Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Do you know how many people use the internet?
Around three billion as of January 2015.
Three billion people that could potentially be reading your book.
The problem, though, is finding the right audience.
Sometimes trying to advertise your book online can end up feeling like digging for gold. You know there’s gold out there somewhere, but actually getting to it can be tricky. You can go weeks without finding a single nugget, and then suddenly and unexpectedly crack open a rich vein full of pure, shining yellow.
While this may be exciting, once you’ve used up this particular pocket, you’re back to square one.
Finding readers online is not challenging because there’s a lack of a potential audience. The problem is that your readers are hidden amongst millions of internet users.
Luckily, gold isn’t scattered throughout the internet completely at random. Internet users who like the same types of stories gravitate towards each other. Through a little careful planning and some patience, you can use existing online communities to find your own personal readership goldmine.
To properly do justice to the subject of online communities, we need to start with Reddit, the big daddy of online communities.
Referred to by many as the ‘front page of the internet’, Reddit is an enormous online community that exists for its members to share interesting things with each other. Members will post links to other websites, pictures and topics for discussion.
While the site is used by millions of people every day, what makes Reddit a really useful tool for finding your future readers is that the site breaks down into categorized ‘subreddits’ – for example, there’s a subreddit specifically for books, one for self-published authors and one for the craft of writing.
In 2013, Alexis Ohanian, one of the founders of Reddit, used the service to promote a book that he’d written. He made a post on the site featuring an excerpt from his book, and invited feedback from the community.
Readers provided all kinds of comments, mostly positive but occasionally negative, as feedback on the excerpt. Alexis personally responded to many of these comments, either with witticisms or bits of trivia about his writing experience. While the effects of his engagement with Reddit are hard to measure, the book went on to become a Wall Street Journal Bestseller.
Reddit is just one online community – there are thousands more that exist throughout the internet. Facebook pages, web forums and other social media communities are dotted across cyberspace. Some communities are broad in their appeal, while others are geographically limited or apply to niche interest groups.
By getting involved in communities, you can help more readers discover your writing. What’s more you’ll meet interesting people and form friendships that will be immensely beneficial to your online marketing.
Getting the most out of online communities of any shape or size comes from finding the right interest groups. While it may be tempting to wade into the midst of a particularly large online community to promote yourself, you’ll often find that you get drowned out by the crowd.
The first step to finding readers is to find the right communities. Look for Facebook groups that are organized around the genre of your writing – groups centered on genres such as steampunk or crime already exist and are full of eager potential fans who are actively looking for stories just like yours.
In seeking out communities, relevance is far more important than size. Smaller communities online are always eager for new members, particularly ones who bring exciting and interesting material for the group to read.
An honorary mention ought to be made here to fan communities for existing franchises. If your novel is strongly inspired by the works of John Grisham, chances are high that other John Grisham fans will also be interested in your writing.
Engage, don’t sell
When you find a new and interesting community, while you may be eager to tell everyone about your novel, jumping in with an obvious advert is the worst thing you can do. Community members will recognize an attempt to sell them something and will shut you down before you get a chance to properly interact.
The best way to make an impact on communities is to properly get involved with them. Make comments, share opinions, interact with other members. Start by engaging with the community and then, when you do share links to your writing, they’ll be interpreted as a valued friend sharing something you’ve made, rather than marketing material you’re trying to cram down other users’ throats.
The best thing about getting involved in online groups and communities is that it’s mutually beneficial. Your readership will receive a boost, and you’ll also be able to make friends and develop contacts. At the same time, online communities gain a valuable new member and get the chance to enjoy your company, as well as reading more stories that they are keenly interested in.
When you engage well with relevant online communities and share your writing with them, everybody wins!
Are you already active in online communities? Do you find some media platforms better for this than others? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.