Building a Reader Group on Facebook (1)

This week and next week, I want to talk about building a reader group on Facebook. But before we go into that, I need to reiterate something I said when I started this series on Writer Wednesday topics. I write this series specifically for authors in the gay romance genre.

Now, there are topics I’ve covered where it doesn’t make much of a difference what genre you write in. But author branding, PR and marketing, and social media are topics where it does matter. Strategies that work super well in gay romance don’t have any effect at all in MF romance and vice versa. That is definitely something to keep in mind when you read this article. Also, I’m speaking from my own personal experience, and what works for me, doesn’t necessarily work for anyone else.

I hate to make all these disclaimers, but the truth and reality is that branding and marketing are super subjective and personal. Sure, some of it is absolutely applicable to other genres or other authors, but other things simply don’t work when taken elsewhere. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s dig in.

What is a Reader Group?

When I talk about a reader group, this is what I’m referring to: a closed group on Facebook, managed by the author, aimed at attracting readers primarily. My reader group also has a whole bunch of other MM authors, but they are not my primary intended audience.

Why Would You Start a Reader Group?

For me, my reader group has turned out to be one of the best marketing methods I have, if not the best. It not only allows me to build a relationship with readers and potential readers, but it also allows me to gently promote my books, my brand, and anything having to do with my author business. Other authors in the genre have discovered the same thing: in MM romance, reader groups work very well.

I will admit that your personality plays an important role here as well. I am by nature a relational person and I love connecting with people, both online and in real life. That makes it easy for me to successfully build a reader group, because I actually love the process. I just wanted to mention that, because I think it does play an important role in how effective this approach is for people. If you are super introverted or socially reluctant, you may find it harder to use this strategy.

Relational Marketing

This is where it gets a little tricky, because not all reader groups are created equal. There are some super big Facebook groups that despite having thousands of members, are not very active. That’s because numbers don’t mean anything here. Well, they mean something, because obviously, a reader group with fifty people in it is not as effective as one with fifteen hundred, but if those fifteen hundred are all inactive, it won’t help you.

For reader groups to be effective, they have to be embedded into your whole branding and marketing as an author. And they best fit into a type of marketing that is called relational marketing. Relational marketing means that you don’t focus primarily on making sales, but on building a relationship with the customer, in our case the readers.

Let’s illustrate this with an easy example. Most of us MM authors and readers belong to several promo groups for gay romance. These are not aimed at building relationships, but at selling books. The result is a sheer endless stream of promotional posts with very little interaction.

In contrast, in my reader group, I don’t even promote my books on a daily basis. I may mention them or talk about a book that I am working on, but it is in a far more conversational style. Of course, during new releases I do promote my books, but it is not the main focus of the group.

Relational marketing doesn’t only apply to reader groups. It is for me the whole approach to my author branding and marketing in general, no matter what social media I am on. If you look at my twitter, for instance, you’ll see that I don’t even post many promotional posts in the first place. I don’t think I even post one a day.

Relational marketing has to be a deliberate choice for an author to make. The interesting thing is that it’s an approach that fits authors very well, because most of us hate self-promoting and we suck at selling books. With this type of marketing, the focus is on building a relationship and while some of us may still find that intimidating, it’s usually a little easier to do that than to convince people of how great your book is.

When to Start a Reader Group

I started my reader group before my first book was even published. I think it was about seven or eight weeks before, actually. I think as soon as you have concrete plans in place to release your first book, you are ready for a reader group. Personally, I wouldn’t start one if I were still in the stages of writing it, since you may find it hard to build momentum when you don’t have much to show yet. Once you have a release date in place, it becomes easier because you have something to work toward.

But even if you’ve already published several novels, it’s never too late to start a reader group. I’ve known authors who didn’t start one until they had over ten books out, and even then, it still makes sense.

A little off topic, but it’s important to have clear rules and guidelines in place from the start. This isn’t so much to police anyone as to manage expectations of what type of group you are running. Do you allow risky pictures for instance, can readers post as well, do you allow posts from other authors, etc. These are all things to consider and it helps to make them clear from the start to avoid confusion.

Okay, this was the first part of two posts on how to build a reader group on Facebook. The next post will go up next Wednesday. In the meantime, hit me with your questions and comments!

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