How to build your audience by asking people to read

Today’s post was inspired by our decision to make Invitation Links, previous a BetaBooks Pro feature, available to everyone on the site. If you’d like to know more about that you can read the announcement here.

We get a lot of questions from new authors about how to invite people to read their book, and we thought it would be a good idea to provide a walkthrough with the "hows" and "whys" we've learned over the last two years.

Getting Started

Before you invite people to read you need to figure out your pitch.

Ask yourself, “What is the one or two sentence pitch that would intrigue people who follow me online?” Then post it. Don’t agonize over it or take too long to think about, just come up with a pitch and try it out. If it doesn’t work, try again. This is invaluable practice in figuring out what your audience wants, and the most successful authors use this decide what to write in the first place.

Once you have your pitch figured out, head for your social networks. Whether it's your Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., the goal is to ask your followers to read, and potentially to ask on broader channels where you think that fans of your genre will be hanging out.

It's easier and better to pitch to people who are already following you. If you're not sure what to write, you can try something like this:

“You like my short form content and who I am online. I’ve written a (genre) book, and I’m looking for genre fans to test it out on. I want to make something great for (audience), I’d love your help. All you have to do is read and tell me what you think. If you’re up for it, you can sign up here (your link).”

If you're pitching to an audience that doesn't follow you yet, your content is key. Here's what that might look like:

"Hello! I'm working on a (genre) book and I'm looking for beta readers to help me make it great. Here's the pitch: (your pitch here). Willing to read? Here's the link: (your link)."

It doesn't have to be anything too fancy, just be earnest and honest and chances are you'll find some people who are willing to help. That said, you probably won't have immediate success. Be persistent, and try different variations of your pitch and see if anything gets a better response.

Managing Expectations

It's important that you go into a beta with realistic expectations so you get the most value out of it and don't get discouraged.

Depending on the channel and how many people are already following you, you may have as high as 20% of people accept your invitation, or as low as 1-2%. Don’t be shy, keep working to get readers in, this is the first step of audience building that will power your sales and your career down the road.

From there you’ll find that the most important thing is the quality of your work. In general, people will not tell you if it sucks. They will just quit reading and say nothing.

This will drive you crazy but it’s actually good manners -- if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

The most important thing you can do is take the hint. Don't be precious with your work, think about what fans of the genre are looking for and make the changes you need to make it work. Take the bits of feedback you did get and extrapolate to understand how people are perceiving it.

For your first few books, chances are your writing and storytelling aren't that good. That's normal! Learn from the experience and start a new book. The more books you write the better you'll get at this.

So the first thing you have to do is work on your writing until it’s good enough that people actually read through to the end.

Finding Your Fans

To some extent this "rinse and repeat" cycle applies to finding your core fans as well. As your writing improves and more readers get interested, you'll have new problems sorting out the best readers from the rest.

Sometimes you’ll get a reader in the door who says “I like fantasy,” but it turns out they only really like werewolf romance stories and they’re not interested in your epic fantasy adventure novel. Don't stress over this, just kick that reader out and keep recruiting new ones until you’ve found fans who want what you're writing.

Remember though, you also have to be willing to fit your story to what the audience wants if you want to have an audience at all. If you say that you’re writing a werewolf romance and everyone who signs up to read says they love werewolf romances -- but your story doesn’t have many werewolves or much romance in it -- that’s on you! Listen to the readers and give them what they want. They’ll love you for it!

As you go through this process of learning who your fans are and leaning in to what they want, you'll reach a point where you’ve got a core group of readers actually making it all the way through your book.

More Fans, More Problems

When you've reached the point that you're sharing polished, near-finished works, with readers in-genre, you should see 60-80% of readers finish your book. The numbers should creep up toward the high end of that range as you work with the same people and build your relationship with them.

Throughout the whole process you need to pay attention to who signs up and whether they are reading. You will get people who sign up and do not read, and there’s no reason to keep them around. Kick them out and invite different people.

You are also going to get people who are just looking for free books. It’s valuable to notice that they read through the whole book, but you are looking for beta readers to make your book better by giving you good feedback. You should kick these people out as well - just add them to your newsletter and send them links to buy your books when they come out.

Always keep an eye on who is in your beta group and if they are the type of people you want around long term as you grow into a great author. This is your inner sanctum of supporters, so make it an exclusive club and take good care of the people who buy in to it.

For more detail on how to cultivate that rabid fan base and what it can do for your sales, check out our podcast with KT Strange (and listen to how she used this strategy to go from 30 to 30,000 copies sold).

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That's it for now, I hope this has been helpful for you! If you have any questions or comments please feel free to shoot me an email.

PS. If you're not familiar with it already, BetaBooks is the software Paul and I built specifically to manage the whole process outlined above. Check it out here.

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