An Indie Writer’s Guide to Picking Up Readers*

(In which I tell you how to seduce me.)

  1. Write awesome stuff. This is purely subjective.

    For me, this means you’ve got wowful style that makes me quivery in my belly and shivery in my knees and a little breathless when I read you.

    It also means that spell-check is your friend and that your promising beginning doesn’t peter out somewhere in the middle, leaving the rest of the story to drag itself along on its forearms like a junkie that’s been hit by a texting soccer mom in an SUV, until finally it manages to roll into a ditch and die (much to everyone’s relief).

    If you can’t, or won’t, edit your own work, get someone else to do it before you start asking readers to pay for it.

  2. You have to pursue me.

    You, the writer, come up to me, the reader, where I’m sitting alone at the bar, swizzling my straw in my Tom Collins and looking bored. I give you the once-over, because, you know, I’m used to writers sidling up to me and whispering blurbs in my ear, then pinching my ass and sliding me a matchbook with their Amazon link written on the inside cover. Right before they slither on to the next reader, playing the numbers.

    If you spend some time with me, make me feel like person, not just another notch in your Kindle list, and you’re not pompous or smarmy or pushing too hard, and I like the twinkle in your eye, I might take your book home to bed. (And if you show me a real good time, I’ll be open to future releases.)

    I’ve got two library cards, and, at a conservative estimate, enough books and magazines (print and e) to keep me occupied for the next ten years. I don’t need anything to read. I have Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin and Virginia Woolf and Tyson Bley and Ibsen and a stack of the New Yorker I still haven’t read; make me want you.

    And if you want to pick up readers, you’re going to have to leave the safety of the writer-sausage-fest and go to where the readers are.

    “But!” you splutter, “Writers are readers too!”

    “Yes,” I say, “But they’re a small subset of all available readers. And most of them are at least as busy as you are trying to get read. They’ve got a backlog of books to read and reviews to post for other writer friends trying to get read. And they’re spoiled for choice. If you were trying to sell sex, would you go looking for clients exclusively among your fellow prostitutes, on the basis that prostitutes like sex too?”

    “Your analogies are starting to weird me out.”

    “Yeah, sorry about that.”

    Forget that you’re there to sell your book. (You’ve already linked it in your profile, anyway, right?) Go ahead, join the Sherlock Holmes fan forum or the Murakami discussion group. Whatever rocks your socks. Let your inner bookworm hang out.

  3. Stop acting like a badly programmed spambot.

    If I’ve friended, followed, or circled you, I already know about your book.

    Read that sentence again. It’s important.

    Just because you caught my eye in the juke joint (see no. 2) and I’ve gone back to your place for a nightcap doesn’t mean you closed the deal. If you go all supercreep and turn into Mister Hands now, I’m still out the door.

    Social media is supposed to be social. That means give and take. Conversation. The web is not a broadcast medium, it’s an interactive one. When your stream is a constant flood of “Read my blog! Buy my book! Like me here! Vote for me there!” it’s a big ol’ turn off.

    And for the love of god, don’t resort to third party software that will emulate you acting like a badly programmed spambot because you’re too lazy to do it manually. I mean Bookbuzzr, specifically. It annoys the fuck out of me. I develop negative feelings about books based solely on the fact that the author has chosen to sully my Twitter feed with Bookbuzzr spam.

  4. Don’t whine about your sales.

    Crying to readers about how nobody is buying your book is a straight-up dick move. It makes me feel weird and uncomfortable, like you’re just looking for a pity read. I e-like you and everything, but the only reason I’m going to buy your book is because I want to read it, and no passive-aggressive bullshit on your part will incline me toward that. And if I am one of those “nobodies” that bought your book, try and guess what mistake I’m not going to make again.

    You can talk about money and the financial realities of indie publishing, but once you start whaling on the guilt button, you’ve gone from keeping it real to sleazy and manipulative.

    Remember this: just because you wrote something doesn’t mean I’m obligated to read it.

  5. Be authentic.

    “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.

    — Holden Caulfield, Catcher in the Rye

    The reader doesn’t fall in love with the marketer, the spammer, the salesman, or the huckster. The reader falls in love with the writer†, and simply being writer-you is the greatest enticement to reader-me. Authenticity is the foundation of that love affair, and that comes from the writing, whether I encounter it first on the screen of my Nook, or in a post on a blog, a message in a forum, a reading at an open-mike night, or even ink on paper. It’s the enchantment not just of the story, but of an inner life laid open.

    Go find your future readers and start doing what you love. Right in front of them. Some of them will love it too.

*At least this reader.

†Or more accurately, the writer’s work—though sometimes the nuance is lost, and not only to readers; a number of writers also have difficulty with the distinction.

Note: this is the result of a Twitter conversation that made me want to clarify what, exactly, makes me buy a book by an indie writer. (And what tips me the other direction and puts me off an indie writer.)