The first responsibility any author has to their readers is obvious: write and publish a great book. That means it should be well written and if you’re an indie author it should be professionally packaged (i.e. good cover, compelling blurb and have been through a proper copy-edit).
The second responsibility an indie author has to their readers is to engage with them. Engagement means striking up two-way conversations with readers and potential readers. It means making themselves easily contactable. It means being personable. It means initiating dialogue in the first place. It means using social media properly, whether you like it or not. It means giving more of yourself to your readers than you might be naturally comfortable with.
Many readers who have invested eight hours or more in reading an indie author’s novel have expectations that are different to the expectations they might have of an author represented by a publishing house. Many expect to interact with the author via email, Twitter or other forms of social media. They expect to be replied to as an individual. They expect to be kept up-to-date. They expect to be informed as to what goes on behind the scenes in the author’s life as a writer. The expect the personal touch.
Readers know that traditionally published authors often hide behind their publishing houses and literary agents. The contact details of these authors are usually brokered via someone else. Management of the author’s website and Facebook page may be delegated to a lackey in the publishing house’s marketing department. At best there will be a Twitter account that may actually be the real author, which will be obvious if the tweets are conversational and not promotional. Readers are fully aware that personal interactivity with traditionally published authors is minimal and rare.
Of course, there are many, many exceptions. And those traditionally published authors that engage personally with their readers form incredibly long-lasting relationships. Such relationships will survive most things: overly-critical critics, poor reviews, genre changes, a year or two off, key characters being killed off or even supposedly dead characters being brought back again.
Authors can have a major impact on their readers lives by engaging with them. Let me give you an example of one such reader.
As a child, I was completely enamoured with the Lone Pine series of books written by the late Malcolm Saville, about the adventures of a group of post-wartime children, mostly set in Shropshire or Kent. I was so taken that I felt compelled to write to the author. I’ve no idea what I wrote, but the publishing house must have forwarded it to Mr Saville who took the time to write a short letter back to me, in his own handwriting using a fountain pen. Here is the letter, one of the very few things I have kept from my own childhood. That’s how much it meant to me.
Mr Saville engaged with me, one of his many readers, with a personal touch. Obviously, this was long before social media and email. But even back then, it was common knowledge that publishing houses often replied to readers’ letters (especially from children) using pre-signed stock letters pretending to be from the author. Mr Saville chose the more personal approach and created a relationship with me that lasted right through all twenty Lone Pine books and many of the other seventy books he wrote before his death in 1982.
In this day and age, it’s easier and quicker for authors to engage with readers. The most successful authors apply the personal touch in all their interactions with their readership. For indie authors, engagement with readers is mandatory for long-term success. For traditionally published authors engagement is clearly optional, perhaps delegating the responsibility to the publishing house marketing department for maintaining readership top-of-mind. However, if Malcolm Saville is anything to go by, personally engaging with readers is highly recommended whatever type of author your are.
Long before social media, children’s author, Malcolm Saville, set the standard for reader engagement. Click to tweet.
Great blog post about the Indie authors second-most responsibility being to engage with readers. Click to tweet.
Why indie authors have a greater responsibility to their readers than traditionally published authors. Click to tweet.