Ah, readers. Every writer wants them, but few know how to actually find them.
“How do I get more readers?” is one of the questions I see the most in writing and publishing groups. And it makes sense. After all, more readers = more money. More money = more freedom.
Before we go any further, it’s worth noting that building your readership will take time. Nothing happens overnight. Particularly when it comes to building your readership organically.
The truth is, there’s so much noise out there that you’ll grow faster if you pay to build your audience. Does that mean that you have to? Of course not! I’ve never paid to advertise my blog, and it has a readership of over 45,000. But if I hadn’t paid to advertise my novels, I wouldn’t have hit #19 on Amazon UK three years after I published my book.
There are lots of free and paid ways to market yourself as a writer, though. Using a combination of them is the best and fastest way to get your name — and what you write — out there. But what are the best ways to do that? Let’s take a look.
Social media (sort of)
When writers start out book marketing, they assume that social media is the place to be. It isn’t. Social media just doesn’t sell books.
That isn’t a question. It’s a fact. I’ve heard writers say it over and over and over again. Your social media following just won’t translate into book sales.
Why not? Because too many of the people on there are passive. They may follow you, but how many of them actually engage? How many of them actually even see your posts?
The average Facebook post gets seen by 2–6.5% of a page’s followers. That means it’s going to take a whole lot of effort to get any visibility. And honestly? It really isn’t worth it. If you enjoy social media by all means use it. But don’t feel like you have to. It isn’t the best — or the fastest — way to get people to read your writing.
Focusing on ONE platform will also make your life far easier. Usually this is the platform you enjoy the most, but that isn’t always where your audience lives, so it’s worth researching where they are before spending too much time shouting into an empty auditorium.
Be sure to spend more time commenting on other people’s posts, too. And when you do respond, don’t make it about you: make it about them. If it’s a question, ask another question at the end of your reply to keep the conversation going.
While I say that social media doesn’t sell books, if you write content or nonfiction it can help you to reach wider audiences. Provided you engage with the right audiences on the right platform. This is more about exposure than book sales, though — you’ll need a pretty considerable following to generate book sales from any social media platform.
I’m slowly starting to realize just how effective email marketing can be. It’s all very well and good getting people on to your site or to download one book, but what you really want is for them to keep coming back for more. Email marketing is how you do that.
I’m not talking about emailing them only when you want something from them, like a book sale. That will lead to unsubscribes. No, what you want to be doing is developing a relationship with your readers.
Give them a glimpse of what life is like behind-the-scenes. Ask them questions about what they’re reading or watching. Strike up a conversation in the same way that you would with your best friend. If you want a successful writing career, your readers will become your best friends. After all, without them you can’t earn any money.
To encourage people to join your mailing list, you could offer them a lead magnet, sometimes called a reader magnet. This is where you give them, say, a prequel to your series or a spin-off to keep them interested in both you and what you write. For blogs you could use check lists, worksheets, or even printable versions of long posts are simple ways to provide additional value while getting someone on to your mailing list.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
Without SEO, my blog wouldn’t have half the audience it does now. It helped me to grow my blog’s readership by 912% in 12 months.
SEO sounds complicated and intimidating, but it isn’t once you get going. The simple version of it is to write content people are searching for. No matter how in-depth your guide on cutting toenails is, if nobody is searching for it, it may as well not exist. Help readers solve problems they’re actually having, whether that’s how to write a book, how to apologize after a fight with their partner, or what content marketing is.
If you’re not sure where to start, Backlinko is a great resource. Their guides are very in depth, so make sure you have a large coffee beside you.
Guest posting is a great way to tap into other people’s audiences. If you have a website and/or blog, it can build your site’s authority in search engines which helps it to rank higher, too.
Guest posting takes effort, but it can pay off. In some cases, you can get payment for your published piece. Other times, the additional exposure can lead to more readers and more sales.
I managed to double pre-orders of my first nonfiction book with just one guest post on Thrive Global. It was a post that tapped into a personal journey I’d been on, shared some advice for people going through the same thing, and tied in nicely to the book I was promoting at the end of it.
Guest posting about the right topic is key. Don’t just write about something because you can. Write about something because a) it will appeal to your target audience, and b) you’re interested in it. That can feel difficult if you write fiction, but it doesn’t have to be. Think about what key themes your book(s) focus on, and go from there.
Get in the right categories
Whatever your book is about, the categories that it’s in are key to its success. You can have up to ten on Amazon, but it only lets you choose two when you upload your book. To be added to the other eight, you need to email them. They’re usually pretty helpful and responsive when you do. You can also change your categories whenever you like.
Before you decide on your additional categories, use a tool like K-Lytics to find the ones that fit your book and lead to the most exposure and therefore the most money, too. These change all the time, but the sub-sub-categories will always be easier to stand out in than the main categories you choose in your KDP dashboard. Ranking in those sub-sub-categories will push your book up in the main categories too.
The same stands true for platforms like Apple Books and Kobo, too. They don’t have as many categories, but they also have less competition. Which means it’s easier to stand out than on a saturated marketplace like Amazon.
Make a book permafree
Making my first book free was painful. I’d spent years working on it and I was about to give it away like it was meaningless! But sales were paltry. I had nothing to lose. If making it free wasn’t successful, I could just start charging for it again. In the end, I chose not to. Making it permafree lead to my most successful sales month ever.
If you’ve only got one book out — or all your books are standalones — it isn’t worth it, but making the first book in a series free and getting it in front of the right audience can prove to be profitable. Readers get hooked by the story in the first book and decide to keep reading to find out what happens next. The longer your series is, the more lucrative this model is.
Paid advertising can be painful. It can be a big risk. But, as with any risk, it can also reap rewards.
If you want to try out paid advertising, I’d recommend doing as much research as possible first. Whether you’re on Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon, or Google, you need to know what you’re doing before you start. That way you’re far less likely to waste money on experiments.
Experimenting is important as you never know what will work, but calculated experiments are far more likely to pay off than stabs in the dark. That’s why it’s important to know not only how ads work, but also what your audience wants and needs from you.
Start each ad with a small budget. If that’s successful, increase your spend. Don’t increase it if it isn’t working — a larger ad spend won’t fix issues with your ads, it’ll just waste more money. If an ad fails, brush yourself off, analyze what happened, and move on to creating the next ad.
I learned everything I know about Facebook Ads from Mark Dawson’s Ads for Authors course. I’d HIGHLY recommend it. It opens for sign ups twice a year, in June and November/December.
Without a readership, no writer has a career. Building your readership doesn’t have to be time consuming or intimidating, though. What it really boils down to is knowing where to find your readers and actively seeking them out.
There’s so much content out there that readers won’t come looking for you unless you solve a very specific problem. Chances are, no matter how niche what you write is, there’ll still be at least one other person writing in it. That doesn’t mean you can’t stand out — it means there’s a market for what you’re doing. That’s brilliant! It’s a sign you’re creating content that your readers want. And that’s how you build your readership.
British author Kristina Adams has now published nine successful books, including seven fiction and two non-fiction. Kristina also runs a successful website and blog - The Writer's Cookbook - and is well known on Medium. You can now read Kristina's first book, What Happens In New York, for free on Amazon Kindle.
Cover image: Thought Catalog on Unsplash