Earn Your Readers

(excerpt from Your A Game by Damon Suede & Heidi Cullinan)

People read genre fiction for entertainment. They want something that gives them an emotional ride. Your job as a genre fictioneer is to provide that ride. That is literally the only thing you owe your readers.

Your self-interest is not the same as your audience’s. Readers do not purchase your book to validate you or pay your bills. Your book is an emotional ride, and they pay for access. If your brand is one of familiarity and accessibility, your readers may think fondly of you and wish you well, but they don’t buy your book because they want you to be able to afford the new iPhone. Every potential reader shows up asking, “What’s in it for me?”

In addition to having their own motivation as a class of people, readers as individuals are not interchangeable cogs. Every book, every author, creates a distinct circle of readers. There may be genre or tone overlaps between these groups of readers, but one of the biggest challenges for you as an A-game author is identifying and engaging with the circle of readers most inclined to enjoy your work and recommend it enthusiastically.

In other words, the customer isn’t always right; only the right customer is always right.

Your voice makes your books a unique opportunity. If you know your craft, your readers already exist if you can manage to find them and vice versa. In the best of all possible worlds, your book will make their life better: happier, calmer, funnier, smarter, more exciting. That’s what you need to express clearly: how your fictional book will improve your readers’ real lives.

You don’t make money from your core tribe, you serve them. If you serve them well, you will make money from other people. — Seth Godin

Your market is the intersection between their self-interest and the unique value you offer. Every piece of promotional material you produce from ads to swag must speak to their self-interest(s) and reinforce the value(s) you bring to the table. You’re not trying to trick people into buying books. You’re presenting your work as honestly and visibly as you can so those who are naturally disposed to liking your work have the opportunity to experience it.

How do you find your fan base if they don’t know you exist? Know your readers. Know your market.

Where is Your Audience?

The short answer? Everywhere. Readers are hard to target, because they are absolutely, one hundred percent everywhere. Though your genre may tend toward a certain demographic, you will always have outliers and wild cards. Even if you write underwater locked-door mysteries featuring only gay bears who like pie, you might be surprised to see the makeup of your reader demographic. Possibly more straight, female libertarian diabetic accountants than you ever dreamed.

Gathering followers on social media can be useful, but only if those people become fans. You aren’t just looking for readers in general, but your readers, the folks who will be loyal and enthusiastic the minute they read your work. Blindly seeking likes is push-marketing at its most foolish and myopic. Only a small group of your readers will become fans who advocate for your work, but it behooves you to treat each as they might.

You can and should identify where your readers generally are. If they congregate in certain areas, you absolutely want to be aware of that and to whatever degree is appropriate, be generous to that community. If they attend certain kinds of events, consider advertising there. We’ll talk more about reader communities and how to network in various hubs. But understand your best bet isn’t to preach too much to the choir. Find more singers and lead them to church. Fuel the home fires, but always be looking further afield.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. — Marcel Proust

You’re a writer. Your voice is the most singular, valuable tool in your arsenal, and you have complete authority and control in its use. Communicating with your potential readers will help both of you assess: are you simpatico? Do you belong to the same mental tribe?

We’ll discuss some ways you can manage reader outreach in genre readership later. Before we do that we’ll discuss how networking with colleagues can help you find readers…and how the readers themselves will be your best promotion of all.

© 2016 Damon Suede & Heidi Cullinan, All Rights Reserved

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