There’s no magic way to build a strong reader base—only methods that require time, energy, and in some cases, money. But this bestselling author has proven they work.
by Ann Charles
Over the last decade, I’ve spent a lot of time, energy, and money reaching out to readers and building a wonderfully supportive group of fans. These readers (and audiobook listeners) not only support my writing by buying my books, but they also act as a sales team for every release, spreading news about the new book to many others online and off, and they leave me amazing reviews to help lure new readers to our always-growing “tribe.”
Many times when I network with other authors, I’m asked how I built such a strong reader following. What marketing tools did I use? Did I run certain ads in particular venues? Did I use Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited “free” strategy? Or did I keep my books wide (available via multiple vendors) and use Bookbub or other sale advertisers like it? What was the trick I’d used when publishing a book to acquire over one hundred genuine reader reviews—or more—by the end of the first week? In short, what strange magic did I use to make all of this happen?
There are very few shortcuts to success, and the opportunities for instant fame are few and far between. There is just time, energy, and money.
The truth of the matter is that there has been no magic involved. In my experience, there are very few shortcuts to success, and the opportunities for instant fame are few and far between. There is just time, energy, and money, as I mentioned above. At least that’s how it has worked for me. Sure there have been some amazing surprises along the way, along with some great boosts here and there, but almost every reward and advancement in my career happened because I was ready for the opportunity when it came my way.
However, while I don’t think there is any magic to building a strong readership base, I do believe there are ways to stack the deck in your favor. Tips that can help you find and keep readers. Tips that won’t change from year to year—unlike marketing strategies and plans that are centered around continually modified social media platforms and ever-increasing ad costs.
Below are five of these tips. Some of them take a lot of time, others take some money, but they are tried-and-true ways that I have used (and will continue to use) to grow my readership base:
1. Build relationships with readers. Become a “tribe” or a “club” or a “gang” or whatever you want to call it. Many people want to be part of a fun group. They want to be able to identify somehow with others who share a trait, such as a sense of humor or a love of reading. So, when a reader takes the time to write to you in an email or a comment or however they reach out, give them some of your time in return. Leave them with a wonderful memory of interacting with you so they want to come back for more of you and your books.
2. Reward your readers. If you have amazing people who support you day after day, no matter what you write, then reward them with something. Like what? How about some fun promo gifts (on the low-cost end, this could be stickers or pins or small magnets; on the high-cost end, you could do a drawing and give away gift cards, posters, and more). If you don’t want to spend money on shipping, then how about a free short story for those who write to you or sign up for your newsletter? Use your imagination and make it a memorable reward by writing something to the reader and autographing it. I cannot tell you how many personal thank-you cards I’ve written in the last decade, but it has to be more than five thousand by now. Yes, I said five thousand. I believe a personal touch is its own kind of magic.
We all can be replaced as a “favorite author” by the many other writers out there. You have to work at it to hold on to that golden honor.
3. Tell your readers how much you appreciate them. And then tell them again and again and again. Tell them in person, online, in an email, in a card, etc. Make sure they understand that you are a team working together, forging ahead as a group—because you are. Without your readers, you can still write and publish, but you won’t go many places in the publishing world. Without you, your “tribe” will break apart and go find something or someone else to entertain them. We all can be replaced as a “favorite author” by the many other writers out there telling stories. You have to work at it to hold on to that golden honor.
4. Don’t ask your readers for something and give them nothing in return. This is an oldie but goodie that I learned about long before I published my first book and it remains true more than ever. For example, if you want them to help you by giving your books reviews, then think about the What’s-In-It-For-Me factor. What’s in it for them? I’m not saying you should bribe them or pay for a review (a big no-no after that trick was overused), but find a way to make writing a review worth their time—such as a personal thank you card (remember, I’ve written thousands of these).
5. Finally, don’t let your ego swell your head until it’s three sizes too big. When it comes down to it, you put your pants on one leg at a time just like your readers do. You may be able to write a great story, but every one of us has some amazing talent that contributes to society. Stay humble. Stay real. Stay kind. Always be thankful.
USA Today bestselling author Ann Charles writes spicy stories full of mystery, comedy, adventure, suspense, romance, and supernatural mayhem. She has over thirty books available in e-book, print, and audiobook format. Her newest release is Jackrabbit Jingle Balls, a wild and crazy Christmas novella from the Jackrabbit Junction Mystery series.
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