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Reaching Readers: 5 Tips For Building Your Reader Community

Reaching Readers: 5 Tips For Building Your Reader Community

Self-published novelist Matthew Wayne Selznick shares his 5 top tips for building a valuable community of readers.

Matthew Wayne SelznickIn 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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…
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

old man telling children a storyYour Thoughts

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.


Author: Matthew Wayne Selznick

Matthew Wayne Selznick is an author, creator, and creative services provider living in Long Beach, California. His non-fiction book, Reading The Amazing Spider-Man: A Critical Review With Storytelling Lessons From A Writer's Perspective, was released in March. Through his company, MWS Media, he helps authors and other creators bring their creative endeavors to fruition, to market, and to an audience.


This Post Has 37 Comments
  1. Mathew,

    Thanks for this article. Funny and true. I’ve always found that making sincere connections with strangers online has a lot more benefits than spamming for followers that will ignore you. Well said.

  2. You have done a great job Matthew! i really love this article, you know why? because this is the first time that i see a blog about building a reader community, i appreciate this because this article drive my attention and keep me reading.

    1. Peter, clicking on your website infected web browsers with the BetterSurf ad network malware. You might want to check that out and clean your site.

      Moderators: you might want to block Peter until he gets his stuff in order.

      I’m off to clean the mud off my computer now…

        1. Signs point to yes. My virus protection chimed up right after I left his site. I had to uninstall the BetterSurf files (disguised as “media player”), which showed as having been installed at the same time as my browsing his site.

          It’s probably not Peter’s fault. However (no offense, Peter), his vague commenting style and once-a-month drive-by comments raise some “comment spam” flags. Better safe than sorry!

  3. I think a handful of core readers is worth a lot more than a lot of casual contacts. Word of mouth is the number 1 way to sell books. I keep a list of core readers and send them electronic and print ARCs as requested before a book comes out. It’s definitely worth it.

    1. Getting your community interested well before the book is available commercially is a great way to build engagement and reward readers, Bob. ARCs are a fun idea. I’ve offered pre-order discounts to my mailing list and Facebook followers (you get a bigger discount if you’re on the mailing list!) a week or so before I release to the general public.

  4. Thanks, Matthew. Sensible and clear advice. All 5 tips make sense to me, but most especially the reciprocity with other writers as well as readers. And, yes it’s important to ‘be there’ even when you’re not actively selling a latest book. I’ve used mainly my blog and twitter in the past but have now educated myself about the usefulness of an author Facebook page for the next launch and about the use of a mailing list. It’s good to see my tentative decisions confirmed by your experience.

  5. Do you find some social media are better than others for building engagement (e.g. twitter vs. fb)?

    And what, in your experience, makes for an engaging post or tweet – the kind that will motivate folks to engage, leave their own posts, and generally get involved?

    1. Thanks for commenting, Theo!

      To answer your first question, I can only speak personally: it depends.

      I don’t mean to be flip. It’s simply that my personal experience is that engagement levels on Facebook and Twitter seem to vary according to the purpose of the post, the time of day, the day of the week, the time of year, and so on. What really matters is what works for you, and your own reader community.

      I have to give essentially the same answer to your second question, too. It’s almost entirely dependent upon your reader community and your relationship with them.

      That said, you’ll notice that I ended this blog post with a call to action. That’s because one can’t fault the community for not engaging if you don’t specifically invite them to do so. Never be shy about prompting for engagement!

    1. Hi Michael — thanks for commenting! As for hints… I gave five, above! 🙂 I’m available to dig deeper into your specific situation if you want, but for now… what are you doing to execute on what I’ve written, and for how long? What’s working? What isn’t?

      1. I agree with the not alone concept. I often quote the title of a book I read,
        “No Man Is An Island.”
        I am a new Indie publisher/author w/ 1 book under my belt. Protecting Beauty, by Thomas Tyme. It has been out 3 months. I have individually by hand from mine to another sold apprx. 150 books and am almost sold out. However, this is the slow way. Amazon etc. is way difficult to make sales. I want a mass audience to reach enormous sales numbers. Am I wrong to ask how can I keep writing and keep the sales flowing and reach more book buyers? Extra curricular promotion activities get very competitive and expensive. It is again the question of who has the most money, friends or time to succeed. Is there a co-op? Is anyone interested in starting and running a co-op like a traditional publishing company of Indie authors who pay shared dues for mktg./promotion/distribution and blogging etc. at reaonable prices. The dues are the same for everyone. A writer cannot pay more to get more. The club blasts the internet w/ our titles? This way we all have time to write and take turns one hour a year to participate in a specialty work which contributes to the club for free. We all participate to make sales grow. It could have as many members as there are hours in a year. It returns favors for the others in the club. I have other considerations for the work plan but before explaining it all I have to ask wouldn’t this save us all a lot of trouble. A group of writer techies could really do some good consolidated title blasts and then get back to what is most enjoyable for themselves the rest of the year. Most writers I know have very little working capital to expand our businesses so why not group it. Other companies do similar things, I know. But not as a club or co-op. see my book, “Protecting Beauty,” by Thomas Tyme and get back to me on the website contact form if interested in co-oping? We should talk.

        1. Tom, you wrote, “I want a mass audience to reach enormous sales numbers.”

          That’s the approach many publishers take. As I wrote in my last guest post here, that’s not the approach I recommend for indie authors. I’m not interested in an audience–I want a community dedicated to the patronage of me and my creative work.

          I spell out the difference between an audience and a community in that other post, and in this post on my own site.

          You also wrote, “Extra curricular promotion activities get very competitive and expensive. It is again the question of who has the most money, friends or time to succeed.”

          I submit that marketing is not an extra-curricular activity. Since our works aren’t worth until people experience them, I believe marketing is an integral part of being a writer. It is most definitely part of the curriculum.

          As for money… I’ve spent very, very little money on my marketing and community building efforts. Finding new friends–in other words, making new connections–is at the core of what I advocate. As for time… we all have the same twenty four hours in each day. It’s how we use it that makes the difference.

          Regarding your co-op idea… sounds like something you should write your own blog post about! Respectfully, though, I have to say the concept of “blasting the Internet w/ our titles” is, again, anathema to everything I’ve talked about in this and the previous post.

          That’s not to say it might not be worth pursuing… there’s no right or wrong way to do this stuff… just that it’s not right for me.

          1. But the idea of a co-op is maybe useful? I like the idea of sharing skills and building a smaller community of writers who know and can support each other. I’ve thought about this idea a bit…

              1. Not necessarily, no. I’m meaning sharing publishing skills, marketing skills, design, etc in order to be a publishing co-op. Not a virtual, on-line community or a ‘writers group’ which is for writing, critiquing each other, etc. Recently a group of 5 women have published a book about how they did it as a co-op.NOT to make money, or a big splash, but to share the experiences, contributing one skill in return for another, etc.

                1. I understand completely, Claire. It’s a bit afield of the subject of this blog post, though, which is about building a reader community.

                  Not that it might not be a valid idea (leaving off the bit about “blasting the Internet” with shotgun-style marketing)–but it sounds like it’s a topic better suited for its own post. You (or Tom) should suggest it to the powers that be! 🙂

                  1. sorry to invade your space: I just got carried away,and wanted to stick up for the idea (of co-ops) being a good one while saying that it doesn’t have to be done in order to blast readers with our work or whatever… some of us would want to do it for the community & sharing aspect! Will disappear now … enjoyed your post…and found useful stuff there….

      2. I looked at your giveaway books on your site and I am in the process of doing the same in a serial form on my site and on wattpad. But hey let’s get real here. No one is likely to come to my site despite a year of efforts on various schemes. Thanks for answering. I gave away 20000 books in free day promos and did not get one review. I have accepted this and am writing still with enthusiasm. Take care

        1. I have one book (a short story) on my site that’s free — it’s a “gateway” story to encourage people to sign up for my free serial fiction-by-subscription offering that I distribute direct via email.

          I use Wattpad to offer excerpts of my work (each one ends with a call to action for interested readers to click through to the sales page for that particular work. I’m not offering serial content through Wattpad (primarily because I want direct access to the readers who enjoy the serial, and a mailing list gives me that).

          “No one is likely to come to my site despite a year of efforts on various schemes.”

          It’s great that you dedicate so much of your site to the works of other authors (very generous), but I have to wonder why you aren’t putting your own work front-and-center there? And why have ads that encourage people to buy things you didn’t make? Your site sends a mixed message.

      3. Hi
        One year into it. I have done tons of sharing on the level of reviews and supporting other writers. I have had 3 blogs, one very recently up. I work in encouraging writers by writing on ezine articles about motivation and also on my blog. I am serializing my work for free on my blog and on wattpad. I gave away 20000 books on promo days and have sold about 100 books in a year.

        1. Hi Michael… It sounds like you’re doing a lot to build your network of other writers, which is great, but one thing I’ve learned it that a writerly community is not the same as a community of readers, especially when it comes to driving sales and building a base of dedicated patrons.

            1. Hi Michael — it’s not so much breaking into an existing reader community… the idea is to build a reader community around your work.

              I can’t give specific suggestions because I don’t know the specifics of your situation–to dig that deep would involve your hiring me as a consultant, which of course is something I’m very open to (it’s one of the ways I make a living).

              But for starters: do you frequent online (or in-person) groups that enjoy the kind of stories you write? There’s a pretty sizable audience for techno-political thrillers, I would think. Do they know you’re out there?

                1. Thanks for asking, Michael — if you’re curious about my creative services, the best thing to do is reach out to me directly via the Contact page on my website. (The link is on my name, above!)

                  PS: Thanks, also, for the fun message in Polish from your wife in your other comment! I saw it in my e-mail notifications, but for some reason it never made it to the live page. I suspect there are some issues with the site, or perhaps it got caught in the moderation screen…

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