Where to Find Your First Readers

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May is How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated. Last week I poured a bucket of ice-cold water over your dreams in Read This First (which, thanks to Freshly Pressed, is the most popular post ever on this blog with 12,000 views and counting), and then explained why I think you should go guns blazing for the launch of each book instead of waiting until you’ve a few to sell in One at a Time. This week I’ll be presenting my Not So Scientific Theory of How Self-Publishers Can Use Social Media to Get Amazon to Sell Their Books, which is based on how I think I managed to sell my own books over the last couple of years.

You can catch up on the introduction here but today we’re going to talk about Step 2: Find first readers (presuming that Step 1—signing up for preferably a Word Press blog, a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page—is something you can manage yourself and have already done)…

Now, not every self-publisher needs an online presence to sell books. I can name two or three who merely uploaded their book to Amazon and—ta-daa!—bestseller status and a five-digit royalty cheque was theirs without so much as a single tweet, blog post or Facebook status update. (“How nice for them,” she says, through gritted teeth.) But of all the self-publishers I know and know of who have managed to get their books selling and kept them that way, the vast majority have a home—or five—online. Since we’ve already acknowledged that we’re not going to be the next Amanda Hocking, we’re going to do what seems to be an effective strategy for most self-publishers, and leave waiting for the Magical Self-Publishing Fairies to sprinkle our book with pixie dust for another day.

Wait a Sec—Do You Want to Do This?

Not every self-publisher needs an online presence to sell books, but every self-publisher with an online presence should actually want an online presence, and should genuinely enjoy doing all the things that comes with having a blog, tweeting, etc. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Pretend for a second that you know someone who makes a living giving motivational speeches. He self-publishes a book, and it goes straight to the top of the bestseller list. You ask him how he did it, and he puts it all down to the speeches. He says he mentions the book during them and sells copies afterwards, and that the people who buy them there write reviews and tell their friends, and he’s sure that’s what’s driving his sales. You’re about to self-publish a book of your own and, hey, these motivational speeches worked for him, so you decide that you’re going to do it too. Except that you hate public speaking. The thought of standing up in front of a room full of people makes you break out in a cold, clammy sweat. But you can overcome it. Is has to be done, right? Because giving speeches helps sell books. So you decide to grin and bear it. But there’s another problem: you don’t know what to say. You fear you might have nothing to say. And the only motivation you feel is the urge not to do anything except sleep and watch TV. But speeches sell books, and you have books to sell. So you get up in front of a room of several hundred people, sweat profusely, mumble and ultimately go down like a lead balloon. So yes, speeches sell books—but will yours if you don’t actually want to do them?

Don’t do this just because someone said you should. My advice is for writers who want to be bloggers and just need a little advice on what to do once they’ve become one.

Create the Blog You Want to Read

We all know that piece of writing advice write the book you want to read. Well, I say create the blog you want to read. When I first started blogging back in autumn 2009, I had no idea what I was doing—but I knew why I was doing it, and that was just because someone had said I should. I’d just decided to self-publish in a few months’ time, and I figured I’d need a blog in order to do it well. But I didn’t know what to blog about, and my blog was on Blogger.com, dull and—nooooooooo!—featured mismatched, blinking widgets. I know: for SHAME. But after researching self-publishing online, I realized there was a gaping hole in the blogging world, and it was shaped like a self-publisher who didn’t use words like gatekeepers, didn’t keep voodoo dolls named after agents and editors and didn’t believe that one person with no knowledge of the publishing world could do better than an office building full of people with degrees in it.

(That would be me, if it wasn’t clear!)

What I’m saying is: keep it simple. There are so many people out there selling workshops and seminars and training manuals and audio tapes and books about how to blog, when to blog, what to blog, etc. (I just googled “how to blog” and got approximately 6,190,000,000 results) but don’t worry about all that. Instead just imagine the blog you’d love to read every morning with a hot cup of coffee, and then create that blog. Simples.

But What About My Book?

It was easy for me to start talking about my book on my blog, since the whole point of my blog was to chronicle my adventures in self-publishing. But then I know other self-publishers who have tried to do the same thing, and it didn’t work for them. So why did it work for me? I think it’s because I gave the blog reader something that they could use to help themselves, which in my case was straightforward, occasionally (!) helpful advice or information that sometimes generated a giggle. I think most people are on the internet to find one or more of the following things: information, connection and entertainment. When you create content, be it a blog post, a tweet or a book trailer, ask yourself: does it tick at least one of those boxes? People love to describe blogs as online journals, but they’re really not about you. They’re about us, and what we want to read. Just like your book, your blog has to have appeal. It has to give people a reason to want to read to it.

Also, almost everything you put online is something you have written. Every paragraph of text is an advertisement for your work, regardless of what it’s about. Maybe your unique voice or perspective is selling point enough.

We’ll be talking in more detail about content next week in What Selling Books and Fight Club Have in Common.

Get Somebody (Anybody?) To Read It

A blog is not like a shop window. No one will ever just happen to walk past, look in and say to themselves, “Oh, I must pop in there!” You have to send people to it. The best way to start to do this is to make blogging friends.

Being a blogger is about being part of a online community and, like life, the amount of effort you put into it dictates the amount you’ll get back out. If I was just starting out now, here are the steps I’d take to find, charm and chat with blogging friends:

  1. Find other blogs. There are billions of them. Well, millions anyway. You’ve found this blog, so we know you can do it. Blogs are a great source of more blogs. Look for recommendations in the blogger’s “blog roll” (um, don’t look for mine because I’m updating it at the moment; it’s coming soon), links in the comments and posts or browse the blogs of the people who leave comments. Then read them.
  2. Comment on other blogs. If you read something interesting, tell the blogger you thought so. If the blogger asks for your opinion, leave it. If you’ve been lurking around a blog for months and months, reading every word but never so much as squeaking out a “hi”, say hello. (Yeah, I’m talking to YOU!)
  3. Repeat as required. You find this easier to do if you collect all your favorite blogs in one place. I use Google Reader.

Drive Traffic With Twitter

I signed up for Twitter because it was the only thing that would download in the square foot of reception at the very top of the stairs that I could put my right hand into if I stood on tippytoes in the little holiday cottage where I wrote one of my books. In other words, by chance. But being on Twitter is the single best thing I’ve ever done for my writing career, and that’s something I’ll be elaborating on next week. I think it’s very, very important—but again, only if you actually want to be on there.

Twitter helps your blog because people like to click interesting links they see on Twitter and follow them to see where they go. I wouldn’t bombard people with links to your blog; I think a ratio of 1 blog post to 3 links about it is about right. I love using Buffer for tweeting links to my current and past blog posts and spreading them out over the day and through different time zones.

For a great primer in using Twitter in a way that’s both effective and enjoyable, I highly recommend Nicola Morgan’s book Tweet Right: The Sensible Person’s Guide to Twitter

Find Fans on Facebook

I think every author should have a Facebook page that strangers can come and “like”—and NOT a personal profile page that they’ve commandeered for that purpose. At this stage, all you need to do is:

  1. Sign up for a public Facebook page
  2. Convince 25 of your friends and family to “like” it so you can get a customized URL, e.g. www.facebook.com/mousetrappedbook
  3. Throw a few photos, links, etc. up there so when someone does “like” it, there’s something for them to see.

We’ll come back to our Facebook page later when we launch our book.

What About Everything Else?

So that’s it. Blogging, Twitter and Facebook is all we’re going to worry about for now. Yes, there’s loads of other sites you can eagerly sign up for as well (Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Vimeo, etc. etc. etc. ETC!) but don’t take on too much too soon, or you’ll get blogging burn out before you’ve even customized your header. And I believe that these three are the most important ones anyway.

Tomorrow, we’re going to launch our book online. Oooh, how exciting!

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48 thoughts on “Where to Find Your First Readers

  1. Cristian Mihai says:

    Great post, as usual. Much of this stuff is common sense, you know. I guess that’s what I like about your blog anyway. What I did like best was what you said about blogging not being for everyone, and your analogy was really good. I mean, the act of writing is something that can be learned. It takes time and practice, of course, but having something to say, on the other hand, is a much more daunting task.

    About that part with commenting on other blogs, it’s the only thing from your list that I don’t normally do. I’m more of a silent reader anyway, but I follow few blogs anyhow (yours, David Gaughran’s, and a few others.)

    Maybe the most important rule of blogging, at least how I see it, is having patience. It takes time to build an audience.

    Cheers and looking forward to your next post.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Your point about having patience is an excellent one. After the whole freshly pressed excitement, the first question everyone asked is: how long have you been blogging? Well, since November 2009. On this blog since February 2010. And it was almost a year (March 2010-January 2011) before my self-published books really started selling. So many people expect—or hope—that it’ll happen overnight, but it won’t, and anyway organic growth (building an audience one person at a time, over time) is much more valuable in the long-run, I think.

      • Cristian Mihai says:

        Everyone expects to win the Lottery. But this happens to very few. After all, how many young writers of incredible success do you know? And there’s a reason for that.

        Time, patience, hard work, these are three of the most hated words in any language, and I believe that achieving success (at least one that you consciously built over the years, as opposed to one that just happened over night) requires a great deal of discipline.

        So you’ve been blogging since 2009, and I’ve only heard about you a few weeks ago. I believe David Gaughran mentioned you in one of his posts – something about interior formatting for a print book, and I was curious and just clicked on the link. And well, then I found myself reading all your posts, and then here I am now, happy to comment, happy to share, and reading Backpacked. I don’t think I’ve stumbled upon one of your blogs that screamed “shameless self-promotion.” It’s really so subtle and strange, like some sort of subliminal message. I’m reading a post about self-publishing and next thing I know, I’m reading your book, without you telling me to. Pretty strange.

        Anyway, as they say, patience is a virtue.

  2. Women in Wellness Project says:

    Loving your blog Catherine! Just blogged about your “self-published book month”. Happy “Self-Published Book Month” to all!

  3. Jane Rutherford says:

    I totally agree with you on Buffer. I am in love with it and use it almost everyday 🙂 It makes sharing links so much easier. I didn’t have much luck with Facebook yet, but I’ll figure it out eventually 😉

  4. Tima Maria Lacoba says:

    Thanks for the great info. I’ve just recently created an author facebook page and joined twitter. I actually enjoy scrolling through various tweets every morning and seeing what’s out there. But gaining followers is not easy. I’ve also tried finding other bloggers, but since there are so many out to choose from, it can sometimes take all day to find at least one or two I’d be interested in following. I feel like a guppy in a great ocean!

    Tima

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Much like books since self-publishers were allowed in, there is an awful lot to choose from! I find blogs almost exclusively through interesting links people post on Twitter. Whenever I visit a new blog to read a post, I have a quick look around and see if I like it. If I do, I add it to my Google Reader. But there’s probably only 10-15 blogs I read on a regular basis, and only 2-4 of them are writing or self-publishing related. The rest are things like travel, lifestyle, humor, etc. So sign up for Google Reader, pick a few links on Twitter and mix it up. 🙂

  5. Megan says:

    Hi Catherine,

    Just wanted to let you know that your blog is awesome and very informative. I am getting ready to self-publish a book online this summer, so I am reading your posts to make sure I am taking the right steps. So far, I seem to be – I hope! 🙂

    Megan Cashman

  6. Lorna Faith says:

    Thanks Catherine:) These posts are a big help as I’ll be self publishing my 1st historical romance novel here soon:-) Thanks for the great information!

  7. cinzia8 says:

    Catherine, I’m new to your blog and I love coffee (I take mine with cream) and the caffeinated title drew me on the WordPress mentions. 🙂 I just started my blog on WordPress and I’m contemplating self-publishing my historical novel. I’ve also been thinking about Twitter, so you mentioning the positive aspects of it for an author is good to know. I’m a bit of a novice and now a follower of your blog, so I may have future questions for you.

  8. char says:

    Love the info each day. Buffer sounds like a good thing; I love scheduling posts ahead on WordPress, so if I ever do Twitter, I’ll have to do that too. I haven’t tried Twitter yet. Every time I read people’s Twitter feeds it just looks like a bunch of gobbledygook. (I guess I just don’t get it yet)

  9. AF says:

    Ohhhhh, so that’s why I get requests to “Like” my blah, blah, blah on FaceBook. Thanks for clarifying that point…and for the reminder not to take on the entire social media world at one time.

  10. Kiya Krier - Runs With Blisters says:

    Question. I started blogging at the end of last year for various reasons, only one of which was to create a platform for future publication (currently short fiction stories, hopefully novels one day). Anyway, now that I have this (fun!) little blog, I realize that the voice and subject matter have no relation to my fiction voice or subject matter.

    Do you think it will be possible to use my blog to help sell books my in the future? If the only thing the blog and book have in common are me as the author? Just one of the many questions I have after blogging for a few months.

    Thank you for the concise, understandable posts about self-publishing! Although I am still quite far from my own publication, I feel that I am learning so much from your posts. My expectations will be much more in line with reality, I think.

  11. Michelle Isenhoff says:

    Lol, sorry, Catherine, I’ve been one of those hangers-around who hasn’t introduced herself yet. I found your blog about two months ago. Your content is always relevant and makes me smile. I do a similar self-pub/blogging thing, only in the kidlit genre and minus some of your finesse, I’m afraid. I think I’ve got even more strikes against me selling to kids who 1) don’t have ereaders and 2) don’t have credit cards. But you gotta do what you love, you know?

    Great to finally “meet” you! 🙂

  12. Danielle says:

    I’m loving your stuff! I haven’t even started my novel yet, but reading your blog has made me realise that its ok if my novel is not successful in the traditional publishing world. Its not that I must earn money from it or expect it to be a hit, but I do not want to put 1000s of hours into it to have it never even AVAILABLE to be read by others (if I think its good enough of course). It’s nice to know that if publishers don’t pick it up I can self publish electronically and even if it doesn’t become a hit I will have succeeded in getting it out there. That knowledge makes the whole process of making the effort to get this story out of my head a lot less daunting 🙂

  13. Tahlia Newland says:

    I tried several other social networking sites as well, but except for the occiasonal foray onto kindleboards and Goodreads, I stick to the big 3 too. Authors have to be careful not to overstretch themselves, try to do too much and not do any of it well.

  14. Laurie says:

    Hi Catherine,
    I just found your blog through Twitter and boy am I glad I did because I plan to self-publish my first novel this summer and this month of self-publishing is helping me so much! Just wanted to say thanks and that I really appreciate you sharing all of your experiences.

  15. slowborg says:

    I feel like I could achieve my secret and as yet unactioned dream of being an author with the guidance of your blog!
    You really have a knack for concise and informative writing (with a bit of a giggle). Fantastic post again, *hands to sky* thank you Freshly Pressed! (And you Catherine!)

  16. tonyschumacher says:

    This blog has been a real gem of a find for me, I read your first post last week and here I am back again, like a stray cat you put milk down for, sniffing around looking for scraps of insight (and tuna, do you have any tuna?) It’s an inspiration to find someone talking sense about self publishing, I don’t want to buy John Locke’s book about how he made people buy his book (he’ll probably sell me another one at the end of reading the first one anyway). I don’t want to be a screaming salesman, grabbing passers-by and jabbing them with my clipboard and I definitely don’t want to be one of those people who tweets every five minutes asking “Hav u bort my buk on hamerzon?”
    I just want to write,earn a living, make people happy with my work and have time to listen to the birds sing every now and then.
    So thanks for your help.
    Tony

  17. nazarioartpainting says:

    Thank you so much Catherine for your advises, I really appreciate the tips. It is very helpful for me. I am following your advise. Do you have any specific tips for people like me that write in Spanish. Thank You.

  18. raventidebooks says:

    Do I want to start a blog? Unfortunately… no. No, I don’t. I don’t want to blog about self-publishing because as much as it’s provided true freedom for us to publish what we want, there are enough blogs that can say more things than I. How about selling self-published books? Not my forte, and again, so many more useful blogs than I could do. Write about writing? Well… that probably would be the most logical, except we don’t believe in easy-to-follow instructions on how to write. The ability to write is a natural thing that is at it’s very core, impossible to teach. You’ve either got it, or you don’t.

    So, our blog is just book news and promotions only, with a few thoughts from T. A. Miles sprinkled in there every so often. We’ve been utilizing the twitter for some #writetip action because that’s our specialty, but those are only 140 characters long, not long blog posts dedicated to one writing topic or another. And I kind of like that. Save the website and website blog for news. Use twitter for little things. Spend the majority of time writing, which imo is the only real thing that’s going to sell our books anyway. More available works.

  19. Vividhunter says:

    Great post Catherine, thanks for all the helpful links ^^ I enjoyed your book Backpacked btw – you’ve definitely sold me on Panama… Guatemala not so much 😛 Looking forward to the rest of May~

  20. Tania Hotmer says:

    I love your blog! Your layout and design is very appealing and your content is exactly the kind of information that I need to grasp as a newby blogger and eager writer! You had me at “Create the Blog you Want to Read”. I will definitly be keeping that piece of advice in mind. I introduce myself as “”Tania” your newest follower. Looking forward to more creative ideas.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Hello Tania! Thanks for commenting and hopefully you’ll find more useful stuff around here. Check out the list of “self-printing” category posts; everything’s in there.

  21. Tim Sunderland says:

    This is my first time to your blog. Commenting on other blogs is something I don’t do much of. I will have to fix that. I also ordered Tweet Right. I know I’m not using that platform as well as I should.

    Tim Sunderland
    whatifyoucouldnotfail.com

  22. colinai says:

    Yes, you were talking to me and finally convinced me to say hello. So yes, hi. This is one of my favorite blogs, and very encouraging for wannabe self-publishers. Thank you for being so awesome.
    -I.C.

  23. Tim Sunderland says:

    Catherine,

    Could you expand on this? What does it mean?

    “I wouldn’t bombard people with links to your blog; I think a ratio of 1 blog post to 3 links about it is about right.”

  24. Eliza says:

    Great post! I started a blog years ago about writing tips (when I was just learning and writing my first novel myself) and have had a few comments. Then I didn’t blog for a couple years and no one finds it anymore, but that will change. With all the posts and views it already has, freshening it up for my first published book (coming this month!) won’t be too hard I think.

    I’d love to use twitter, I just have no idea what I’d want to say…what do people on twitter like reading on there? I’ll have to go follow and read tweets of other authors and readers to find out I guess.

  25. Malika says:

    I have been in this business for 4 years and I began with a blog. But it didn’t seem to bring me many followers or book sales. Since then my blog entries have dwindled to zero. Perhaps that is why my books are unseen or something totally different. Should there be one theme for my blog?

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      There are no rules for blogging other than trying to create and maintain a blog that other people want to read. You must also lead them to it – through Twitter, for example – because websites aren’t shop windows. People won’t just happen upon them. I would also warn against starting or restarting a blog just to get followers or sales. There is no point unless you genuinely enjoy blogging and would continue to do it even if no one was reading your posts.

      • gilbertspeaks says:

        Hi Catherine. First, I want to say that I love the advice you give out. I do use social media and my blog to make my presence known. I also do a lot of book signings at local and not so local book stores and coffee shops. I’ve also started going to comic cons. This was a new adventure for old Steampunk Granny, but it has proven to be a great way to network and I finally understood what cosplay was all about. Loved it

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