Our guest today is Elizabeth Dimarco, CEO and co-founder of BooksILove , a free mobile platform for readers to discuss the books they’ve read and get recommendations from friends and co-workers in non-curated, peer-to-peer conversations. It’s also the place for authors, publishers and booksellers to observe and engage with audiences, publicize author events, book launches and more. A longtime member of the Writer Unboxed community, Elizabeth writes tales at the crossroads of technology and mythology that take place in more than one world.
Achieving widespread book discovery is like hunting a unicorn. Many authors seek it, but only a few ever find it. Having spent the past two years immersed in creating a mobile solution to this issue, I believe authors may be on the wrong quest. What if the key to gaining a reader base isn’t about chasing discovery, but rather slowing down and engaging?
** Special for Writer Unboxed Readers! Tomorrow BooksILove releases the beta version of its new reader engagement mobile app. If you are interested in trying it out, contact Elizabeth at Elizabeth@booksilove.com . If you’re a Writer Unboxed author, Elizabeth invites you to promote your events on the app by going to BooksILove  and clicking on Create Happenings Here. Use the promo code WU2015 to enter your event information.
Meeting Readers Where They Are
In recent years, the quest for book discovery has taken on almost mythical proportions. Armed with their best tweets, blogs, and pins, authors hunt the elusive discovery beast that is just out of reach. After spending the past two years immersed in creating a mobile solution to this issue, I believe authors may be on the wrong quest. What if the key to gaining a reader base isn’t just about chasing discovery, but also about slowing down and engaging?[pullquote]Over the past twelve months, the buzzword in book discovery conversations has shifted to engagement.[/pullquote]
Over the past twelve months, the buzzword in book discovery conversations has shifted to engagement. While it’s not a new concept, the introduction of reader analytics available from e-reading devices has propelled engagement into the limelight. Engagement represents a change in emphasis to quality of sales over quantity—an engaged or quality reader sale often translates to repeat sales and loyal fans.
So what’s the difference between discovery and engagement? Plain and simple, discovery guarantees a one-time read, which may or may not translate into a sale (it might be borrowed from a friend or library). Engagement means not just a sale, but repeat sales.
Shift Toward Engagement
Three years ago I “discovered” an author at a local reading. I purchased his book based on the talk he gave. It was a fine read, but I probably wouldn’t have read his next book if he hadn’t continued to engage with me through periodic email updates and an advance copy that I requested. Two books later, his writing is tighter, his characters are more interesting, and his latest book is pure joy. But I would never have picked it up if I weren’t already engaged with him.
This shift toward engagement can be seen throughout the publishing industry. Scribd is focusing on deepening engagement so that readers continue to renew their subscription, and notable names in online publishing (The Economist, Gawker, and Forbes) are concentrating on the amount of time spent by readers on their content (rather than just click-throughs). For authors, industry expert Jane Friedman has said  that reader engagement “represents an investment in your lifelong career as an author.”
The key to engagement is meeting your readers where they are. It’s one thing to build a platform, it’s much easier to join one. While Nicola Griffith was writing her historical novel, Hild, she engaged with existing communities who were interested in the Medieval period about which she was writing. When her book was released, she had a ready audience of committed readers.
Sharing what you’re reading is an easy way to engage with your audience. Authors Gretchen Rubin, Ryan Holiday, and Daniel Pink have attracted thousands of readers with their regular reading recommendations.
Why not ask your readers the questions that they are asking each other:
- What are you reading today?
- What shall I take to read on vacation?
- Is there a book that will help me understand this person/situation/illness?
- What’s your book club’s next read?
Readers Rely on People They Know
Studies show that readers would rather ask someone they know for a book recommendation than to rely on a recommendation from a stranger or an algorithm. In a recent article on bookbusinessmag Joe Wikert wrote about  the power of personal curation, comparing Angie’s List and the social networking site Nextdoor. Wikert said, “Compared to Angie’s List, Nextdoor feels like a more highly curated and relevant service. Discussions and recommendations come from people you might already know and everyone lives right there in your neighborhood.”
Readers engage with each other about their favorite reads every day—at work, standing in line at a coffee shop, or over a meal with friends or family. While most of those conversations happen in real time, face-to-face, an increasing number of them take place via mobile texting.
There’s a reason why publishing startups Oyster and Rooster chose to build their platforms on mobile devices, why Facebook bought mobile messaging app whatsapp for $19 billion, and why Google SEO rewards mobile-friendly websites. It took web-based Goodreads seven years to reach 25 million people. It took mobile-based whatsapp three years to hit 200 million users and another two years to reach 500 million.
We have become a mobile society. People reach for their mobile phones to help solve problems much more often than they Google the answer from their desktops. If engaging with your readers means meeting them where they’re at, then it’s time to get comfortable with mobile technology that facilitates it.
How do you find the books you want to read? Are you more likely to read a book if it’s recommended by someone you know? Authors, how do you engage with readers?