Diary of a Novice Literary PublicistBy Amy Holland, with Ian Sutherland, indie-publisher

Developing a substantial following and readership is the ultimate task in marketing an indie book. There are tons of readers and potential readers out there, and how you communicate with them is extremely important. Generic queries, constant email blasts, and social media spamming are often attempts in futility (not to mention annoying to the recipients). This type of barraging isn’t marketing; it’s pestering.

In his blog post, Indie Authors’ Second Responsibility to Their Readers, author and social media expert, Ian Sutherland, explains that “[t]he most successful authors apply the personal touch in all their interactions with their readership.”

An excellent point. Communicating on a real, meaningful level is more likely to get attention and positive reception, and your openness and sincerity will speak volumes to your professional character. As Sutherland defines it, for indie authors, “[e]ngagement means striking up two-way conversations with readers and potential readers. It means making themselves easily contactable. It means being personable. It means initiating dialogue in the first place.”

In the above-mentioned blog post, Sutherland gives a moving example of just how meaningful this type of genuine, personal communication can be to a reader as he shares his own experience with his favorite childhood author, Malcom Saville (click here to read it—it’s adorable!).

I can likewise attest to the validity of personalized communication from a reader’s perspective. I contacted my favorite author several years ago and received a genuine, meaningful response, for which I still appreciate and admire him. In fact, it sparked a great friendship, and I now work with him marketing his first work of fiction, Psycho-Tropics, which Kirkus describes as:

Kirkus Review of Psycho-Tropics

Of course, you don’t have to become besties with every person who reads your book or acknowledges you. Even a small personal touch can be very meaningful. It could be as simple as sending a signed thank-you note to your giveaway winners or people who order your book from your website. It could be posting a thank-you message to those who like your Facebook page or to your followers on Twitter, retweet your posts, or mention you in theirs. Whatever the gesture, the engagement will earn you respect and loyalty from your readers.

I recently interviewed Sutherland (see below), and asked him to elaborate on meaningful engagement from an indie author’s perspective. In the interview, Sutherland gives some personal examples of how engaging with his reader audience has benefited him as an indie author. He also addresses how authors writing under pseudonyms can personally engage with reader audiences online without risking revelation of their real names, and discusses timesaving strategies for busy authors using social media.

Here is what he had to say:

In your blog post, Indie Authors’ Second Responsibility to Their Readers, you wrote, “For indie authors, engagement with readers is mandatory for long-term success.” What is the most important benefit—for yourself as an indie author—that has resulted from engaging with your readers?

I’ve had lots of engagement with readers, both online and in person. One of my favourite moments of the last few months was attending the book group of a local company that had chosen to read and discuss my debut novel, but with the added ingredient of the author being present for their discussion. It was hugely affirming for me to receive such positive feedback from readers directly, all of whom had actually read the book. They enjoyed quizzing me on the creative process behind the novel and were shocked to discover I was self-published, having had no idea there was such a thing!

Another interesting example was receiving positive feedback from one reader who was a professional penetration tester (someone who hacks into websites with the permission of the website owner in order to identify vulnerabilities). This is the same profession as the protagonist of my novel and so it was rewarding to be told how technically accurate the cyber elements were within the book. He has even agreed to proof read (from a technical point of view) future novels, which is a real bonus. It then turned out that he hosted computer hacking seminars and invited me to speak and promote the book. All this from engaging with one reader! 

In both these cases, engaging well with readers caused word-of-mouth marketing to occur. I know this because new readers have told me, having first discovered my books through recommendations from the people mentioned above. And so it goes on!

In the post, you also mention to indie authors that “engaging” means “giving more of yourself to your readers than you might be naturally comfortable with.” What advice do you have for authors writing under a pseudonym, who want to engage more openly with their reader audiences, but not in ways that risk revelation of their real names? 

I wrestled with using a pen name originally, in order to keep my work life and author life separate. Using a pen name does impact your ability to market effectively. The hardest part of being stuck behind a pen name is missing out on the marketing benefit of in person activities—no book launches, author readings, signings, etc, etc. Such a shame. Robert Galbraith received lots of positive reviews for his debut novel, but it didn’t sell particularly well until it was revealed to be a pen name for JK Rowling. Facebook has recently clamped down on Facebook Pages not under a real name, with many authors losing their pen name pages and hard-won ‘likes’. Twitter, on the other hand, doesn’t care. All you need is an email address and you’re off.

There’s absolutely nothing stopping you from being contactable online via your pen name, whether through email, Twitter or other channels. It all comes down to avoiding specifics in anything you say or write online. No names, dates, locations, etc. And by replying, you can meaningfully engage with readers, just avoiding any specifics.

Finding the time to actively engage with readers is an issue for busy authors, but there are ways to resolve that, which you discuss in your book, Advanced Twitter Strategies for Authors: Twitter techniques to help you sell your book—in under 15 minutes a day! In the book, you explain how certain automating techniques can be helpful (and completely ethical). But the terms “automated” and “meaningful engagement” might seem contradictory to some people. Could you give a brief rundown of why it’s possible for authors to use automation to their advantage, yet still engage with their reader audiences on a personal level?

In Advanced Twitter Strategies for Authors, I go to great lengths to show where automation can be effective, but only if configured well and tuned to precision. This is in the area of tweeting news stories, blog posts, and promotional stuff. It also applies to retweeting others.

While I do recommend tools to speed up the process of using follow/unfollow strategies to drive follower growth, it can never be fully automated because then you would be in violation of Twitter’s terms of service, which requires each follow/unfollow event to be enacted by a human being pressing a button.

But there is one area where automation cannot and should not be applied at all. This is when you engage with other Twitter users, who may mention you and expect a reply. While I do recommend tools and techniques to filter down on these tweets, hiding the rest of the noise that’s going on in your Twitter stream, you cannot use automation to reply to someone. This should always be personable. Otherwise, you’ve turned yourself into a robot and no one wants that! 

Thanks, Ian, for sharing your experiences and tips! And in the spirit of meaningful engagement, authors, please feel free to use the “comments” section below to share your own experiences in actively engaging with your reader audiences. Readers, if you have an example of how an author has engaged with you, we’d love to hear from you, too!

You can follow me on Twitter @aeholland2.

Surfer Dad Review Excerpt 1

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