So I am going to ask Kathleen and Therese to bear with me here for a moment, I need to ask this great community to do something:
That’s right, click away from this blog post right now, leave this wonderful website behind. Goodbye.
(Are you still there? You are such a stubborn writer! Which is why I love you. Okay, let me explain…)
Far too many writers build an audience of the WRONG people. As a writer, you craft a work that is meaningful to you, and you wonder how you will connect it to the world. So you begin engaging with people online and off, telling them about your writing.
And guess what? Guess who is MOST interested in this journey you are on? Readers? Nope. Oftentimes, it is other writers.
So we do what feels validating and welcoming: we join amazing communities such as WriterUnboxed.com. We forge relationships, we grow our platforms with people who want you to succeed as a writer.
But therein lies the problem.
These good people – these other writers, yes they may buy your book. They may read it too. They MIGHT even review it on Amazon & Goodreads. And this is good.
But what I worry about is that when you focus only on engaging other writers, you are not learning how to engage readers. Without the shared interest in becoming a writer, without tapping into that sense of identity and goals, you are not developing that keen instinct of who would love your book and how to get them interested.
Now, obviously, there is ENORMOUS value in engaging with other writers, and especially to do so on WriterUnboxed.com. (Can you tell I am trying to get back into the good graces of Kathleen & Therese?)
Just this week, a writer I am working with heard from two other successful authors who shared wonderful insight into what has worked for them in engaging with readers – what online platforms have worked for them, and the value of certain types of in-person events.
Let’s explore why it is super helpful to engage with other writers:
- Writers are the best kind of people. (okay, that one was easy)
- Help you improve the craft of writing.
- Glean wisdom from their experiences.
- Build a network of colleagues.
- Validate your own identity as a writer.
- Open doors to agents, publishers, media, and other good folks that can help you get published and in front of readers.
- Motivation & inspiration.
- Understand how the world of publishing is changing, and give you a roadmap to navigate it.
- Set proper expectations.
- Vent. (then vent some more)
The list goes on. I will leave “fashion tips” and “recipes” off of the list for the sake of space.
So what is bad about any of this? Nothing. The issue I see is that sometimes writers stop here. They feel a sense of community with writers, they experience all the benefits listed above, so they go no further.
They never develop the capability of understanding who their ideal readers are, how to engage them, or the habits to do so both online and off.
As you develop your platform as a writer, I see an extraordinary amount of value in working through the more difficult task of engaging your readers and those who have access to them, such as librarians, parents, teachers, booksellers, etc.
In other words: YES, engage with other writers. But don’t stop there.
Every single week, learn more about who your readers may be. Engage with them in tiny ways online. And off. Learn what it is about your writing that cuts to the heart of why your ideal audience readers. Discover what it is about one of your stories or books that jumped out at people.
How do you begin engaging with readers? Just a few ideas:
- Read. Read books similar to yours, if possible. Engage as a fan would. Leave reviews online, recommend books, consider who else is doing the same.
- Understand what other books are like yours, especially those published in the past 5 years. Where are they shelved in bookstores, how are they displayed, what comes up in “People who who bought this also bought…” in Amazon?
- What is the language that other readers used again and again in reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and other sites?
- Who are these readers – specifically? See their Goodreads profiles, understand what else they read.
- Talk to readers. On social channels, follow them, comment on their updates, and learn about them. Engage as a fan of similar work, not an author trying to promote your own books.
- Develop a group of beta readers.
- Everywhere you go, ask the person standing next to you: “what do you like to read?” Then ask why.
- Join book clubs, attend events at bookstores and libraries – do anything possible to chat with other readers about why they read. Study the expressions on their face, the cadence of their voice as they talk about reading.
- Talk more about other people’s books than your own.
- Create profiles of your ideal readers. Create lists of where you can find them online and off. Go there. Often.
- Craft messaging that gets readers interested in your writing. Test this again and again, both in person, and in digital channels. Revise constantly.
When I work with writers, the big questions they are often looking to answer are: who is my readership, where can I find them, and how can I engage with them in a meaningful way? Of course, the outcome they hope for is a larger audience for their work, and greater book sales.
Critical to this is beginning to understand your readers as early as you can in this process and developing habits of doing so.
I hope, dear writer, I have not offended in this post. I strongly believe in the purpose of this site, and completely understand that writers are readers too. But there is a distinction between those who obsess about writing & publishing, and those who “merely” read, read, read, and ideally, will one day read YOUR book.