s no sense slogging through a manuscript that you really don’t care all that much about. So do write for yourself. But you should publish for your readers.
Connecting authors to readers isn’t as easy as one might think. Discoverability is an eternal challenge, despite the plethora of social media platforms, online communities, and myriad other venues through which authors can connect to readers. With hundreds of thousands of new books published every year, making sure that your book finds your readers is a real challenge.
You simply cannot expect that thousands of readers will somehow discover your book and stampede to the bookstore to buy it. (Heck, with the average self-published book selling a mere 250 copies, you can’t even expect that hundreds of readers will somehow discover your book.) Instead, you must reach out to your readers—well before your book is published and long after it’s hit the shelves. You must find your readers where they are.
And, so, where are they? And, not only that, but who are they?
Let’s tackle this second question first. I often hear from authors who tell me that theirs “is a book for everyone.” This is a bad marketing ploy. Not only is it naïve, but it tells me that the author doesn’t know who his reader is. As the old publishing trope goes, a book for everyone is a book for no one—meaning that, if you don’t know who you’re writing for, you also don’t know who you’re publishing for, and so you don’t know who’s buying your book. Translation: You don’t know who your readers are.
So before you can figure out where your readers are, you have to figure out who your readers are. It’s not always easy to do this, but there are a few ways you can at least get an idea of who your fans and followers are. All the people who are following you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat, and so on make up your community, your audience, your potential readership. Learn more about them by engaging with them. Use social media platform analytics to determine who these people are. Twitter analytics, for example, has a handy tab that shows audience data, noting age group, areas of interest, country and region of origin, and gender. Take a look at all these data. Are you writing for the people who are part of your community?
For instance, let’s say you’ve written a business book geared toward C Suite executives, VPs, and board members—essentially high-level professionals. If your social media data analytics show that the preponderance of your followers are 18-to-24-year-old females who enjoy mystery and crime, are you communicating with your existing audience? Will your existing audience want to rush out to buy your book? Or are you just hoping that you’ll somehow be able to connect with your intended audience?
If, say, you’re writing a YA title about a time-traveling werewolf working with zombies to magically forge a new utopia out of a post-apocalyptic America, but the work you’ve been publishing consists primarily of narrative nonfiction and self-help essays in popular magazines like Cosmopolitan or Esquire, are you building a community of readers who are going to rush to the stores to buy your new book?
Are your readers among the target audience of Cosmopolitan or Esquire? Are they following the same hashtags that you’re using? Are they reading the kind of material that you’re writing? Are they going to the same WhateverCons that you’re going to? Are they attending Meetups with like-minded individuals?
Much of discovering who and where your readers are speaks to building your platform, which is very much about building your community. Are you finding your readers on Amazon? on Goodreads? on Riffle? on Authors Den? on GoRead? Are you communicating with your readers via videos on YouTube and podcasts on Apple Podcasts?
Don’t forget the old-school routes, either. Indie bookstores are great places to meet readers—customers and booksellers alike can help you build your community and gain word-of-mouth sales. Same with libraries. Today’s local libraries are more than just book depositories; most offer all sorts of programming and are thrilled to welcome authors who will discuss their books with readers. My local library, for example, hosts more than seventy different book clubs. That’s a lot of readers who are constantly looking for new books to read.
Look beyond as well to other institutions such as history museums, community colleges, and other community centers. Tap into writers groups. Organizations like this are always looking for programming and frequently host authors who discuss their books.
Also, be sure to work your relationships with people who are connected to readers. Book reviewers, features writers, events planners with literary organizations—all of these folks can help you reach potential readers who will help you build your community and buy your books.
It’s really all about knowing your readers, finding them, and connecting with them—and realizing that literally thousands of other authors are competing for their time and attention as well. Plain and simple: The authors who do the best job at finding their readers where they are, connecting with them, and building relationships with them will sell the most books.
But you simply cannot wait until your book is published to start doing this—by then it is much, much too late. I cannot stress this enough. Too many authors, both newbies and established writers alike, wait much too long to begin promoting themselves and their work. You cannot wait until pub day to begin building your community of readers. You really have to connect with your readers way before that, finding them where they are and sharing your work with them, communicating with them, building a relationship with them.
Today you can do this more easily than ever. By taking advantage of social media analytics, you can get a strong sense of who your readers are. By using social media to engage with your readers, you can connect with them in a way that you never could before. By doing some legwork and tapping into readers and bibliophiles through bookstores, traditional media, and various brick-and-mortar institutions, you can have high-quality, real-world face-time with readers who will want to buy more of your books the more they get to know you.
You can do it! And you have to. Because although you might well be writing for yourself, if you want someone other than your mom and your best friends to buy your book, you have to publish for your readers. Because, in the end, it’s really all about the readers. Without them, our writing would go nowhere.
May 2, 2017