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The Care and Feeding of Readers

By Suzanne Woods Fisher

A few months ago, I was tracking the traffic numbers on the Amish Wisdom blog and noticed a significant spike during the course of one week. An interview with a well known, bestselling author had been featured. Naturally, I assumed that interview was the cause for so many hits. But then I looked a little closer and discovered that the high traffic day turned out to be an author who was not well known. I skimmed through the comments and realized this author had taken the time to answer every single comment with a thoughtful response. In a word, or two…she provided excellent reader care.

What exactly is reader care? Years ago, reader care might have meant that a book met a reader’s expectation: well-written, unpredictable, engaging. But social media has created a whole new paradigm for the reader/author relationship-and that’s what it’s all about today: a personal relationship.

Today, readers can easily find authors. They’re accessible to readers through their websites, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads and Pinterest. “That bond is there are soon as the reader begins turning the pages of a book,” Caitlin Wilson of Litfuse Publicity Group said, “but when an author takes the time to interact with a reader and build relationships, that’s when the bond becomes personal.”

Christy Award winner DiAnn Mills considers reader care to be an essential part of her writing ministry. “Offering contests,” she said, “including readers in naming characters (animals too), asking what they want to read in a DiAnn Mills’ book, sharing where I’ll be so I can give a hug and buy them a cup of coffee, a newsletter that is about them and not me, social media posts that are predominantly about them and not me, and any other way I can serve them.”

Sounds difficult? It doesn’t have to be. Reader care can be as simple as sending out a requested bookmark, or as involved as interacting on social media, setting up book signings, or speaking at events. Here are some suggestions from authors who are particularly good at reader care:

• Be responsive. Answer e-mails within 24-48 hours
• Offer book giveaways and contests on your blog
• Post regularly on social media sites to engage readers in conversation
• Send out regular e-newsletters
• Listen to your readers. Make them feel heard
• Throw in something extra. Bookmarks, nameplate, an extra book

So does reader care truly make a difference in book sales? Author Marta Perry has found it to be invaluable. Prior to the days of e-mail, early in her writing career, Perry took the time to answer each fan letter. “Another writer told me that I was foolish to send a reply to fan letters” Perry said, “because I spent as much on the envelope and stamp as I would have earned in royalties on the sale of that one book. Mathematically that might have been true, but many of those people have turned into loyal readers who come back for every book and who share their enthusiasm with other people, so I think it’s been well worth the cost of a stamp.”

Carol Award winner Dan Walsh believes that reader care is part of an author’s responsibility. “It may be hard to track the results back to any specific benefit (like a ‘return on my investment’),” Wash said. “But I think the Lord calls us to be servants at heart, like He was. We should seek to cultivate the opposite of ‘an elitist’ attitude with people.”

Litfuse Group publicist Caitlin Wilson thinks that reader care helps an author stay relevant. So let’s flip that thought around. When an author is indifferent to readers, she thinks it might be a sign that he is losing his edge. “When an author stops caring for and about their readers,” Wilson said, “the author begins to lose touch with his or her roots.”

Reader care is all about making a reader feel appreciated. Satisfied. And happy. Happy enough to recommend your book to others-who may try it for themselves and, in turn, become loyal fans. It’s all about bringing a reader back.

SuzanneWoods FisherSuzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of fiction and non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish for Revell Books and host of the radio-show-turned-blog Amish Wisdom. To Suzanne’s way of thinking, you just can’t life too seriously when a puppy is tearing through your house with someone’s underwear in its mouth. You can find Suzanne at www.suzannewoodsfisher.com or www.facebook.com/SuzanneWoodsFisherAuthor.

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4 Responses to The Care and Feeding of Readers

  1. Great post and so true, Suzanne! If you don’t care enough to spend a little time with your readers, which would they want to spend a lot of time with your books? I agree with Caitlin, also–that indifference is the sign of a slippery slope up ahead. Thanks for the column!

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  3. Faith Posten says:

    I definitely think that you are looking at it the correct way. If an author doesn’t know what moves the heart of his/her readers; how can they continue to write something that is truly relevant for the reader? How will the author know that the message intended is actually the message/story that the reader received? Just my immedite thoughts on the subject. Personally I enjoy stories that deal with the issues of these times part of the time. But other times I want to be transported away on an adventure quite different than the world where I live. (Not meaning Sci-Fi here at all.)

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