I really wanted to title this post, “5 Ways I Build My Reading Audience Without Making Numbers the Point,” but that was long and clunky and not that SEO-friendly. Hence, the shorter version.
Still, though, I want to make this point clearly – I am always glad when my blog posts, articles, and books find new readers, and I do appreciate the income that comes from the growth of my audience. But I want to work very hard to make sure numbers – either numbers of people of numbers of dollars – are never the focus of why I do what I do. For me, writing is about connection, community, helping each other through this life of summits and pits. So I want to stay focused on people, not numbers.
That said, it is a disheartening thing when it feels like no one is reading what we write, so in that sense, I completely understand why we want to know how big our audience is. It’s an encouragement, a buoy, a way of staying in the waters of writing, even when it’s really hard.
My Most Successful Ways of Building an Audience
I have read what a LOT Of people have to say about how to build an audience, and I am indebted to each of those folks for the way they have guided me. You’ll see lots of those folks linked below. Be sure to go check them out.
- Growing my email list. The number one thing that all marketing, book publicity, and website experts say is that the primary way for all of us to grow our audience is through our mailing lists, and I completely agree. When someone subscribes to your mailing list, they are already on-board, at least part way, with what you are doing and saying, so they are, then, already inclined to read and buy what you are writing. For good wisdom on how to grow a mailing list, check out Kirsten Oliphant of Create If Writing.
- Write more books. The more books I have in the world the more chances that people have to find me, and if they like one book, maybe they’ll read another book I’ve written. I know I do that with writers I like (see Chaim Potok and Margaret Atwood as examples), so it’s reasonable to expect people will do it with me. As much as the more elite world of literary writing might want us to believe that quality is what draws in readers, it seems much more true that it’s quantity that does that. Just see this article by David Moldawer. For wisdom about how to publish well, check out Jane Friedman’s free resources.
- Speak everywhere and anywhere. I sell FAR more books every time I speak than I do online. When I speak in public, people feel connected to me; they feel as if they know me, and for that reason, they often buy my books as a way of connect further, of knowing more, and sometimes of alleviating the pressure that comes with seeing someone have a big stack of books beside them after a presentation. (Note, I recommend having a good-size stack of books nearby for that reason). I speak anywhere I’m invited – local writing groups, homeschool co-ops, genealogical societies, DAR gatherings, book clubs – because I love meeting readers and enjoy the challenge of tailoring my words to that audience. (Talk about a good writing exercise.) For some good tips on public speaking as a writer, check out this article by Jennifer Karchmer.
- Be real, connected, and engaged on social media. It’s easy to use social media to just blast people with what we’re writing, but we all know how annoying it is to see someone just tweeting their book over and over again. It’s far more effective to really try to converse with people in these spaces. I like “informal polls” on Facebook for that. (Today, for example, we’re discussing which writer we’d most like to spend an afternoon with and where.) I also like tagging people in with real questions on Twitter. My goal is to reply with thoughtfulness to every post, tag, comment, and email. I want to stay intimately connected to folks as much as I’m able. Mark Dawson of the Self-Publishing Formula does the same thing, and he’s got some great tips about all this stuff, too.
- Try new things but only keep what works. I give most ideas a try for a couple of weeks. New social media platforms. New strategies for garnering reader favor. New technology to help grow my readership. For example, right now, I’m in an extended experiment with Facebook Live videos that I then post to my YouTube channel. I’m hoping it connects me with some new folks, but if it doesn’t, I”ll let it go. I don’t have time or energy to do everything, so I have to do what fits my personality and way of being and what’s effective. The rest just needs to be left to others who do it better. I cannot do it all. For more good tips on experimentation and balance, check out Amy Porterfield’s work.
For me, what I want most as a writer is to connect with readers (and other writers) in a genuine, heart-centered, loving way. I could probably have a much larger readership is I was more aggressive about getting subscribers and selling books, but that method doesn’t suit who I am or how I want to be. Instead, I want to listen, to really hear the people who read my words, and my hope and prayer is that attitude of humility (at which I fail regularly) will be what leads me to new things and maybe even bigger things.
What about you? What have you do to grow your reading audience? What has worked best for you and what hasn’t?