Readers wander away.
There’s so much new and shiny stuff out there. There are new word confections to smell and taste, luring readers away from The Magic That is You. Let’s talk about reader attrition and how to combat it because keeping an old reader, fan, friend, client or spouse is easier (and less expensive) than gaining a new one.
I used to listen to all of the Smodcast podcast network religiously. Then I wandered away to get lost in the labyrinth of choice. I subscribe to more than 100 podcasts. Smodcast had some funny stuff, but I’m more into news and politics as the world blows up in slow motion, so I moved on to the plethora.
Almost everybody moves on.
Audiences are fluid. In my first book on writing and publishing, I said ten percent of people love you no matter what you do and ten percent hate you no matter what you do. The remaining eighty percent are consumers who may enjoy what you offer them, but they aren’t committing to the long haul. The passengers you have on the Crazy Train now won’t be aboard at the last station.
This week I went through boxes of files looking up addresses of former clients for my new business venture. It felt like cavorting in the Huge Catalogue of My Carnival of Past Failures. I had names in there I didn’t recognize. There were a bunch of clients I saw, once, years ago. Another group saw me a few times and they felt that was plenty. People move, lose jobs, get new ones, divorce, move again, remarry, forget about us and die. I probably pushed a few away by not nodding on cue, too. I’m lousy at that. I wonder how many of those addresses aren’t dead and stale?
In the end, I came up with a minute mailing list of hardcore fans and a few fringe possibilities. Twenty years in the business and to count the letters I’m sending out? You could count them all on your fingers and toes…but not all your toes.
Nurture the readers who think of themselves as fans.
The people who dig what you do? We all dig them back. Fans are awesome. They’re helpful and they’re motivated to leave reviews and they get us. Engage them. And why wouldn’t you? They’re fun and they know where you’re coming from so you have lots to talk about.
Fans are the people who are most like you. Our minds connect.
Be tolerant of people who don’t get you.
You can even welcome these folks because most of them don’t hate you.* These people can change their minds. They might take you or they might leave you. They aren’t invested in you, but they might buy what you’re selling.
They won’t change their minds because they hate everything. Hate is all they have and most of them can’t even be funny about it because they’re serotonin-disenfranchised. Haters are in no one’s demographic and they’re already cursed enough. They’re unhappy and it’s not really about you. The poor things can’t seem to enjoy anything. Move on quickly and don’t let them get any of their default setting on you.
Own a genre
If I had to do it all again, I’d focus on one genre and write only that. That’s not how my mind works, but that’s my problem. I’d also write series exclusively. Preferably I’d set out to claim a beachhead in a big, well-read genre. (Read: Hardboiled with jokes wasn’t a big enough genre.)
When you get lost in the woods, experts tell you to stay in one spot so you can be found. Same with literature. Moving targets, unless you’re Isaac Asimov forty years ago, are harder to find.
Go out of your way to find new readers and maybe even fans.
Facebook is the place to nurture community. Twitter is the place to find new people, discover new things and begin conversations. LinkedIn is where you go for people to talk at each other and say how everyone’s doing everything wrong in order to impress potential employers. (Sorry. That was my experience.)
Bookbub is hot. Author Marketing Club is hot. Publicists with small lists or lists that are too general and unsegmented** are cold.
Write more quality books.
With each book, we get better. We refine our style and process. Write more. Be better. Build a bigger fire so the rescuers can find you.
Be different enough that you stand out.
People love identifiable genres that challenge expectations. Everyone loves “same thing only different.” It makes them comfortable, and you discoverable, without boring them. I’ve already said enough about this in previous posts, and this post is too long, so…
Go where readers are.
Writers are excited to meet with other writers. Meeting readers often freaks us out. Feel the fear and poop your pants anyway. It’ll make a great story. Do signings, readings, conventions (for readers) and get a business card with your hottest book cover on it. Everyone has hot and cold runs. Make sure readers get a chance to remember you at the top of the hill so you have some inertia to get up the next hill.
Be honest, but be nice. Be a person.
From the I-shouldn’t-have-to-say-this Department: Jerks around the world try to justify the jerkiness with, “I’m just being honest.” Probably a lie. Chances are, they’re just being mean to make themselves feel better.
A blogger I’ve followed a long time lost me today. I detected a mean tone in something they wrote that didn’t sit right and gave me indigestion. It didn’t sound like they were trying to be helpful and the smart and funny didn’t outweigh the nastiness. I need more positivity in my life. I’m a bit low on serotonin, too. Goodbye, blogger.
You’re supposed to lose some readers.
The only thing you can depend on is Change. As you progress as an artist, a bunch who did like you won’t be along for the whole trip. Maybe you switched to a genre they don’t read. Maybe they’re the sort of people who prefer bands “before they sell out.” (Read: “…before they become popular” or “before they repeat themselves too much.”) Maybe they only love underdogs or you squeaked out too much happiness when your book took off and now they feel resentment. Maybe they outgrew you or vice versa. Perhaps we aren’t so awesome after all and don’t deserve them. Not every book is going to be a home run and that’s where some readers will step off.
I lost a reader recently who loved Season One of This Plague of Days but didn’t like where Season Two took them. I’m helpless in this regard. I followed where the Art took me and Season Two is markedly different in some aspects. However, for the characters and story to evolve and do things and go places, I had to use different gas in the narrative engine. I promised something different from the usual zombie apocalypse and I’m delivering. Most people dig it. However, it pains me most to lose a reader who loved the first iteration but was less enthused about the next. It saddens me they won’t see the big payoffs on the way in Season Three.
I’m the literary engineer and the conductor, but I’m also a passenger on the Crazy Train. I go where the train takes me to the end of the line. I wonder how many fellow passengers I’ll have at the last stop?
This is why we all need those fans to nurture us in return.
People will buy your stories or not, but most readers will never say a word to you. As a writer working alone, driving the train through the night? It’s lonely work. We go through long, black tunnels between books. In the dark, every engineer looks back into the quiet train and wonders, Is anyone really still back there?
*Note: It’s not you, the writer, who should be hated. It’s a book, not genocide, though some people come on so strong in their negative reviews, you’d think babies were being slaughtered with each chapter.
It is legitimate to dislike a book, of course. But readers don’t generally distinguish a book from its author. Neither do authors. When we see a bad review, we don’t think, Oh, they didn’t like that book. We think, She hates me. She probably does. A lot of people are that harsh, for one thing. Also, since your book is a product of your mind, so naturally we identify with our work.
**Unsegmented refers to mailing lists where the subscriber doesn’t identify which genres they’re interested in hearing about. Send your romance sample out to everyone and a bunch of readers will grab it and dislike it because they signed up for steampunk and wouldn’t read a romance with a gun to their head.
~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I write a bunch of stuff that’s funny and suspenseful and strange. I’d tell you more, but I have to dash off to be ignored and invisible in a totally different field. See my books here. Buy them, even. Thanks.