If you’ve written and published a book—and it doesn’t matter whether you’ve taken the traditional or self-published route—you’ll be anxious to find people who want to read that book . . . because that’s why you wrote it in the first place, right?
I’m not talking here about book sales and making money from what you’ve written, because as I’ve said many times before, most authors will be lucky to make enough from their writing to cover out-of-pocket cash expenses, let alone any kind of a profit at all. I’ve argued long and hard with those who express disappointment at the meagre return they’ve seen, if any, for all their labour, but I am going to repeat again here—money should not be the reason you write or publish. This is why I have also advocated for a “Most Read” list to determine a book’s success, rather than the “Best Selling” lists … which were, quite frankly, a rating system introduced by publishers who were totally interested in selling more “units” or “product” (their terms for books) rather than finding readers who actually appreciated the writing, the story, and the effort it had taken authors to write the books.
The reason I will continue to argue that finding readers for your work should be of the utmost importance is because readers generally tend to be buyers. So, eventually, if you find enough readers who enjoy what you’ve written and who share with other readers what they like reading, you will achieve more sales for what you publish. You just need to have patience—and quit beating everyone over the head about “buying” your book!
The other benefit to finding engaged readers is that they talk to their friends and tell them what they’ve read and enjoyed. Or they give books as gifts to other readers. So, in a sense, you create a “sales force” that begins small like a snowball—and is possibly imperceptible to you at first—that then builds momentum and grows into an avalanche before you know it . . . and with a lot less angst and badgering on your part than the “buy my book!” route takes. Trust me. This may take time, but it does work.
And where do you find these readers, you ask? First of all, you write a great book. Simple, huh?
I’m serious here … you write the very best book that you can, seek professional help in polishing the manuscript, in publishing the book, and become secure in the fact that you have produced the very best book that you can.
Read books by other authors (not only in the genre in which you write), promote the authors of the best of those books, help them find readers by becoming a reader yourself who enjoys telling their friends about great books. You can even go so far as I have done and write a blog about books—Reading Recommendations—and promote lots of authors even further. Build up a readership for your blog, for your Facebook status updates, for other social media sites. Become someone other readers regularly consult and listen to for their own reading recommendations.
Join like-minded reading sites (note, I said “reading” and not “writing” sites here) and talk about books in your own genre with other readers.
In the meantime, you’re writing and preparing your own book for publication, but you’re also working towards building up a sizable group of reading friends who may very well wish to read what you have written. So, when your book is released, there are people curious enough to take a chance and read it. But, more importantly, you’ve developed a fan base that, if it isn’t disappointed in your book, will become your cheerleaders who then tell their friends, thereby increasing the size of your fan base.
You may choose to offer advance reading copies to a select group of readers, but you should never make these gifts dependent upon receiving a review on Amazon. That’s my feeling about this whole “read for review” thing. If a reader enjoys what you’ve written, most will pass that information on to their friends, either by writing an online review or telling their own friends about it. You should never, ever, ever cajole reviews out of your readers, or make them feel as though they’re under some obligation to review your book favourably, once they’ve read it. You must understand that some readers feel uncomfortable about writing a review—whether they feel incompetent in being able to express their thoughts about the book, or they just don’t wish to have an online presence. Or … they really didn’t enjoy your book at all, but would rather not have you know that fact.
Do encourage those readers who are Internet-shy to write to you privately, whether they enjoyed the book or especially if they had issues with it. Whenever I’ve received glowing comments from readers by email, I’ve asked if I may reprint what they’ve had to say, either on my blog or even in promotion copy, always anonymously though, so that other potential readers have an opportunity to read their thoughts. And if what the reader tells me is critical, I discuss their points with them and learn from what they have not enjoyed in my books. I never argue with them, I never dismiss them as being wrong in their reading. Every reader reads in a different way. If they don’t get what we’ve written then it’s usually because we, the authors, have not been clear enough in our writing. We can always learn something about how to improve our writing, no matter whether the reader liked what they read or didn’t “get” us.
So, I’ve suggested how to find your initial core group of readers, and now you’re probably wondering how you continue to find new readers on top of that group, to continue the momentum. Here’s a handy-dandy list for you:
1. Continue to promote other authors. Yes, that’s right. Not only will you be doing those other authors a favour, but you’ll also attract their readers to read … your book.
2. Ask those other authors who you have promoted to promote you back, by interviewing you on their blogs, reading and reviewing your book, by attracting readers outside of your own geographical and social area. And since you’ve been involved in reading groups online all this time, you’ll have developed a group of friends who may also blog about books and invite you to be interviewed or promoted.
3. Approach librarians. Tell them who you are, show them your book (or give them the online links), offer to supply them with a free print copy for their collection or tell them how they may purchase a copy, if it’s being distributed by a library wholesaler. DO NOT—I repeat—DO NOT figure that making your book available to libraries will lead to direct sales of your book. What libraries can offer you is readers, and more exposure for your writing. Once you have a rapport with the library, see if they are amenable to having you organize a public reading or, better yet, a group reading for other authors in your area. (The reason I suggest making it a group reading is that each of you will attract your own audience and more readers who attend to hear one author will be attracted to the work of the others, as well. Bigger audience = more readers for everyone!) What you have to understand about libraries is that the only numbers that matter to them are the number of patrons who borrow books and the number of participants attracted by their programming. They want to make their patrons—the readers!—happy by offering a great collection and interesting programming. If you offer to make their job easier, as I’ve suggested, they will deliver the readers to you.
4. Do you belong to service groups? Or do you have friends who belong to them? Groups like this are always looking for speakers. Work up a talk you can give to any size group, whether the topic is your book, or a subject that arises out of having written that book, and offer to deliver that talk to their membership. Have your book available to purchase at the event. If your talk is good enough, inspirational enough, your books will sell. But you will also have added to your fan base, so be sure everyone receives your business card with links listed to your webpage, blog, etc. You never know who will follow up and contact you after the event. Or invite you to speak elsewhere …
5. If you are not comfortable speaking in public, that’s okay, because you’re a writer—so you can write copy for online magazines, print magazines, community newspapers, organizational newsletters, association and university newsletters and magazines. The sky is the limit, really. Just be sure that whatever you write offers value to the readers, and that information about you and your book, and an online link, is included in the by-line.
6. Make a point of purchasing books by other authors. This act in itself may not directly find you readers, but eventually word will get out that you are supporting your fellow authors, monetarily as well as by promoting them on your blog or reviewing their books. One author I know, who is both self-and-traditionally published, has publicly made of point of purchasing a self-published eBook once a month. He’s “giving back” to the community by doing so, but what he earns from me and other authors is a great deal of respect for essentially “putting his money where his mouth is” and actually buying books. How can we ever expect others to buy our books when we don’t purchase books ourselves?
7. Don’t be miserly! When you do find readers who have enjoyed your book, tell them about other, similar books or authors writing in the same genre. You will never lose those readers, but you will gain their trust and even friendship in some cases, if you consistently recommend books like yours that they may also enjoy. After all, writing and publishing should never be considered a competition. Nor should finding new readers be competitive. Again, I say you will never lose those readers who have read and enjoyed your book. You can only increase their numbers. Unless … you never write again.
8. Which brings us to the final point … You must continue to write! Don’t rest on your laurels, becoming a one-hit wonder, after all the hard work you’ve put into building your readership. Those readers will now be clamouring for more from you! So give them what they want and keep writing! (I’m trying to follow my own advice here and am continuing to work on preparing my second novel for publication.)
Trust me … if you follow my advice above, and concentrate on finding new readers for your work, the sales will come for your books, eventually, and the entire process will become less nail-biting and a whole lot more fun as you develop a career-long fan base that just can’t wait to read your next book.
That, to me, is far more rewarding, and a good indication that I am becoming successful as an author.
*NB – ALL my suggestions above should cost you next-to-no money at all to implement. So other than investing time and initiative, any sales you do make as a result, after you’ve covered your earlier expenses, will be pure profit. And even if you are traditionally published, these are all ideas you can utilize above-and-beyond whatever your publisher offers to do for you.
After writing this, I discovered another blogger had written similarly on the topic in Five golden principles of audience engagement.