Not too many years ago, we all relied on bookstores and libraries for our books. Publishing, or what is now solely referred to as traditional publishing, was curated and prestigious. Gatekeepers made sure that every step of the way, from a writer’s manuscript to the printed book to the store shelves, only the best of the best could get through.
These days, the barriers between an author and publishing, or an author and her readers, have all but disappeared. Obstructions to publishing have vanished with the advent of viable print-on-demand solutions, digital publishing, e-readers, and online content platforms. The barriers separating authors and readers have vanished with social media, blogs, and other sources of online engagement. There is now (mostly) effective, direct communication between writers, readers, publishers, marketers, book designers, agents, and other professionals involved in the writing and publishing community.
Marketing specifically has taken a turn and now focuses largely on the individual. Through the power of social media a writer can speak directly to the one reader who will be most interested in a piece of content, and can through advertising target incredibly specific groups of fans or potential fans. It is now the readers, rather than the gatekeepers, who ultimately determine the success of a particular book or writer.
The future of publishing remains uncertain, but there are a few things that we know are relatively good guesses. An even more direct connection between writers, readers, publishers, and publicity will lead to new forms of collaboration, interaction, and celebration in writing. Stories will be written, or consumed, or funded, or edited, by whole communities interested in a particular topic.
So where does this leave the modern writer looking for success? How do authors, readers, publishers, and everyone else in the writing community use the lessons of the past few years to help ensure future success? The answer: connect (or be damned).
If we accept that the barriers between formats, between audiences, and between distribution systems will disappear, then we can use that knowledge to accept and embrace the change. We can embrace the interrelated nature of writing and reading, knowing that almost all writers are readers and many readers are interested in their own writing. This means that genuine conversations related to and about your work are more important than ever. Connecting with those who share your views (or oppose them) will lead to a sense of community, better writing overall, and the relationships necessary to promote your work in an authentic way.
The hyper-focus and targeting inherent in the advertising and social media of the (present and) future means that there can be a laser pointed directly at the unique set of people in this world who will most closely connect with you, your story, your style, your interests, and ultimately your work as a writer. Find these people and form authentic relationships with them. These are your people.
But what does connecting actually look like? How can authors connect in genuine and interesting ways with their readers?
In order to feel connected with you, readers have to know who you are. So when you’re communicating, either in person or online, you need to be true to yourself. Talk with people about your real interests, profess your actual opinions, and let people know what you’re passionate about. Somewhere out there are people who share your interests and passions, and want to talk to you about them. Part of being real is also realizing what you’re not interested in. If you don’t care about the Redskins game, don’t tweet about it to get readers. If you aren’t a fan of a certain author’s writing, you don’t need to participate in a discussion about him. Specialize in the things that you care about, and you’ll find readers who have similar passions.
It’s been said many times, but bears repeating because of its importance: connecting with readers should be a two sided conversation. No one wants to feel like they’re talking to a used car salesman. Make sure that your communications are genuine, interactive, and helpful for both people involved. You’re not trying to bump up the numbers of anonymous “readers”, you’re trying to connect with real humans that want to have real human conversations. Part of this is also making sure that you’re being generous. If you are generous with your time, your network, your interest, and your “listening ears”, then you’ll have a much better time connecting with your audience. Focus on how you can help others, and the rewards for you and your writing will follow.
Have a Plan
No one has enough time in the day to focus on all social media outlets with equal amounts of attention, attend in person events, deal with the necessities of everyday life, and still find the time to write. So you’ll need to go in with a plan. Consider which social media outlets make the most sense for you and your audience, and focus on those. Think about how much of the time you’d like to get out in the “real world” to attend in person events, and how much of the time you’d like to be focusing entirely on your writing. Plan which content you would like to share, who you’re targeting with that content, and how often you’d like to share it. Once you have all of these things organized you’ll be ready to connect with your audience and still have time to write.
Consider your Messaging
You will also need to decide how you’d like to be perceived, and what your brand as an author might be. Are you loud, brash, and truthful? Great! Embrace that and market yourself as such. Are you a positive, but quiet person? That’s great too! It doesn’t matter what your brand is, as long as you understand it and use it to your advantage. Most people decide to stay away from being overly negative, overly political, or overly profane, but if you’ve made the conscious decision to do one of these then just make sure that it’s because you’ve decided that’s who you are. Although no one likes a Debbie Downer, so think carefully on being really negative.
Focus on the Big Picture
Once you get the hang of it, making new connections in person and online can be fun and rewarding. Just try to keep the big picture in mind. Checking your tweets and Facebook posts can easily take up more time than you would be willing to give, so just keep your plan in mind and stay focused.
Forging genuine relationships with readers is a fun and rewarding experience, and ultimately will help you to get more reviews, more sales, and more interest from those who could help you on your writing journey.
What do you think – do you have any great stories about connections you have made that have helped you later on? We’d love to hear in the comments.
Laura Fredericks is the founder and CEO of Describli, a new writing community where authors can interact and form genuine connections with other authors and readers. She is passionate about helping to create positive change in the writing world. You can get in touch with her on Twitter @describli or at http://facebook.com/describli. If you’d like to sign up for the private Describli beta head to http://describli.com/join-beta.
Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant
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