On Safari for Wild Readers

As writers, we are admonished to “find our audience” and to “connect with readers.” I’ve struggled a little with what this means. Sure, I know what my target audience is… I know how to recognize them and what they look like. But have I found them? Am I even looking in the right place?

Here’s the deal… and all of you writers out there will probably agree. Even though I know what to look for, what I’ve found is other writers. Who I’ve connected with is mostly authors. Know what I mean?

And I know, all of you will say, “But we’re readers too!” Yes, and you don’t count. You don’t count because you’ve been domesticated. You’ve been educated. And no matter how hard you try, it can never be undone. You know what it takes to be a writer, and so you can never truly be just a reader anymore. It’s the difference between a house cat and a wild cat. A house cat will never be able to return to the jungle.

There’s this fence between “us” in the “writer’s club” and the wild readers out there. We observe them from behind our fence, and talk about them and methods of “connecting” with them. But in reality, very few of us know how to jump the fence and actually engage. We’ll write novels, pass them around amongst ourselves for approval, and then toss them over the fence to be devoured. The more daring of us will sit on the fence and hand feed the wild reader with signed copies.

In reality, most of us know as much about connecting with readers as a safari hunter knows of killing a tiger from watching Dora the Explorer.

Here’s what we need to do. We need to don our pith helmets or fedoras and jump the dang fence. We need to study the language and social habits of the wild reader in their native environment. We must earn their trust and become accepted into their herds. It may be scary and yeah, they may bite, but it has to be done.

I’m still trying to figure out how to do that. But here’s a few things I have learned so far on my first expedition across the fence. 1) The wild reader doesn’t really read blogs, unless they’re short, funny, or tell you how to save money. 2) The wild reader is a very visual creature. Give them the option between reading and watching a video, they’ll almost always chose the video. Don’t believe me? Then why are the major news outlets posting videos along with their articles now? I’ll tell you why… they were losing readers to youtube. 3) The wild reader chooses a book for one of three reasons: cool cover, cool blurb, or cool author name. Writers, if you nail all three of those, you’re golden. 4) Wild readers care about life. They’d rather talk about your kids or your momma instead of talking about your book, no matter how much they loved it.

Well, that’s just a few things I’ve learned so far. What about you? What’s your experience with the wild reader? Have you even snuck across the fence? It’s okay, don’t be afraid to speak up. This blog post is too long and it doesn’t talk about saving money, so I’m pretty sure there are no wild readers listening.

About Keven Newsome

Keven Newsome is an musician, theologian, and a bit of a nerd. He enjoys a variety of musical genres, from Christian rock to movie soundtracks to KPop. A former band director, he plays about a dozen instruments, given a couple of weeks to practice up. His theological work has included a book on multi-generational ministry and a thesis on the theology of communicating with the dead. As for his nerd-card, he enjoys the fandoms of The Legend of Zelda, Doctor Who, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Lord of the Rings. With a music degree from William Carey University and a theology degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Keven actively serves in ministry as both pastor and worship leader.

17 comments on “On Safari for Wild Readers

  1. 🙂 Was the money saving thing a shot at your lovely, uber-frugal wife? 😛 So what if I spend 30 mins – 1 hour each day perusing couponing blogs. 😆

  2. This. Is. So. True.

    I’ve been watching my fellow writers, trying to figure out why some succeed and others don’t. I’ve noticed exactly the same thing—some writers seem to connect only with other writers. I think it’s safe and comfy. We figure other writers understand us, and we can do the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” thing. But if they don’t have a big audience, how are they going to help us build ours?

  3. You hit this. I know we have several wild readers that frequent this blog. Momma happens to be one of them.:D But the reason I think that is is because we are believable characters/ people. Because we risk the wild without armor, stripped bare for the wild to devour at any time…we’ve done something most books fail to do. We made the wild care about us. They want us to succeed. They want to go with us on our next big adventure. Because lets face it, life is cool. All fiction is based from it.

    • Interesting you should compare us to “characters.” Do you think writers should create a character out of themselves for the reader to enjoy? Hmm…

      • What are characters but echoes of real people. Are we characters? No, we’re better. Living, breathing humans. As so, we have the ability to connect better than a book. That’s just my opinion. And aren’t we to be approachable not only as writers but as Christians?

  4. I think you are a step ahead of most of us if you know who your target audience is and what they look like. Some of us can’t even FIND the fence so we can reach over it or jump it.

    Those wild readers may be out there (or they may be extinct and no one has bothered to tell the hunters) but even if they’re there, they’re hiding, they have excellent camoflage, and they LIKE staying hid because they know if they are discovered, they’ll probably get exploited. In that respect, I disagree with #4. They care about THEIR life, yes. But mine? Do they really care about my cat/kid/grandkid? Heck no. It’s just part of the camoflage they hide behind. If all I am posting in a newsfeed is trivial drivel, they feel safe. They’re not actually paying attention to it, they’re just glad they’re not being pressured to go buy something. But even that can be taken too far.

    I “like” Tom Clancy on FB. I like his fiction, his writing. I don’t pretend to know him or his family. He did send out messages when his new book released and he lets me know where interviews are posted. It’s sparse and therefore usually worthy. But if he started filling up my newsfeed with daily stuff about his grandkids or his dog, I’d slap him on ignore. I don’t think the average wild reader (not talking about anybody’s Mom here) really does want to know about an author’s daily “life”. Milestones, okay, but too much and the safe camoflage becomes annoying noise.

    • Oh I agree with you. The point I was trying to make, and maybe it didn’t come across very well, is that they want you to be a “real person.” I think it’s important for an author, especially a small press author, to actively engage their readers. Tom Clancy is not small press and he doesn’t actively engage his readers. But IF you decide to actively engage your readers, you have to do it on a “real person” level and not the “mighty author” level. If your attempts to engage include a discourse on the pitfalls of narrative summary, then they won’t engage with you. But if you try to bring them into your life, they’re more likely to engage. It’s the best way to lure them out of their camouflage, if they’ll leave it at all.

  5. Interesting take…with some interesting and worthwhile thoughts. One thing I’ll contest though is the “wild readers would rather talk about your [personal life] than your book”… I totally disagree. Some might, particularly those that know you personally, but seriously, those that read spec fiction, particularly fantasy, love the escape from the world. Although they might be curious about you and if you are witty enough in writing it they might enjoy reading anything you write, I think in most cases they come looking for more of what they like of you – your writing, your characters, your world(s). In today’s multi-media world, your website and blog is the place to take your world to a new level.

    Personally, I agree with the articles I found on Author Tech Tips (a blog/resource that I found even Jeff Gerke “follows/likes”) and I found there http://www.authortechtips.com/5-things-visitors-dont-want-from-your-author-blog/ and http://www.authortechtips.com/what-readers-want-from-your-author-website/ plus there were lots of other ones on there – geared to authors about web presence, marketing and leveraging technology.

    True, I’m not published and so this is not from my own personal experience. It’s all still hypothetical and I have yet to “prove it” myself. However, because of my Husband (who has some of that entrepreneur/wanna run my own business blood), what I found at that site falls in line with hard-won lessons and things taught to him from successful business marketers. In college (after many struggles in self-employment and salesmanship) he took classes in economics, marketing, and particularly loved learning to build websites. He highly recommends the text his Professor used, called “Don’t Make Me Think” on building user-friendly websites. It was funny for him to watch the other students who disregarded or just “didn’t get” simply because they had never tried running their own business. Now, in the corporate world, he is in a business where most of their business is done on line and has learned more about what customers want from websites and what turns them off about sites. It has re-enforced that book.

    From that view, they aren’t as unfathomable as one might think, but most people are too stuck on their pov – stuck on what they want the visitor/viewer to do – rather than providing value that the VIEWER/customer wants.

    I may be a writer, here, but I’m a fan of other things, books and shows. Trust me, when I go searching for stuff as a fan, I really don’t care about the personal life of it’s creator(s). Backstories, side stories and cool character profiles are more likely to catch my interest. Seriously, most Twilight fans are far more interested in visiting the book/movie’s settings than hearing about Meyer’s kids… They want to go there and deepen/relive the thrill of the show/book they love. They want the stories to be more real to them.

    • “From that view, they aren’t as unfathomable as one might think, but most people are too stuck on their pov – stuck on what they want the visitor/viewer to do – rather than providing value that the VIEWER/customer wants.”

      I completely agree. That’s why I say we need to start jumping the fence and figuring out what THEY want. I also think there’s a dichotomy between how the big money-driven marketing powerhouse publishers and how the small press shoe-string-budget writers approach this.

      The big guys can afford not to engage their readers directly. But the small guys have to use a circle of influence approach to marketing. The only way to do that is to get in the trenches with your readers. Somehow, when you’re rubbing shoulders with them and getting to know them, I don’t think they want to hear you talk about your book all the time. At least, the small press people I see being successful aren’t doing that, and the small press people I see failing ARE doing that.

      The inner circle of influence are those readers who are personal friends and family to you. They’ll reach out to the next circle of influence. But to expand your inner circle or bring people from outer circles to the inner circle, you have to reach out and build friendships and relationships.

      • If you are pointing out that arrogant or aloof writers don’t appeal to readers these days, I agree wholeheartedly. Frankly, any salesman who comes to your door and acts arrogant or aloof/superior or distant (or just parroting memorized speeches) will most likely fail dismally. He certainly won’t get my money, no matter what he’s selling. If it’s something that I really desperately want, I’d rather buy on-line. Anyone who comes in as “I made this, it’s cool. You should buy it because I say so.” is probably going to tick their potential customers off. However, watch the salesman that succeeds.

        We had one here the other day… and to be honest, personally I would never spend that much on his product in the store. But he was creative, upbeat, seemed thoroughly “sold” on his product and he was a person. He was funny and found common ground with us. But it wasn’t because he went on and on about HIS family and personal life. He mentioned a few things but it was mostly to connect as a person. But the power is that we felt like he cared about us. Let me repeat that… we felt like he was sincerely interested in us and cared about us. He found connections to things that he saw around us that we most likely cared about, like our kids. So he showed us a picture of his child and he talked and listened to our kids. True, he was on a short schedule and it showed, but tried and that showed.

        Historically and still in big houses, most of the marketing is done by the publisher, through established networks and channels that they have built over the years. How exactly do you think they built that network? The same way – person to person, one handshake at a time. They linked and established a relationship of trust with people of influence. Now they leverage that work for the writers that they are sold on.

        True, most of us won’t snag one of those contracts and thus won’t benefit from those years of networking and in the end most of us will probably find ourselves shouldering the bulk of marketing. That just means that we have to go out and “shake hands”. Either in life or digitally. It means we became the salesman and business owner. Yep, you have just joined an MLM (if you want to see it that way).

        But despair not… there is more research, help articles, free help and resources out there to give you the basics. If there is any real hazard it’s in drownding in the excess of info and advice, or picking up all the accessories but missing the fundamentals. Personally, the biggest thing I recommend is get and read “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. That book is a classic, fundamental, easy to come by, easy to read, tried and true and worth it’s weight in gold if applied. It’s not about faking it or tricking people. As a Christian, I found it acceptable and uplifting. It is simply discussing basic human nature. It’s about becoming a person that others trust and look to, and someone who sincerely cares about people.

        And those that pout and protest, “I don’t want to sell, I just want write,” I beg to say, too bad – suck it up. Selling/Marketing is life – it is interacting with people and persuading them to take a chance on you, by buying your book, offering you a contract/job/raise, marrying you, obeying you (as your kids or employees or whatnot) or even being your friend. Get over it. If you can’t get over it in the world of writing, or feel you can’t sell your work, then feel free to enjoy writing as a personal hobby but I would discourage any heavy investment of time or money since querying agents and publishers is all about selling your book and yourself.

        And if I sound blunt and mean about it, then blame it on Diane… I think her frank honest is rubbing off on me, lol. My Husband would contest that I vent like this to him all the time, but now I’m occasionally more public about it. It’s just so sad to watch a fellow author go through so much and invest so much in their writing only to self-publish and then die out because they decide that they don’t want to sell…

  6. As a half-tamed reader, I can say that I usually do judge a book by its cover. I just talked to my wild reader roommate, and after a lot of prodding, I gathered this much on how she chooses books;
    a. Word of mouth.
    b. The blurb on the back.
    This was gathered after a lot of discussion on engaging characters, etc. But she did say one thing that caught my attention.
    She said that what she wanted was the promise of a different experience.
    There are a million different books out there, and many of them seem to be the same book with the names changed. The key, then, is to promise something different, something unique-something that can be distilled to a blurb on the back of the book.

    • True, true. I think a good example that I’ve seen recently is the Barbie Rapunzel verses Tangled. The story has been around for a while – it’s an old story. Barbie tried to add logic to it, but it was predictable. But come on – magic healing hair? Now that just totally makes the rest of the story plausible! Even the beginning of the story of the witch’s garden that the Barbie story just ignored. And Barbie’s sidekicks were so-so… but Tangled! Seriously, that chameleon and the horse that is more a third character + than a “sidekick”! Come on! They were hysterical, fresh, unexpected and oh so memorable! Granted, the horse a bit unrealistic…. but that’s part of what makes him so much fun! I mean who else would have thought up a bloodhound/sword weilding/bickering and opinionated horse? And then the way that the team plays off each other.

      Nope, Barbie just doesn’t compare – not in her wildest dreams. Tangled is memorable and so unpredictable. Barbie is just bland and mediocre in comparison.

      • I have to agree. Tangled was brilliant. We just watched it again and laughed just as hard. The frying pan was slap-stick wonderful.

  7. […] watched the industry change. It’s still changing. Much has been blogged about this (here’s my previous blog on the subject), but I think there’s something most authors are missing about the change. So, for the past […]

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