My very best friend in the world is Rina.
I met her my first year in Berkeley, in my first art class. We struck up a conversation about Disney’s Fantasia re-release, I wound up going to her house to watch it, her mother fed me lasagna and I basically lived as her unofficial roomie, like a stray cat, for four years. Then an additional four, after graduating and spending several years in the wastelands of L.A.
Rina was the one who loaned me the first single title romance I ever read, The Lion’s Lady by Julie Garwood. She then inadvertently gave me a career path and an addiction to genre fiction that she continually feeds, like a dealer. (I say this without malice, since she introduced me to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, and I am now returning the favor by hooking her on my favorite series.)
Rina is my ideal reader.
She has a twisted sense of humor and an eclectic taste in stories. If readers were types of animals, she’d be like those deer that nibble a bit of everything yet still manage to decimate gardens.
More importantly, she likes my work, she likes me, and best of all, she gets me. As in, she gets what I’m writing about.
We have inside jokes. We have outside jokes. One of these jokes is that we share a brain. (When one of us did something dumb, we’d call the other and ask, “okay, do you have the brain today?”)
Rina is my “target audience.”
I was once told by a marketing professional that it’s a mistake to assume your readers are just like you. I get that. It’s what’s known as The Usual Error — we project what we like and dislike, how we think, onto other people.
That said, it’s taken me over ten years to realize that just because my readers aren’t just like me, doesn’t mean that I need to “target” the largest “likely demographic” and work toward attracting and convincing “potential readers.”
I just need to find my Rina’s, essentially.
How to find a Rina.
I didn’t go to Berkeley saying, “Today, I am going to find a best friend. I am going to look at most likely candidates. I am going to wear my most friend-attracting clothing. I am going to have a dedicated plan, and I am going to work it religiously.” Hell, I was eighteen years old, and I was lucky to roll out of bed on time for class. I didn’t exactly have my shit together. Even if I did — seriously, who does that?
I found Rina by being where I wanted to be — a practice of art class. As an art major, which was a scary and exciting thing. We both discussed something we loved: Disney, and animation. (Something the other art majors did not seem to be into, strangely enough.) From that discussion, we segued to reading, another shared passion. And over the years, that’s just solidified.
How does that translate to promotion?
In my opinion: the best way to promote is to simply be yourself. In public.
I love reading. I’m finding places that not only discuss reading, but discuss reading stuff that I like. In short, even if I weren’t a writer, I’d “hang out” there anyway.
I’m commenting on things that I find interesting, and leaving stuff I don’t find interesting alone.
I’m seeing what other people are saying. Finding friends. They may not buy my books — but they may know people who would love them. I don’t know, that’s not my business.
Process, not project.
You can’t control people. You could do all the “right steps” and still have no financial gain to show for it. The trick, I think, is to realize it — to surrender the illusion of control, and simply connect with readers who like what you like because it’s frickin’ awesome to connect with other readers who like what you like.
It’s a sort of magic, but I think the readers will follow.
Be yourself out loud.
Connect where you can.
And let your right readers — people you’d hang out with, people you like — find you.
Testing this theory.
I realize that, even for me, this concept is amazingly woo-woo.
I want to set this up as a bit of an experiment. (Apparently 2012 will be forever known in RYW lore as “Year of the Experiment.”)
I’ve got an Urban Fantasy coming out in December. I have never written UF before, so that’s already a bit scary. I lost a good chunk of my newsletter subscribers when I switched email service — and honestly, I have sucked at newsletters, so that hasn’t been a very viable avenue of promotion for me.
My author blog? I am going to owe Kristan Hoffman a big fat “you were right” — because I’m re-thinking how the author blog should and does work, and what I want to do there.
I want to see if I can prove that you can develop a readership in non-icky, totally benign and even fun ways. Just by connecting. I think I’m going to use the newsletter as my “measurable proof.” Well… or book sales, I guess. (It’s squishy science, but I’m not writing my doctoral thesis here.)
What do you guys think? Is this something you’d be interested in reading about?