How Self-Publishing Changes the Bond Between Readers and Writers

by | Jan 7, 2011


by Mary Tod

I’m pleased to have Mary Tod, novelist and blogger, as a guest on The Book Designer. I found her article a fascinating take on the changes taking place in publishing, and I bet you will too.


In the old-world model writers connected with readers primarily through intermediaries like book stores and book clubs plus the occasional public appearance at a reading or book tour. All that has changed.

social media for self publishers

In the new world, connections have multiplied and relationships are two-way and multi-dimensional rather than one-way. (Dashed lines imply secondary relationships sparked by primary ones.)

social media for self publishers

Provocatively, Kate Pullinger, fiction writer and explorer of the future of publishing, says “connecting readers to writers is the only possible future of publishing”. In the realm of self-publishing, this is even more critical. Writers need to consider how they will connect with readers and communities to facilitate at least three things: developing and improving what you offer (books, workshops, speaking engagements, online book signings, online book clubs), marketing and selling, and providing your customers with care and attention.

As a writer who publishes without the leverage of a traditional publisher, you will want to consider:

  • Listening – create ways to listen to your readers and collect data about what you hear; use focus groups and surveys to support regular listening mechanisms. Make sure you respond when they ‘talk’ to you.
  • 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.
  • More customer knowledge – understand who your buyers are, what segment and communities they belong to.
  • 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.
  • Long term relationships – develop mechanisms to foster long term connections with your readers. Keep them engaged even as you create new offerings.
  • 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.

Learning By Example

Can we learn by example? Joe Konrath received significant publicity for doing a deal to directly publish his latest book with Amazon. What does he do to connect with readers?

On JAKonrath.com he lists his books and provides a forum for readers to discuss various topics including the books themselves. In addition to a blog about writing and publishing, he has a page on Crimespace.com (not very active), he’s on Facebook, he uses Goodreads to list his books, link to fans and friends and comment about other authors he reads, he has a blog on Amazon although the link on his main blog doesn’t work, he’s on LinkedIn and MySpace where readers can post a picture on his guest book and make comments, he does author blog tours, he offers free books (not his Jack Daniels books), he’s on Shelfari (but hasn’t visited since May 2009), Squidoo, ITW (International Thriller Writers) and Twitter.

Phew – that’s a lot of connecting!

John Kremer, author of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books and a blog about book marketing had a long list of self-published authors who have gone on to success. Here’s what a few of them are doing.

  • Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute, initially self-published. Bolles is famous for the advice he offers regarding career change and has sold more than 9 million copies of his original book. On his website, he offers articles and advice on a wide range of job search and career matters as well as links to well known job websites like monster.com.
  • Vicky Lansky, author of Feed Me I’m Yours and other parenting and household advice books and columns, has a website, with information about all her books (and how to order them) as well as free tips on various subjects.
  • Mark Pearson, author of Europe from a Backpack, offers ways to connect with other travelers through social media groups, has a blog (last post was in 2009), has a newsletter, the ability to order books and read a sample of each book, and offers useful links for travellers. His website is here.
  • James Redfield, author of The Celestine Prophecy, originally self-published. His first book spent many weeks on the NYT best sellers list. His website Celestine Vision, which he shares with his wife, offers several features: an active forum for people to discuss various topics, a newsletter, information about the Celestine insights, links to a very long list of other websites and people, the movie trailer, information about his other books as well as the ability to order them.
  • Thriller author, Boyd Morrison, self-published The Ark on Amazon.com and was subsequently signed by Simon & Schuster. Morrison has a website listing his books and upcoming events as well as the audio from radio interviews and a blog (last updated mid-2009).
  • Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice, has a blog focused on her novel as well as information about Alzheimer’s and links various sites. The last post is February 2010. She also has an official author website at Simon & Schuster.

Let’s have a look at a few other self-published authors:

Self-Publishers Connect to Readers

Click to enlarge

Conclusions?

  • Non-fiction by its very nature enables more varied connections to customers.
  • A blog or website is a must, however, a blog allows for more dialogue between writers and readers and amongst readers.
  • Forums are an intriguing way to connect with a community of readers (or others) to discuss specific topics and gain the benefit of a range of input.
  • As far as I can tell, the authors sampled are not gathering information about their customers/readers.
  • Be selective. A blog where the latest post is nine months ago doesn’t give readers and others a reason to return.
  • Most writers are broadcasting rather than engaging.

What you do will depend on how you plan to operate your writing business and technology will facilitate many aspects of building relationships. Being reader-centered can bring new dimensions to how and what you write. Being reader-centered requires you to connect with authenticity and openness, fostering the ecosystem of the writing industry.


self published authors and social mediaMary Tod is a writer of fiction with 30 years of business experience. Her blog, One Writer’s Voice, is designed to share ideas and reflections on historical fiction and the business of writing. She is also the author of two novels and writes another blog, Found Diary, from one of her character’s point of view.

Photo: Junior Gomes via Stock.xchng

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19 Comments

  1. Madelon A. Smid

    As someone who has published non fiction the traditional route with Macmillan Canada, I am now researching self publishing for my new book. Although much of this is already learned information, I must say reading it has extended my social media vocabulary and helped me lock in terms I will see constantly as I continue to look for the best publisher and markets. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Mary Tod

      Hello Madelon – I can see from a little Google searching that you are already known for your writing about issues related to women entrepreneurs. Combining that knowledge with Joel’s insights on self-publishing and perhaps, just a few thoughts from my article (she says with utmost modesty), and you will be on your way! Best of luck to a fellow Canadian,

      Reply
  2. Leslie

    Hi Mary,

    You’re right, I was thinking of non-fiction specifically.

    However, I’ve recently noticed the publishing industry does seem to differentiate fiction with ever increasing specific categories, i.e. ”historical fiction for children”, or ”culinary novels”.

    Reply
    • Mary Tod

      That’s a very good point, Leslie. I wonder how those categories will evolve into markets. Mike Shatkzin talks about curators specializing in vertical markets – perhaps we’ll see these develop into vehicles for connecting writers and readers more effectively than organizations like Amazon do today. Gotta think about how to incorporate that into my own plans!

      Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Interesting. The curating aspect of publishing is very much alive on the internet, and I see part of what I do on this blog as curating content for readers, particularly in Sunday link posts. Readers have often commented on how valuable this is, and I certainly make use of other people’s curated content in areas where I don’t have expertise. Although this appears to insert a “middleman” between authors and readers, it seems to work more like a matchmaking service where you are presented with only “cream of the crop” content, saving a lot of time.

      Reply
  3. Leslie

    Self-publishers are actually small business owners. Their expertise in a specific area gives them gravitas with a tribe of people who probably have decided to buy their book before it is even written.

    Reply
    • Mary Tod

      Hi Leslie … do you think your comment applies equally well to fiction writers? I have an easier time imagining the notion of expertise when thinking about non-fiction. Fiction seems a more difficult arena for differentiation. What do you think?

      Reply
  4. Lynne Spreen

    When I started writing, I dreamed of (1) writing, (2) getting the big phone call, and (3) basking in the money and acclaim. My daydream never included “Start your own publishing and publicity agency.” Or “spend half your day marketing your books.” God, I sound whiny.

    Reply
    • Mary Tod

      Hi Lynne – I just bought a book by Christina Katz titled Get Known before the Book Deal. In it she includes a quote from Michael Larsen who is both agent and author. “You are in three businesses: the book business, the marketing business, and the people business.” My own view is that writers have to be entrepreneurs which, of course, means we have to develop skills beyond our brilliant writing!

      Reply
      • Michael N. Marcus

        Hi Mary…

        >>My own view is that writers have to be entrepreneurs which, of course, means we have to develop skills beyond our brilliant writing!<<

        Mark Twain did it. Ben Franklin did it. Presumably Dickens, Shakespeare, Sophocles and Homer (not Simpson) did it.

        There's no reason why some of us more-highly evolved homo sapiens can't market our words 21st century.

        Reply
        • Mary Tod

          You’re right! I’ve written a few posts on this broader topic, considering things like the lifetime value of an author, developing a business plan, changing roles amongst agents, publishers, writers and others. I’d be delighted to have some feedback.

          Reply
        • Joel Friedlander

          I think one of the interesting contributions Mary makes in this article, and in others she’s written, is exactly connecting the writing life to business life. It’s certainly still possible to live the dream of the “big phone call” but it seems available to fewer and fewer writers, and with increasingly uncertain results. The switch to indie publishing is rapidly educating writers in what actually goes on in publishing and how they can profit from it, as many readers here have. Thanks for the discussion.

          Reply
      • Lynne Spreen

        I have that book, Mary, and I’m about to start a class on platforming with Christina. She is a fabulous resource, and part of what I liked about her book was that she helps you focus your efforts, so you get the most value from time spent. Thanks for the reminder.

        Reply
  5. Michael N. Marcus

    >>the Bond Between Readers and Writers<<

    I'm in the U.S. and last weekend I received an email from a potential book customer in Malaysia. She wanted to buy a PDF eBook version of one of my pBooks. She would've paid over $40 to have the $19.95 pBook shipped to her — and the pBook version won't be available for another week or two.

    It took me just a few minutes (at no cost) to have the eBook on sale, and just a few minutes for her to receive it and start reading.

    I make almost as much money from the $9.99 eBook as from the $19.95 pBook.

    In the "old world" it could have taken weeks for a trade publisher to answer a letter from a prospective reader or to forward the letter to an author. Important authors may have reader mail intercepted by secretaries.

    In this new world, a reader had a "just-for-me" book about an hour after sending an email.

    The new connections are great for readers and writers.

    Michael N. Marcus
    http://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
    http://www.Self-Pub.info
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
    — "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)," http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750

    Reply
    • Mary Tod

      Hi Michael – I like to think of it as widening the funnel between writers and readers. Looks like you are already doing that with the added bonus of making more money while you’re at it!

      Reply
    • lindagoffigan

      The artilce about self publishing books was interesting and intriguing. I have written over two thousand articles on relationship and would like to get published either as an ebook or as a self published paperback book. How do I get started on transitioning the traffic from the blog to a self-published book and what is the minimal cost for printing?

      Reply
      • Mary Tod

        Hi Linda – I’m no expert since I’m not yet published, however, I’ve seen some interesting approaches. You might want to check out Joanna Penn at http://www.thecreativepenn.com/ . Not only has she turned her blog into published books but she has also found innovative ways to develop her fiction writing in concert with blogging. If you aren’t already reading Mitch Joel, you could also look there for ideas. His latest post (today) is about different approaches to monetizing a blog. I also think Tony Eldridge who writes marketing tips for authors has some excellent material at http://blog.marketingtipsforauthors.com/ . Tony’s latest post is by a guest author who has recently self-published.

        In terms of minimal cost for printing – perhaps Joel has some comments.

        Hope that helps at least a little!

        Reply
      • Joel Friedlander

        Linda, it seems that if you have traffic on your blog, you can offer the book there, assuming the subject matter is the same or closely related. With print on demand, you don’t have to invest any money to get into print. The best thing would be to get a feeling for how self-publishing works these days. Try the “Start Here” categories in the left sidebar for some basic information on self-publishing.

        Reply

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