Finding new readers and growing your audience is often the most difficult and perplexing part of the author platform process.
In my book Your First 1000 Copies, I define Outreach as simply “moving people from not knowing you exist to knowing you exist.”
The vast majority of people don’t know that you and I — or our books — even exist. So what’s the answer to this problem?
The fastest way to grow your own audience is to tap into someone else’s.
We know this on a fundamental level. It’s why everyone wants Oprah to recommend their book. It’s why they want a spot on the Today show. Or to have a big name blogger review their book.
If you’re able to do any of these things, your audience grows because you’ve been introduced to an existing audience.
These are the fundamental truths of finding new fans of your work:
- You have to move people from not knowing you exist to knowing you exist
- The fastest way to do this is to get introduced to existing groups of people
It sounds simple enough. But when people try the usual methods, their plans can unravel pretty quickly. Here’s why:
Two examples of Outreach errors, from my own inbox
In the past week I’ve received two non-spam emails from people who wanted something from me. Both addressed me as “Dear Sir/Madam.”
What? It’s pretty obvious from my email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) that I’m a guy. If they were confused, spending 30 seconds on my website would have helped them out.
Not to mention, how did they think I would take an email with such an obviously impersonal, spammy opening?
I also received an offer this week from a company that helps authors get Amazon reviews for their books. Besides the moral gray area of paying to get Amazon reviews, it was obvious the sender hadn’t actually looked at my Amazon page.
He offered me a chance to pay for 5 reviews, when I already have 140 reviews with a 4.7 average rating.
If he’d put himself in my shoes, he’d have seen that I’ve gotten 140 reviews on my own. Why would I pay for just 5 more?
Again — 30 seconds of research would have changed the tone of his email and shifted his offer into something that made more sense for my situation.
But because he didn’t do his research, his email was annoying instead of helpful.
Which brings us to the most fundamental, most common Outreach mistake.
Do you have empathy?
Empathy’s definition from dictionary.com is:
“The intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”
In other words, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Imagine what they’ll think and feel when they get your email, phone call or message.
Even top authors forget to do this sometimes.
Recently I was walking a popular author through the process of asking a blogger to promote their latest book. When I read over the author’s email draft, I was surprised at how self-involved it was.
It talked all about the virtues of the book, why it was so great, and how the author would really appreciate the blogger’s help.
There was nothing in it about the blogger!
No mention of why this was a good fit for his audience. No mention of how the author is going to make it easy on the blogger to promote the book.
In other words, no empathy.
How do you show empathy?
Even the best of us sometimes forget the basic rules. We start thinking about what we can get out of a situation, instead of how we can set it up as a win-win.
Here are the steps I go through before doing any Outreach, to ensure that I approach it with the right attitude:
1. Help First
Instead of first approaching the person with what you can get out of the situation, start by looking for ways to help the other person get what they need help with.
2. Start with the right questions
Before you send that email, ask yourself these questions:
- What does this person want out of life?
- What stresses her out?
- What is her daily job? Could I make that easier in some way?
3. Do your research
I discuss this thoroughly in the How to Connect with Successful Authors post.
To apply those same ideas to Outreach, take the time to actually read through their website, social media, bio and other online resources before reaching out. Once you see how they normally interact with and promote other people, you can tailor your pitch to their platform.
4. Revoke your right to be offended
You are not allowed to be offended if the person you reach out to says “No” or doesn’t respond. These are busy people with many demands on their time.
If you walk around hurt and offended every time someone doesn’t respond the way you’d like, you’ll have a hard road ahead.
Instead, look for ways to help them. Reach out graciously, and assume they will make the best decision for their current situation.
Here’s an example
A while back, I was working on a book launch for an author. I really wanted a particular blogger to help promote my client’s book.
I knew that this blogger probably got pitched on a regular basis by people looking to promote their stuff. I needed to make sure I cut through all of that noise — to show that I’ve done my research, and to let them know I’m trying to make their life easier.
I spent ten minutes on that site, scanning the previous few months of blog posts, reading here and there, and getting an overall sense for the kind of content that blogger produces.
Then I noticed something: Whenever he wrote about a book, he combined it with a Skype video interview. He also clearly liked to dive into the personal story behind the author’s writing.
So when I emailed him, I did two things:
- I shared a very short, three-sentence back-story on my author client. I knew the importance of doing this, because I’d read through a lot of this blogger’s content and had gotten a feel for what resonates with him.
- I also said I’d noticed he liked to do Skype interviews with authors, and that my client would be happy to do one with him whenever his schedule allowed.
Later that day I got an email back from the blogger, thanking me for how I’d reached out to him and saying he would be glad to have my client do an author interview.
Why did this work?
- I took the time to do my research and got to know how the blogger usually operates
- I offered to fit easily into the methods that blogger already uses
- I tried to offer content that would be a great fit for his audience
Is this a slower process than blasting the same generic email to 50 different bloggers?
Sure. But it also gets exponentially better results.
Good Outreach is much more than just pitches and press releases
While we are all trying to introduce ourselves to new audiences and grow our following, we all have to start with Empathy.
When doing Outreach, we have to focus on how we can help other people, before trying to get what we need.
If you do this long enough, you will find a long-term, sustainable success that is otherwise almost impossible to create.
May 23, 2014