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5 Ways to Build an Audience for a Debut Book

You don't need to already be a successful author to have a good book launch.

Think of authors you admire. Who are they? Brandon Sanderson? Stephen King? E L James? And what do they all have in common? They’ve all trended worldwide for some reason, yes, but — more importantly — they all have an avid audience. Often, that’s the reason why they started trending in the first place. A gigantic population loved their work. Their readers know what sort of experience they get from reading their fiction and they hang on every word the author says outside it. You get the same with non-fiction authors, too: Stephen Bartlett, Mary Berry and David Goggins all have avid followers. They’ve built an audience for themselves and their books.

Many debut authors believe it’s impossible to command any sort of pull, however, when launching your first book because you have nothing to show readers. That you should only work to build an audience after you’ve got a backlist. In part, they’re right. You should prioritise building a backlist before marketing. That way, you can make more money when readers discover your brand. However, it is possible to do both at the same time. Those who do well don’t neglect their writing to build a community, but they start creating connections long before their first title appears on retailer websites. Thus, when they launch books, they do so with a built-in audience.

Admittedly, lots of these authors gain early supporters unintentionally because they’re naturally interesting, generous or helpful. That said, there are dependable strategies you can use to get a similar result without relying on luck, and they don’t take a lot of bandwidth — just effort. Executed with intention, these strategies can help you build an audience ready to buy your first book without swallowing your time and grinding your writing progress to a standstill. If you’re unsure where to get started, that’s where today’s blog post enters the equation. We’ll explore five ways to build an audience for your debut novel or non-fiction guide before it’s even released.

Re-Brand Yourself

The first step you can take to build an audience is re-brand yourself as an author. You don’t need a published book to become one; having a title in the pipeline is enough. Fake it ‘til you make it. Don’t lie about any accomplishments but call yourself an author. Write it in your social media bios. Commission a professional headshot. If you want to go the extra mile, create a Goodreads author profile. You can do it before your debut officially exists. Yes, you might be an accountant or teacher by day but a re-brand can change that overnight. Doing so sets a precedent that changes how people see you and how you see yourself.

When you first re-brand, you won’t have a book to sell, but that’s okay. As long as you think, talk and act like an author, you’ll grow into the role. If you want to add rocket fuel to your re-brand then also consider what you can do to amplify your new persona. Could you write LinkedIn posts? Could you guest blog on another author’s site? While it might feel as though you have nothing to contribute, simply sharing your perspective as a newcomer to the industry adds value. It gives you authority and helps you build a following of supporters who like your authorial voice. What’s more, it gets people invested in your success which keeps you accountable.

Show Your Work

One trepidation many debut authors have when claiming they’re an author is that they have no proof, without which they worry people won’t take them seriously. They don’t have books. What they forget is that authors aren’t defined by their published work but what they do. If you act like an author, you are one. Show your work as well as actually working, however, and your activity becomes proof. You could, for instance, write a blurb draft and share it on social media, do research and share your findings, develop metadata and ask for advice. You could even draw up launch timelines and test pre-launch marketing activities, sharing lessons as you go.

As Austin Kleon, who came up with the concept explains, “it’s about getting findable.” Why? Basically, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You can’t fail. Everyone knows you’re a newbie because you’re sharing your story as it unfolds. As a result, there’s no pressure to succeed; only to learn. By sharing every step, not only will you benefit from encouragement but you’ll also learn lessons along the way. The old adage is true: “The best way to learn something is to teach it.” Even better, though, while many of your fans will be there to learn the knowledge you acquire, a subset will be fans of your genre, primed to buy your debut book when it launches.

Collect Emails

Whenever you tell friends, family members or interested acquaintances about your books, you’ll get comments like, “Sounds good! I’ll check it out when it’s ready.” Admittedly, many of these people are just being polite and have no intention of grabbing a copy. The problem, however, is that a large chunk that are sincere still won’t buy one. Why? Because they don’t notice when you eventually launch it. Sure, you could announce your launch on social media, but many platforms are notorious for throttling the reach of “salesy” posts. Shout about your first book release to 1,000 Facebook friends and you’ll be lucky if more than 50 see the post.

Send the same 1,000 an email, however, and a far larger portion will notice. That’s because email providers don’t throttle genuine communication. Sure, you’ll hit the odd spam folder, but the portion that reach your audience will be far greater than on many social media platforms. Thus, collect potential readers’ email addresses whenever they express an interest. There are lots of ways to do it on autopilot. You could, for instance, build a website or just a landing page using a service like BookFunnel. Either way, offer a reader magnet — a downloadable freebie only available to subscribers. It will entice more readers to hand over their email address.

Set a Pre-Order

Ideally, we’d all like to be able to wave around a physical book and show potential readers what we’re about to release. Thanks to self-publishing, however, that isn’t something that happens for many debut authors. Indeed, it’s no longer the norm to have print runs and author copies ahead of a launch. These days, lots of self-publishing authors end up hitting publish moments after giving their final draft the green light, leaving no wiggle room to flaunt an author copy to readers. Unless you’re organised, there’s no physical proof until a book is already available for sale. That said, you can create advance digital proof in the form of a pre-order sales page.

Setting a pre-order is a fantastic way to build an audience ahead of your debut launch. After all, if that doesn’t confirm you’re a serious author who will actually release their book, nothing will — particularly if your book has a professional-standard cover. Using one, you can pre-plan content for your audience and reference to it when making professional connections. By far the most effective benefit of a pre-order, though, is its ability to convert interested parties into paying readers before the book is ready. If you do go down this route, just ensure you include lots of lead time. The last thing you want is to ruin the reputation you’ve built by missing your deadline.

Engage a Community

Ask a range of successful authors how they made their first launch a success and many will mention communities — specifically like-minded groups they met on social media. It may seem unlikely that complete strangers would help each other in this way, but it happens all the time. The trick is finding where your ideal audience exists online, going to them rather than trying to get them to come to you, and adding value before you ask for any favours. Examples of strong reading communities include mums’ book clubs, true crime enthusiasts and LitRPG fans. Their bonds begin online but many give serious offline support once they like you.

Engage well and the potential rewards are huge, especially if your chosen community has interests that overlap closely with the genre of your books. The more connection and value you give, the more they reciprocate, often in book sales. If you’re organised, you can even create an off-shoot community and host online and in-person events to keep them engaged. Romance book club gatherings, murder mystery nights or table-top gaming tournaments — how you enrich your community is up to you. One factor is certain, though: the more value you provide upfront for potential readers, the more they’ll be invested in you and your books. A debut author will always be at a disadvantage to authors who have lots of books under their belts. Thus, it’s essential to prioritise writing when you first start publishing. Without writing more books, your readers won’t stick around. That said, don’t let the handicap of having no books deter you from building a community of waiting superfans. The earlier you start, the more time you have to watch that audience compound. You may only begin with one person but you’d be surprised how fast those readers multiply when an audience starts to snowball.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.