It’s been quiet here for a bit, but we’re back, and we’re kicking off a new series on building a reader group on Facebook. An author messaged me and asked me for tips and advice on how to set up a reader group on FB, and rather than giving them one-on-one tips, I figured I’d write out my thoughts here so everyone can profit from them.
Let me start with a little caveat. 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 my genre (gay romance) may not have any effect at all in other genres. 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’m someone who genuinely enjoys social media, so hanging out on FB is not a chore for me. Aside from that, I’m extravert, so that makes it easier as well.
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. The closed group matters. You don’t want everyone to be able to join without any kind of precautions or check. My advice is to set up at least one question they have to answer so you can weed out the weirdos. Because trust me, there are a TON of weirdos out there. God knows why they think joining random groups to troll is fun, but there you have it. Your group doesn’t need to be secret. In fact, I recommend against that because otherwise, readers won’t be able to find you unless they get a direct invite.
I’m not gonna explain how to set one up. You can easily google that. FB changes details too frequently to include all of that because what I write now may be outdated in four weeks. Welcome to FB…sigh. One tip: do pay attention to your group’s settings, especially the type of group, custom link, and whether you want post approval on. It’s also 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 (be smart and don’t; FB has been on a crusade lately against risky content…), can readers post as well, do you allow promo posts from other authors, etc. These are all things to consider, and it helps to make them clear from the start to avoid confusion.
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 my genre have discovered the same thing: in MM romance, reader groups work very well. But we’re not the only genre where they work. I know several MF romance authors with successful groups as well, and I’m sure it would work in other genres. I just can’t speak about those from experience.
I started my reader group in September of 2017, about six weeks or so before I published my first book. We’re now three-and-a-half years further, and I’ve managed to grow my group to 4400 people. That didn’t come easily. Running a successful reader group is work and above all, it relies heavily on consistency. More about that later.
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. I’d recommend you take an honest look at yourself. If social media drains you, this may not be the most effective marketing strategy for you, and you may be better off focusing on something else.
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. I used to belong to a crap ton of promo groups on FB that had thousands and thousands of members, sometimes over 10k. But all people did was post promo and posts got no engagement at all. That’s a useless group and a waste of time.
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. 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’s my 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’ve only recently started to make a habit of posting at least one promo post 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
As I said before, I started my reader group before my first book was even published. 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.
OK, we’ll continue this conversation next time. In the meantime, feel free to join my reader group to see how I do it, even if you’re not my reader 🙂 Just make sure to mention in the questions I ask that you’re joining to see how I run my group, otherwise my admins may not let you in. I’m pretty strict on keeping trolls out…
If you have any questions for me, hit me up in the comments!