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How to Build a Community of Loyal Readers

The hard part isn’t reaching everyone – it’s reaching those people that are really going to be passionate about your book.


Mel I’d like to welcome Rachael Johns. Rachael, what do you think about the modern publishing industry, with its mix of indie and traditionally published authors?


Rachael    Readers care about story, and characters, and author voice. They don’t care whether it’s traditionally published or self-published. But a lot of readers tend to prefer one or the other, even if they don’t realise it. Some people read digitally, and they tend to discover the self-published books, but there’s also a lot of people who don’t read digitally, which makes it harder for them to discover indie authors. Both sides of the fence have something to share with each other. We can help each other by introducing our readers to both types of books.


Mel What about the Australian publishing industry in particular?


Rachael    Our stories can still be a hard sell overseas – unless you’re writing something like crime, or you’re Liane Moriarty. US and UK publishers are less likely to try an Australian author unless there’s some big, crazy hook, or the book follows a trend, like psychological thrillers. But indie publishing is showing that overseas readers are more than happy to engage with Australian authors and Australian settings.

Australian publishing is very encouraging to local authors, even more than it was six or seven years ago. I’d been writing for a long time before getting published. When I got picked up in 2012, it was still relatively hard to get published in Australia. The local mainstream publishers weren’t publishing romance. Then rural romance had a boom, and they cottoned on, “Ooh, people like reading about Australian settings, and people like romance, too.” Since then our local publishers have brought a lot more opportunities to Australian authors.


Previously people thought you couldn’t make a living just selling books in Australia. That’s definitely not the case anymore. There are some big-name authors, like Di Morrissey and Judy Nunn, who don’t sell their books overseas but have this massive readership in Australia. Yes, there’s a bigger market worldwide – but there’s also a market here that you can cultivate.


Social media means that we can interact with readers all the time and reach people in other countries. We’re a global nation now. That being said, there’s nothing like meeting your readers at book signings and events in Australia. It’s important to connect with your readers, and when you’re local it’s easy to connect with Australian readers. Sometimes we underestimate the value of meeting readers personally. Nothing is more important than word-of-mouth. Ultimately, it’s a balance of trying to spread yourselves overseas as well as in Australia – but you can’t write the Australian market off.


Mel     I see you do a lot of bookshop and library visits.


Rachael     Yes, there’s a combination of both. Libraries are amazing places to connect with readers, and librarians are so passionate, so they’re massive advocates with readers. We might not be selling our books in libraries, but people often discover new authors. I think we underestimate librarians and libraries. But, as I said, I do a combination of libraries and bookshop events, as well as events in weird and wacky places, like golf clubs. People are interested in books across all walks of life.


I wish that I could meet more and more readers. The problem is that you can never get to all the places people want you to be. If we did, we’d never have time to actually write books. That’s why Facebook and online communities are important – they give people the opportunity to connect with other readers and writers.


I’m in an online book club – we have over a thousand people in our community on Facebook. Every month we choose an Australian book to discuss, one that’s readily available in bookshops and libraries. That’s one of the benefits of social media – being able to connect with like-minded people.


I once went to a keynote with Julia Quinn and she says you can never hurt your own career by helping another writer with their publicity. That’s why these communities, and promoting other people’s books while you write your own, are important. Readers consume hundreds of books a year, and I can’t write that fast. If you’re promoting other people’s books, readers are seeing your name pop up and continuing to read, rather than, say, watching Netflix and disappearing before your next book comes out.


You think about how many books are out there, and it’s like, ‘Golly, why does anyone need my book?’ But the amount of readers out there is ten or twenty thousand times more. There’s still plenty of room. People read a lot, especially women, so there are plenty of opportunities. As Courtney Milan says, we don’t need to worry about whether there’s enough readers or too many books out there. We need to focus on finding our readers.


The hard part isn’t reaching everyone – it’s reaching those people that are really going to be passionate about your book.


Not everyone is going to be passionate about your stories – we don’t like every book we read. It’s interesting to see people’s different reactions in my book club. I might absolutely love something and rave about it, and another person might say it took them forever to get into it. As authors, we need to remember that we’re never going to please everyone. We’ve just got to do our best.


I think it shows that a book is genuine if some people don’t like it. If books are getting all five-star reviews, it’s probably only their friends and family raving about it, rather than genuine readers. When I was entering competitions, I was told that it’s good when you polarise the judges, with some people loving your books and some people hating them. It’s not so good when everyone’s just lukewarm about it – it means the book is forgettable. It can be hard to read a harsh review, but it means you’ve affected someone. There’s no bad publicity.



This interview is an excerpt from Issue 1 of Author Success Magazine. You can download the full issue here. Issue 2 will be out in February.

You can find out more about Rachael and her book here.

You can download our podcast chat here.

Rachael will be speaking at the upcoming Nash Agency 2019 Writers Retreat  on the Gold Coast Hinterland. You can find out more here.



About the author, Melinda

I'm an authorpreneur, English teacher and podcaster who dreams of a life on the road full of adventures and handsome heroes, whilst making squizillions of dollars in book sales to pay for my chocolate fix. In the real world, I write novels and non-fiction, and offer my expert advice via online courses (as soon as I make them) and writing retreats (as soon as I organise them).

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