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Where, oh Where Are Our Readers? The search for the elusive audience

Being a writer isn’t a path most of us choose consciously; it’s just who we are. We are storytellers, researchers, teachers, searchers, learners and so much more. To some, writing is a way to impart wisdom learned from years of living. To some writing is a way of finding out who we are and where we belong. To some writing is a way to heal a past or deal with the present; to purge emotional pain or align our thought processes. Writing is so many different things to so many people; but there is one thing all writers have in common – we want readers.

Readers are the foundation of a writer’s life. They are the sky we are reaching for; the most important ingredient in our author stews. So where do we find them? Where are they hiding? How do we attract them to our work; get them to read our novel, story, poem, or article? Some of us start with our friends and family; some of us search out an agent or publisher to find readers for us; some of us look online to our connections on social sites. None of these strategies is wrong, but none of them are enough either. So what is a writer to do? Where are the elusive readers of our dreams?

Finding readers has a lot to do with our purpose for writing. Why did we write our novel, story, article or poem? Was it for a sense of self? Perhaps it was to see our names on the best seller list? Was it for the thrill of seeing our book on the library or bookstore shelf? Whatever the reason, without readers our blood, sweat and tears lies stagnant on the shelf. We write for a reason; we have a target audience in mind when we write. If we write for young adults, then our target audience is teenagers; if we write fantasy or science fiction, then that is our target audience. If we figure out who we are writing for and our reason for writing this particular story, then we can figure out where to find our readers.

If we use social sites to reach readers, it is fairly easy to find our audience. Just look in the groups on Facebook alone and we can find people who have something in common with our story; someone who will enjoy what we have written and be interested in the information we want to impart. The hard part is making sure we don’t overstep the boundaries of friendship when we offer our work on these sites. The hard sell doesn’t work; pushing our work in readers’ faces is never a good idea. Our readers are our friends, or at least our future friends. We need to let them know we exist; we need to let them know our work exists; but after that it is in their hands. Readers make their own decisions as to what they want to read and which authors they want to offer their loyalty to. We have to respect that they have that choice.

Word of mouth is a very strong current. It can carry a novel on its tide and bring a wave of readers to our shores; but if we try to control the current, we may find that it is stronger than we think and can sweep our novel out into a vast sea of nothingness. With the advent of ePublishing, the sea is getting bigger and deeper and our novels are one of millions of novels floating around.  We can take two paths here; we can trust that the reader will be the fisherman and our novel will happen to get caught on their hooks and hauled aboard to be devoured; or we can be the fishermen, dangling our bait for hungry readers. One path is passive, the other is more aggressive. Some might say that equating our readers to hungry fish is demeaning; but truth be told, aren’t most readers looking for something in our books that will hook them? The first line of a novel is called a hook; why not use it?

We are all vying for readers; to get the attention of someone who will love our work so much they will recommend us to other readers.  Do we really want to be passive here? Dangle the bait; attract one reader and more will hopefully follow. We just need to make sure to use the right bait – good content. If the bait is hard to swallow, the fish won’t recommend it to other fish and our hooks will remain empty. If our bait is delicious and decadent, the fish will swim out to other fish and let them know where the best hook in the sea is.

Times have changed and it is no longer enough to just write a good story.  The days of staying home and writing and letting others take care of the marketing are over. We need to go out into the sea of readers and find our school of fish; let them know where the best bait in town is and dangle the hook in front of them.  Let them take the bait; then it’s up to them to decide if they want to share it or not. We can’t control the current, but we can tempt the fish.

Writers, where do you find readers and how do you hook them? Readers, what hooks you?

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Building Real Connections with Real People

Social Media seems to be the rage right now. As authors, we are getting online and tuning in to what readers want and learning through each other how to improve our writing and create a “Brand” for ourselves. But how do we balance the “brand” with the reality of who we are and what we are trying to accomplish? Balance between being “real” and being a “brand” is difficult if we don’t take care to brand ourselves correctly.

Spending time paying attention to something other than our writing may not be something we want to do; let’s face it – we want to write, and sometimes taking time out to socialize can be hard to do. It can take hours at a time away from our writing. It is time well invested, in my opinion. Getting to know my readers and so many other writers has taught me a lot of valuable lessons that I can incorporate into my writing. I try to find relevant articles and information to share, but a lot of the time, I find myself learning from something that someone else posted and having that “aha!” moment when something I have been struggling with sinks in. I find that I have a lot more in common with the people I am connecting with besides just what I like to write and what I like to read. I joined writing groups to meet other authors and to learn and share and have found that instead of just giving and receiving information, I have made actual friends through these groups; friends with whom I connect in other groups as well. My purpose in joining the groups was to learn and to give something back; share my experiences while writing and publishing my books and perhaps help someone who is struggling with the same experiences I struggle/d with. What I have found is more valuable than just learning and giving back – I found new friends.

Finding common ground with others is an important way of connecting with other people…and if they happen to want to read my book, well, the more the merrier. But it’s that connection that is important. I am more apt to read a book written by someone I feel I know and with whom I feel I have a connection than I am some person who contacts me on Facebook and tells me he/she has a new book coming out and I should read it. Being connected means not being a “Me, Me, Me” person. Yes, I have a book coming out and I am very proud of it; and yes, I would love to shout it from the rooftops and ask everyone to buy it…but that’s not connecting. That is advertising and pushing my product down people’s throats. I would rather have 5 readers with whom I am connected who truly want to read my book than have 1500 people I am connected to who I ask to read it, but who have no idea who I am. How many of those connections (strangers) will really care that I have a new book coming out? How many will actually buy my book?

The need to connect with people is a human condition. The days of the reclusive author are over. People want to know about the author whose books they are reading. They want to know that we are real people, with real families and real concerns. Does everyone on my friends’ list care that I am remodeling my home? Probably not; but it I share it not to draw them in, but to connect with someone. Inevitably, someone on my list has gone through something similar and can sympathize or offer advice as to ways to deal with it. That’s a connection; that is someone I can have a conversation with, and that is someone who I can tell about my new book, because that is someone I have come to know or who has come to know me.

So how do we connect with these “virtual” strangers? Finding a common ground to talk about is the best way I have found to build a connection with a new friend. Is there someone in my newsfeed who is changing careers and looking for some advice, sympathy or encouragement? That is a person I can relate to and offer my advice or encouragement as it is something I have done myself; it is a connecting force in our lives. Is there someone on one of my friends’ walls who loves shopping, reading mystery novels or walking on the beach? There’s a connection and a possible new friend.

Branding ourselves is more than just collecting friends and trying to get people to read our books; it is about building friendships and giving as well as receiving.

I have found that writers tend to be some of the most caring and giving people on our planet. I am a great believer in sharing what I have learned over the bumpy road to publication. Helping others avoid some of the pitfalls is extremely rewarding. Major caution: Time management is essential. We must keep our mission and obligation foremost in our minds. In fiction it is to produce a compelling story, in nonfiction we must provide our readers with valuable content– never short-changing our readers. Therefore, we are honor bound to continue to give our best, knowing that with each new novel or book the bar is raised. By keeping our priorities is perspective, limiting the time we invest in blogging and social media is essential.

How do you use social media?  How do you make new friends?