Being a middle child, a nice person, and a workaholic, I’ve spent my life trying to do the right thing and make people happy. As a member of a dysfunctional family, I’ve given up the goal, but as novelist, I’m still trying to satisfy my current readers while reaching out to new ones. Some days though, I’m not sure what I should be doing.
Engaging readers is a less-concrete concept and I’m starting to think the idea is more hype than practicality. For example, a well-read blog recently advised authors to do the following:
- Listen—Create ways to listen to your readers and collect data about what you hear; use focus groups and surveys to support regular listening mechanisms.
- Customer knowledge—Find out why people buy your products (or not), why they recommend you to others (or not), why they are repeat buyers. Understand what else they buy.
- Conversations—Find unique ways of connecting with readers, ways that will enhance your brand as an author, ways that enable dialogue, not one-way broadcast.
- Collaborate—Go beyond listening and conversation to collaborate with your readers, perhaps testing your products in advance of a full launch or soliciting ideas for additional content.
- Community—Build a community of your readers. Facilitate mechanisms for readers to interact with one another as part of this community and to broaden the reach to additional readers.
In fact, that’s the biggest problem with engagement. Some readers like to interact with authors. They send e-mails, go to conferences, and participate in book discussions. Many readers, perhaps the majority, would rather not engage with the author. They simply want to read the books and move on. I’ve heard readers say they don’t even like seeing an author bio in a novel, because they enjoy the story more if they don’t know anything about the writer.
I understand and respect this. I also love readers and book clubs who contact me to talk about my stories. So I make myself as available as I can, while trying to find the middle ground and not waste time on activities that readers will ignore or find annoying.
Readers: How much and what kind of engagement with a novelist do you want? What are authors not doing that you'd like to see more of?
Writers: How far do you take reader engagement?