Today’s topic is not about making money. It’s about building relationships with readers. Building relationships with readers can lead to sales, but it’s not the focus of what you’re doing. So I wouldn’t go into this with the idea that you’ll make more money. The best way to make sales is to publish a new book, make the first book in a series free (especially if you’re in romance), or run ads. When you’re building relationships with readers, you’re building friendships. The friendships don’t have to be super close. They can be casual. But these relationships go beyond the “you’re an author and they’re a reader” stage. You’ll recognize them as soon as you see their name.
Here are some ideas on how you can find and build relationships with readers:
1. Be yourself.
I know this sounds simple, but this is the first step. You need to be who you really are. There’s no sense in trying to imitate someone else. I realize that some personality types have an easier time attracting people. There’s just something about them that makes you want to comment on their posts or email them. They have a strong appeal.
It’s not so easy for people who tend to be shy and awkward in personal situations to put ourselves out there. I am a huge introvert. It’s hard for me to communicate with people I don’t know that well. That’s why I take days (sometimes even weeks) to respond to blog posts and emails. I have to think about what I’m going to say. While writing a story comes easy, corresponding to people in real life doesn’t. I’m the person who will sit in the corner of a room and check the watch to see when I can go home. I’m not outgoing. Unless someone approaches me, I won’t talk to anyone. Over the years, I’ve learned how to be a great listener, but for the most part, I consider myself to be “boring”. There’s no real highs or lows in my life. It’s all pretty level, and “level” is not exciting to talk about. If you see yourself in this paragraph, you’re in the same boat I’m in. We need to be who we are, but we also need time to plan out what we’ll do. This makes going out and finding readers harder than it is for extrovert authors who can entertain people with their fun (and often humorous) posts.
If you’re the life the of the party in real life, finding readers probably comes easily to you. It’s a gift. Appreciate it because not all of us have it. 🙂 Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, you still should be who you are. In order to build real relationships with people, you have to be authentic.
As a final note: I realize authors are busy people, and some use assistants to communicate with readers. I, personally, do not like this. If you are looking to build a sincere relationship with your readers, you need to be the one communicating with them. Even if you take longer to get back to them, it’s better if you are the one who is doing it. Anyone who takes time out of their day to say good things about your book deserves your full attention.
2. Offer a book for free and add links to where people can find you.
To me, this is the easiest way to find readers. You are letting readers take the initiative. Remember what I said about being the person in the corner of the room? Well, in this online simulation of being in the corner of the room, having those links on where people can find you is an invitation for people to come over and talk to you. The free book in this case is not about selling your paid books. This free book is there in hopes that someone will love your work and contact you. That contact allows you the opportunity to build a relationship with them.
So add links at the beginning or end (or both) of the book for your email list, your social media account(s), and your blog/website. I would put in all the places where I’m available so that they can pick the method of contact that is most comfortable for them. Some people prefer emailing directly, but others prefer to leave a comment in social media or your blog.
3. Have a contact form on your blog and/or website.
The reason I prefer a form to writing out your email address is because there are a lot of spammers out there who will put you on a list without your permission. This contact form is a good way for people to reach out to you in private. Be warned, though, that not all emails will be pleasant. Most will be. But there will be those few from people who want to complain about your books. I just want you to be aware of that in case you haven’t dealt with this yet. You can ignore reviews on a retailer. You have to see whatever comes into your inbox. You should respond to all of the good comments, even if it’s just to thank the person because I feel it’s important to let the person who took the time to contact you that you appreciate them. Words of praise are the lifeblood of every author and should be acknowledged. Also, I would answer any question that comes in. However, if someone is rude, you are under no obligation to answer that person. You might even want to block them, depending on how rude that person is.
4. Be active on social media.
In another post, I said that if you want to maximize your money-making potential, then social media is a waste of time. But if your goal is to build relationships with readers, then social media is ideal. Social media is like a party where everyone is going from person to person to chat. Now, as a general rule of thumb, I don’t like to get political on social media because you might turn off a reader (or potential reader) who has a different point of view that you do. You don’t want to alienate people who are reading your books, especially when we’re in an atmosphere that is highly charged when it comes to politics. I know a lot of authors will disagree with me, but when you’re an author in the social media sphere, you are representing your books. Unless you write political books or fiction with a high level of political leanings in them, I don’t see how this will help your author brand.
That aside, I have some suggestions that I have found helpful in building relationships with readers in the past. First, I hate to say it, but MeWe still doesn’t hold a candle to Facebook. Facebook is like Amazon. It has the majority of readers. I don’t know if MeWe will ever catch on, but I have heard authors having success on Instagram and TikTok. I’m not on either of those. I’m not on Twitter, either, but when I was, I really didn’t see any use for it with fiction. Twitter seemed to work better for nonfiction authors. Maybe it’s because Twitter was a good way of sharing articles, and posting articles typically work better for nonfiction. I did do very well with building relationships when I was on Facebook as Ruth.
The one thing that worked really well was asking questions to people in my timeline. The key is to get people talking about themselves. Since this is social media, you don’t need to stick with a certain topic. Even though I wrote romance, I could ask other things like, “What is the strangest repair you ever had to do to your house?” or “If you could live in any time period, what would it be and why?” Then I would take the time to answer every single comment, and if that person mentioned something that sparked my interest, I would ask that person more questions. I ended up recognizing a lot of people by name, and better yet, I knew something about them afterwards. Sometimes these people and I would end up chatting on Facebook messenger. Other fun things was asking people to share a picture of something they loved or to share a gif that Facebook will let you post on how their day is going. There are many things you can do to get a conversation going, and a lot of these were fun.
Also, comment on other people’s timelines. You don’t have to reply to every post they make. Just comment on the ones that interest you. This way, you can reach out to them in a comfortable environment. You’re also returning a favor. They took the time to comment on your timeline. You can show your appreciation by commenting on theirs. Relationships work best when it’s give-and-take.
Another good thing were giveaways. Giveaways are horrible for making money, but they are wonderful ways to meet new people and to say “thank you” to your readers. I found that personal gifts meant more to people than a book or a gift card. These personal gifts took more time and effort, but they were worth it because I still remember the people who won those gifts. If I were to see their names, I’d know who they were, something about them, and what gift they won.
5. Your email list.
There are different ways you can do this one. I am so overwhelmed with all the things I have to do as a wife and mother while trying to take care of the writing and the publishing side of things. So I have opted to only send out an email when I have a new release out. But authors who see the most success from their email list usually do automated emails. I have no idea how to create these things. All of my emails have been manually done. That said, authors who say they see the most engagement with their readers say they will share stories from their personal lives, and they’ll share pictures of it. These don’t have to even relate to their books, but they can if you find the angle to it. One author who writes contemporary western romances said she runs a farm, and she’ll make an email about milking a cow or branding a cow, and she’ll share pictures. Another author I used to talk to said she would share recipes from what her characters made. Another author would just share funny stories about things that happened with her husband and kids. Some authors will share a story and ask if someone has anything similar to share. Some authors like to ask questions (like what I mentioned in the social media part of this post).
The key is to answer everyone who replies to the email. Authors who do more than email when a new book comes out do have a lot more engagement and a lot more subscribers. So I would say the more effort you put into this, the better your results will be. And that makes sense since that’s the way it is with everything.
That’s all the ideas I have on this subject. If anyone has more ideas, I’d love to hear them. 😀
Go to events! I go to events like conventions, expos, and fairs all the time. Some get plenty of people, others only a few or none at all. Some you sell well and some you don’t. But it’s a great way to reach readers directly, and they always love getting a book straight from the author. Especially if it’s signed.
I love this idea! What better way to connect with people than in person where you can put a name with a face?
And it can be a lot of fun. I had a blast at Mystics and Marvels and Hidden Marietta Paracon earlier this year. Even made some new friends. If you’re up for it, see what’s in your area.
I want to thank you for responding to comments. I enjoy our exchanges very much and even if you never responded., and I would still have bought your books, it’s a very nice feeling that you did and do.
Back in the 1970’s while the tv show The Waltons was a big hit, I wrote a fan letter to Judy Norton who played Mary Ellen. I was just a kid, and it was the most exciting thing when she wrote back thanking me for watching the show and answering a few questions I had asked. She wrote the letter on the back of a scrip page from one of the episodes. It was just a few lines and she sent a picture of herself also.( I bet I asked for it) That letter and picture are safely tucked away and a treasure I will always keep.
The books you have sent me signed will also be treasured. They mean more to me than any expensive item that can be bought in a store.
I thank you again for bringing a smile to my face and for writing such fun books.
I can take forever to answer a comment (like I did on this one), but I do want to answer comments when they come in. 🙂 I appreciate it whenever people take the time to let me know they enjoy my books. It helps me stay motivated to write, and I love getting to know people who like what I do. I think it’s wonderful that Judy Norton sent you that letter and picture! Early on when I was trying to decide which direction to go with my books, I sent a letter to Carolyn Davidson (the historical romance writer) and asked her a few questions. She graciously replied to them. I wasn’t sure if she would be too busy, but it meant the world to me that she wrote back.