Self-published novelist Matthew Wayne Selznick shares his 5 top tips for building a valuable community of readers.
In a previous post, I made the case that actively engaging on a real, personal level with your community of readers has more long-term value for your career than breaking your back (or bank) promoting individual books.
Now, I'm not printing my books on currency quite yet, but this would be a very short post if I didn't assume you're eager to act on my advice. In that spirit of confidence, here are five tips to help you establish and grow a reader community.
Reader Community Essentials
- Build Your Reader Community Before There’s Anything To Read. They’re already there: your true friends; your peers; the folks who nerd out with you over the same things… your tribe. Don’t be bashful about sharing the things you make. Do so out of enthusiasm. Ask for their support, and give yours in return. When you finally reach the day when you have something to sell, your community will buy not out of obligation, but out of esprit de corps.
- Have A Mailing List (And Use It) Short of dialing their phone number or meeting in person, email offers the most intimate connection with members of your reader community. You must have a mailing list, you must have it in an impossible-to-ignore location on your web site, and you must do your best to make joining it as close to effortless as possible. When a reader subscribes to your mailing list, they’re telling you, “I want you to contact me in this private space because I care about your creative endeavours.” It’s your responsibility to honor that request and reward that trust by providing the community with more value than the individual members bring you. Which bring us to number three…
- Give Before You Take The principles of reciprocity and altruism are universal because the outcome is increased fitness for the community. All the other primates know this; heck, even ants know this. When the community benefits, the members thrive. Be generous with your community of readers in whatever way is most applicable. Maybe that means mentoring, or providing extra, exclusive content. Maybe it's helping to promote their creative endeavors as often (or more often!) than your own. Maybe it's just Liking their cat pictures (but only if you really like 'em!) You'll know what to do when it's time to do it. I hope this goes without saying, but just in case… remember that the point is not to get something in return. The point is to contribute to the community.
- It’s Not About The Numbers The size of your reader community is not nearly as important as the quality of the engagement. Insert ribald comment here if you like, but listen: would you rather have two hundred people on a mailing list who each tweet about your new book to all of their friends, or two thousand people on your Facebook fan page who passively watch your news flow past with all the rest of the flotsam and jetsam they ignore every day? Each person in your reader community is a person. Who they are, and why they're there, matters, in terms of authenticity as well as practically. I don't believe there are any valid shortcuts to building your reader community. Never, ever, ever, engage in “like exchanges,” as having scores of people not truly interested in your community will only serve to dilute it. Likewise, never, ever, buy followers, as the only person sure to benefit will be the one who takes your money.
- Be Who You Are The you who wrote that book… the you with the sixty five-star reviews… that’s the same you that took a dump this morning; the same you who gets frustrated in traffic; the same you who cries at the end of that one movie every single time you see it. There’s no need to put on a persona when you engage with your reader community. It's important you think of them as your peers; your colleagues; your tribe. They are partners in your success. They are your patrons. They deserve to see the real you. In fact, if you aren’t real with your community, they’ll never truly connect with you… and the whole thing will fall short of the point. Be who you are.
For many years now, I've preached that doing it yourself means never going it alone. As a DIY indie creator, I believe in the power of communities and the related concept of neopatronage. What do you think about these tips for building a reader community? Let's talk about it in the comments section. Be sure to let your own community know about this post, too, so we can get a wide variety of voices in on the conversation.