Stephen King. John Grisham. Lee Child. When it comes to reader loyalty, this triumvirate of writers has the strongest brands in publishing, according to a recent Forbes.com article by contributor David Vinjamuri. Of the three, “Child carries a higher percentage of his readers with him to each successive book than any other bestselling author. While just 41% of John Grisham’s fans owned or planned to buy his newest novel Sycamore Row, 70% of Child’s fans wanted a copy of the last Jack Reacher tale A Wanted Man.”
Child believes his loyalty is chiefly attributed to the fact that readers know what to expect from him. “A series is better than a sequence of [unrelated] books in terms of building brand loyalty,” he told Forbes’ Vinjamuri. “If you like the author but you’re uncertain of the content of the next book, that’s an obstacle. It runs counter to the literary view of writing that values originality and growth. Jack Reacher is the same person in every book.”
So how can we build reader loyalty if we haven’t published one book, let alone sequels?
Vinjamuri spoke with writer Michael J. Sullivan. “Sullivan is one of those writers who’d written a closetful of books before he was first published,” Vinjamuri writes. “He moved from publishing in a small press to self-publishing and then traditionally publishing with Hachette starting in 2011. He’s sold 475,000 books in English and has been translated into 16 other languages.”
Sullivan told him there are no shortcuts. Basically, it comes down to joining a community (or communities) of active readers, and actively participating i.e. reading other people’s work, and sharing reviews and comments–without pushing your own work.
Sullivan also stressed the power of connecting with one person at a time. “I used to go to malls and stand in a bookstore for an event for three hours and I’d get 5 people to read my book. But then they’d write back to me and some of them would become fans and recommend my books.”
Oh, and give your book away.
“Sullivan gives away advanced reader copies (ARCs) of his books on Goodreads up to 6 months before the book is available in print. This gives the books more value to contest winners who read them before the general public. ‘I was only giving away two copies but 2,700 people entered and I got the member names for all of them,’ Sullivan told me. In addition, each contest entry generated a story on that person’s activity feed on Goodreads, which became free advertising for the book.’