Once the difficult parts of writing and publishing are behind you, and even before your book is done, building a list of engaged readers lays like an open road before you. With so many forks along the way, it might be difficult to choose the best way to attract your ideal reader and many more ways to keep them coming back for more.
To make it even more challenging, attracting engaged readers will require you to spend valuable time and/or money to make it happen. Your consistent presence makes the difference between readers liking your book and loving your brand. It’s the difference between maybe buying your next book and lining up at midnight dressed in costume to watch the newest Harry Potter movie. But, of course, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Not all books are created equal. Your fanbase will look and respond to different things based on a number of factors, namely whether your book is fiction, nonfiction, or a children’s book, plus the age of your reader. For example, if you write epic fantasy, engaged readers might respond to a call for fan art, while readers of literary fiction might appreciate a signed bookplate for their book. If you write about business or finance, for instance, a checklist or webinar might be a better fit.
What kind of reader list should you build?
We need to address the matter of the list itself. It really comes down to two main categories—social media and email. Both are important because you’ll derive different benefits from each. However, each has drawbacks, as well.
You can build the list on any number of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, Pinterest, YouTube, etc. Whether you choose several sites or concentrate on one or two depends on where your readers hang out. For instance, Pinterest attracts more women, while Facebook skews toward a slightly older crowd.
Although many authors object to the tactics of mega-tech companies, there is no denying the power of the platforms. According to Oberlo, in 2021, Facebook has in excess of 2.8 billion active users, with 1.9 billion in the U.S. alone. For the author, that means you have access to their sophisticated network of reader data, so you can target them effectively through paid advertising.
Even without paid ads, you have the opportunity to build a community of engaged readers and fans. Community is the key. When you post engaging content, like asking questions, running a contest, or posting a funny picture, your fans not only engage with you, they engage with each other. They have a place to belong and add their own flavor to the conversation.
The drawback to each of the social media platforms is that you don’t own your list. Surely you’ve been in groups or engaged with pages of 25,000 or 50,000 people. Magnificent, for sure. But Facebook can change its algorithm at any time and not show your content to followers. They can also shut down your account if they perceive you are in violation of their terms of service. 50,000 people who can’t see your content is of no value at all.
While I picked on Facebook, the same is true for the other social media platforms. Social media is often a valuable space for developing engaged readers, but savvy authors also build healthy email lists to round out their engagement with fans.
Why build an email list?
You build an email list because you own and control it. You have direct access to readers who had given you express permission to email them when they signed up for your list. While you lose the social aspect, you gain a one-on-one conversation with your reader. Research has shown that email outperforms social media for selling products, like books, by a wide margin. And, like social media, the key is consistently providing valuable content. When the time comes for your next book launch, they’ll be happy to buy because of all the entertainment, information, or inspiration you’ve provided.
Whether you are building a social media following or an email list, here are 33 ways to engage your readers and keep them coming back for more.
- Ask fans what they would like you to write next.
- Give away one of your books, especially the first in a series.
- Share deleted scenes.
- Thank them by name for writing a review, for supporting you at BuyMeACoffee, or for sharing your post.
- Encourage them to take a selfie with your book.
- Give them helpful tips on the craft of writing.
- Create an online book club to discuss your book.
- Let them know when you’re doing a discounted price promotion.
- Host a fan art contest.
- Do live (online or local) readings for your book with other authors.
- Give them a behind-the-scenes look at your research or writing space.
- Host a Facebook or Instagram live event.
- Feature one of your readers each month.
- Host a workshop, either online or locally.
- Run a poll asking them to choose your next book cover.
- Create a checklist for your reader to complete a task.
- Do a virtual book tour with another author.
- Host an “ask me anything” event.
- Host a podcast with interesting guests.
- Thank readers for reaching a milestone (like 100 reviews).
- Engage with fans on fan fiction sites.
- Share your inspiration for writing.
- Create signed bookplates to mail to readers.
- Ask questions about your readers’ favorite book/movie/song.
- Review and/or give away other books in your genre.
- Consistently blog helpful information.
- Give away free ARCs of your book.
- Ask fans to write an alternate ending.
- Respond to comments and emails.
- Share old family photos or ask readers to share pictures.
- Ask readers about their favorite character or favorite part of the book.
- Run a share-the-post contest and give gift cards, bookmarks, etc.
- Show appreciation and gratitude.
And the list goes on. If you’ve had success with engaging your readers, please share it in the chat. Let’s get the conversation started!