A Love Story

Before an author can find her readers, she must first find her story. She finds her story by asking herself, “What is the best story I can tell? What is so interesting to me that I cannot take my attention from it? What killer must I see brought to justice, or what woman must find love with what man?” The writer asks and answers these questions, and asks and answers these questions, until the story is told.

Now the author the needs an audience. She wrote this story to satisfy her own curiosity and then share what she found with others. The story is really not complete until someone else has read it, has filled in the blank spaces between the author’s brush strokes with their own imagination. So the author tweets about her story, blogs her story, Instagrams about her story, and travels from bookstore to bookstore talking about her story. By and by she discovers she has a readership.

And perhaps she does a little market research and asks those readers, “How did you find my story?” Some report stumbling over her book in a bookstore, others heard about it from a friend, still others from Facebook or Twitter or The New York Times. Yet all these answers are misleading. These answers say little more about how the reader really found a story than a wedding says about a marriage.

The way the reader really found the story was by asking, “What do I most want to read? What kind of story would be so interesting to me that I couldn’t put it down?” As she asks and answers this question, the reader by and by finds the story, and finishes in her own imagination what the author began in hers. The author-audience connection is in this way a love relationship, two strangers guided together by the single organizing principal of the universe.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find William at: williamkenower.com

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Target Audience

Here’s a book marketing story: Once upon a time there was a writer named Daniel James Brown who had written a book called The Boys in the Boat. It was his third book and his publisher was very excited about it. But how to market it? The usual bookstore appearances were scheduled, and while his launch in Seattle’s University Bookstore was fantastically attended (350+ people), his very next appearance at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC was not (6 people). Such is the hit-and-miss nature of these things.

So someone had a new idea. The book was about rowers. Well, actually, as any writer will tell you of his or her book, it was about more than that—it was about brotherhood, and teamwork, and the Nazis, and hope—but it was also about rowers. So Brown was sent to rowing houses to talk to young rowing enthusiasts. This is what is known as a “niche market.” Rowing, you see, used to be as popular as baseball. Not so much anymore.

The young rowers bought the book. They loved it. Then an interesting thing happened. Those rowers’ mothers read the book. They loved it too. So they shared it with their book groups. The book groups loved it. And since it was about young men and Nazis, these women shared it with their husbands. They also loved it. Now it became a great book to give to men as a gift, thereby solving many a Father’s Day and birthday quandary. The book, with its niche market, eventually reached #1 on the New York Times list. The end.

In marketing, we talk about our target audience. Ideally, our target audience is humanity. After all, we’re writing stories about other humans. But as Brown’s story illustrates, it is usually a good idea to begin with those humans who most resemble your story’s protagonists. It will be easiest for these people to see themselves in your story.

But if your story is about something universal, about love or forgiveness or charity or hope or courage, it may find its way to other humans who maybe do not resemble the story’s protagonist in form but are identical to them in spirit. There is no formula for achieving this kind of expanded readership other than to write the best book you could possibly write, to tell a story from that part of yourself that is deeper than your age, or your gender, or your history, or your family, or your race, that part of you most recognizable to everyone and perhaps also to yourself.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

How To Build A Fan Base

Let’s say you’ve just published your first book. You’ve posted about your pride and joy on Facebook and Twitter. You’ve booked some readings at mostly local and regional bookstores. Your first readings are attended by friends and family. A few of these people genuinely like your book because your shared aesthetic is part of what you drew you together. But how does it grow beyond that?

I have a group of friends that love science fiction. I am not such a huge science fiction fan myself, but I have observed how they share their love of this movie or that book. Sometimes one of my science fiction-loving friends will recommend a book or movie and the others will then buy it or see it. This is how your fan base will begin to grow beyond the small immediate group of readers, by word-of-mouth from friend to friend. People love to share what they love with the people they love.

Sometimes, however, my science fiction-loving friends will have all read the same book or seen the same movie and they will get into a long and heated and discussion about its merits. If the discussion goes on long enough I can’t help but to remember the title and how favorable their reviews were. And so, for instance, one night I was looking for something to watch with my son, and I remembered them all going on about a show called Firefly, and so we watched it. I would not have thought to try Firefly were it not for having been in proximity to my friends’ discussion.

This is how your fan base will expand further. People not immediately drawn to your work will have heard about it and heard about it and heard about it until they want to see for themselves what the fuss is about. And if enough of these people start reading your book, now it will be as if a crowd has gathered in a large public square, and complete strangers will happen by because crowds attract crowds.

All of this, however, begins with one person – you. Your job is to write the book as well and as clearly as possible. Your job is to make it a book you would buy and you would be thrilled to read. The rest of the work of fan base-building is actually done by other people, most of whom are complete strangers. You can’t do it yourself. The job is too big. While the world is busy selling your book, write the next one. All those strangers who are now your friends in letters are waiting for it.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

A Long Conversation

Let us say you are at a small party. You and five or six friends sit around a dinner table and pass an hour in conversation. One person tells a story that reminds another of a story that leads to a debate about taxes that leads to another story that leads to general speculation about the afterlife.

You are a storyteller. You are also thoughtful. You have an opinion about taxes and strong feelings about the afterlife. You enjoy telling stories and the experience of putting thoughts into words. How tempting, then, to tell a story simply to have your turn, because you feel like being on the stage for a time. How tempting to add your opinion so that you can work that language muscle you so enjoy working.

I have told stories from this place many times; I have added my opinion to the public opinion soup in just the same fashion. There is nothing wrong with this. I can tell a good story, and my opinion matters as much as anyone else’s. Yet I have had to admit that there is a difference between telling a story just because I feel like telling a story and telling a story because the moment seems to ask for that story, or offering an opinion because the moment seems to ask for that opinion. One feels like a pleasant exercise, the other a valuable contribution.

I have read many books that feel like a pleasant exercise for the author. There is nothing wrong with this. If you enjoy writing books, you probably do it well. But when I hear authors complaining about sales and building a wider readership, I find myself thinking about those stories I have told so that I could experience telling a story. Such stories end with the telling. The stories that felt asked for seem to live on a little longer, perhaps long enough for someone else to tell it.

I believe this is the very best way to build a readership. It’s not very practical, I understand, and it may mean sitting quietly for a longer time than we are used to sitting quietly. But readership grows by word of mouth, and the longer a story stays with your reader, the more likely she will tell a friend about it. The whole of human society is just one enormous, ongoing dinner conversation, after all. Let your stories point that conversation where it is truly asking to go.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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Being Heard

The volume of websites and blogs that now occupy the internet seems as vast intellectually as the infinity of space. I would understand if a writer looking to expand her readership opted against starting a blog with the reasoning that it would be no more meaningful than the discovery of a faint star in some distant galaxy.

But initially, at least for writers still seeking a regular venue for their work, a blog is a very good place to start, hits and visits aside. If you post it, they will come, whoever and however many They are. And even if They are only five people, you will have a readership, and the blog will be serving its purpose.

Yes, writers both new and established can use a blog to promote themselves, and that’s all to the good, but I feel the blog serves a greater purpose, especially, as I said, if you are not working regularly with a publisher. If you can develop the habit of publishing 400 words four or five times a week on your blog, you may begin to break down a certain self-consciousness or inhibition. Here is one of the best uses for what amounts to self-publishing. By writing regularly for an actual readership, the author must enter again and again that place where they can forget about “will someone want it?” and simply focus on what needs to be said. That is the goal, after all.

Writing is very much a conversation with yourself, at least to start. You must find within your life and imagination that which interests you most. But the translation of these interesting ideas to words on a page that are understandable by another human being is the gift of writing, both for the reader and the writer. What drew you to an idea preceded the language you would use to share it.

It is impossible to know who in the world will understand or appreciate how and what you choose to share, but I do believe it is possible to know the difference between wanting to share and merely wanting to be heard. If you publish yourself often enough, you can get over the need to be heard and move on to the higher and more satisfying calling of offering something useful to someone besides yourself.

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