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.
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…
5 ways to grow your readership. Click to tweet.
5 free ways to connect with your potential readers. Click to tweet.
These are really great ideas, Janet. What a wonderful way to start a week (and as I write this the Cubs are leading 3-1, so it’s even better!).
* The main thing I do to generate and I hope hold readership is being honest, even when it hurts. There are days I have hated what I had to say on my blog, but the alternative – sugarcoating an ugly situation and sweetening my sometimes ugly response to life – is kind of unthinkable. It happens for everyone, that sometimes you;re the dog and sometimes you’re the hydrant, and I don’t want to let those on the receiving end of the golden stream feel alone. (So I guess I’m being ‘winsome’…you win some, you lose some…)
* The second thing I do is try to answer every comment thoughtfully, with substance – and I use the commenter’s name in the first few words to let them know I am addressing them personally.
* On imitation, I have to say that I owe a great deal to Shirlee Abbott and her brilliant blog. She’s made me sharpen my thinking, and in my ’31 Days’ blog ‘Starting The Day With Grace’ I am unashamedly following her example of economy and, I hope, intelligence.
* And I really, REALLY hate it when I sneeze after applying mascara. It gets all over my beard.
Andrew, your authentic posts and comments are an encouragement and a guide for praying for you. Even more, your posts broaden my perspective on life and mindsets.
*And, if you’re wearing masacra . . . I’m a little worried . . . 😉
Jeanne, thank you so much! And please don’t worry about the mascara. I’m very careful in coordinating it with eyeliner and lip gloss.
I had to savour your comment for a bit before I settled on an appropriate response. Here it is:
Your praise thrills me more than a World Series victory for my dear Cubs.
The praise is well-deserved, Shirlee. Your words are the golden reflection of His heart.
Oh Janet, my first reaction was “with that kind of social media success, how would I ever find time to write my book?”
*Quickly followed by, “When and if that happens, God will come through with another of his just-in-time solutions.”
*So here I am, trying to keep my mind open, my knees steady and my faith unworried. “What would you have me ‘borrow,’ Lord.”
He sure came through for Chicago tonight,Shirlee…Cubs WIN! The dream continues!
Trip down memory lane: our sons always made at least one trip to a Cubs game with their summer day camp–took the train, little commuters in their matching camp shirts. Bleacher tickets were cheap.
Wonderful article! Lots to think about. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂
I love these suggestions, Janet. And Patsy Clairmont makes me smile. I think I need to follow her on Twitter. 🙂
*I’ve not figured out the best way to draw readers in. My blog is gaining followers and readers, and I think that is one key way for me, right now, to build readership.
*I got an idea from an online friend for posting to my Facebook author page more often, with things I hope will be an encouragement to my readers there. Of course, my “luck” with getting my posts some exposure (without taking out ads) has been rather limited. But maybe it will help some . . .
*To encourage engagement on Instagram and Facebook, I try to end my posts with a question. Sometimes people comment, and sometimes they don’t. I also do this with each blogpost. A springboard for conversation.
*Focusing on building relationships. This is key. 🙂
Jean tne, the questions you ask at the end of each post are terrific. They really motivate me to think and to try to come up with a reply.
* One thing I’d suggest is to add a page to your website with a piece of short fiction, so your blog readers can get an idea of how well you can tell meaningful and heartfelt stories. Perhaps a novella, told in installments?
And I have no idea what my computer was thinking. Between clicking on submit and the appearance of my comment, your name went from Jeanne to ‘Jean tne’. Sorry about that.
I like that, Andrew. I’m going to have to figure out how I can manage that. 🙂 What a fun idea.
Alright. What did I do on seeing this post?
I saved it…
And I intend to use every idea presented here… Really needed this.
Thank you very much for sharing this Janet.
Michael, I’m so glad the post was save-worthy. I hope it serves you well.
This is a ‘save,’ to be revisited. The examples are illuminating. Thanks, Janet.
Over the past couple of years I’ve tried a variety of approaches to gain a following but with minimal success. It’s like I keep exploring ideas and seeing how they ‘take.’ One set of themed posts I was positive would take off, but they didn’t. Aw, not complaining, just learning…but the message is always the carrot in front of me. I know it will eventually pay off and the readers and I will connect. I see glimpses of that now, mostly on Twitter. There I have a small group that read, connect, and share my tweets. It’s a start.
Norma, might I suggest that you focus your energies on what you see people responding to you as post. If Twitter seems to be a place of best engagement, then dig into tweeting and figuring out what types of tweets work best for you. It’s all about testing the market and then going where the testing indicates.
Thank you. That makes sense. I’m happy to give it a whirl.
Janet, may I add a couple of other suggestions?
* Identify yourself with a cause, and cross-blog in that area. For example, since “Emerald Isle” deals with abortion, I could start out by commenting consistently on pro-life blogs, with the hope that I a) generate some traffic to my site, and b) may be asked to guest-post.
* Look for out-of-the-box places for public speaking. For example, if you have written a historical that involves WW2 aviation, you might contact the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association (a group formed by and for people who build their own aeroplanes) and offer to give a talk. They’re always looking for good speakers for chapter meetings (you can only listen to descriptions of member projects so many times!). But your research has to be first-rate, and the talk should not be so much about story as about the ‘aviation ambience’ of the time period. In other words, know thy audience!
Great suggestions, Andrew. Finding local museums that exhibit WWII items might also be a possibility for the author.
I remember taking a social media class from Robin Jones Gunn. She said to make sure to use the same unique voice you use in your writing–that’s what your readers will expect from you. I’ve watched her posts ever since and use her as a role model. Light, winsome, encouraging. That wouldn’t work for everyone, but it works for me!
Karen, Robin is so right. Readers don’t want to read your book and respond to them not only intellectually but also emotionally. They look to the author for a similar emotional “voice” in his or her online presence.
Lot’s to think about here, Janet. I see my web presence as being distinct layers of an onion. There’s my Roman history site that I plan to market to teachers that includes a historical fiction page that will list my books and provide reviews of many others set in the Roman period. It has links to my blog site (different URL), which takes a spiritual direction with weekly blogposts of a rather serious, contemplative nature asking for comment to start a conversation. A post on National Artichoke Day wouldn’t fit at all.
*I’m about to start an author Facebook page that will be the more fun side of me. Three totally different flavors, but none of them directly showcase the writing style of my novels. I have to think on how to do that in a way that is consistent with the themes and structures of the sites. I still own one more carolashby url that isn’t being used; maybe I need to use it to share the “funner” me.
Or maybe, to have a more integrated sense of who you are, how about adding a Fun Facts section to your Roman history website? Kids (and therefore teachers) love odd and unusual tidbits of information.
If you don’t integrate who you are in all your online venues, meshing them later will be all the harder. You aren’t three distinct people, you are one Carol, and that’s how you should present yourself.
A very good point. I have fun facts integrated throughtout the articlds, but I should make a special page of Odd Facts as well.
*We don’t want to seem schizophrenic, but surely emphasizing different facets of our personalities at different venues should be OK. We have to do it in real life all the time.
*I’m targeting different audiences with each site. What appeals to one could be a major turn-off for the other. I expect lots of teachers and history fans will come to the Roman site. Some would be unhappy to find Christian musings as a main feature and couldn’t recommend the site to their students even if they liked it, but they might be drawn in by a novel in a time period they love where they watch people wrestle with some of the same questions.
“What creative idea have you employed that reaped surprising results?”
Surprising can be used two ways: surprisingly successful, or surprisingly unsuccessful. For me it’s the latter. Just prior to the birth of our 4th grandchild (all in our daughter’s family), all with names beginning with “E”, I ran a contest on Facebook: Guess E4’s name and win a copy of my poetry book. I gave people two guesses. Seven people guessed Elijah and won a book. One person hasn’t sent me her address. I sent out the other six; only one acknowledged receiving it; no one has posted a review. Six strikes and you’re out twice. Let’s hope that’s not the Cubs’ fate.
The other surprisingly unsuccessful thing I tried was to contact influencers—i.e. people with modest platforms—and try to build a relationship that might result in one shout-out in my favor. One of seven influencers responded, and I’m building a relationship with him. I’ll review his book soon, and hope maybe he will review the ARC I sent him of one of mine. Another was a writer from my home state, who I offered to interview on my blog prior to her (then) upcoming release. We did that, and surprisingly she didn’t offer reciprocity. I didn’t ask for it, but do you really have to ask for it? Surprisingly so, but I’m being passive-aggressive and not asking.
Down day. Don’t mind me. I’m just writing the next book and will publish it.
Go ahead and ask, David. The worst you’ll get is a no. She’ll probably be glad you asked. Maybe she’s a person shy about asking others to let her do something like that, or maybe she’s not sure what questions to ask. I read in an article on media interviews that you should always provide a list of possible questions to the interviewer.
David, thanks for sharing your attempts to gain readership. I think it doesn’t occur to some people who win contests that it would be a nice gesture to promote your book in some way–or at least to thank you for it. But people surprise us sometimes in their lack of awareness.
Regarding the author you interviewed on your blog and her lack of reciprocity, I agree with Carol about asking her directly. But in a nice way. Such as, “I was wondering, if I prepared some questions and answered them, if you would consider posting the interview or your blog. You could, of course, read the questions before I answered them and change the wording or the questions themselves. Whatever would be easiest for you.”
Down days are hard, David. I’m sorry. I hope there will be good news in your inbox soon.
* I’ve found that working with influencers can be tough, because they get a LOT of requests, and it can be hard to justify a specific ‘yes’ when one has to give many negative answers. To that end, I don’t ask. I try to maintain a presence on influential blogs, and wait for the relationship to develop. When you give without asking anything in return, in these hectic days, you do stand out.
Andrew: Yeah, influencers don’t need you (generic you); you need them.
David, but they need to produce a lot of material. If what you’re writing fits with their brand, offering them easy material to use about your book could benefit them. And maybe an interview with you isn’t what the influencer would like to do. Give some out-of-the-box thought to what this influencer might find helpful to him/her and his/her audience.
Exactly right, David. It’s tempting to quit. I have abandoned writing, many nights, and in the morning too it up again. For one more day.
* Thus, the gauntlet thrown down. I won’t quit if you won’t. If we have each other, even in defeat, we are richer than Croesus.
Andrew: Oh, I’m not going to quit writing. I have my main work-in-progress that is 35/90th done and should take two months to finish, even with the holidays. Then I have four or five other works in some stage of completion, which I may go back to with relative ease. Then I have a series of cozy mysteries with a twist planned and partly programmed. So I won’t quit writing. I might, however, quit caring if anyone but me reads them.
Sylvia A. Nash
Janet, #4 sounds like me–all the time: ” I don’t have anything to say. And no one cares what I ate for breakfast.” But your comments made me think of something that happened this past weekend, and I posted it.
. The longer version is on my Facebook site, but here’s the 140 character Twitter version: “Tears of joy/appreciation to unknown cousin who posted only photo we’ve ever seen of my g-grandmother on http://Ancestry.com . #genealogy”
. And I did cry! My g-grandmother died when my grandmother was a little girl. Even Daddy had never seen a photo of her. I got to show it to him.
. And yes, I’m into genealogy. So sharing that is not about my books. It’s about me, and I know there are a gazillion folks who can identify with how I felt. Thanks for the nudge!
So, Sylvia, now you’ve got me curious. What did you have for breakfast? I had peanut-butter toast.
Sylvia A. Nash
Carol, I like peanut butter anytime, anywhere! And on almost anything. My sister-in-law jokes about how many things we eat peanut butter with. 🙂 My usual breakfast is…
.. a cup of Cheerios (oats for the heart)
.. with milk (it does your body good and I don’t like dry cereal)
.. and 8 unsweetened cherries (for blood pressure)
.. a half cup of juice (grape, white grape, or apple–for antioxidants)
.. and a cup of black coffee (to help me wake up!).
.. Followed by another cup of black coffee! 🙂
. Last week I changed up and had spinach quiche (yum! and iron) and pork/turkey sausage (picked up by mistake–blah–no turkey for breakfast, please!).
. Lest you get the wrong impression, I make up for healthy the rest of the day!!
Turkey sausage grows on you. We have hot breakfast for probably a quarter of the whole church between services every Sunday, and we share worship and fellowship space with a Messianic Jewish congregation. All breakfast pork is replaced by turkey or chicken variations; now the pork versions seem much too greasy to me.
Sylvia A. Nash
I’m not fond of turkey. Don’t think turkey sausage will ever have a chance to grow on me! Shudders!
My breakfast is a cheap cigar and a bottle of bug juice – either the red kind, the purple kind, or the blue kind. Whatever’s on sale.
* Ah, but my training table breakfast…it was raw liver, grape juice, orange juice, brewer’s yeast, and wheat germ mixed in a blender with ice as a kind of milkshake. It’s better than it sounds, but not much.
Well, either breakfast is Twitter-worthy, but I’m not sure they enhance your brand. People would certainly perk up.
And so healthy! I have to confess that I got the idea for the ‘whipped liver shake’ from Warren beatty’s wonderful movie, “Heaven Can Wait’. Life imitating art?
Of course, that’s not what Beatty actually drank–I hope. One must always take into consideration that doing as one sees done in a film could be a bad idea…
Ah, but Janet, I was much younger then, and we all know that youth is indestructible!
* It was petty effective for building muscle, but nowadays I do wonder about ingesting raw liver…
Sylvia, that was a wonderful, tender moment to share via social media. Good for you!
Sylvia A. Nash
Thanks! I’ve been trying more “personal” lately.
Thank you for this helpful post, Janet. These are really great ideas! An author friend of mine offered a free novella to newsletter subscribers and saw great results. Based on her success, I did the same in the romantic suspense genre and have also gotten a fair number of additional subscribers because of the novella. What’s more, I’m giving them a sample of my writing and something of value for subscribing. Hopefully just the thing to build my readership.
Jerusha, I’m sure others reading the comments will be encouraged to know what worked for you. Thanks for letting us know.
This is great, Janet. It sounds so simple in many ways, but wow … so tricky. I love Beth Moore’s prayer … I say it all the time … “Lord, make me smarter than I am.” 🙂
Judy Gordon Morrow
I loved this post, Janet–thanks! It really confirmed for me what I’ve been thinking and praying about regarding how to best engage on social media. For being such a people person, I have felt rather shy online for years. Now I’m finally feeling more comfortable and enjoying engaging with others on my personal Facebook page, but I’ve neglected my author page. I’ve noticed that quite a few author friends often post the same things on both of their pages, so I’m wondering if I also should just go with that and not worry about the folks who follow me on both pages. Your wise thoughts? Thanks!
Hey, Judy! I would make a choice about duplicate mentions for each post. Sometimes you want to share something personal with your friends and family; sometimes, such as when you have a new cover, you want to share that with both groups. But you might want to word your post differently for each group. Thinking it through each time enables you flexibility, which I think is important. Even if I see the new cover on both your friends and your author pages, if it’s worded differently, I’d probably read it both places–double exposure but not duplicate exposure.
Judy Gordon Morrow
Thanks so much, Janet! What you suggested is exactly what I’ve done the few times I have shared the same info on both pages, so I appreciated your confirmation. I like the phrase, “double exposure but not duplicate exposure.” Perfect!