Readers read for a variety of reasons. Some read to study and learn; others read to escape; many simply read as a main form of entertainment, turning to a book just as others might turn on the TV or start up a video game, and many more people are a mix of all of these and more.
What all these readers have in common, however, is their desire to get something out of reading.
This “something” can be, again, as simple as an entertaining to pass the time, to learn something, to stay on trend, or even to just stave off boredom. No matter why your reader reads, its universally true that they gain something from it – and you, as the author, should be tapped into what that is.
The value of a reading experience is often associated with the positive – but you can gain valuable experience from a bad time, too. If a reader reads a book they don’t like, they now know more about their expanding personal taste. If they love the book, great! Again, they’ve learned something about themselves. But what does this have to do with you, the author?
Writing for yourself is often how writers start out; and as a career author, you may have had to learn how to balance writing for yourself while also writing to cater to your readers’ interests. Thankfully, you can both get something out of this author-reader relationship wherein neither of you have to drastically change your reading and writing styles.
Here are our tips on how learning more about what your readers want can help to continue your success as a self-published author!
Read reviews – we get it; reading reviews can be daunting and disheartening (especially when they are negative or not what you were expecting). But reviews can be a great place to learn from your readers. If there is something they loved, make note of that. If something upset them, confused them, or otherwise made them question the story, make note of that, too. Of course, everything is subjective – your novel will never universally be loved, and that’s okay. That shouldn’t be the goal here. The aim of reading reviews is to make a mental catalogue of what works and what doesn’t for those who have read your books. You can choose to take these notes to heart or to dismiss them at your discretion. Ultimately, however, you can and will learn something from reading reviews.
Review comments – do you have a social media following that eagerly comments on any photo or video you post featuring mention of one of your titles? Review those comments and see what your readers have to say. Like reviews, these can help you create a very useful mental catalogue of what is going over well vs. what isn’t. Again, remember subjectivity – just because someone doesn’t like your cover or title doesn’t mean that no one likes it.
Host reader polls – use your Facebook or Instagram accounts to your advantage – host a poll! It can be about anything; your characters, cover design, release schedule, events, whatever! The point is to engage your readers and have them give you more insight into what they are looking for, and there is no better way to do that then with a healthy helping of data. When put into percentages or tallies on a poll, this information can be easier to digest and implement than sifting through dozens of comments and making note of the opinions shared in written form.
Offer a Q&A or AMA session – this is a fun one; host a Q&A online or send out a note in your newsletter that you are accepting questions for a filmed AMA session or written FAQ post. Find what questions get asked by multiple readers, multiple times, and be sure to prioritize those.
Okay, so you have all this data and a wealth of information regarding what your readers want. So what do you do with it?
Listen. Reflect. Repeat.
That’s it. Take it all in, reflect on it, and then do it again. And one more time.
Make sure you are open to learning more when your readers have something to say. Part of the joy of being an author comes from the community and engaging in conversation. Remember: everything that is written is in conversation with something else, sometimes even something as simple as a one-sentence note from an avid reader! Enjoy having those conversations, and as always, happy writing.