Tips for Reaching Readers

People, I am soooo chuffed about today’s post. We have two guests here to talk about a topic that can’t be discussed enough, in my opinion: how to reach readers. I have only recently met Katrina, but Fiona and I met eons ago at Critique Circle. She was one of my first ever critiquers, and her work. is. amazing! She always has great advice to share, and today’s sampling is no exception…

I must say, I (actually, we because my good friend Katrina is also here) am absolutely thrilled to be invited over for a guest post today on Writers Helping Writers, and I’m looking forward to talking to you all in the comments section!  I wanted to talk about a topic concerning each and every writer, no matter their genre: reaching readers. This is something I think every writer worries about in today’s oversaturated market.  With so many books, video games, movies, and technological advances out there now, every writer has to fight for their corner of the market.

But how?

It occurred to me lately when talking to a fellow writer that authors often focus on promoting their books, their stories, and themselves.  But is that what a reader truly wants?  Of course, yes, you want to build your brand, get known, and sell your books, but that isn’t truly what will connect you to readers.  If you want to connect with readers (and thus the market) then you need to dive into the reading community and discover what it is they love/hate/don’t care about in the book world.

Recently, Katrina and I decided to set up a debate website – a place where readers can come and debate about literary topics from all genres, including other book related topics.  Why did we do this?  Because if you don’t invite the reader in and give them a chance to air their views about topics they care about and you don’t listen to what they have to say, how are you supposed to reach your target audience when you write your books?  How are you supposed to know the market?  And I know the word market strikes terror into all writers, but it’s nothing more than readers and what they like to read, and thus, buy.  Not as scary as it sounds. 

So what is the key to getting that agent, landing that book deal, or hitting the bestsellers list?  Write a good book people want to read.  That’s what they tell you.  Sounds mysterious, elusive, and out of reach.  Of course, there are those who just intuitively know how to do it (and to those people I take my hat off), but for the rest of us mere mortals, there are concrete steps we can take to break this down so we can achieve the same ourselves.  Now, assuming you have honed the technical side of your craft (since you’re here at Writers Helping Writers, I’m guessing you have already!), let’s look at what you can do to make sure your work hits the mark: 

  • Find a way to get in touch with readers who read the type of books you read.  Don’t just hit up the writing websites.  Go and find fan sites (a treasure trove of information) and search out online clubs.
  • goodreadsLook on Goodreads and Amazon, etc., and read the reviews.  Actually READ the reviews.  Then read the book.  And see how the reviews stack up against the books.  We’re always told to read widely in our given genre by agents and editors.  But we’re not told about this gem: if we read books, then carefully read their reviews, that information can teach us a lot about what the reader wants.  Trust me, it does.
  • Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 3.35.59 PMSearch out other interests within your target audience.  Amazon is amazing for this.  Pick a book you think is in the same vein as yours.  Then scroll down to see what books the customers who bought this book have also bought.  Learn what ticks people’s like list and you’ll start to see how your book fits in, too (or doesn’t—and this can help just as much as knowing if it does fit in, because rewriting is always a wonderful thing).
  • Pool resources.  We all have writer friends and critique partners.  But when it comes to research we tend to close ourselves off a little.  Talk with each other, and half the workload.
  • Book club.  I know, I know.  Old fashioned.  But so valuable.
  • Ask.  Yes.  That simple.  Ask readers.  Whether you are commenting on a blog, on twitter, on Facebook, wherever, it doesn’t matter; the concept is the same.  Ask people what they like to read.  When someone says they loved or loathed a book, ask them why. 

There are a lot of different avenues for meeting and talking with readers, but sadly, as writers, we tend to block ourselves off to the writers-only community.  And yes, writers are readers too and you should never deny yourself access to the writers’ world.  But if you don’t reach out to the thousands of other readers out there, then you’re missing a huge opportunity to build your knowledge of the market.

At the end of the day, writing is designed to touch a reader’s heart or life in some profound way.  Taking the time to learn what they care about (or don’t) will pay dividends when it comes time to write or revise your work.

**Looking for Tips on reading Young Readers? Here’s a post on how Themes of Power & Control Will Tune Into The Kidlit/Middle Grade Reader’s Mindset.

Fiona_McLarenFiona McLaren is agented for her YA novels by Jamie Bodnary Drowley of Inklings Literary Agency, and works full time as a freelance writer, ghost writing books and writing articles, short stories, short scripts, and much more.  She is the co-founder of the DEBATE IT! website, where readers discuss literary topics close to their hearts.  She would love it if you came to debate with everyone over there!  She can also be found blogging at The YA Bookcase and YATopia.  You can also find her on Twitter

Kat

Katrina is represented by Jamie Bodnar Drowley of Inklings Literary Agency for her adult sci-fi novel.  By day, she’s a mild mannered accountant, but, by night, Katrina is an active writer, critique partner, and intern.  As a co-founder of the DEBATE IT! website, Katrina works with Fiona to encourage healthy debate and conversation between readers of varying genres and styles.    

 

About BECCA PUGLISI

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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37 Responses to Tips for Reaching Readers

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  6. Robyn LaRue says:

    Great list. I’m using it to start reaching readers I think might enjoy what I write. So happy to plug in with reading fans of any stripe. 🙂 Thanks!

  7. Julie Musil says:

    You’ve hit on something I haven’t done yet–look at the reviews for some of my favorite books. I’m going to do that right now. Thanks so much!

  8. Jean LeBlanc says:

    Seems to me writers need to understand the author is also part of the product. I experimented recently with a book trailer in talk show format with this in mind. I like the talk show format because it can be used to show producers how you interview. My thesis is that in addition to talking about content, whether fiction or nonfiction, you need to get YOURSELF projected into the sphere of readers.

    https://vimeo.com/54623130

    • Katrina says:

      That’s a neat idea! Sometimes personality sells just as much as the story. It also gives readers a chance to get to know their favorite authors–like John Green and his vlogs. I’d love to try something like that!

  9. Taiwo says:

    Thank you both for these nuggets. I have been literally laboring to reach my readers – because I know that they are somewhere out there. With these, I’m on my to the drawingboard.

    • fmclaren says:

      Let us know how it works out for you!

    • Katrina says:

      As long as you’re trying, you’re doing good work for your career. It’s easy to sit back and wait for readers to come to you, but every effort you make gets your name out there. You’re ahead of the game already. Good luck!!

  10. I’m going to give this a try!! It sounds like an excellent idea!!

  11. :Donna Marie says:

    It’s true, Becca—this is a subject that is SO important and needs to be discussed in ways that can be actually helpful 🙂

    The one suggestion here that I hadn’t heard before was the approach of reading reviews on specific books you’ve read (or should read) for the purpose of determining what readers want. Of course, there’s also been a LOT of discussion on the value of these ratings since so many aren’t “true” in the respect that the praise or criticism can be overblown, especially by biased readers : /

    Also, I’ve often read that we must find our readers, and with good suggestions like we have here, but the directions we’re pointed in are typically very broad, like the chapters in a book without a more detailed list of what the chapters contain in order to narrow down our focus and approach to be more accurate and save time. What I sincerely can’t stand about the marketing side of things is the enormous amount of time it sucks up 🙁 But…it’s necessary if we want to be even moderately successful, right? For me, it has so much to do with that—not wanting to waste time, because in doing so, we lengthen the time we have to spend doing it instead of actually working on our writing projects or accomplishing other necessary “life” stuff. I realize it’s somewhat futile to wish for an easier way, but I often think there has to be one! lol

    *sigh*

    Meanwhile, thank you for yet another very helpful and interesting post, ladies! 😀

    • fmclaren says:

      Hi Donna Marie,

      I agree that the time it can take can be frustrating, but I also think it helps us as writers to hone and improve our craft. The more we know about readers, the better we can form our stories to touch the hearts of others. Writing for oneself is different from writing for an audience. In writing for others, the necessity of readership research is huge, but can also be a pleasure, depending on your viewpoint. And the more you do, the easier the writing becomes!

    • Katrina says:

      I’m with ya. Marketing is so crazy time consuming. You have promotions and swag and trying to get your name out there, it’s all so…blah. Not exactly what’s normally in the “writer” job description. But I try to think that every little step helps, even if it’s just reading books in your genre or making some twitter friends. Slow and steady, right?

  12. Fiona, it is awesome to have you and Katrina here. Becca and I both credit you and your writing brain for helping us with out craft and your advice is golden, both in critiques and here.

    One of the tips here really struck a cord–reading reviews either before or after reading a book. It took me back to The Critique Circle, and how much it helped to read and critique a story, and then be able to read all the other critiques afterward. Seeing what others said about the same piece I’d read taught me so much about writing. It showed me where people agreed or disagreed, and also what I’d missed, but through reading their feedback I saw how it applied. I can absolutely see how doing this to research what readers like and dislike about books could really help us better understand our potential audience!

    Thank you both for being here! 🙂

    Ange

    • fmclaren says:

      We are so thrilled to be here. ****Big bear hugs**** Actually, it was the idea of the Critique Circle that originally got that idea moving in my head. Seeing what readers’ thought of books, and then of other books they also bought. And since I started doing it, it really has helped me to focus on what the reader connects to. It’s amazing the similarities that begin to crop up in the reviews!

    • Katrina says:

      Thanks so much for having us!!

      I totally agree about the critiquing. Editing other manuscripts and critically reading other pieces helped me so so so much. It always seems easier to find and fix places in other people’s works. That distance is so crucial. And seeing what other people think is just as important. It really helps to feel out how other people reacted to a story. I might hate character A, but, to all the other readers, Character A might be super cool. That insight is so valuable!

  13. Sara L. says:

    Another great post! Thanks for sharing your suggestions, Katrina and Fiona. Will print this out later for future reference.

    Also, I’d never heard of Debate It! before today. Just checking it out now – and love it! Looking forward to going there more often and becoming part of the community.

    • fmclaren says:

      Hi Sara!

      We look forward to seeing you at Debate It! This week we have polls in different genres, finding out what our readers like and don’t like. And previous topics cover different literary questions.

      I’m glad our post can help, and if you ever have any questions or what to make connections through our readership, don’t hesitate to ask!

    • Katrina says:

      Woo! Thanks for reading! Hop over anytime, we try to keep the topics pretty fun, and we *love* reader suggestions for future posts, just in case you get an idea for a discussion. 🙂

  14. Tim McCanna says:

    Thank you for your insights. I’m just beginning my writing journey and when I think of reaching readers I panic. I still haven’t found a crit group and unfortunately due to a bad back, cannot stay upright for very long periods of time. Thank God for an adjustable bed and a laptop!
    Your idea of reading reviews on Amazon and comparing them to your own feelings about the book when you’ve read it, is a piece of genius.
    Thank you again.
    Sincerely,
    Tim McCanna

    • fmclaren says:

      Tim – sorry to hear about your back. Sometimes I dictate my books and type up at a later date. And sometimes I use text to speech to read my books back to me when thinking through edits, so those things might help you.

      And don’t worry about reaching readers. I always think of a readership as being a friend I want to talk to, tell a story too. Readerships aren’t scary. They’re just people like me and you. 🙂 Good luck with your writing journey!

    • Katrina says:

      Oh, ditto on the dictation software. I had a lot of problems with tendonitis a few years ago, and some software helps. Of course, sometimes the dictation morphs everything you write into weird stuff reminiscent of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, but you can train it a bit. 😉

      As for a crit group, there’s a couple websites I know that help writers meet other writers. Reddit.com/r/writing is a good place to start. The community is pretty supportive and active. And cpseek.com was started specifically by a few active people in the writing community on twitter to help connect writers. Oh, if you aren’t there already, twitter is an awesome hangout. You can meet a ton of people and follow all sorts of contests. In fact, I met Fiona through one of those contests. Those are just a few off the top of my head, but I bet you can find someone who shares a similar genre there. 🙂

  15. Lori Schafer says:

    Great ideas, Fiona and Katrina! Everyone talks about “connecting with readers,” but your suggestions for doing so are both practical and easily applicable. It’s hard to turn off the writer part of one’s brain and read a book as a non-writer would read it, which makes it very difficult to determine objectively how one’s work might be received. I particularly like your idea of reading both a book and its reviews. It sounds like a great way to get inside the heads of your audience, which may offer the most effective means of truly “connecting” with readers.

    • fmclaren says:

      Lori, I think how writers see the market is sometimes much more complicated than how a reader sees it. I’d recommend Donald Maass’ Writing The Breakout Novel for taking out the fear of connecting to the reader. The book really focus on WHAT readers connect to. If you can combine this with the above ideas, you’ll really find the connections much easier to make. At the end of the day, a writer’s brain is that of a reader…just a reader who also has a story to tell. 🙂

    • Katrina says:

      Oh, that writer brain is super hard to switch off, I know that feeling! But those reviews, wow. They’re telling! Some things I never would have expected people to like, they love, and the things I love, they sometimes really hate. It’s so weird, but I wouldn’t trade that insight for anything. Just gotta figure out how to make everyone happy. That’s totally possible…right? 😉

  16. Bish Denham says:

    I’m bookmarking this article! Excellent advice.

  17. Katrina says:

    Hey guys! Thanks so much for having us today!!

    I’d love to know how other authors approach marketing and connecting with other writers and readers. It’s such an important part of writing, but, in all the outlining and drafting and writing and editing and rewriting, we forget that the finished product is just the beginning of the whole publishing journey. Does anyone have any success stories (or horror stories) to share?

  18. Fiona Ingram says:

    I liked the comment about reading reviews to find out what readers want. When I began writing animal rescue books, which naturally should focus on the animal rescued, I read many reviews of animal books. Readers complained if there was a lot of how the authors felt about their lives (especially boo hoo! poor me!stories) and wanted more about the animals. Clearly, that was the trigger – an animal book must focus almost wholly on the animal. Great lesson.

    • fmclaren says:

      Oh what a wonderful lesson, Fiona. And I’m not just saying that because I have the same name, honest! 😉

      And yes, that’s a very valid point about the animal books. I think all authors could stand to learn from the lesson. A writer will only be as successful as they can connect with their market. If you do the work upfront, it’ll stand you in good stead for a lifetime.

  19. fmclaren says:

    I just wanted to pop in and say I’m thrilled to be here! Katrina and I will be around to answer questions most of the day. As I’m in Cyprus, I’ll cover most of the morning and afternoon, and Katrina is in the USA, so she’ll most likely get to later comments! Can’t wait to get to know you all!!! Fiona 🙂

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