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Conversing with readers

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Some writers say that what they have to say to their readers is all in the written word – the book, the article, the formal press release. Res ipsa liquitur.

For many readers, though, and many authors too, the author-reader relationship goes deeper, and should. The reader wants to seeking out the writer and find out more about him or her. The advantage, from the self-publisher’s point of view, is that as readers invest time with the author, they’re more likely to connect with him or her and want to buy their next book. It is usually a win-win relationship.

This doesn’t mean completely opening yourself up to the public.

Authors, like everyone else, already have a number of online tools for engaging readers personally and directly, such as Facebook, Twitter and personal web sites (with comments enabled). There are also some big-organization tools that can help expand your reach.

On Facebook, authors can of course set up their own pages. But third-party pages oriented around an author, with the author’s cooperation, can be even better. A group of fans of the author Dana Stabenow, calling themselves the Danamaniacs, offer one example of a lively author page.

Patrick Brown, who worked on author marketing at Goodreads, suggested at this year’s BookExpo America, “Whether you are willing to answer questions for a day, or for a week, please let your readers know your parameters. Maybe you only want to answer questions about your new book; make that clear. You’re not obligated to answer all questions, but you do need to be a good citizen and let your readers know what kind of questions you’ll take.”

He suggested questions focused around the writing process and the specifics of finished works, and that some thought – and personal writing style – be used in crafting answers.

Goodreads has an “Ask the Author” feature on its website. Writers who participate on Goodreads in their author program can enable it, but they need to switch a toggle authorizing the service from “off” to “on.” Goodreads notes that, “This will activate the Ask the Author section on your author profile, allowing readers to ask you questions. It’s a good idea to add a personal message letting fans know when or for how long you will be available.”
A number of other services let authors communicate directly with readers too.

Amazon.com has long had Author Central that authors can use as a sort of mini-website to show off their personal information as well as their bibliography. It allows you to link to, and include feeds from your social and web media. That means you can connect your Facebook and Twitter feeds, plus the feed from your blog (presumably you have one) into your Author Central site. That gives you a series of ways to connect with readers directly.

Smashwords has a similar author marketing tool, which it describes as “author pages with bios and listings of published works, individual book pages for each work, support for embedded YouTube videos so the author can promote the book in their own words, member contributed reviews, author “favoriting,” and integration with social bookmarking and social networking sites.” There are some indications these one-way services (two-way if you can move your traffic toward social media and personal websites) may be expanded, because Smashwords also said, “In the months and years ahead, Smashwords will provide even more tools to help authors reach their readers.”

Communication between author and reader can run in other directions as well. Smashwords is also beginning to offer interactive widgets. At WordPress.org, a Smashwords book widget can be downloaded and plugged into WordPress-based web sites. It “Displays one or more random book covers of a Smashwords author. It can be used by authors to display their work, by fans or by affiliate partners.”

Selling books and engaging readers work together: The more engaging readers you do, the more books you can sell, and the more happy readers you will have, book after book.

(Adapted from an article originally appearing on Bookworks.)