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Monday, November 7, 2011

Reaching your Readers Part 1

How does one reach one's readers and fans to tell them about a new book? I've been a full-time novelist for 12 years now, and this is one of the questions that most vexes me.

It's easy for readers to contact me. My email address is in all my books and on my website, and can be googled in an instant. I also have a huge, frequently updated website, two blogs, a very active Facebook fan page, a Twitter account, and presences in various other places on the net. But not many people do contact me.

How many?

Some years ago, when email was still king, I divided the number of books I'd sold (a million) by the number of different people who had emailed me about them (a little over 3,000). I was being contacted by roughly 1 individual for every 300 books sold. But many of my readers had bought lots of my books, so the real question was, what proportion of my readers were communicating with me?

For that matter, how many readers do I have? To work that out, I've used actual sales data from my royalty statements, plus some educated guesses, thus:

  • My biggest selling book, A Shadow on the Glass, has been published in 11 countries and has net sales of around 190,000 copies. But I've written a lot of other books, some of which appeal to different audiences where there's little crossover – my eco-thrillers, for instance, and my kids' books. 
  • Adding a proportion of these in, my best guess is that around 250,000 different people in the world have bought at least one of my books. 
  • To estimate the number of unique readers, I multiplied the above number by 2. I think that's probably conservative, since many people share books, some end up in second-hand bookshops, and I've a lot of books in libraries – more than 25,000 copies in Australia alone. 
  • That calculation gives me half a million readers, most of whom are in Australia, the UK, US, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa.

Dividing my email numbers into half a million readers, one reader out of every 170 has contacted me – 0.6%. But readers don't use email much any more – most contact comes via social media, for those writers who have a presence there.

I currently have 3,370 members of my Facebook fan page, That is, one in 150 of my readers has joined my page – 0.67%. Actually it would be less than that, since many people have fanned my page due to advertising targeted at fantasy readers. Using the Facebook ad creator and published data for various big-name authors' sales, I discovered that their figures are similar to mine – less than 1% of their estimated readers have expressed interest in them on Facebook.

My website,, gets more traffic than my Facebook page – so far this year it's had over 10,000 unique visitors. My blogs, Twitter and other sites on the net add more contacts. Even so, the total number of people who have visited one or more of my sites can't possibly be more than 15,000, ie 3% of my readers.

Even assuming that half of those 500,000 readers are no longer interested, it still leaves 250,000 – yet only 6% are seeking me or my sites out in a year. How do I contact the remaining 94% of my readers to tell them about my new book?

As far as I can tell, the only way for me to get through to them is:

  • By writing an absolute cracker of a book, one so good that they'll hear about it by word of mouth. 
  • Making sure that the first few pages grab them by the throat and don't let go.
  • Then, crafting a fantastic, engaging blurb.

But I'd be doing all that anyway, wouldn't I?

Thanks very much to all the people who answered my question on Facebook.

Part 2 of this post, which deals with reaching your fans, can be found here:

And Part 3, Reaching New Readers, here:

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