Thursday, February 7, 2019

Building a Healthy Reader Tribe by Nikki Wright

Before I started working with Mountain Brook Ink as a publicist, I worked as an assistant content editor for junior high and high school creative writing workshops, a virtual assistant for multi-published authors, and as a municipal liaison (ML) for my local National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) region. Through these experiences I became familiar with a lot of different author personalities, writing voices, and goals in the creative writing world. For the workshops the goal was to show writing could be fun. As a virtual assistant I helped my clients maintain healthy boundaries while also keeping their image accessible and friendly. With NaNoWriMo we organized events to build community during the month-long writing marathon.

But no matter the background, most authors eventually get to this question: How do I connect with my readers?

For better or for worse, there is no "one size fits all" answer. Readers will sniff out a lack of authenticity from a mile away, which means that each author has to wrestle with this question quite a bit. How much do you want to share, personally, with your readers? What are you wanting to give to your readers to enrich their lives as people, not just consumers? Also, what do you NOT want to share with the reader? What is off-limits?

Establishing Boundaries with the Reader

"How do I connect with my readers?" is an overwhelming question. In fact, marketing is an overwhelming process in general! But as the old saying goes: how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. 

Bite one? Boundaries. Before doing anything else it is critical to decide what information you are willing to share and what information you are not willing to share with your readers. Some authors love to share stories about their kids, spouse, and family adventures; others have decided that their private family life is 100% off-limits. Both of these choices are okay! But you do need to find things to share, not just things to keep private. 

Giving Back to the Reader  

Even if you don't want to share photos and stories of your kids or your pets, find something to give back to the reader. You can share writing tips, encouragement, devotionals, shenanigans. If you're having trouble pinpointing what it is you want to share, I ask you, "Why did you write this book?" You spent quite a bit of time and energy figuring out the story, then writing the book, likely editing the book, and possibly querying the book. And that's all before you landed a contract if you have one! 

Are you passionate about encouraging healthy relationships? Do you think miniature dollhouse making is the coolest thing ever, which is why your heroine solves mysteries by recreating crime scenes with mini handmade furniture and rooms? Consider talking about the healthy relationships in your life, how you've overcome your own challenges, and what Scripture passages speak to the importance of community (or however this topic speaks to you!). Consider talking about the history of miniature dollhouse making, share some of your work, talk on why you love it! 

Find something in your heart that you're excited to share about…and share it. Consistently. Eventually your reader won't think of you as just another suspense novelist, but The Cool Dollhouse Person who opened their eyes to this niche artform through their books and platform.

Being Accessible

I'm going to let you in a little secret: you don't need to have a social media account on every platform. But you do need to have a consistently active account at least on a couple websites. Your readers want to connect with you! And there are many different types of outlets to try and until you find a place you feel comfortable: Pinterest. Instagram. Twitter. Facebook. 

Do you love organizing? Pinterest. Are you short on time? Twitter. Do you love photography? Instagram! (Though I recommend you find a way to like Pinterest or Instagram either way as there's a good amount of readers both places.) 

Find a place where your readers can ask you questions and engage with other followers of your work. This is an important step toward building your tribe. 

Asking Questions (And Responding!)

In addition to giving your readers knowledge or encouragement, ask them questions about them. How can you pray for them this week? Which holiday do they celebrate? What have they been reading lately that's not your book? Ask questions, and then answer them. Pray for the person who is hurting. Ask the person more about the holiday they celebrate that you haven't heard of. Share your mutual love for The Chronicles of Narnia

Asking questions and engaging in the answers helps the reader not just stick around, but feel seen and valued as a person. 

Be Yourself!  

In the end "be yourself" may sound like a cliche, but it's true. There is a part of you that your readers loved (or will love!) put into your books. Don't be afraid to use that to connect with your readers. 

Nikki Wright has worked with a diverse collection of aspiring and published authors since 2005. Every author writes for a different reason and has a different heart they are trying to paint in words. Nikki’s passion lies in helping authors to be the best they can be in their own voice. 
Off the page, Nikki has a cat named Faust, an assortment of plants seeking global domination, and a tendency to stare off into space contemplating some deep question she'll forget momentarily. She resides in the great frozen land of Northern Idaho and drinks coffee by the bucket. 
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