A guest post by Nicole Gulotta
More than two years before signing a cookbook contract for Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry, an editor at my would-be publisher said something like this: “We want to publish your book…but.” Although I had a solid book concept, the size of my platform wasn’t where the publisher hoped it would be. I needed readership building strategies.
In lieu of giving me a firm number to reach, my publisher was more interested in overall growth. This was comforting news for a blogger with around 2,000 visitors per month. After my initial disappointment wore off, I set out to implement strategies to boost my readership. More importantly, I was looking to build a community of like-minded readers and writers who loved food, appreciated poetry, and wanted to follow my journey as a first-time author.
Here are five readership building strategies that eventually led to a book deal:
1. Start a newsletter.
When I launched a newsletter in October 2013, I haphazardly sent emails once a week or once a month, and on different days of the week. I wrote whenever I was inspired. Basically, I broke just about every newsletter rule out there. I realized I’d need to be more consistent if I wanted this to be sustainable. At first I sent it on the first of every month. I switched to a weekly format at the beginning of 2016.
Simply putting a sign-up form on my website was a huge help, but I’ve found the most success when I emphasize the community aspect (see No. 2 below), and the value my readers will receive by giving me permission to contact them.
The takeaway: As the saying goes, “You own your list.” This notion is becoming increasingly important as social media channels change and users bounce between different platforms. Publishers focus on social media reach, of course, but a mailing list with high open rates will make your book proposal stronger.
2. Create a private Facebook group.
One of the benefits of joining my newsletter is receiving an invitation to the Wild Words Collective, a private Facebook group for writers looking to connect with like-minded creatives. I plan content in advance and spend a few hours a week online where readers can interact with me more personally, and get to know fellow writers. It’s also fun and casual, with a real sense of comradery.
The takeaway: An intentional Facebook group should reflect your point of view and relate to whatever products you might offer in the future—whether it’s a book, course, or service. To really make your group thrive, stay engaged, relatable, and helpful.
3. Ask readers to participate.
When I was wracking my brain on how to appeal to more readers, I thought about food and poetry’s intersection with travel. The Literary City Guides was born. The series features local writers who volunteer as guides, and it remains one of the most popular pages on my site—even ahead of the blog.
The takeaway: Think outside the box in terms of extending your reach and creating something with a community aspect. A Couple Cooks, for examples, features guest posters for their Healthy & Whole series.
4. Run a contest.
My blog was firmly rooted in food, but I wanted more writers, too. I ran a poetry contest which ended up being too much work. Later on, I re-branded the contest with a less time-consuming spin: a haiku contest with a new theme every month. The entire process—including submissions, choosing the winner, writing a blog post, and developing a recipe pairing—took three weeks. I had a week’s reprieve before starting over again. Although I planned logistics in advance (and it was fun!), the quick turnaround became overwhelming. I paused the contest after six months.
The takeaway: If you start with a clear goal in mind and space blocked off on your calendar, contests can be a useful way to expand your reach. Just remember a contest will take additional time and resources to manage. If I had to do it over again, I’d run a contest twice a year. That’s enough to reap the benefits of attracting new readers, but not take over all my free time.
5. Write for publications.
Around the time I began working on my cookbook proposal, I also started writing regularly for Life & Thyme, an online food magazine. I wrote feature articles for its print magazine, and eventually, a regular column. It was additional work on top of my full-time job and blog, but the experience allowed me to flex my food writing muscles and make more connections in the industry.
The takeaway: Writing regularly for another publication helps attract new readers, and also bolsters your resume for publishers. (They’re thinking about media who can spread the word once your book comes out.) If you have solid relationships with high-profile media outlets from regular freelance work, your proposal can be more appealing overall.
Now that my cookbook is just coming out, I feel I accomplished what I set out to do: I increased my readership to more than 10,000. The road was long, however, and sometimes felt like I was wandering through a tunnel without a light at the end of it. If my journey has taught me anything, it’s that building a platform is not a one-size-fits all endeavor. The rapidly changing social media landscape means there will always new techniques and platforms to try. But a lasting and engaged community—one eager to support you when your book finally does release—is best built with intention, one reader at a time.
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Nicole Gulotta is the author of Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry (Roost Books, March 2017). She pens a food blog by the same name. Nicole lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, and French bulldog.
(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.)