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Building an Audience Before You Have a Book

building an audienceWhen is the best time to start building an audience for your book? Before or after you’ve finished writing?

The correct answer is before. But not to worry, if you’re already finished it’s never too late to start building an audience either.

Too many authors like to play the publishing lottery. In other words, they get a book published and then hope it takes off all by itself, with no extra marketing needed. Sometimes, with a little bit of luck and environmental factors outside of your control, this does happen. For instance, a self-published book about tornado safety preparedness might not perform so hot on its own, but if in the week following its release there are massive tornadoes wreaking havoc across the U.S., sales will go up.

Unfortunately, these are the extreme cases and what you hear less about are the countless other books that make it onto bookstore shelves, only to be taken off a few months later, due to lack of sales.

If you want your book to be successful then it’s in your best interest to give your book an extra push. Take matters into your own hands, and start building your audience before you have a book.

There are two ways to do this, and this post will give a general overview of both methods.

The first method is to go to places where people are already reading and begin building an audience there.

The second method is to create a space where readers can discover and follow you.

In a best case scenario, you can combine both of these strategies to get the maximum results.

Method #1: Go to Them

When you start writing, which is better: to publish short stories on your own website where you may not have a readership, or to publish stories on a website that already has a built-in readership?

If you already have your own audience then there’s no question, you should be posting stories on your own website. If this is the case, you don’t need to read any further in this article to learn about building an audience – you’ve already built one.

The more likely scenario, however, is that you need to start building an audience. To do this, we’re going to talk about how to get the most value from a couple of websites that already have large readerships.

Building an Audience with Reddit

I talk about using Reddit in a lot of articles on this site and it’s for good reason. Reddit has been a huge help not only to myself as a writer, but to many others as well.

In this instance, we’re going to talk about using a subreddit called /r/WritingPrompts. If you’re unfamiliar with it, here’s how it works: a user will post a thread, describing a scenario. You and other writers reply to that topic with a short story.

Most of the topics are tagged with [WP], which just stands for “Writing Prompt.” This is your standard general short story submission. Topics can also be tagged with things like [IP] for “Image Prompt” or [EU] for “Established Universe,” which means you’re writing fanfiction, or perhaps a crossover.

writing prompts

Current submissions at the top of /r/WritingPrompts

It’s pretty cool because not only can it give you some great story ideas, but you can clearly see which ideas are popular and which ones aren’t. This is amazing market research.

The downside is sometimes you have to play a bit of a guessing game if you want your story to be seen. For instance, in the screenshot above, if you posted a story in submission #3 right now, which has 280 comments, the chances of your story being read are slim. On the other hand, if you saw this submission early and thought, this looks like it’s going to be great, and posted a short story before it became popular, you could amass a large viewing.

How is this going to help you build a readership?

At the time of writing this article, /r/WritingPrompts has just over 7 million subscribers. While many of them are writers, it’s safe to assume that even more of them are simply people who enjoy reading cool stories. What some of the writers on /r/WritingPromps have done is created their own personal subreddits.

This is quite similar to owning a Facebook page and asking for ‘likes,’ or having a mailing list on your website. The difference is that people who choose to subscribe to you here are only doing so because of the stories you’re writing. And you’re writing them in a place where people are already reading.

One of the most successful Reddit members who has built an audience is Luna_LoveWell. At the time of putting this article together, she has accumulated nearly 30,000 subscribers to her personal subreddit, simply by writing amazing stories that people want to read.

I asked Luna a few questions about her success building an audience through Reddit.

Interview with Luna LoveWell

Writing a Book Café:

What was your experience as a writer and/or an author before you started writing on Reddit’s /r/WritingPrompts subreddit?

Luna Lovewell:

Absolutely none. I would occasionally write some short stories but I never shared them with anyone, or anything like that. I do some technical writing for my job, but that’s pretty different from writing fiction.

Writing a Book Café:

Did you plan on building a readership through Reddit or did it all come as a big surprise?

Luna Lovewell:

It all came as a surprise. I started a subreddit just as a way to keep my stories organized so that I could easily go back to them instead of combing through my profile. And then I talked to someone who enjoyed one of my stories and saw that I had a subreddit and they subscribed so that they could follow future stories. Since Reddit doesn’t really have a “follow” feature I decided that using the subreddit would be the next best thing.

Writing a Book Café:

How has your Reddit following of nearly 30,000 subscribers (wow!) affected the success of your book, Prompt Me?

Luna Lovewell:

Well, I imagine that without any of those fans, I would have sold about 0 copies of the book. So it’s definitely been a huge help. And I never would have published a collection without fans urging me to do so.

Writing a Book Café:

How has your life been affected by this, otherwise?

Luna Lovewell:

I’ve always kind of secretly dreamed of being a writer, but never put much stock into the idea. Writing in general just has a reputation as being incredibly difficult to make a name for yourself, and even then, not being very lucrative. So I went down a more stable career path instead. And writing here has rekindled hope that maybe I could someday make it work. Not sure if that’s realistic, but it’s really given me a goal to work toward that I didn’t have before. And it’s completely changed my life; I now realize that I was just kind of treading water before, and not really working toward anything. Now I have a purpose.

Writing a Book Café:

Why do you think people started subscribing to your personal subreddit?

Luna Lovewell:

I hope it’s because they like my writing. It’s just like any other subreddit: if you like the content, you’ll subscribe to see more in the future. And I feel like I have an obligation to my subscribers to constantly create new content for them to enjoy, so it’s been a huge motivator to keep writing even when I’ve felt like giving up.

Writing a Book Café:

Can other people build a readership like you have, by using Reddit? What advice would you offer someone who wants to do this?

Luna Lovewell:

Other people absolutely can build up a readership like I have. There’s really nothing special about my method of building a fan base, except that maybe I was one of the first writers on /r/Writingprompts to use a subreddit instead of something like a private website or blog. As for how, you definitely need to write. Constantly! I make an effort to write at least one story every day so that there is always something new for my subscribers to read.

Writing a Book Café:

Do you write anywhere other than Reddit? How can someone interested in reading your work do so?

Luna Lovewell:

Not really. I’ve written on Wattpad before but really only to continue stories from Reddit. I also have a Patreon account where I write regularly, but most of my donors there are Redditors too.

Writing a Book Café:

Is there anything else you would like to say or mention?

Luna Lovewell:

Not that I can think of. Hopefully I answered all of your questions.

If you would like to read Luna’s stories, you can subscribe to her personal subreddit. You can also support her on Patreon, which gives you access to some of her exclusive stories. Finally, you can purchase her book, Prompt Me, on Amazon or in PDF/Epub format.

Building an Audience with Wattpad

Like Reddit, Wattpad is a platform with a built-in audience. According to a 2014 video interview with the Head of Content at Wattpad, Ashleigh Gardner, the site boasts an impressive 24 million users. Out of this 24 million, only 10% are writers, and the rest are all readers. Alexa provides some additional statistics. 17% of the site’s visitors are from the United States and it has a younger audience, with more women accessing it than men. According to Gardner, the majority of users are ages 13 to 18 and 35% of visitors are between 18 to 30.

But, what actually is Wattpad?

Wattpad is a platform where you can write and publish books, only available to other Wattpad users. The big thing with Wattpad is serialization. You don’t have to write and publish a complete story in a single sitting. You can publish a chapter, then wait to see the feedback it receives and publish another chapter, later. As you spend time building an audience, you can email all of your subscribers to let them know when you develop something new.

Gardner encourages writers on Wattpad to take advantage of serialization and end each chapter with a call to action. Encourage comments and ask your readers what they thought.

One cool thing about Wattpad is that it’s frequented by publishers who sometimes contact writers of popular books and offer them deals. In fact, Wattpad actually has a support page on this very topic.

Building an audience on Wattpad can be rewarding but it can also be extremely challenging when starting out. Stepping into a big pond and establishing yourself is no easy task. Here are a few tips on how you can build a reputation and start gaining your first few followers:

  1. Spend more time writing a compelling first chapter and have a good hook.
  2. Come up with a good book synopsis. This is similar to writing a query letter.
  3. Design a good book cover. You can use free tools like GIMP and Unsplash to get free images with no copyright. Wattpad book covers should be 512 x 800 pixels.
  4. Join clubs (found under the ‘community’ tab) and share your story in the appropriate genre threads.
  5. Read other people’s stories and comment on them.
  6. Reach out to other members who you think might enjoy your stories and contact them via private message.
  7. Have a lot of patience.

Once you’ve spent time building an audience on Wattpad, some of them will naturally follow you towards your self-published or traditionally published book.

One word of caution, however – don’t publish stories on Wattpad you intend to seek traditional publication for. Wattpad stories should only be original works intended for this site. Putting a story on Wattpad (or any other site, even your own) means it’s considered published and you’ve given up  your ‘first publication rights.‘ This will be a problem for any traditional publisher.

Method #2: Let Them Come to You

The good news is that method #2 can be far more powerful than the first method if you’re successful. The bad news is that it also takes a lot more work to get going and there will be some small costs associated with it along the way.

Here is what you will need to get started:

  • Website hosting and a domain name through Bluehost – $50.00 for one year (required).
  • A professional WordPress theme called Avada – $59.00 one time (optional, but recommended).
  • Mailing list software such as Constant Contact or Mailchimp (optional, but highly recommended).

By the way, if you need help setting any of this up, check out my guide on painless author website design.

Once you have a website it’s time to start writing content and creating your list. This is called content marketing and it’s important for building an audience.

Content marketing might sound intimidating, but all it means is developing content (such as blog posts) and publishing them using a variety of formats and social sharing mediums. Another important part of it is producing content that will actually be valuable to readers. This is good news for writers because half of content marketing is doing the stuff you’re already good at – writing!

In the most simple of terms, content marketing means doing any combination of the following for a single topic:

  • Writing a blog post
  • Producing a YouTube video
  • Making a podcast
  • Creating a slideshow
  • Posting to social media channels
  • Interviewing experts
  • And so forth

To reiterate, good content marketing means doing two things:

  1. Developing really high-quality content that people will get value out of. They will naturally want to read and share it.
  2. Using multiple platforms to develop and share your ideas.

Let’s talk about the second point and pretend you wanted to create a blog post about creative writing.

Step #1: Research what to call your blog post

You could simply name my post something like “How to do creative writing,” but it would be far more valuable to actually spend a bit of time researching what questions people are already asking about this topic. There are different ways to find this out, but for now, let’s start by using Google autofill. I can start by typing “creative writing” and then adding different conjunctions to see what people are already searching for. This kicks off the brainstorming.

creative writing

creative writing

I can also turn to Google’s free Keyword Planner tool for more ideas and information. I enter “creative writing” into the search bar and then click “Get ideas.”

creative writing

Now when I sort by “Average monthly searches,” Google tells me “Creative Writing Topics” gets searched for about 4,400 times a month. Also, it has “low” competition, meaning that it should be relatively simple to get placed on the first page of Google when people search for this phrase. Well, as long as your blog post delivers some really good value and makes people want to read it.

creative writing
“How to” or “list” posts are often extremely popular. Armed with this extra information, we now know that writing a blog post with a title such as How to Brainstorm Killer Creative Writing Topics or 10 Ways to Develop Unique Creative Writing Topics has a good chance of doing well.

By the way, instead of using Google Keyword Planner, I actually use a more effective tool called “Market Samurai” that gives you a lot of additional information about the competition. If you want to learn about it, head over to my book writing resources page and scroll down to the marketing section.

Step #2: Write your great blog post using different mediums

Besides having useful content, a good post should also be visually appealing and easy to read. To do this, you can:

  • Format it into short paragraphs and have lots of white space
  • Use images
  • Use different headings and font sizes
  • Use colours
  • Incorporate bullet points and lists
  • Ask questions
  • Write in second-person (‘you’ or ‘we’)

Google also wants blog posts and articles to be at least 300 words long. This is sort of like their standard unit of measurement for ensuring a post is actually offering something of value and isn’t spam. Anything less and it risks appearing lower in the search rankings. Although this is Google’s bare minimum, I highly recommend takin the time to make your articles no shorter than 2,000 words. More content = higher value. Not just for Google, but more importantly, for your readers. Your goal after all is building an audience.

As for the posts themselves, here are a few ways you can get maximum exposure from a single blog post. You can do some of them or all of them.

  1. Write your blog post.
  2. Make a video that compliments your blog post. Use Powerpoint for the visuals and narrate it. Use screen capture software like Camtasia to record.
  3. Upload your video to  YouTube and Vimeo. Embed one of the videos into your post using the provided HTML code.
  4. Upload the video slides to slideshare.com.
  5. Extract the audio and create a podcast.

Now your reach has already extended to 5+ websites for a single blog post, talk about building your audience.

But wait… there’s more!

Share your blog post to your Facebook page, your Twitter feed, your LinkedIn. Add any images used in the post to Instagram and Pinterest. Submit your blog post to social bookmarking sites such as Stumbleupon, Reddit and Digg. Hashtag everything where applicable.

Of course, if your blog post doesn’t deliver value in the first place then none of this will matter. There’s plenty of free content on the Internet and to make people want to spend time reading you over someone else, you will have to have a unique voice. Sort of like writing a novel. If only writers could do that… oh – wait a second…

Step #3: Building an Audience

So what does any of this have to do with building an audience? Actually, if people come back to read what you wrote because they’re getting value out of it, then building an audience is exactly what you’ve been doing. That’s what content marketing is all about and why it’s so powerful when done well.

Okay, we’re done.

Just kidding.

There’s one more thing you can still do that will guarantee better results than everything I’ve talked about previously, and that is having a mailing list. Go to Constant Contact or Mailchimp or one of the other many other mailing list service providers out there and create an account. Ask any marketer and they will tell you that email marketing is one of the most powerful modern marketing strategies.

Building an audience is effectively synonymous with building a mailing list.

All you want to ask for in your mailing list is a contact’s first name and their email address. The email address is, of course, a requirement. The first name is so you can address them personally. If location is important to you then you can ask for their city as well. The more information you ask for, the less likely someone is to subscribe.

Simply asking someone for their email address so you can bombard them with emails is a bad idea, though. Today, our email inboxes tend to get overloaded already. If you want someone’s email address then you’d better be prepared to give them something valuable in return. Offering a free eBook, a PDF, or even a series of lessons goes a long way in making a fair trade for an email address.

Look at the mailing list I use as an example. I’m offering not one, but four immediate free incentives for you to register.

free-tools-for-writers

send-me-free-writers-tools

While it’s possible you might get one or two sign-ups by simply asking someone to submit their email and subscribe to your newsletter, you have a far better chance of getting a new follower by offering them something in return.

Not only is it a good idea, but it makes you feel good too. At least, it does for me.

Remember, “subscribe” is only two letters away from “unsubscribe.”

That’s a Wrap

As far as building an audience goes, that’s it for now.

What do you think? Which method will you choose to go with? Will you go to them or let them come to you? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts and ask any questions. I’ll be around to help out.

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By | 2017-05-18T18:30:23+00:00 August 17th, 2016|Marketing|0 Comments

About the Author:

Author of ELEMENTALISTS: THE FIRES OF CANICUS. Owner of WritingABookCafe.com. Helping writers succeed from planning, to publishing and beyond.