Growing Your Audience

Can We Talk?

In the grand scheme of things, publishing a book or creating a blog site is not that difficult if you have something to say and have either the skills to turn a manuscript into a book (or blog) OR someone who can help you do that. On the other hand, reaching a large group of people and convincing them to read your content (book, blog, etc.) is another matter. To put it succinctly, publishing is easy, marketing is hard.

Still, if you believe the Lord has given you a message, then you want to do both… You want to get your message into a form that can be distributed (that’s publishing) and you want to get that message into as many hands as possible (that requires marketing). So don’t let the challenge of marketing discourage you. Publishing and marketing have both become more accessible in recent years as the Internet and digital publishing have put both within reach of the “average bear.” But, first things first…

Do You Have Something to Say?

In the publishing world there’s an old saying that remains true… “Content is king.” That is, the MEANS by which a message is delivered and the MARKETING machinery behind sales is secondary to the MESSAGE (content). If you manage to sell a lot of books to a large audience but have nothing to say, then you’ve merely created a mass of disappointed customers. On the other hand, if your message is truly significant and helpful, then word will spread with little to no marketing. Content really is king. But, let’s assume you really do have something of value to say to people out there. There’s still another important question to answer…

What Do You Want to Accomplish?

Seriously. This is a question you need to answer. Generally speaking, there are three typical reasons that drive Christian authors to publish a book. 1) You have a message you believe God’s people need to hear. Period. 2) You want to sell lots of books so you can make a fair amount of money. Or 3) You’re driven by some combination of the first two.

I want to be quick to say that selling lots of copies and making lots of money is not a bad thing. Lots of copies means lots of people are hearing your message and making enough to cover your expenses, and possibly more, is a good thing. That said, you need to face a hard truth; few authors make enough money to do ONLY this. Let me encourage you to prepare yourself emotionally to be disappointed by the number of books you will sell. Then if you do better than expected, you’re happy!

So what is your goal? Some people are perfectly content to have a published book with their name on the cover. Want to impress a client? Hand them a book you’ve written. (Include your business card.) Need a great Christmas gift for friends and family? Want to beef up your resume? Want to give that sermon series a second life? These are all good reasons to publish a book. AND, they create reasonable expectations regarding sales. This is much better than hoping Good Morning America will be calling to interview you during your early retirement (funded by massive sales of your book). Please don’t hold your breath while waiting for this to happen.

Think Audience First, Sales Second

If you grow a loyal audience of people who love you and the things you have to say, they will buy your book(s). On the other hand, if someone buys your book because they’re convinced to do so by a slick marketing campaign, they may or may not become a loyal member who is anxiously awaiting your next book or blog post. Yes, building a loyal audience takes more time than a digital marketing campaign. BUT, an audience fosters influence and if you believe your message is from the Lord, then influence is really your endgame.

Further, a loyal audience is self-expanding. Loyal readers (your audience members) will tell others about your content. Few marketing efforts can match the value of a happy reader’s word-of-mouth endorsement. I’m not trying to dissuade you from doing marketing to sell copies of your book. I AM suggesting that building a long-term loyal audience is, in the long run, more valuable than a short-term marketing campaign. Perhaps you need to do both…

Start with Your Content

These days it’s pretty easy and pretty inexpensive to get your content out there through digital vehicles. If your content is good, then you’ll probably find it’s attracting readers on a regular basis. Social media platforms are typically free to start and are great to help you connect with potential readers. The main thing they require is discipline.

There’s another good reason to start with content. It will force you to discover whether you actually have something to say beyond a single rant about the state of the world or a disappointing politician or preacher. Thinking of starting a blog? Sit down first and map out 52 topics (one per week for a year). Many would-be bloggers discover they have nothing to say after the 3rd post. If you start with content, you may come to face reality before you invest money in a wasted (and embarrassing) venture.

Learn From Your Audience

As your audience grows, find ways to foster two-way communication. Encourage them to comment on posts, and don’t get angry when you don’t like what they have to say. If you can’t take criticism from your audience, you may want to avoid the publishing world altogether.

If you listen to your audience, you will be building a relationship with them. This is critical to their long-term loyalty. They need to feel they know you and like you. Genuinely listening to them and learning from them will help you gain their loyalty. (This is true in any relationship, by the way.) Unless they are in your congregation or classroom, you probably can’t see them and may not know more about them than an email address. Ask them questions. Are they male or female? How old are they? Where do they live? What interests them? What is their income level? Are they Christians? Church members? You can use online survey instruments to find out and the results will help shape your future content; and maybe even you.

Be Patient

Most authors will need time to build an audience. Be patient. If the Lord has genuinely given you a message, then it’s probably not “time-sensitive.” Great books, like any great work of art, tend to outlive the author. If you do it well, your audience will outlive you as well. If you’re not in this for the long haul, then publishing a book will merely frustrate you. On the other hand, growing an audience of people who love you and love your message can be among the most rewarding things you ever do. But most great endeavors take time. Be patient!

Do You Need Help?

Some authors can do it all. They can write great content, publish it, grow an audience, rinse and repeat. But many writers just want to write. The thought of managing a blog and multiple social media accounts is simply torturous. These writers need help so they can focus on writing and not on the demands of growing an audience. And that’s okay! The digital age has made it relatively easy to create the necessary publishing systems, so getting someone to help you isn’t that expensive.

These are the kinds of things we do to help aspiring authors. Just know that we’re not in the business of helping people get rich quick. We can help you determine whether you have something to say and what it is you want to accomplish. And, if you’re willing to be patient, we can help you grow an audience. If this sounds interesting to you, then please contact us and we’ll begin the conversation!