Five Free Ways to Build Readership

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

The current publishing climate isn’t for the faint of heart or weak of spirit; it takes a willingness to experiment to find what will generate the word of mouth to sell books.

How can a writer find his or her audience? Here are a five tips that worked for other authors. Try them. They might surprise you with their effectiveness.

1. Build Readership by Showcasing Your Writing

I know of an author, frustrated by not finding a home for her work with traditional publishers, who wrote an episodic novel on her website. Tens of thousands of hits ensued. She’s using that success to leapfrog her into a book published by a traditional publisher.

2. Build Readership by Telling a Winsome Story

My client, Dawn Meehan, wrote a clever story on eBay about grocery shopping with her six kids. She explained that she needed to sell a package of opened but unused Pokeman cards that her kids surreptitiously picked up while coasting down the food aisles. The story went viral, and Dawn received a million hits on her blog in one month. From that came an agent (me!); a handsome, two-book contract; a film option; and numerous spokesperson opportunities with national brands ranging from clothes to diapers to cars.

3. Build Readership by Recognizing It’s All about Your Readers

When Jennifer Weiner learned Best Friends Forever had hit #1 on The New York Times best-seller list, what was the first thing she did? Tweeted and Facebooked to thank her truly best friends who had bought the book and told their friends about it.

4. Build Readership by Being Thoughtful and Intentional about What You Post Online

I’ve heard many writers say, “Don’t tell me to use Twitter or Facebook. I don’t have anything to say. And no one cares what I ate for breakfast.” Oh, yeah? It all depends on what you have to say about your breakfast.

What I ate for breakfast can be Twitter-worthy.

What I ate for breakfast can be Twitter-worthy.

One of my favorite people to follow is Patsy Clairmont because she can write the most beautifully phrased, thought-provoking ideas in 140 characters. But other days she’ll set off a round of giggles for me with her tweet, such as confessing she had pumpkin pie for breakfast, but it was okay because she added whipped cream as her dairy product.

Yesterday she showed off her humor as well as her writing skills when she tweeted: “How long has it been since you whistled a happy song? Mine sounded like a seal with bronchitis. This will take practice. Don raincoats!”

I never know what to expect from her–except that reading her tweets is rewarding.

What Works for Me

For me, I’m very conscious of using Twitter and Facebook to convey info about our agency, my agenting, or our clients. When I decide what to write, I give it some thought rather than dashing off the first thing that occurs to me.

I try to be a resource by linking to mind-expanding articles about publishing’s future or providing publishing news or career helps. Those comments receive a lot of retweets or shares.

But, if I want to generate comments, I’ll write something like: “Don’t you hate it when you sneeze right after you’ve applied your mascara? Thus began my morning.” Or one day I announced I was heading off for a pedicure, and when I returned to my computer, I tweeted and Facebooked the name of the polish I had chosen: I’m Not a Waitress. I wondered in my comment how that name was chosen.

Theories on the rationale behind the name immediately appeared from my followers. Why? It was something personal they could connect with. Social networking really is about making those personal connections, and personal connections translate into readers or business partners. It’s a beautiful thing. And all for free.

5. Build Readership by Not Hesitating to Imitate

Think about which individuals, magazines, or other brands whose online comments you especially enjoy reading. Analyze why. What are they doing that you can borrow and give it a twist to make it a reflection of who you are?

We have such powerful tools available to us that cost us mostly in terms of creativity rather than dollars. It’s up to us to use them well.

Question: What creative idea have you employed that reaped surprising results? Or maybe you’ve heard of someone else’s success…

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