Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
How to Connect with Your Readers
Part 2 of 2
Continuing the conversation of what writers can learn from Jessica Beinecke about connecting with your audience, here are a few more reasons I believe Jessica has amassed such a following by teaching mainland Chinese students American slang:
3. Her audience feels as though they know her. Jessica creates her videos while sitting at her dining room table in her apartment using her webcam. Her approach is down home. So much so that, when she traveled recently to Beijing, 4,000 of her fans moved their personal heavens and earth to meet her. Some traveled four hours by train. Jessica has made a point of not just teaching American slang but also being accessible to Chinese students. In the 1950s, an editor remarked, “Authors should be heard but not seen.” Well, it’s a brave new, topsy-turvy world in which an author must be seen as well as heard, and not just “heard” through the books he or she writes but also with a voice on the Net. Readers expect authors to be accessible.
4. She understands she isn’t really offering language lessons. Jessica thinks of her videos as “a cross-cultural platform to discuss how similar we all are–but we use different languages.” That’s the biggest a-ha! of them all. She understands that teaching the younger generations of Chinese what a “booger” is accomplishes a much larger goal than expanding their English vocabulary. They feel connected to Americans, as they come to understand our language. Your mission in connecting with your readers online goes beyond getting them to buy your books. If that’s your goal, then you’ll end up offering potential readers ads. But if your desire is to make an inherently deeper connection, then you’ll be more self-revelatory and, well, someone the reader feels as if he or she knows. That engenders loyalty that goes way beyond selling a copy of your latest work.
Now, here are a few specifics that occur to me of how to find out what your readers want from you.
- Don’t be afraid to engage your readers in decision-making. One of my clients was trying to decide between writing historical and romantic suspense. She had been successful at both but had reached a place in her career in which she needed to make a choice. Having no strong opinion one way or the other, she asked me how she could make such a decision. I suggested she ask her readers what they enjoyed reading the most from her. So off my client went, posed the question as a quiz for her readers and discovered they had a strong preference. Since that hadn’t shown up in the sales figures, who knew????
Another client of mine had some ideas for contemporary novels that just wouldn’t go away so she ventured from historical to contemporary–and lost her readers. When she returned to historical, her readers told each other via social media: She’s back! Who knew???? If only she had asked them what they wanted!
- But wait. What if you aren’t cute and 25 years old? Few of us can be animated in the winsome way that comes naturally to Jessica…Wait, what was that adverb? “Naturally.” What’s natural for you? If you’re more of a quiet ponderer, then creating YouTube videos probably isn’t your shtick. But writing blogs and tweeting clarifying quotes from them might be. Or if you’re in your 50s and writing for teens, why not let your characters be your online presence? Fans of your protagonist might be eager to tell your made-up teen what cupcake she should eat for her birthday. Who knew that’s what your readers really wanted?
How do you decide what to reveal about yourself to your readers?
Have you ever regretted something you shared–or felt embarrassed when you read something another writer posted online?
What is a natural way for you to connect?
Have you ever surveyed your readers when you were trying to make a decision? If so, in what ways was it helpful? Would you do it again?
I have a small following on my blog, but when I polled them, I think they all participated! I used Survey Monkey to poll my blog readers to get some insight into their demographics. I assumed they were, well, basically me with kids–married, Christian, 35-45. I was surprise at how much older they were and how many weren’t Christians.
I also got a great response when I asked for advice on naming some minor characters (Ruth and Ginny won out).
It’s really fun to engage with readers that way. I think the trick is to 1) ask for help with non-earth-shattering decisions; and 2) TAKE the advice. If you ask for input and then ignore it, you’ll most likely alienate readers.
Sarah, what a great idea to ask your readers who they are. We can find out some details through a variety of online analytics, but how much better to go to the source! That sounds like it was very instructive for you.
And thanks for pointing out the importance of not only giving readers a voice but also following their advice.
So, if you ask your readers to vote on cover choices, you have to be prepared to go with the cover that actually wins!
What a great idea, Sarah! I never thought to offer a poll. Nice!
Thanks for an excellent series of posts, Janet!
I’ve really enjoyed meeting people through my blog. We have a lot of fun together, and I’m thankful for the connections, whether they all become future readers or not.
And I like what you said about engaging readers in decision-making. It seems so simple, but I haven’t utilized it much. Great advice.
Let me know how engaging your readers goes for you.
Another great post, Janet. I run polls at many of my blogs. I think it’s important to reach out and ask readers what is working for them, what isn’t, and what they would like to see in the future.
I haven’t, however, taken to doing that with my writing. I’ve asked for feedback from other writers on forums and critique groups, but not my readers. I wonder what I’ve missed.
I think you’ll come to enjoy connecting with your readers by asking their advice, Cheryl. I’m glad the post was helpful to you.
Janet, thanks for another poignant post. Your question, “What’s natural for you?,” is what I’ve been pondering the past few days. In trying to build a fiction platform, I’ve taken up blogging again. I’ve been pondering how I might include vlogging occasionally, and so I’ve been watching some vlogs of authors or aspiring authors I respect. At first I thought, “I can’t do this!” Everyone I watched was so engaging, approachable in their easy manners, and I thought “I’m too quiet! I can’t do it like that!” And then it dawned on me… I don’t have too do it ‘like that’- that’s their style, and it’s perfect for them. I’m still pondering what my style of vlogging might be as a reserved person, but it sure is fun to see what others have done in the meantime. Sometimes I forget that we’re each created differently, and I shouldn’t spend my time trying to copy their styles, but rather observe what they’ve done well and translate it into what works for me. I may just work up the courage yet to “vlog” myself!
Amanda, what a great insight to just be yourself. It makes so much sense, but it’s strange how hard it is to come to that conclusion.
I used to teach public speaking (a long time ago), and we instructors taught speakers to be aware of their personalities because different personalities had speaking techniques that worked best for their type. Quieter speakers generally get a pick-me-up if they use some sort of visual aid when they speak. It might be something unusual. Patsy Clairmont uses a huge tangle of yarn–not that she’s quiet, but she’s a gifted speaker; you might show some project you’re knitting–just as an example, I have no idea if you knit or how that might fit in with your writing. Anyway, I hope the idea of using a visual stimulates your creativity.
Thank you for the suggestion, Janet. I love it. And, incidentally, I do knit… as does one of my characters! My mind is spinning with things I could demonstrate or explain the significance of from my book, since so many of my own interests, experiences, etc. crop up in the story. I’m thinking the place for such videos right now would be my author page, since I’m refraining from writing about my book on my blog until publication wheels someday begin to roll.
Thanks for the suggestion, example, and inspiration!
Jessica R. Patch
I just took up vlogging. Coffee with Jess. Very informal interaction. I found it was a lot of fun and I had more interaction and tweets on that day.
Jessica, vlogging is the perfect fit for you. You have this warm, fun personality that translates just right through vlogging. But I also love your devotional posts!
Jill and Jessica, yours are two example vlogs I watched and loved! 🙂
Maybe part of the equation is the mission statement? Jessica clearly knows what her blog’s purpose is, and like you mentioned, it isn’t to teach language classes. It’s to connect cultures.
By the way, vlogging was a hit (I have very nice, supportive friends!), and I’m definitely going to make it a regular feature. It won’t be writing related, though.
Last night, I brainstormed 15 segments all related to my life. It should be fun! And I’ll keep an eye on my stats to see how well each is being received. I’m sensing a poll, eventually…
Another great post, Janet, thanks so much!
Melissa K. Norris
I really like the poll idea. I already ask readers for help naming characters, or for instance, today on my FB page I asked for help naming my hero’s horse. But taking my top picks and putting it in a poll on my webiste, what a fantastic idea! Thanks.
I solicited name suggestions for a 300 pound woman coming in for a massage who was embarrassed about her size. I wanted to play off type, so I asked for some suggestions.
Readers came through in a fun way, some with comments when their own names were chosen, but I then explained WHY the names didn’t work (my niece, a friend who had just lost weight, and so on).
That, however, prompted another post about how to choose names for characters, which also generated interest.
Of course since people were commenting on both the blog and Facebook, I had to keep jumping between.
Now must investigate vlogging . . .
What great timing! I spent part of my morning discussing this topic with an industry professional. The result of this meeting is that I’ve decided to go back to blogging. On what? Um…yeah…exactly! I’m taking that question to my readers on Twitter and Facebook and am anxious to see what they come up with. I’ve got some ideas, but then I already read my books. 😉
I never envisioned vlogging as the direction so many replies would go–which just goes to show how important it is to let a conversation take its natural course. Thanks, all for interaction.
I ran a couple of contests while I was writing. In one, I needed a logo for a shipping company and asked people to submit artwork. In another, I needed the name of a ship (the main setting for the story).
The prizes were just the bragging rights for seeing their suggestions in the story. I got hundreds of entries and picking the one I wanted from the pile might have been more work than actually making them up, but the connection factor was huge.