You want to find a group of ideal readers for your books, but do you ever feel like you are herding cats?

The truth is: your audience is unorganized. They do not stack neatly, they don’t always form logical groupings, and they do everything possible to obscure their tastes and behaviors from your view.

They are a Rubik’s Cube with 10,000 squares on each side. I know, you want to feel like an audience-finding ninja, where you immediately crack the code:

But it’s hard. It takes time. And that is frustrating. You hear of others’ success and begin to feel that there is a secret that they found and no one told you about. So we begin to look for best practices, shortcuts, and magic buttons.

As if there is some secret place your readers are hiding: some mysterious section of Amazon or Goodreads, or some social media hashtag that no one told you about, and these things have already done the hard work of bringing together EXACTLY the right people who want to buy your books. And once you find this magic button, all you have to do is press it.

But beware of jolly candy-like buttons:

This button mentality aligns with our escapist tendencies: the idea that you can easily find your ideal audience, shout at them about your work, see your message spread with little effort (eg: “going viral”), and then you are free to run back to shelter.

That doesn’t happen too often though. It is hard work. And while your ideal audience isn’t pre-organized for you, the individuals who comprise it ARE out there. In fact, it is your job to bring them together, to connect and create that audience.

Consider it this way: assuming you have ever gotten married: how did people come together at YOUR wedding? That moment when you look out and see ONE group of people, a room filled with familiar faces, a lifetime of relationships. To you, it feels like a community, and yet not everyone knows each other. Perhaps you met each individual at different times in different places. And yet, you almost assume they know each other.

Likewise, your readership will be built little by little in a variety of different ways:

  • Advertising
  • Media mentions
  • Book reviews
  • Interviews
  • Book clubs
  • Placement in bookstores
  • Book signings
  • Exposure in online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This could comprise of Amazon’s own algorithms, or how readers organize lists, reviews and rankings on those sites.
  • Goodreads and other book-related social networks
  • Social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.
  • Personal relationships
  • Speaking
  • … and lots of other ways…

And the reality is that there is often overlap: The person who reads about you in an interview, hears your book mentioned by a friend, sees it on Amazon, but then eventually buys it at a local bookstore.

This is why statistics about how people buy books can never really tell the complete story of what lead to that moment of purchase. Consider how you buy a lawn mower or vacuum cleaner. How many weeks/months did you spend researching, across how many websites or media, and how many people did you involve in the process, even if these people include reading 40 Amazon reviews and asking 2 friends. The point of sale is the culmination of a process, but does not fully encapsulate it.

Likewise is finding your readership. What many of you likely want is to feel that you have reached a tipping point: where you feel that momentum has been built, and it is not a struggle to find every…. single…. reader…

And the other thing you likely want is to know how to encourage ACTION. To get them to buy, to review, to tell a friend, to tell a book group, and so on. Action is a process of two things:

  1. Communication
  2. Trust

In other words, how do you find that core audience of 100 readers, people who will truly love your book, and encourage 25% of them to leave a review on Amazon? To provide the foundation for word of mouth marketing?

You don’t need a huge audience to get a foothold, to get enough proof that you have fans – REAL READERS – enough to keep writing, keep publishing, keep growing.

Your community of readers is not hiding from you – they are not just around the corner in a big group waiting to surprise you. They are individuals you pass on the street, one by one. There is not some trick to instantly “give you an audience.” Many bestselling authors will tell you their success came about from an odd mix of:

  • Hard word over the course of years
  • Luck – unplanned serendipitous moments that they never could fully explain how it happened

And the process of reaching readers is both of these things, hoping the former encourages the latter.

But… if you are impatient, I can’t blame you. Really, I can’t. Our days can sometimes be filled with cultural indicators telling us that the only thing that matters is “more more more” – more readers, more sales, more followers, and higher rankings on bestseller lists. So here is the magic button you may have secretly dreamed about, the lottery ticket that just solves the puzzle. Go ahead, click it: become a bestseller:

I’m going to end on with this classic video by Derek Sivers, who makes the point in a unique way:

He frames the message as being about “leadership,” but I think it applies here as well. That “lone nut” dancing guy didn’t come to this concert and find a group of other dancers. So, he started dancing. Then he found one other person who would join him. Then two. And so on.

Yes, it happens very quickly in the video, and we all wish our own success would build as quickly. Like all metaphors, it simplifies the hard work and hastens the timeline. Sorry.

Your audience is unorganized. It is your job to bring them together. In what ways have you found small successes in connecting with readers one by one?

Thanks.
-Dan

About Dan Blank

Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he helps writers share their stories and connect with readers. He has helped hundreds of authors via online courses, events, consulting, and workshops, and worked with amazing publishing houses and organizations who support writers such as Random House, Workman Publishing, Abrams Books, Writers House, The Kenyon Review, Writer’s Digest, Library Journal, and many others.