How can you build a book audience for your writing? These six strategies will take you from creating a core audience to expanding well beyond that initial group of readers:
Work as your own book publicist
If you are self-published, you already know this is vital to finding a readership. If you are starting out with a traditional publisher, you may be surprised to learn how much heavy lifting you are still expected to do yourself in the promotion department. Even authors who have placed books with major publishing houses that have their own marketing departments may receive only minimal support unless they are already bestsellers. The good news is that thanks to the internet, writers have the opportunity to reach an enormous worldwide audience. This opportunity to interact directly with book-reading audiences is unprecedented.
Build a book audience locally
Here’s a simple starting point for building a readership: Get yourself noticed in your own hometown. Send out press releases to the local paper and other media outlets. Visit your local bookstores and your library and introduce yourself, and find out about scheduling events. Even simply volunteering at public book events, as Quora user Amy Strickland suggests, can be a useful way to build connections and put yourself and your fiction on people’s radar. The more relevant your visibility and publicity, the easier it will be for readers to find your work.
Hand-selling and word-of-mouth among independent bookshops can be a very effective way to market your fiction, so befriend your local bookshop employees. Depending on what kind of fiction you write, you may also want to check with local schools and universities about arranging a visit.
Don’t underestimate the opportunity to promote yourself in more unusual ways either. Local coffee shops or other spaces may have opportunities for readings. You could even place promotional material for your book on the back of your car or elsewhere (a tactic suggested by Prakhyath Rai) if you are able to have these materials made. This method may be useful for increasing general awareness of your book but weigh this against the benefits of finding readers who are already disposed to reading your novel.
Don’t only focus on selling
Current wisdom in content marketing is that companies should create a relationship with customers over a period of time rather than focus on constant selling and promotion. This is even more true when you are a writer promoting your books. Even if initial exposure is small, engaging with potential readers and building real relationships may have better results for building a long-term audience. Of course, you shouldn’t really forget about selling entirely, and you should certainly promote your work online. However, you should also show your audience who you are and what your interests are.
Not all writers are comfortable about sharing personal information about themselves online, but even if you are very private, you can share about books you’re reading or movies you’re watching and activities you enjoy. Relate this wherever possible, as casually as possible, to your book. For example, if you have written a romance set on a Greek island, you might share information you have learned through researching your novel’s setting.
Here are a few social media and other promotional tools that are useful for learning how to build a book audience:
- Twitter and Facebook are useful as you can post snippets of your work, meet other readers and writers, and share everyday information about yourself. Visual posts are most popular, so create a visual quote from your book using a free online design tool such as Canva. Twitter and Facebook can also be great for promotions like book giveaways.
- Blogs are still popular despite the rise of social networking. Use them as a place to share information such as where your book can be purchased and who your publishers are. You can also find opportunities to write guest posts on relevant blogs and websites. Be sure that you know who the main book bloggers are in your genre, and offer them review copies of your novel.
- Goodreads and Amazon allow authors to set up pages that link to their published work and blogs. However, you should resist the temptation to comment on reviews or discussion of your work except perhaps for thanking people for good reviews. Rebuking poor reviews is a big no-no.
- Pinterest is good for writers who have a strong visual sense or whose work lends itself to promotion via visual means. Use it to share illustrations if your book contains them, or else the front and back covers. You could even share pages from your book (such as a list of chapters) as a teaser. Use Pinterest to create albums of things that will grab readers’ attention and share pictures that express the tone and mood of your writing.
- Forums for writers may be good places to post. Again, as with other aspects of networking online, the focus should be on building relationships with people and not on constant self-promotion as this will quickly get you banned.
These are all good ways to build a book audience, but how can you go beyond that? You can continue finding readers for your book as follows:
Think and Aim Big
You should always be planning how to build your book audience and following through on your plan. It can feel good to be a local writing celebrity, and social media can provide a fledgling writing community. However, unless your ambitions are truly modest, these efforts should be the foundation of your book audience building and not the end game.
Beware of falling into the trap of promoting yourself heavily within insular groups and not looking beyond their confines. This is one common mistake: writers often promote themselves more to other writers than non-writing readers. It’s great to get feedback and support (and even sales) through other writers, but you need to look beyond this if you are truly going to build a substantial audience. Some self-published authors have reasonably large audiences. In other cases, both self-published authors and writers published by small presses only reach small, specialised audiences. Many actually have the potential to reach many more readers but have not put in the necessary legwork.
Write about/around your writing
Write short fiction or non-fiction pieces relating to your genre that help to build your writing profile. In particular, literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy and horror all have strong short story scenes and markets, and many writers in these genres build a name for themselves in shorter pieces before publishing a debut novel. Doing this helps you create a loyal, eager book audience that will most likely promote your book for free if it is good.
Short story writing is not everyone’s strength, however, and in some genres (such as romance) have a smaller audience in this format. If this is true for you, writing a regular column or articles will also boost your profile. For example, if you’ve written a romance novel set in Victorian England and you also have a passion for Victorian gardening, writing articles on this topic for gardening magazines or other markets may draw more readers to seek out your work. Be sure to include a bio with your articles pointing readers towards your fiction.
Have a long-term writing career strategy
Too often, writers approach their careers in a haphazard, scattershot way. They write across multiple genres without building a substantial audience in any of them or produce work too slowly to build larger readerships. As with a more conventional career, a writing career requires some planning and goal-setting. Don’t hesitate to make a five-year or ten-year plan for writing in which you think about where you want to be and how you will get there.
Keep these two points in mind in particular:
Write each book in the same genre or else consider using a pen name for different genres. A reader who has read your gritty police procedural might be confused when she picks up your erotic romance expecting more of the same. Some writers are very open about their pseudonyms, and this allows readers to follow them across genres if they like without confusing those who prefer to stick to reading one genre. One example of a writer who signalled the type of book he was writing by his name was Scottish writer Iain M. Banks who included his middle initial for his science fiction and dropped it for his mainstream fiction.
Plan to release books regularly. Don’t count on building the kind of buzz a writer like Donna Tartt can by writing a book only every ten or so years. For many writers, one book a year is a reasonable balance for keeping publishers and the public happy while managing other commitments. However, some writers produce two or three or more books per year and their readers happily snap them up. Others have had the experience of publishers asking them to slow down a little bit so as not to overwhelm their readers. A lot depends on your genre – literary fiction often requires a longer gestation period due to formal or thematic complexity or the extent of research needed.
Learning how to build a book audience won’t be a chore if you approach it as an opportunity to connect with other like-minded readers and writers. Audience-building can start on a small scale with local bookstore and library visits and social media strategy and then expand beyond that. It’s important to have a coherent career plan so that you can measure your efforts over time and ensure that they continue to reward you.
What advice can you share on how to build a book audience?