Monday, February 13, 2012

Keeping in Touch with Readers

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
I was reading a parenting blog the other day for someone
who’s highly-regarded in that field. This blogger had an offer for a free PDF if you signed up for her monthly emailed newsletter. Sounded good to me. Typical promo.

I got an email back fairly quickly with the PDF attached, my name on the email, and what sounded like a personal note from the writer. Politely, I emailed back and thanked them and said I was looking forward to reading their PDF.

Later, I was checking my emails and found one from Yahoo Automailer with the blogger’s name on it. The email was an auto-response to my email. It apologized for the blogger’s inability to personally respond to emails…because she was writing a book (!) She even named the book’s title in the auto-response…clearly, it was an attempt to do a little promo while basically stating she had no time to respond to emails.

As you can imagine, I was completely flabbergasted. Reading and responding to reader emails, even banal ones like the one I sent, is one thing we should make time for! Why lose the opportunity to make a connection that might mean more sales or a recommendation from a reader to a friend?

It reminded me that, as a published writer (or, in this blogger’s case, about to be published), our primary promo duty is to respond to readers and allow them to find and contact us. This wasn’t the case twenty years ago, for sure. But in 2012 we need to be accessible and responsive.

Ways to keep in touch with readers:

By responding to email: Although email shouldn’t rule our life…it’s got to be dealt with. On busy days, to keep myself from feeling too stressed, I reduce the times I check email to once or twice. I give huge priority to anything from a reader…answering their emails as soon as I see them in my inbox.
You can create an email account that’s separate from your family email through a free provider (Google Mail, Hotmail, Yahoo.) Try a professional-sounding address like Your Name That way readers aren’t trying to reach you at .

A personal website or a blog
that functions as your home base. I could be argued out of the notion that this is a basic…but I really do believe it is. Even one page that introduces you in a basic, professional way works fine. Both Blogger and WordPress can provide you with a blog that’s also a website (with different pages for visitors to navigate to.)

Basic info to include: how to contact you (email), your genre, and what you’re working on now is probably good enough. You can put up a friendly looking picture of yourself or an image related to your book and call yourself done. If you’ve got a book cover and buy links already, then put those up, too. It’s just a way for readers to get an overall picture of who you are and makes you seem more approachable. 


A newsletter: I don’t have a newsletter for my readers (shame on me), but I hear that newsletters are fantastic ways of connecting with readers and letting them know what new books you’re releasing. The newsletter recipients have to subscribe to the newsletter, themselves. I’ve heard of some writers who just add anyone in their email address book to their subscribers list…we can’t do that. But a subscribe button in the sidebar of our blog or website is the perfect way for readers to sign up.
As a reader, do you ever contact authors whose books you’ve read? As a writer, how do you make yourself accessible to current or future readers?

Elizabeth’s latest book, Hickory Smoked Homicide, released November 1. Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/Obsidian, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder.
Writer's Knowledge Base--the Search Engine for Writers

Twitter: @elizabethscraig


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Elizabeth - your ideas are so salient and important and ones you're very good at.

You set a good example ... as you say authors need to be accessible to all their potential readers, and be polite enough to respond appropriately ...

You also explore other ideas that will help people, keep abreast of your industry, and are always available for help, if appropriate .... Cheers Hilary

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Hilary--Thanks so much for coming by. What you're saying is true, too--the more we make ourselves available online to readers, we're also opening up a connection to other writers (and, through them, resources, ideas, and industry news.)

Margot Kinberg said...

Elizabeth - It must have been disappointing to you to get that auto-reply stuff. That kind of thing puts me right off because it sends a message that the reader is not important enough for the author's time. And I think just the opposite is true; readers are crucial and should be treated with respect. And you're right that that kind of respect goes a lot further than just writing as well as one can. I like the idea of a blog or other website where readers can contact the author. I think the key to it is to try to personalise contact with readers. It takes more time, but a reader wants to feel that the author has read her or his particular email and is responding one-to-one. Even one personalised line makes for a better bond than an auto-reply!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Margot--You're right--it really doesn't take long for us to shoot off a quick, but personal, reply to readers.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Responding personally to emails is so important. And responding within a reasonable time.

Authors can't hide anymore. We have to be accessible because it's our personality and that personal contact that sells books.

Tracy said...

Hi Elizabeth. This is a good perspective to share with others. Even a short, personal note of a sentence or two can go a long way. As a reader, when I've received an actual response from an author, I'm over the moon! While I realize everyone is so busy these days, if an author takes a moment to answer a question, or to say thank you for a compliment on a book, I think it encourages the reader to sign up for newsletters, watch for the next release, tell others about the book/series, etc. It's relationship-building, and that's important.

Thanks for your post. :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Diane--I think in some ways that books and authors are moving into the same realm as music and musicians and films and actors--we have to have a face and a personality to go along with our stories.

Tracy--That's a good way of putting it--relationship building. I guess an author can get to the point where that becomes really almost impossible...but it would have to be at the Elizabeth George or James Patterson or JK Rowling level, I think! I don't have any excuses. :)

Chihuahua0 said...


Personally, I love authors, webcomic writers and bloggers who take time to interact with readers. They tend to be friendlier and more open, making me more incline to overlook flaws in their work.

As an aspiring writer, I hope I can maintain a link to future readers even as I become a full-time author, if that comes to pass.

Stacy S. Jensen said...

I love the interaction. I don't mind people taking time off to hunker down on their writing, but I don't like the auto replies. Thanks for another great post.

gillian said...

Great post! My question is do you as the writer respond on the website/blog and by email, or do both?

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Chihuahua0--Interesting! I'd like that...if someone gives me a break on some of my book's problem areas because I'm more approachable. :)

Stacy--I was really amazed! I take blogcations and breaks from Twitter, but I always check email. :)

Gillian--Usually other writers are visitors to my blog, but I respond to them on the blog. The website is geared *mostly* to readers (but I do have links for writers there) and I don't really have a place for comments on the site--but I have my email address, my Facebook address, and my Twitter handle. Probably 90% of the time I hear from readers via email--but I've splashed my email addy around all over the web!

Tina said...

Enjoyed your post! I found your blog from a link from another blogger.

I agree that responding to emails/blog posts is very important. It's the kind thing to do! And it can start a rewarding conversation.

I started a blot in November, and I try to respond to every comment. Otherwise, I would feel like I'm ignoring someone who was kind enough and interested enought to leave a comment.

Melinda McGuire said...

Excellent advice (as always). I am on both sides of this issue - reader and writer. As a writer, I want to be open to my readers, respond, let them know I appreciate them reading, interact, engage. As a reader, I have stopped reading, stopped following, stopped subscribing to newsletters, etc due to the auto response. I had an author (selling books abt building a media platform - of all things) send out a form email with "Enter Name Here" still in the email. Ick!

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