Reaching Out To Readers

Most people have accepted advertising as a necessary evil in the modern world, or at least something that must be tolerated. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t piss them off sometimes.

We actually tune out most ads. When we read a magazine, we skip past all the glossy pages to get to the content. It’s almost automatic. Personally, I only really get annoyed when an ad is forced on me.

I can look away from a billboard, I can ignore the ads on Google, I can change channel. But when I’m browsing and I get an annoying pop-up, or when I’m in the cinema and I’m forced to sit through a bunch of ads before the movie starts, then I get a little peeved.

The digital revolution has unleashed an army of writers for whom some form of self-promotion is a necessity. Most, I think, do it subtly or with some taste. However, a noisy minority seem to think that the best marketing strategy is to tweet a link to their book every hour, automated of course, AND IN ALL CAPS SO YOU CAN’T MISS IT.

Out of morbid curiosity, I sometimes check the Amazon pages they are pushing. The book is never doing well. Maybe they should send out the message every thirty minutes instead. With more hashtags.

There is another way, of course. You can’t automate it, but if you are willing to put in the sweat, you will get a lot more out of it (and feel less like a snake oil salesman). There’s no formula and it’s no big secret; you just have to reach out to readers.

The importance of word-of-mouth is well understood. What’s more of a mystery is how you get to the point of having a bunch of people spreading that word.

Indie writer Michael J. Sullivan had a huge boost in sales around this time last year and racked up some amazing numbers over Christmas, ultimately leading to a six-figure deal with Orion.

In a recent blog post he explained how he built his audience. It’s simple: one reader at a time. Now, you might consider that answer either annoying or useless, but think about it; there is no other way to do it.

All readers are precious and should be treated as such. After all, without them we would be nothing. But those that can really give your career a boost are the passionate ones who will run around all their friends and colleagues insisting they read your book. How do you find those guys? Well, the first step is to make it easy for them to find you.

I’m assuming that you are at least doing all the basics: you have a blog and/or a website, your books are uploaded at all the major retailers, you are priced competitively (and that doesn’t mean 99c only), you have a professional product, and you are at least somewhat active in social media: Twitter, Facebook and so on.

You should also have an active Amazon Author page which is automatically linked up to your blog/website and your Twitter account. And you should at least have a minimal presence on Goodreads too.

All of these things should be pointing back to the same place – your social media anchor. For me that’s my blog. It’s my home and where I feel most comfortable. Everything else is designed to bring people there. For you it could be something else, like your Facebook Page.

Whatever you choose, you must have your contact information and links to your books clearly visible. If you look at the sidebar on my blog, you will see I have a blog subscription link, clickable book covers, my email address, and a newsletter sign-up all clearly visible. If you make readers work to find this information, you will lose them.

You also have to think about the content of your blog. Like many writers, mine is focused on the book business. And I hate to break to you, but most readers don’t care about that stuff. It’s something I love writing about, it helped build a great platform for Let’s Get Digital, and it’s great for networking, but it’s never going to attract significant fiction readers for me.

To find those readers, I need to reach out to them, find our common interests, and talk about them. To that end, I’ve started a new blog: South Americana. It only took a few hours to set up and write the first post and it cost me nothing. It still needs a bit of work – book covers, contact links, layout etc. – but it’s open for business.

It’s quite a niche subject: South American culture and history. But the people it will attract are the target audience for my next book (and the next three after that). I fully expect blog readership numbers to be small. But if I can connect with those readers, if I can engage with them, they could be the passionate ones who will not just buy my book, but spread the word too.

So, instead of racing around trying to find readers, maybe you should help them find you. If you write romance novels set in Italy, why not blog about Italian food or travel? Or if you write police procedurals, maybe you could talk about famous trials or serial killers. The only limit is your imagination and, as a writer, you should have that in spades.

If you are not big on blogging, there is no reason why you can’t do the same thing on Facebook or on various forums.

Just remember to meet your readers half-way. Don’t approach it as an opportunity to shill, instead engage them at their level on the topics you are mutually passionate about. That’s how you build relationships in the real world and social media is no different.

In short, leave the “writer” hat at home, talk about your shared passions, and you will reap the rewards.


David Gaughran is the author of If You Go Into The Woods, Transfection, and Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should. You can catch him at

23 replies
  1. avatar
    Elizabeth Hunter says:

    Great ideas, David! I’ve already started a website for my series to do exactly that, connect with readers! I can post teasers and trailers, along with other “bonus features” for the series. It was really easy to set up (I love wordpress!) and you’ve given me some great ideas for other additions to the site.

    I can’t wait to check out the new blog! Southern Chile is one of the settings in my book (around the Puerto Montt region) and your blog sounds right up my alley.

    Good luck with it!

  2. avatar
    David Gaughran says:

    Oh, I will have to check out that book. Anything South America related is an automatic buy from me.

    WordPress is great. You can set up a professional looking site in an instant. The amount of customization you can do (even on the free set-up) is superb. And it doesn’t need to be a strict “blog” setup. You can have a static landing page, and several sub-pages (essentially like a normal website), you can have a magazine style set-up, a photo viewer anything really.

    Teasers and trailers are a great idea. Don’t forget to also post a lot of content not strictly related to your book, but that will also capture the common interests of your target readers.


  3. avatar
    J Carson Black says:

    David – you mention Word Press. Long before we rolled out THE SHOP, we came up with a sort of Huffington Post-aggregrate-magazine-style profile of the people murdered in the house – the catalyst for the story. It was sort of a pre-story to the book, and followed the lives of some of the people involved.

    I have a couple of westerns (like someone else we know?), and I plan to put up a new blog just for those two books. I did a ton of research on Tombstone and the OK Corral Gunfight, as well as the Lost Dutchman Mine in the Superstition Mountains, so I hope to tie into interest there.

    • avatar
      David Gaughran says:

      Smart move, JCB.

      It’s funny actually, I find that the process of publishing this research elsewhere means I’m less resistant to cutting it from the narrative. Rather than “killing” my darlings, I’m putting them up for adoption 🙂

  4. avatar
    David Gaughran says:

    Just to clarify something: people may think they don’t have the time to try out this idea. But I want to be clear, it need not add to your workload (aside from a couple of hours setting up the blog). Let’s say you blog three times a week about writing, your books, or the publishing business. Take one of those days, and spend it on your new blog instead.


    • avatar
      Elizabeth Hunter says:

      Agreed. I’m splitting my time between the two blogs and it doesn’t seem to have made a big increase in my workload. And thanks for considering the book! It comes out this month. I only wish I could go the same places my characters do. 🙂 A trip to Chile right now sounds fantastic.

      And I’m a huge wordpress fan. It’s a fantastic tool I recommend to all my writing friends. I’m setting up a graphic design/video site for my husband, as well. I’ve finally convinced him to dip into indie book services beyond my own books!

  5. avatar
    Edwin Tipple says:

    As always, David, really good stuff. I’ll be tapping into your methods over the coming months when I get closer to publishing my book.
    Keep up the good work and, the common sense.

  6. avatar
    cara bertoia says:

    David I have three blogs, one called table games confessions, to get the gambling people. One called casinos and cruise ships to get the cruise people. My newest blog is best travel novels because I didn’t see any sites that reviewed books set in far off places. I set the titles of my blogs so that the articles get picked up by other blogs. I think that has worked out rather well for me. I too am trying to reach new readers.
    Cara Bertoia

  7. avatar
    Jodi says:

    Good points, David, on building an audience one author at a time and on making it easy for them. I also like the idea of an anchor point.


  8. avatar
    Deb Maher says:

    Good thoughts, David and I totally agree. Blogging about writing is easy for writers. Just need to realize who our audience is.

    I love your South America idea…excellent! There are many ideas for blogs to hook a reading audience. Along with my Stringing Beads writers’ blog (linked to my name), in 2008 I started a breakfast review blog under a pseudonym ( Initially I tried posting articles twice a month there but the last year and a half I’ve only posted once every three months. Yet I still get roughly 50 hits daily, day after day. Not huge but really steady. I guess folks like to read about breakfast and places to eat. 🙂

    I launched the breakfast blog partially because I’d hoped to sell a mystery (not my normal genre) under a pseudonym and thought I could use it as PR for that. But mysteries don’t sell to NY without agents and agents didn’t like the book so it never sold. Now I’m doing a major rewrite and hope to go Indie with it in the next few months. My breakfast blog will be a good place to announce, I think. Not sure if I’ll gather many sales, but it’s all a grand experiment, isn’t it?

    I’ve been following Let’s Get Digital with interest since I first started reading your book. Incredibly helpful. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and insight. It means a lot.

    • avatar
      David Gaughran says:

      Hey Deb,

      Thank you for your kind comments.

      Writing a breakfast blog sounds like my dream job. I am a lazy so-and-so. By the time I roll out of bed, I’m hungry. As for sales and all that, the main thing is that you enjoy yourself. Life is too long to waste time doing things that aren’t fun. Sales are nice, sure, but the connections you make are what really make it worthwhile, and it sounds like you are doing that already. And anyway, if you make connections like that, the sales will follow.

      Someone pointed out that top-selling indie author J Carson Black had a very smart way of promoting her book. It’s a thriller about a Navy SEAL investigating the death of a (fictional) celebrity. She put together a “news” site exploring the story of her death. Very smart:


  9. avatar
    Donna O'Donnell Figurski says:

    Hi David,

    I am glad I stumbled on your site today through Mocha Mind Communications by Gioya McRae. (I’m in a writing group monitored by Gioya.) I have thought about indie publishing of my book about a traumatic brain injury my husband suffered and survived after three brain surgeries in less than two weeks in 2005. Though David was left physically disabled, his cognitive brain is perfect, and he returned to his position at Columbia University as a Professor of Microbiology a year later. No easy fete! But, traditional publishing tugs at me.
    Thanks for posting your ideas on self-publishing and how to promote books, once published. One reader at a time is perfect. I will definitely look for your book, Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish.

    Feel free to check out my blog on WordPress. All contact information is in my signature.


    Donna O’Donnell Figurski
    Donna’s Website:
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    Don’t forget to check out my blog for some funny, some poignant, and some insightful stories.

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    “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” John Wooden

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  10. avatar
    David Gaughran says:

    And now I just realized that I found out about J Carson Black’s site because she posted it here a few comments ago.

    Oh well, so it goes. The internet stream will soon move us all along, hiding my shame.

  11. avatar
    Móna Wise says:

    Hi David,
    I found you through Eoin Purcell. Great blog and great advice all around for
    emerging authors interested in self publishing. Can you tell me, do you know of any
    authors that have successfully published in the food writing genre?
    Best regards from Galway,
    Móna Wise

    • avatar
      David Gaughran says:

      Hi Mona,

      Sorry, I didn’t see your comment – at the moment I don’t get pinged when someone responds (we’re working on it).

      I know there are some authors who have had some success in food writing, but I can’t think of their names of the top of my head. There are far less self-publishers in non-fiction, for a number of reasons. The big one is that the readers haven’t switched over in numbers to e-books yet. I think this is down to: the current limitations of the devices and formats (hard to break up all that text with all the normal tricks used in print books), less traditionally published non-fiction authors have switched to self-publishing where books are mostly digital (those authors tend to be paid better), and I suspect non-fiction readers are less price sensitive (they are used to paying a premium).

      But all of that will change, and is changing. Amazon just signed a couple of big-name non-fiction authors, and their books will be released digital-first. The file formats are already being upgraded, and multimedia tablets like the Kindle Fire should grow in popularity.

      I think next year could be big for non-fiction.


      P.S. I’ll try and dig out the names of those writers.

  12. avatar
    Aaron says:

    Excellent post David. I have tried to share this idea with many others and even tried to point out, most indie authors are only ‘followed’ and ‘liked’ by other indie authors, and that’s great because we should be supporting each other but we can’t neglect our fans. I’m still fairly new but have already done some stream radio shows, signings, and other events. I think meeting people directly, or at least through a screen, is key. I also hope to continue the advancement of my sci fi series, Lokians. There’s a lot of young readers out there and they’re just waiting to hear about a new book but they don’t know about places like goodreads, shelfari, or manicreaders, and neither did I, until I became a published author but blogs like this are great. Way to go, David.


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