Readership comes after publishing…right?
As writers, we all sit around occasionally daydreaming about the big day our book becomes famous and we’re getting cramps in our hands from signing so many hard copies for fans. Who am I kidding? It’s way more often than “occasionally”.
We often picture publishing as the moment when our book hits the shelf and the world will finally hear our story.
But I’m telling you that it is not wise to wait until publishing to build readership.
In fact, having readers and receiving feedback BEFORE your book even goes through final edits or is pitched to agents is not only wise, it’s absolutely VITAL.
Readership as a must-
There are several reasons for this. For one, you want to know if people think your book is even good or not. It sounds harsh, but no matter how much you love your little book baby, it won’t sell unless other people love it too.
Not to mention, enthusiastic responses to your work will go very far to encourage you to keep trying when pitches aren’t going well. Or when you’re unsure how to proceed with your writing dream.
But be prepared-
On the flip side, mixed feedback (or even negative remarks) can quickly make you question everything. This is okay and doesn’t automatically mean you’re not cut out for it. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to evaluate your manuscript. Take reader reflections into account and use them to make your writing better and more likely to be picked up by a publisher.
It stings if your initial readers don’t sing your praises. But their warnings will save you from having to hear bad news from more professional lips (which let’s face it, kills our soul a little each time).
Use feedback to your advantage-
Along those same lines, early readership is an asset for your edits. It’s an opportunity to pick reader brains, whether by review, survey, or detailed conversation, to find out what works. This tells you if a certain character is developed enough, if the plot is engaging and climatic, if the tone is right for the story, etc.
All the little bits you struggled through or remain unsure of, you can get feedback on. Edits come about far more smoothly when you have a collection of reactions to guide you through and a group of readers whom you can consult when it’s still not clicking.
Early readers also become your followers-
Early readership is also key to building a community that drives and informs your marketing and media presence. Reviews and feedback give you specific insight as to what strikes readers most about your story, what they can’t get enough of, and what they would like to see happen in future books.
This is the information that creates your advertising and pitches, a map that leads right to the heart of what will draw others to your work. Look for common themes and excitement among your feedback and use that as a billboard to advertise you and your book across all your media. Ask permission to even direct quote great reviews in order to show others that your popularity is genuine and your story is worth checking out.
And followers become fans-
Having fans raving prior to publication ensures that people will be waiting to buy your book when it finally comes out. A release without an audience falls flat and takes far longer to gain momentum in sales.
Like it or not, agents are far more interested in a writer that already has a readership. To them, readership is insurance. It’s a promise that your book release will be successful.
Not to mention, surrounding yourself with a crowd that knows your stuff and can’t wait for more may turn out to be your only salvation on days when you’re discouraged or hitting a writing block. They’re a great resource for encouragement and problem solving.
So pick their brains and make them feel like they’re playing a part in the making of the story too! Advertise that such help will earn them a mention in your book’s acknowledgements section and/or a free copy once published. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can build a team that is eager to help, completely for free.
So go find your readers-
Now that I’ve shown you how early readership is a vital part of the writing process, let me mention some ways in which you can find said readers.
You can ask family and friends.
I like this one because you can harass them day and night about it and cry angsty tears over difficult chapters without any shame.
The major drawback here is that close friends, particularly family, tend to be a little less honest, or at least less brutal and forward with it. It’s really sweet when mom says you’re going to be the best author the world has ever seen, but that doesn’t actually help you any when you know a section needs work.
You can ask your social media.
I have found the best readers are to be found in your media followers, especially on media where you already talk about your work in progress, such as your blog and Twitter. (If you’re not talking about your writing on a blog or Twitter, you should be, no excuses.)
No matter how unimportant or non famous you feel, complete strangers will take you seriously and get excited when they see the words “author, need early readers, help shape the story, be honored with mention” etc. It’s not about feeling legit, it’s about acting legit which is the first step to actually BEING legit. So, ask around!
Join a writer group.
A writing group can be such a valuable help when looking for peer readers. It can take some time to find your tribe. Don’t give up! Try different groups online or in your local community until you find one that clicks and meets your needs.
Think outside the box-
Another option that may require a little more effort would be to check out your local college or university to see if they’d let you present your story and reading needs to the English classes they offer.
English majors are always dying to get their feet wet in the publishing industry and advertising your beta reader needs on a campus announcement board could get you some quick response.
Immerse yourself in your immediate community and advertise your needs at local libraries and bookstores. Having readers you can actually meet in person adds a whole new level of enthusiasm and productivity and establishes you as a writer within your own town.
Don’t forget me!-
I’m always happy to help promote writer needs on my own social media. Please feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or a DM @jaime_dill and let me know about you and your work! I will be happy to give a shout out to you on Twitter to help you find the readers you’re looking for.
I hope this article helps encourage you to find your own circle of writer friends who can help you when you need eyes on a script. Be brave! Embrace help. And enjoy reading.