The right reader audience can launch empires. Just ask Colleen Hoover. The New York Times recently reported on the writer and her CoHorts, a powerful fanbase that helped bring Hoover mainstream. These fans not only bought Hoover’s books, but they encouraged friends – and friends’ friends – to buy, too. Today, the team at Written Word Media is sharing how you can take the tools already at your fingertips – social media, podcasts, websites – and use them to build your very own loyal audience of readers.
Taking the leap from that first email signup to Hoover’s CoHorts is a long journey. But as the saying goes, the thousand-mile journey begins with a single step. Our ten tips will help you take the first step of building an audience as soon as today. If you’re ready to create, nurture, and grow an audience that can become your very own brand evangelists, you’ll want to keep reading.
1. Run Ads
If there’s one audience-building opportunity from our list that skews toward expensive, it’s this one. Running ads, whether that’s on Facebook or book promo sites like Freebooksy, will cost you. We think ads are well worth the cost, though. They put your brand directly in front of the right audience, so there is typically a high return on investment. Furthermore, with ads, you pick how much you want to spend. You can test out various budgets and analyze your results to better optimize this ongoing process.
Targeted ads give you the opportunity to put your book marketing in front of a highly specific audience, regardless of platform. Facebook is one of the most popular social media platforms for ads, so we’ll start by giving a 10,000-foot view of Facebook ad basics. Platforms like Instagram and Pinterest also offer advertising options. Knowing where your audience already is, and where to focus your paid marketing, is a key part of a successful ad campaign. From there, you can build the right ads. Establishing a strong understanding of social media 101 will be helpful regardless of where you advertise.
Back in 2021, we shared a complete guide to Facebook ads for authors that breaks down the steps of creating and running an ad. Facebook ads operate at three levels: campaigns, ad sets, and individual ads. To set up each of these tiers, you need to understand the budget, audience, and objective. You’ll need to have copy and imagery created ahead of time, so prepare in advance by understanding exactly what you are trying to achieve. You’ll also need to know where your ads will send a new audience: this could be an Amazon listing page, your author website, or a Facebook author page.
Since this article focuses on building an audience, the most important part of the Facebook ads process will be reaching and engaging with the right people. You’ll want to make sure that your ad copy and creative assets are cohesive with your targeted audience. For example, a Cozy Mystery ad should stay true to the themes of that genre (think seaside imagery or “whodunnit” messaging). If you’re feeling stumped trying to get your audience right, you can always test your targeting, copy, and creative assets. Do this by duplicating your ad set and trying new targeting until you see changes in ad engagement.
If you’re burnt out trying to get Facebook ads right, consider Written Word Media’s Reader Reach service. We’ll create Facebook or Amazon ads for you to save time and money in the process of reaching a brand-new reader audience. This is an option we particularly suggest ad newbies try.
Ads on Promo Sites
We’re a bit biased, but we know how successful ads on promotional sites can be. After all, our five newsletters reach more than one million readers. Each of these readers provides an opportunity to build your audience. If you’re pursuing the best book promotion sites, we recommend the following companies:
- Freebooksy for free eBooks.
- Bargain Booksy for discounted eBooks below $4.99.
- Red Feather Romance for Romance eBooks.
- New In Books for recent releases.
- Audio Thicket for audiobooks.
- BookBub for preorders, discounted eBooks, or new releases.
- Robin Reads for $0.99 or free eBooks.
- The Fussy Librarian for bargain or free eBooks.
- BookRaid for bargain or free eBooks.
Each of these promotional sites will enable you to send to a highly targeted audience. In fact, that’s what you’re paying for! Instead of spending the time and money needed to produce highly targeted social media ads, promo sites work behind the scenes to do this on your behalf.
2. Assemble an Email List
We’re not exaggerating when we say that practically everyone is on email. The statistics back us up: 92% of online adults use their email. By starting and expanding an email list, you can place book promotions where readers already are (in their inboxes). We shared 5 ways to build an email list in 2021, and the methods still ring true. To assemble an email list:
- Entice readers to join your reading list with something called a “lead magnet.” This can be something like a free giveaway to grab their attention.
- Optimize your author website to encourage email signups.
- Update your eBook backmatter to direct readers to sign up for your email list.
- Use your social media with list-building top-of-mind.
- Hone your email strategy to strike the balance between too much and too little contact.
Certain email service providers give you a place to host and market to hundreds of contacts – for free. As you grow your audience, you may consider a paid email service to host a higher number of contacts. We’ve found Mailchimp to be a service that can grow with you and your readers.
3. Build an Audience with Email Promos
After you’ve started to build your email list, you’ll want to nurture contacts with timely and appropriate promotional messages. You should never overwhelm your contacts; for some authors, weekly or monthly emails are enough to keep your list warm. Prior to contacting your audience, ensure that your emails don’t contain broken links or spelling mistakes. Remember, your emails are a direct representation of your brand!
Email promotions are a great way to share the latest book news with fans, involve them in your writing process, or surprise them with treats (think giveaways or early access to teasers of an upcoming novel.) If you’ve segmented your list at the time of sign-up, you can personalize your promos by targeting your messaging for global regions or reading preferences.
Ideally, your email promos will be so captivating that they encourage additional list sign-ups. We’ve also found that the occasional request for readers to share your emails with friends can be effective. Here’s an example of messaging you might use for future email promos:
Loving my latest book news? It would mean the world if you could share this email with your fellow bookworm friends. Simply share <link> to bring them into the fun!
4. Establish Your Social Media Presence
As a modern indie author, maintaining social media profiles is an assumed piece of your job description. Why? Because everyone is on social media! From TikTok to Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, it’s rare to find a person without a presence on at least one of these platforms. If you haven’t yet created your social media accounts, please take this as a sign to do so. You’re missing valuable opportunities to build an audience for free.
To reference a real-life example of a social media presence done right, we’ve included a screenshot of Thriller author Carla Kovach’s Instagram profile above. Not only do Kovach’s books feature predominantly on her page, but so do reviews of other authors’ books. Kovach fuels her audience’s desire to learn more about her writing progress while participating in the greater author community. In addition to regularly posting, Kovach engages in the comments with her fans. This personal touch makes Kovach approachable, something her audience is sure to notice and appreciate. Following this magic combo of frequent posts + replying to fans is a key way to build your social media following.
5. Create (and Cultivate) a Patreon Account
Patreon, an online platform that enables creatives to engage directly with their audience, is another way for authors to build their fanbase. Beyond attracting new readers with branding opportunities and thoughtful content creation, establishing a site presence can be lucrative with Patreon’s paid subscription options. Additionally, we love Patreon’s merch capabilities; this is another way to sell your branded goodies to fans in a space outside of your author website.
We pulled a screenshot of Joanna Penn’s Patreon to show the tiered, paid subscription model available to authors. Penn provides a three-tiered pricing model for her patrons. For as little as $1 per podcast episode, twice a month, fans can engage with Joanna’s content and receive special deals on her educational courses.
Joanna’s model not only pulls new fans in but encourages her audience to build by producing fresh materials for them. Of course, you’ll need to promote your Patreon presence on your social media profiles or website to advertise its offerings.
6. Develop Your Author Website
Similar to Patreon’s ability to attract new readers, your author website is a powerful tool for building your audience. A successfully developed website can attract email signups, list and sell merchandise, and promote your work. As Lulu lists in their six author website tips, you should consider the following when developing your site:
- Where you host your site
- Site design
- What types of content you share
- What you’ll sell on your website
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Lead generation
Since we’re all here to build a reader audience, the biggest concern to focus on is that lead generation piece. This means driving your audience to sign up for an email list so you can market to them in their inboxes. This also means ensuring there’s a clear, easily accessible email signup form on highly visible parts of your website – particularly your home page. Connect the backend of your website to your email service provider to accurately capture leads.
7. Participate in Industry Events
Both in-person and virtual events offer opportunities for authors to reach a new audience of readers. As we readjust to attending in-person events, they’re continuing to grow in size and popularity. If you’re looking for upcoming events in 2023, Book Riot and Book Publicist assembled a list of conferences to consider. We also suggest checking with your local bookstores or libraries to inquire about any events they may be hosting.
Below, we’ve put together tips for both in-person and virtual event success so you can show up and promote your brand effectively.
Just as we all moved to the virtual world in 2020 and 2021, so did industry conferences and events. By now we’ve likely experienced one of these hosted via Zoom or a comparable platform. If you’re a virtual event newbie, though, we suggest doing the following to set yourself up for success:
- Test your wifi ahead of time to ensure a strong connection.
- Make sure the lighting behind you is bright and that the room you’re in looks professional.
- Even if you’re not presenting at an event, have links ready to share in the comments section. Encourage people to keep in touch and connect with you on social media or your website. This is a great opportunity to direct people to your email sign-up page!
- If you are presenting at a virtual conference, have a clear call to action in your presentation. Understand where you want to send readers and have a metric tied to it. If you anticipate receiving 20 book downloads from a certain event, this number will be your gut check for how successful the conference really was.
Just like virtual events, we have suggested best practices to make the most of in-person conferences. Preparation is ultimately the name of the game. If you walk in with a clear understanding of what you want from the event, you’re more likely to make connections that really matter. Here are ways to better attract and build a new audience at your next in-person event:
- Prep any branding materials in advance. These could include hard copies of your book or other brand-related merch. While business cards have an old-school reputation, we think in-person conferences are the perfect opportunity to break these out and encourage post-event connections.
- If you’re not a huge fan of business cards, QR codes are an easy way to directly drive email list sign-ups or share your book listing pages. Websites like QR Code Generator make this easy and inexpensive.
- Get ready to socialize! In-person events are tiring but capable of making meaningful connections with a new or existing audience.
8. Appear on an Industry Podcast
Podcasts have exploded within the last ten years. Nowadays, we all likely know someone who has a show of their very own. If you can’t yet secure a spot on The Self Publishing Show or The Creative Penn, being featured on a friend’s or fellow author’s podcast is a way to get your foot in the door. Building an audience is all about tapping into a new and previously unreached group of people. Podcasts give you a direct path to this.
If you’re appearing on someone else’s podcast, they will be doing the heavy lifting of production for you. You’ll need to work with them to secure a time to record. After that, do your research. Know what this podcast is all about, if you don’t already, and come prepared to talk. Have your pitch prepared so that you can make the most of your time in front of a new audience.
As we said with industry events, you’ll want a clear call to action that you can weave into the episode so listeners understand how and where to engage with your books. Lastly, podcast appearances are one of the rare ways to establish your brand simply through your voice. Practice what you’re trying to say ahead of time to cut out as many um’s or like’s as possible.
9. Work With Influencers
BookTok and Bookstagram are booming, and, while competitive, these platforms offer a great opportunity for authors to access a massive audience.
Not everyone is an avid content creator, but thankfully you don’t need to be to see the benefits of BookTok and Bookstagram. Instead, search for influencers who speak to your ideal audience of readers, and work with them to promote your book.
Some influencers may be swayed by simply sending them a free copy of your book, while others may ask for payment or some other compensation. Picking influencers who are relevant to your message will increase the chances of success.
10. Feature Your Brand with Promotional Products
Representing your author platform doesn’t end when you log off the computer. Why not bring your brand into the real world with business cards, bumper stickers, pop-sockets, or other promotional products? Every opportunity you have to show your brand off is a chance to grow your audience. Sure, you can take promo products with you to industry events. You can also take them on the subway, in bookstores, or in any setting that has the potential to be high-visibility.
Now, we hear you. Something like a business card may not be the first thing you think of to attract a new audience of readers. But with an increasing number of attractive, modern business card designs, this is just one example of a product that helps you easily share contact information with potential readers. Regardless of the promotional product you use, it should clearly display your website, author name, or social media handle. You want to make it as easy as possible for someone to follow up with you. Promotional products are an opportunity to get playful and creative with your brand, so the sky really is the limit.
Ultimately, your reader audience can do so much more than buy books: they’re capable of building greater buzz around your brand, acting as word-of-mouth marketers along the way. Why not do all that’s in your power to grow this group? If you have tips for methods that worked especially well for your audience building, we’d love to hear them in the comments. Additionally, stay in touch through the Written Word Media newsletter to have more marketing know-how dropped directly into your inbox.
Clayton Noblit is a senior marketing manager at Written Word Media. He is passionate about helping authors find their readers, finding ways to sell more books, and sharing marketing expertise with the author community. When he’s not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, playing sports, and making beverages.