Finding My Audience

When my latest book come out last month, I booked a romance blog tour. My promoter did a great job and got my book featured on about 40 blogs. About halfway into the tour, as I was thanking hosts and seeing no other comments—none—I realized I was wasting my money. The blogs were all focused on romance, but not the sort of books I write. They all seemed to feature contemporary and paranormal romance. I write historical romance, and this book is medieval, which is an even more specialized sub-genre. I was getting a lot of exposure, but very little with the people who actually read books like mine.

And yet, I know they are out there. I know a number of authors who write medieval romance and who are doing moderately well. It’s just that getting those readers to even know your book exists is a huge challenge. I realized I had to change my marketing strategy. I had to find a way to connect with those readers.

I contacted some authors I know and got suggestions. They all said you have to gradually build a following. Advertise on romance sites that feature historical romance, join Facebook groups, try Facebook ads, do giveaways, and build a newsletter list.

There are services that help you build a newsletter list. Others that help you get reviews by offering your book for free to interested readers. I did some of these things with my last book (which was Regency romance, a much more popular era), but it looks like I need to step up my game and do even more and spend even more money.

My publishing career, which was once a source of extra income, is turning into an "expensive hobby." But I have no choice. I’ve planned two more books in this series, and if there’s going to be any hope that my publisher will publish them, or that anyone will read them, I’m going to have to invest significant time and money into promotion.

I’m fortunate I’m at a point in my life where I can afford to do this. But there is a part of me that remains uncomfortable. I feel like I am being self-indulgent, trying to "buy" something that should just happen—that is, if my books were good enough. But then I think of my characters and realize that I’m doing it for them. I want to share their stories, and if spending money on promotion is the only way to get their stories out there, then I’m going to do it.

Mary Gillgannon
Mary Gillgannon writes romance novels set in the Dark Ages, medieval, and English Regency time periods and fantasy and historical novels with Celtic influences. Her books have been published in Russia, China, the Netherlands, and Germany. Raised in the Midwest, she now lives in Wyoming and works at a public library. She is married and has two grown children. When not working or writing, she enjoys gardening, traveling, and reading, of course! More about Mary on her website.

19 thoughts on “Finding My Audience

  1. Mary, this is a problem for many of us–finding an audience. Every book I have written has gotten rave reviews, including starred reviews in PB and Library Journal. I’ve been nominated for numerous awards (Strand Critics Award, Lefty Awards, Macavity), won a Macavity and an RTReviews Critics award. My books have appeared on many “Best of” lists, including Library Journal and several critics’ lists. The people who read my books love them. But finding new readers is a slog. I have done FB boosts (targeted), book tours, blog tours, ads in appropriate magazines. I’ve gotten newspaper reviews in top newspapers. So where are the readers? I keep thinking that I should just keep writing, but it gets discouraging. The one thing I do know, like you, is that I have to share my stories and keep hoping to find that magic formula for expanding my audience.

    • Sounds like you’ve gotten farther than me. Congrats on the awards and journal reviews. I’m still struggling to get even reader reviews. I do think though that the key is social media. As much as I hate it, I suspect that’s how most people find books these days. All we can do is keep trying and try to build a following reader by reader. If anything I do seems to make a difference, I’ll be sure to share.

  2. Thank you for writing honestly about your journey. I’m sorry that you expended all that energy on the blog tours and didn’t get a lot of positive response. What a bummer! I’m with you. I think sometimes it’s like the Oklahoma Land Rush of yester-years. All of us writers lined up at the starting line, jostling for position, looking to stake out our land on that mythical Plum Creek! It’s NOT an indulgence. Keep writing. And have patience. You’re doing the right things, and it will eventually pan out for you. And now I’m going to go visit your website and buy a copy of your Medieval romance. It sounds fascinating!

    • Thanks for your support. I know the old adage that persistence and hard work is more important than talent, so you’re right, we have to keep going. Onward and upward!

  3. Your thinking along the same lines I am, Mary. This writing venture is definitely turning into an expensive hobby, especially when I attend conferences and mystery fan conventions. I’ve seriously considered turning myself into a book reviewer instead of a writer.

  4. Hi Mary and thanks for sharing your journey. I’m somewhat over “searching for my audience,” as my hobby was getting too expensive and time consuming as well. Maybe that sounds like a cop-out, but there’s only so much I could afford to do (especially predominately writing poetry.) So I’ve turned the phrase into “helping my audience find me.” Still no success, but I’m spending more time writing, submitting one – 15 pieces of work to places that don’t charge a reading fee, an occasional contest or two. Some days I don’t write at all, because that’s the best thing for me to do. I’ve broken even on two of six books, but have never posted a profit in over six years (short time frame, I know!) Yes, maybe the writing isn’t up to high industry standards, but I’ve been published enough times in journals, etc. to know that my words strike a cord with many along the way. A wise man once said that “if you go searching for something, you’ll find searching. If you go wanting for something, you’ll find wanting.” So I’m now writing without searching and finding some of the most memorable verses I’ve found in a long time. The audience who wants to read my work will find it. That’s up to them more than it is to me (at least at this point.) Good luck in your journey. One day you’ll wake up in the world of readership you believe in.

  5. You make a lot of good points. I think it’s important to keep writing what we love, because that’s what feeds our creative souls and leads to happiness, which is more important than sale or money.

  6. Thank you for your honesty, Mary. I certainly feel the same way and it feels less lonely to know that others share your experience. Keep your spirits up!

  7. I think the majority of us would empathise with this post, Mary. I too have participated in virtual book tours and, as you say, sometimes the blogs I’ve been featured on are just a different genre to what I write (Science Fiction and Fantasy Romance) so I get few comments. Sometimes I’ve struck lucky and got lots of comments but I don’t think they translated into sales. I host for blog tour companies myself, and although I love a lot of genres (Western Historical, Regency and Medieval Historical, Romantic Suspense – basically anything with a good story and a healthy dose of romance) and used to host any genre I now try and host just SF/Fantasy Romance, and am hoping to increase my readership by drawing readers of that genre to my blog, and hopefully this will be of benefit to the writers I host as well as to myself. Sometimes I get lots of comments, and again sometimes hardly any, so I don’t know what the answer is. I do think it’s a good idea to join FB groups of ones own genre, and I’ve also joined a weekly blog hop where everyone posts a brief excerpt. I’ve bought several books myself through this but not sure if my own sales have increased because of it! As others have said, all we can do is keep going, write what we love because we love doing it and accept we’re going to spend more than we make, although I can’t actually afford to spend much on promotion. (I have actually made more from writing a couple of short stories for magazines than I ever have with full length novels, but I just love writing novels and don’t get the same satisfaction from writing a short story, even though they pay so much better. ) Thanks for sharing your feelings and one of the best things I’ve found about being a published author, is the way romance authors support each other, it’s another thing that makes writing worthwhile, if not exactly profitable!

    • I think I struck a nerve with this one. So many of us seem to be in the same place, stumbling around, trying to do what we can to promote our books, hoping things work, trying new things. At least, as you said, we have the comfort of knowing that we’re not alone in this but part of a wonderful community of writers.
      Cheers to that!

  8. I wish I had some answers for all of us. I do giveaways and hope I get reviews. None. Is it possible there is too much emphasis on reviews? I don’t know. I wish you bunches of luck.

    • I wish there wasn’t so much emphasis on reviews as well, but it is what seems to drive sales, if nothing else because Amazon uses that to decide whether to promote you. I’m trying different “read and review” services, hoping that gets me a few more. I’ll definitely do a followup on this post as I learn more.

  9. For reviews – I’ve had the best luck with going to book festivals for networking. By researching ahead of time noteworthy attendees and then introducing myself, I received reviews for the back cover of ‘Motorcycles, Madness & Miracles.’ I also trade books with other writers at these events.
    Then, with social media, I join in conversations with groups of interest. From stating clearly my point of view on different subjects (especially controversial ones) those with similar perspectives hover over my name and learn more, including that I wrote a biography/self help. If that interests them, they go to the book’s official Facebook page and read more, hopefully resulting in a purchase.
    Hope that helps.

    • These are great suggestions. Based on your thoughts I may well decide to go to the RWA convention this year. I was on the fence, because it’s so expensive, but I think the idea of networking and connecting with other authors who write what I do is a really good suggestion. I only wish I wasn’t so much of an introvert. I find it so hard to promote myself and my book.

  10. Oh Mary! I could so relate to this post. I have, very slowly, gained a readership over the years, but it does always seem an uphill battle. The promo that works for one person does nothing for others. I have spent so much money over the years on things that don’t work that I’ve become hesitant to shell out more money, though I may be short-sighted to think so. As for reviews, I’ve had luck in contacting people who did bother to post a review for one of my books on Amazon and offering to send them a free arc of the next book in the series — most have been happy to accept and this has helped me get a few more reviews.
    You write such lovely books I would hate to see readers deprived of your work.

  11. Oh, Cindi, you are so sweet. I agree with your idea of building connections with readers. I finally sent out a newsletter and I think in a couple of months I’m going to offer one of indie published books free to my subscribers and see if that helps “build my following” for the next book. Thanks for stopping by.

Leave a Reply