"The Author and the Reader can be Friends" (or, How to Painlessly Engage Your Readers)
Hi Seekerville! Carrie here. I recently did a call-out for topic ideas in a Facebook group I'm in for folks involved in the Christian fiction industry. Confession: I always have a bit of a panic attack when it comes to what I should write for Seekerville. So I wanted to know what authors want to know from a reader, reviewer, and book marketer. One of the topics that got the most attention was reader engagement. So I turned to my sweet author friend, Pepper Basham, for help with today's post - because Pepper is phenomenal when it comes to engaging her readers.
PEPPER: Have you ever watched the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma? There's a whole lot of division between the cowman and the farmer, which leads to a song called “The Farmer and the Cowman Can Be Friends". Well, we want to offer some helpful encouragement, in the relationship between the Reader and the Author. We CAN engage as friends (or at least as mutual encouragers), and it doesn’t have to be as complicated or stressful for either party as we too often make it.
CARRIE: Or as Pepper put it (to the above tune), "Bookish folks should stick together. Bookish folks should all be pals. One may string the words together, but the other helps the stories sell.” Connection leads to investment, and if nothing else we can connect over BOOKS! That "binds" us together. (Now I'm humming a hymn) Add Jesus into the mix and it makes the binding even tighter.
PEPPER: Hey, you know I love MUSICALS!! And why not give it a little bookish flair, right? But I love this conversation because I think it’s a whole lot better between an author and a reader to hopefully explain both sides.
Now, I’m not saying Carrie and I have the corner on this conversation. Each reader and author is unique, but there are some things both of us have learned that hopefully could be a help to some of you out there 😊
CARRIE: Agreed. I have the blessing of calling Pepper Basham a friend, and it started when I had the opportunity to review her debut novel, The Thorn Bearer (which, if you haven’t read her Penned in Time series, you need to). I was drawn immediately to not only her wordsmithing-ness (it's totally a real word!) but also to her warm personality and absolute love of books. That handful of initial conversations has led to a precious friendship…which has also led to me becoming one of her self-professed biggest cheerleaders.
Sometimes selfies are hard.
PEPPER: And I am SO thankful for you!! It’s amazing how those few bookish conversations have now turned into this…what is it? 6 year friendship?
CARRIE: I think you’re right. And, authors, you obviously don’t have to become besties with all of your readers. But there are some principles of author-reader engagement that we can pass on, from a book marketer and an author who are both avid readers, too. As I mentioned, Pepper is FABULOUS at engagement so feel free to stalk her on Facebook and see what she does 😊
PEPPER: LOL! I’ve stalked many an author myself, so turn about is fair play, I suppose 😊
I AM also a reader. I mean, I have felt the uncertainty about reaching out to an author to fangirl over their work, but let me just say, I’ve made some of the BEST friendships that way!!
However, from an author’s point of view, here are a few things I’ve realized in this author/reader dynamic.
- One of the most difficult things about engagement is the typical "difficult" thing about most everything: TIME. Engaging with readers can be very time consuming. As a pastor’s wife, mom, and speech-language pathologist, time is not always something I have in large quantities, but I’ve learned how to sprinkle the time in places that have worked. And I try to always respond to readers who send me a note to let them know I value the time they used to read my book and then send me that note.
- I've found that reader engagement fuels me much more than it drains me because most good readers recognize that the quality of the touch points an author tries to make is much more important than the frequency. Yes, frequency matters, in part, but quality matters even more.
- One of the most AMAZING things about engagement is that it's a wonderful connection to folks who encourage and support me in this weird and sometimes isolating world of fiction writing. You really do end up building a community. I LOVE having a group of readers to chat with, bounce ideas off of, and find encouragement. It's remarkable. I really don’t know how I’d manage all of the things I do with marketing and planning without having such an amazing group of readers on the journey with me.
Carrie says: COMMUNITY. Remember that. It will come up again in a minute. There won't be a quiz.
- Authenticity is KEY. I think when readers know you care about them and value their time/encouragement, they want to get involved on your journey as an author.
- One of the things I LOVE BEST (and my street team can confirm this) is having other people to fangirl over my fictional friends with me. In fact, we’ll fangirl over other authors’ fictional friends together too!!! The JOY of reading, books, and characters is a common connecting denominator. We enjoy good stories and we love the affirmation of others enjoying them too, especially when we've poured so much of our hearts into those stories.
PEPPER: So, Carrie, from a readers perspective what helps you feel like an author is approachable? What can an author do to show they value your companionship on the reading/writing journey?
From my reader, reviewer, and marketer’s perspectives, here are some easy action steps that even introverted or overwhelmed authors can do to increase authentic reader engagement & at the same time show that they value us as part of their community.
- Be active in bookish forums. (Facebook is great for this. Or the comment section of popular book blogs.) Readers & authors hang out there, and it provides a safe place to get your feet wet on this whole engagement thing. It’s a comfier place for readers to reach out to authors as well – seeing them ‘in the wild’ so to speak and realizing they love the same books as we do, etc. I personally love it for instance when authors like Carrie Turansky, DeAnna Dodson, and Patricia Bradley comment on my posts about other authors/books on my personal book blog. Erica Vetsch has also done a great job of this, as well, in her FB group for readers & authors of Inspirational Regency Fiction. And Laura Frantz & Pepper Basham have one for Armchair Travelers that also has terrific engagement, just born out of a love for traveling to great destinations on the pages of fave books.
- Invest in a blog tour from a reputable publicity company. I especially recommend this for debut or relatively new authors. (Get recommendations on tour companies your author friends have used & loved.) Typical blog tours include Q&As and guest articles along with the reviews & spotlights. Those personalized posts allow readers to connect on a more personal level with the author, and that connection leads to future investment in the author and his/her books. (Or if a professionally-organized blog tour isn’t in your budget and you have a street team you’re comfy with, ask if any of the members would like to host you in a Q&A or guest post on their blog)
- Approach interacting with your street team as building a community, rather than just something else you have to do. (See? I told you 'community' would show up again) I’ve been part of some street teams where the author only pops in to say “I have a new book coming out. Here you go.” And I’ve been part of street teams with authentic engagement between books too, and I can tell the author truly cares about us as more than free publicity. For example, Toni Shiloh weekly shares her prayer requests & praises with us and asks how she can pray for us, too. Pepper Basham shares little snippets of her life, of her writing progress, of what God’s been teaching her. Shelley Shepard Gray, Dana Mentink, and Becky Wade are really great at this as well - sharing fun things from their life, prayer requests, asking us questions about our lives, etc. Each of these authors is a fave of mine because of their books, but also because they engage with their readers and, in doing so, make us feel a part of their community. Again, that authentic connection leads us to greater investment as readers in those authors.
- Ask fun questions / start fun conversations on social media. Toni Shiloh asks #tonishilohquestions to correspond with various “National Days” of whatever (National Strawberry Sundae Day, National Jigsaw Puzzles Day, etc.). A simple question is all that’s needed – or throw in an eye-catching graphic too just to grab attention. Pepper Basham often chats about fun romance movies and posts photos of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Biltmore. Janine Rosche posts about her intense dislike of discarded flossers in random places, and over on Instagram she does simple reels where she decides if someone’s TikTok clip is ‘Worthy of a Romance Novel’. Before Facebook got rid of the polls feature on pages, Bethany Turner had a weekly poll that was just way too much fun, on such serious topics as Who’s cuter - George Clooney or Noah Wyle? Which portrayal of Mr. Darcy is the best? Would you rather visit Narnia or Hogwarts? etc You can find tons of icebreaker questions and bookish questions online, so this is something that doesn't require a lot of thought, effort, or time - just do it with some sort of consistency to keep the conversation going.
~*~*~*~*~*~Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance peppered with grace and humor with southern Appalachian flair. Both her historical and contemporary novels have garnered recognition in the Grace Awards, Inspys, and ACFW Carol Awards. Her historical romance, The Thorn Healer, was a finalist in the 2018 RT Awards. Her historical romance novels, My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge and
Carrie Schmidt is an avid reader, book reviewer, story addict,
KissingBooks fan, book boyfriend collector, and cool aunt. She also
loves Jesus and THE Story a whole lot. Co-founder of the Christian Fiction Readers' Retreat
and JustRead Publicity Tours,
Carrie now lives in Georgia with her husband Eric, though her roots
range from East Tennessee to northern Illinois. She can be found lurking
at various blogs and websites (because
she can't stop talking about books) but her main home is the blog she
started in 2015 - ReadingIsMySuperPower.org.
Authors, what intimidates you the most about reader engagement?
Readers, what helps you feel like an author is approachable?
Great post! Community says it all. When authors response to readers' comments on Facebook pages and blogs, that makes them seem approachable. Taking the time to interact with their readers builds community.ReplyDelete
yes! I agree, Sally. When an author comments on my blog or FB posts, it reminds me that they are real people & readers just like me :)Delete
Oh heavens, boy are we "real people". Stumbling on the way to the kitchen this morning and trying to pry my eyes open are all testaments to that! LOLDelete
I am crazy busy with family and farm today, but I love seeing the Pepster here! She like totally rocks the big Kahuna and she's too young to know what that means, but she'll LOOK IT UP! :) And I love my communities... local. And online!ReplyDelete
Hey Hey, I watched all sorts of 60s movies with my dad growing up, so I've heard big kahuna before. LOLDelete
Love ya, Mama Ruthy!!
I agree that when authors engage, even just a little, on a real-life level with their readers, it makes me want to read their books even more. I love following authors like Toni Shiloh and Becky Wade and you, Pepper, because you make reading that much more fun. Thanks for being here!ReplyDelete
yes! All 3 of those authors are great at this!Delete
Aww, Glynis!!! Thank you so much!!! I'm truly grateful for folks who take the time to get engaged (and for those who are too shy to also), but believe me, those little bits of encouragement matter to our hearts!Delete
Community is so important and I love belonging to the bookish one (authors and readers alike). Thanks for mentioning me and being apart of my community! Love you ladies!ReplyDelete
You too, Toni!! And SOOOOO excited about your writing journey!!!Delete
You are so great at community, Toni! Love you back!Delete
I enjoy getting connected with authors who engage with their teams. Pepper is definitely great at this. As a reader, it makes me feel more connected to the stories - finding out more background about locations, characters, the author's journey in writing, makes it all more fun and meaningful.ReplyDelete
yes, definitely. That's a good point - finding out background on the story, the characters, the writing process, helps us as readers connect more to the book too, not just the author!Delete
YAY!! Thanks for that!! I love bringing people along on the journey and I love joining the journey with authors too. Becky Wade and Toni Shiloh are particularly good at this. Love journeying with Laura Frantz too!Delete
So...Carrie, I'm wondering if we just "stalk" people into friendships? I bet Tina Radcliffe would say that may be true about me ;-)ReplyDelete
Ummm...I mean...I don't want to officially encourage this behavior, but yes. LOLDelete
Wonderful post! Pepper is one of the best with reader engagement:)ReplyDelete
SUSAN!!!! Thank you so much!! And for all of your encouragement!!!Delete
What a great post, Carrie and Pepper!ReplyDelete
I'm very good at stalking people. I mean, it's a perfect occupation for an introvert, isn't it?
What I'm not so great at is consistency and follow through. You have both given me some fun ideas, though.
It was wonderful to see you here, Pepper! Thanks for having her as a guest, Carrie!
thanks, Jan! So glad we were able to give you some fun ideas to try :)Delete
Hey! I appreciate that both of you share about yourselves with your readers, and enrich our lives with quality, faith-filled reading! Pepper, I was excited to learn years ago that you were a speech-language pathologist and learning now that you are a pastor's wife, making 2 roles we have in common! I agree with Carrie that we appreciate the beauty of your wordsmithing-ness! It makes the journey of reading your books so special!ReplyDelete
so well said, Janice! (and thank you)Delete
This is such a fun post! Thanks Pepper and Carrie.ReplyDelete
I admit, I'm intimidated by authors who have been doing this writing thing way longer than me and it's kind of surreal when I get a note from them because they KNOW MY NAME!!! LOL
As a reader, I LOVE posting on FB groups (like the Inspirational Regency Reader's group Erica, Michelle, and Julie created; or Avid Readers of CF, etc.) and having an author respond. Such a little thing, but it really does go a long way. It makes readers really feel a part of the community and it encourages me to buy or borrow more books written by that person JUST BECAUSE s/he responded to a post I wrote.
exactly! You are so right. And way back when I started RimSP, Melanie Dickerson commented on my review of her book, The Princess Spy, and she became known henceforth around my home as "MELANIE DICKERSON WHO KNOWS MY NAME" hahaDelete
That's how I felt the first time Julie Lessman responded to something I wrote about her books! I was like..."Whoa, are you kidding me?" And Carrie...I remember that "melanie" moment :-)Delete
My first author encounter was with Mary Connealy, and I've been in awe ever since. :D She's had a huge impact on my writing and life!Delete
YES! Erica, Mary too - Whenever she texts me I squeal a little inside lol. She is awesome. Of course, YOU thought I was stalking you so maybe I wasn't subtle enough with you... hmmm.... LOLDelete
Oh my word, I had forgotten about that! LOL!!! I'm so glad you persisted!Delete
You GUYS!!! You just totally made my night. :) TWO authors and the INFAMOUS Meez Carrie responded to my post!!!! :D :DDelete
HAHA Lee-Ann!!! :DDelete
Yay for friendships that bloom over the bookish connection! And thanks for the shout out for the IRR group on FB. We're having a blast and loving creating community!ReplyDelete
and you're doing a fabulous job of it! :)Delete
Thank you for this wonderful post, ladies. There's oodles of great information to be gleaned in here.ReplyDelete
thanks, sweet Mindy! :)Delete
Fun post, Carrie and Pepper. I have not read any of your books, Pepper. I will have to make sure I do.ReplyDelete
oh Sandy, you must! You're in for a real treat :)Delete
What a fun conversation, you two! Loved it!ReplyDelete
thanks so much, Mary!Delete
I feel like I am, inside, the ultimate introvert. So I'm sure I'm bad at this. Which just makes me want to be MORE of an introvert. I do love my Launch Team, nice ladies. And I have so many funny people who comment on any posts I put up on Facebook. I need to do it more. Failure Alert!!!ReplyDelete
I think you actually do a good job at this, Mary! You don't engage a lot but you don't have to because when you do engage it's often hilarious or profound (or sometimes both at the same time). We love those little glimpses into your life & your writing process :)Delete
Thanks for a great post, Carrie and Pepper, and it's obvious that you do have a very special friendship. I was a librarian for almost 23 years, and a reader all of my life, but I'm fairly new to the Review/Blogging/Street Team game. I love to think that I'm helping to promote reading, and also introducing a reader to a new author. I do enjoy the posts that relate to an author's personal life, and knowing that an author wants to pray for ME is a wonderful comfort. Both of you ladies are great....please keep doing what you do!ReplyDelete
aww thank you, Connie - your words are a sweet encouragement. I appreciate your dedication to reviewing & blogging!Delete
Yay for all things Pepper! I love the community that forms through street teams, online forums and Facebook groups. I never realized how lucky I was until I really needed the inspiration.ReplyDelete
#allthingsPepper should be a new hashtag ;)Delete
Oh goodness! I prefer the #kneecapsarehot hashtag ;) and thank you, Teri!!Delete
I have only recently realized that their is a solid connection with the bookish community. I have been an avid reader for years, but didn't know there was a community to reach out to. I love when an author (or really anyone, LOL) leaves a comment on a review that I have done, or a blog post. I can still remember the first time an author commented on a review on Goodreads, I told my whole family :) It was fun.ReplyDelete
the bookish community is one of the best, Cindy!! I'm glad you've discovered that too!:)Delete
Being an over-the-top extrovert was hard during Covid lockdown and I am so thankful that I found Instagram and Facebook groups where authors like you, Pepper, share about yourself and your books. It has been fun to get to know you more, and to pray for you. I appreciate groups and blogs where books are recommended by readers who like the same kinds of books as you. Blessings!ReplyDelete
Such a helpful article! Thanks, ladies! I'm going to save this one.ReplyDelete