How to Build a Readership for Your Blog and Books

Jody HedlundGuest blogger: Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Let’s be honest. We all want readers. Whether for our blogs or books, we crave the validation of having others read and enjoy what we write.

But with all the blogs and books competing for the limited attention of readers, we face an uphill battle in building our readerships. In fact in the crowded marketplace, sometimes it can feel next-to-impossible to glean readers.

I’ve been blogging for the past three years and now have three published books. And one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that there is no quick path to success (at least for most authors). Whether with blogging or with our books, the growth in our readerships happens gradually over time.

If I were to graph my blog readership statistics during the past several years, the line would slope slowly upward. There have been no spikes. And the same is true of my book readership. With each new book that comes out, I steadily gain more readers.

Even though we’d like an escalator to whisk us to the top, the truth is that we have to take the stairs, one step at a time.

The first step in building a readership is to accept the fact that there is no magic formula for success. If we go into blogging or publishing with realistic expectations about the gradual nature of gaining readers, we’ll be much less likely to get discouraged and give up. We’ll be able to gear ourselves up for the long haul.
But other than staying grounded in the realities of the climb and cultivating patience, what else can we do–if anything—to gain a readership?

Here are several things I’ve done:

1. Be consistent.

I post on my blog twice a week, the same two days, at the same time, every week, year round. Readers can count on me. They know I’m consistent which in turn facilitates their consistency. A blog reader recently wrote this: I don’t always comment, but I always, always read (and learn from) your posts.

When we’re not consistent with our postings or books, then readers don’t know what to expect from us. And thus we’re less likely to stay on their radars. But when we’re regular, timely, and reliable, we have a much better chance of retaining our readers.

2. Provide quality content.

Content truly is king in this industry. One well-written, thoughtful post will go much further than a bunch of fluffy posts that we throw out there just for the sake of posting.

And the same is true of our books. I recently did an informal poll on my Facebook Page and asked readers if they’d like to see more books from their favorite authors. Overwhelmingly, readers indicated that they’d rather have one well-told story a year versus several books that lacked luster or editing. When we give readers quality content every time, then we become a name they’ll recognize and trust.

3. Engage our audience.

Our readers don’t just want information or stories. They want it presented in a way that engages them. Thus, as writers, we have to look for creative ways to draw in our readers. We want our readers to relate to what we’re saying, be encouraged, or be touched on an emotional level.

Over time, we want to develop a unique voice among the many clamoring to be heard–a unique voice that speaks into the hearts of our readers.

What about you? Do you have realistic expectations about building your readership? Have you been disappointed in the length of time it takes to build a readership? Or is it what you expected?

***

Cover - Unending DevotionJody Hedlund is an award-winning historical romance novelist and author of the best-selling book, The Preacher’s Bride. Publishers Weekly called her newest book Unending Devotion, ” a meaty tale of life amid the debauchery of the lumber camps of 1880s Michigan . . . exciting and unpredictable to the very end.”

Jody received a bachelor’s degree from Taylor University and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin, both in Social Work. Currently she makes her home in Michigan with her husband and five busy children. Jody shares more advice for writers on her blog: http://jodyhedlund.blogspot.com/

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  • http://authorheatherhart.blogspot.com/ Heather

    Great tips, Jody!

  • http://www.jancline.net Jan Cline

    Love this post, Jody. It’s very timely as I have been contemplating on how I can improve my blog posts and stats. I’m not secure in my “brand” since I recently switched my focus from non-fiction to fiction, so I guess I should figure that out, right?
    Blessings!

  • http://cherylbarker.blogspot.com/ Cheryl Barker

    Jody, thanks for the encouragement to just keep slowly and steadily building our readership. I’m looking forward to reading your newest book. I loved The Preacher’s Bride and The Doctor’s Lady and have encouraged others to read them. Guess you could say I’m a fan! :)

    • http://jodyhedlund.com Jody Hedlund

      Aw, thank you, Cheryl! So sweet of you! I hope you’ll enjoy my newest book too!

  • http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    I started my blog by following well-meant advice on making it thematic…and it bored me to death.

    Now I write from the heart, and I try to post at least every other day, and readership is climbing.

    In a way, it’s followed the path I took in writing novels…I started with trying to craft stories, according to a detailed plot outline. Now I just write, trying – deliberately – to keep in the general tradition of oral storytelling.

    I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I like what I write.

    • http://jennym-talesfromtheredhead.blogspot.com Jennifer Major @Jjumping

      I really like your blog, Mr Budek-Schmeisser. It’s honest, open and definately has “this is Andrew” all over it.

    • http://einefeistyberg.wordpress.com Cherry Odelberg

      I agree with you. It is important to write from the heart (as they used to say, “What God has laid on your heart) rather than follow worn out theme or craft by someone else’s rules.

      Some rules are as important as good manners; you cannot communicate or relate well without them. Other rules are just someone else trying to make you do it their way.

  • http://www.beckydoughty.com Becky Doughty

    Hi Jody,

    Nice to see you face here today! I’ve come to depend on your posts for straight-shooting, applicable content. As I’ve said before, yours is a voice of reason in this roller-coaster industry.

    I’ve come to really cherish the friends who faithfully show up in my life, whether on my website, or via email, or as readers of my stuff. I prefer the idea of being part of a village or a tribe, rather than gaining a “following” and I think that attitude has come about BECAUSE it is such a slow process. These people are my team and I try to encourage them as much as they encourage me.

    Thanks for your words today, and Rachelle, thanks for having Jody!

    Blessings,
    Becky

    • http://www.beckydoughty.com Becky Doughty

      YOUR face…. grrrr.

      • http://www.beckydoughty.com Becky Doughty

        Not that your face makes me growl.

        Okay. I’m only making it worse. Signing off now.

        • http://jodyhedlund.com Jody Hedlund

          Becky, you’re too funny! Thanks for the smile this morning! :-)

    • http://jennym-talesfromtheredhead.blogspot.com Jennifer Major @Jjumping

      I heart you Becky, in a big way! I adore your view on life and the pureness of your heart. You, my dear, are a rock in a hard place for me.

  • Jaki

    Hi, humbling as it may be I am finally accepting this ‘time’ method as being only one that works.
    As an unpublished author what I wonder is what type of content to put into my blog. I write urban fantasy and I want people to ove my character but their personalities and abilities are inextricably linked. BUT their magic is what sets me apart from other fantasy writers. So to reveal or not to reveal…?

  • http://www.findtimefortea.com Kimberly

    Brilliant post, Jody. My experience has been much the same, although on a much smaller scale. Consistent quality and time seem to be the key ingredients to success. Thanks for the reminder as I’ve been a little frustrated over this very thing lately:)

  • http://makingbabygrand.com Dina Santorelli

    Great post, Jody! I totally agree. Slow and steady wins the race.

  • http://michaelseese.blogspot.com/ Michael Seese

    Thanks for the insight. I feel somewhat like you. Every day, I check my blog stats to see if I’ve gotten “good numbers,” and any additional followers.

    Though there is some ego in that, it really does come down to wanting to build a base of supporters, or readership.

  • http://4broadminds.blogspot.com/ carol brill

    It helps to be reminded of the need to keep taking baby steps. I sometimes get discouraged when there are not a lot of blog comments on my posts, but in another blog today I read only about 1 in 50 blog readers will comment. At that pace, 10 or 15 comments isn’t bad

  • http://thoughtsthatmove.blogspot.com/ Wendy Paine Miller

    Gradual incline for me too.
    Spot on, Jody. Spot on.
    And I swear #3 makes a huge difference.
    Happy Friday,
    Wendy

  • http://www.michellederusha.com Michelle DeRusha

    I’ve got the sloooooow part down! ;)

    Thanks for this, Jody – love your blog (and your books!).

  • http://www.peaceforthejourney.com elaine @ peace for the journey

    I’ve been blogging for almost 5 years; I’ve lived a lot of faith and struggle in that time, always being willing to share that journey with my readership. My audience is steady and my subscriber list is slowly growing. Comments have dropped off; not sure why.

    As my life has changed over the past 5 years, so have my writing goals and expectations therein.

    Always a student; always learning. As it should be.

    peace~elaine

  • Wayn e Kernochan

    I was lucky because I expected to build a readership for my memoir series slowly, but then one went viral and my books began to sell. They still do.

    The most important thing from the start was quality content. Luck favors the prepared mind. It also favors the prepared writer :)

  • CG Blake

    Jody,
    Thanks for these great tips. I’ve been blogging for a year and have not been able to move the needle very far. I am making some progress, but it is slow. I really try to focus on quality content and will not post unless I am happy with the piece, even if it means posting less than twice a week. I enjoy your blog, though I don’t often leave comments . Thanks for sharing these tips.

  • http://www.sueharrison.com Sue Harrison

    Great ideas and points to ponder, Jody!

    Slow and steady is better. I think when readers know you are writing not only for your own pleasure but to pull them into the world you’ve created, then you will begin to build a solid base of fans.

  • Jeanne

    Jody, as one who is about to brave beginning a blog, it’s a good reminder that building readership will take time. I know that, but to hear someone who’s well known in the blog-o-sphere say it reinforces it. In a good way. :)

    I appreciate all your pointers here. You’ve given me good food for thought.

  • http://www.juliegarmon.com Julie Garmon

    Thank you, Jody. Such a confirmation to read your post. My heart’s been telling me the same thing. :-)

    Gratefully,
    Julie

  • http://jmarierundquist.wordpress.com Janet Rundquist (@ProfeJMarie)

    WORD on the slow, but that’s okay. I’ll either get there or I won’t. If we only blog for the numbers game, then we are blogging for the wrong reasons. (Spoken only as an unpopular blogger can – haha!)

    I read a lot about the consistency thing, and while I believe this to be important, I also know that in some cases I see bloggers really stretching for their posts – meaning, it seems like they are posting just for posting sake rather than giving that #2 on your list of quality content. Quality trumps all. I’d rather read an inconsistent quality post rather than consistent ones that make me think, “huh”?

    For me, I think I have decent content, but I am still working on the audience engagement. When I consider the numbers game, I think this is what attracts people the most, to be honest. Readers see a dialogue going on and attribute importance to the post or blog in general. Controversy is the best way to jump start that dialogue.

  • http://jodyhedlund.com Jody Hedlund

    Good morning, everyone!

    I think a common struggle most bloggers have is finding WHAT to blog about. And I really think it goes back to my point number 3–engaging our readers. I’ve found that I can post about almost anything, and as long as I do it in such a way that engages my readers, then they enjoy the post. I blog about the things I’m passionate about, have opinions on, and am interested in. But I always have my readers in mind as I’m crafting the post, thinking how I can engage them.

    We’re writers! We can take the challenge to make our blogs interesting to readers! :-) Because ultimately, if we can learn to entertain and engage our readers in our blogs, then hopefully we can carry that skill over into our books.

    • http://einefeistyberg.wordpress.com Cherry Odelberg

      YES!

  • http://anniemcmahon.net/ Annie McMahon

    Love this post! Sharing it on twitter. This strikes me as very similar to attracting and keeping customers in a business. I guess writing is kind of a business, right?

  • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

    Hey, Jody! Good to see you over here!

    I’m one of those faithful blog readers you’ve built over time.

    Thanks for the very good advice, from someone who has trod this path.

    I’ve seen the slow growth you’ve described. I think at one point I kept hoping that it would reach a tipping point of suddenly seeing a sharp increase in growth, but that hasn;t happened thus far.

    It’s nice to know it’s not just me…

    Thanks!

    • http://jodyhedlund.com Jody Hedlund

      Hi Joe!

      Thanks for being a faithful blog reader! I appreciate that!

      I think we all long for a tipping point, where our blog or books spike and shoot upward. I think that can happen occasionally to people, where circumstances all seem to come together perfectly.

      But, as I’ve watched other authors and what I’ve experienced myself, I’ve learned that most of us have to earn our followers the old-fashioned way, with a lot of elbow-grease and patience! :-)

  • http://juliesunne.com Julie Sunne

    Very validating, Jody. Thank you!

  • http://www.authorcynthiaherron.com Cynthia Herron

    Thanks for the insight, Jody!

    So many times, folks are well-intentioned when launching their blogs, but then don’t follow through on a regular posting schedule. Eventually, enthusiasm wanes, readership drops off, and discouragement sets in.

    When I started blogging, I initially posted Monday through Friday, but then went to a MWF format to prevent burnout.

    Loved your tip about watching the blog post “fluff.” Your right. Avid readers/writers demand–and deserve–more.

    Great tips!

  • http://www.intheshadeofthecherrytree.blogspot.com Zan Marie

    “Overwhelmingly, readers indicated that they’d rather have one well-told story a year versus several books that lacked luster or editing.”

    Thanks goodness! It’s taking me years to get one book ready, so I’m happy that quality counts more than production.

    Great post, Jody!

  • http://jennym-talesfromtheredhead.blogspot.com Jennifer Major @Jjumping

    Some days I feel like a turtle walking in the lane next to a gazelle. Or Eeyore, only he’s basically pathetic, so yeah, let’s stick with the turtle.

    I link my blog to FB and Twitter and that seems to add traffic, but I’m still puzzling over the It Factor. Some days I want to rage on the unfairness of life, and other days I’ve got the brain power of cheese.
    Oh, and tip of the week? When you write about your mom, DO NOT mention the year she was born. THAT is a faux pas. Une tres grande faux pas.

  • http://einefeistyberg.wordpress.com Cherry Odelberg

    I mean to be consistent, to post regularly and on schedule. No matter how hard I try, circumstances conspire against me. Sometimes the circumstance is that 300 words on one subject may take longer to articulate, edit, research for reliability. Other issues flow from my fingertips and onto the MacBook with ease.

    It is well worth working on. Right now I will aim for once a week. The next goal; twice per week.

    • http://jennym-talesfromtheredhead.blogspot.com Jennifer Major @Jjumping

      One of the things I really enjoy about your posts Cherry, is the pictures. You live next door to paradise and bless me with those beautiful photos of your adventures. I’m enjoying getting to know you through your blog.

  • http://smartchurchmanagement.com/ Patricia

    Great encouragement! I often feel pressured to get a lot of content out there in a short amount of time but know inherently that it is more important to take the time to put something of quality together.

    Thanks for the tips and encouragement!

  • http://www.heatherdaygilbert.blogspot.com Heather Day Gilbert

    Great post, Jody. I always love your blogposts, since they are very helpful.

    And I love the advice to churn out one GREAT book/year versus many fluff books. Definitely what I am shooting for.

    I love getting helpful content in my blogposts, but I am still narrowing down what my readers love best. Definitely a fun process, but tricky when you have both writers AND readers following your blog.

  • http://www.jessicanelson.net Jessica Nelson

    Wonderful post! I think my expectations have been realistic. I try to keep them that way…lol

  • http://www.martzbookz.blogspot.com Martha Ramirez

    Ooh very nice tips, Judy! Thank you! Love the cover!!!

  • http://www.Martha.net Martha Bechtel

    I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot since I passed my second anniversary of my ‘squash-all-blogs-into-one’ adventure. While traffic has been trending upwards, I’ve hit a bit of plateau in the last six months or so.

    Right now I’m not consistent, or informative, or engaging– at least nowhere near the level I was hoping to be when I started. It’s something I knew I needed to work on, but wasn’t sure how.

    So I spent the past few weeks ‘storyboarding’ the content for 2013 for each subblog. Planning post and scheduling out was a lot like working on a novel outline, which was amusing and alarming at the same time. (I’ve never successfully finished a novel.)

    I’m not sure if this will work or not, but at least I know what to focus on now– hopefully the learning curve won’t be too painful! *crosses fingers*

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  • http://neuroticworkaholic.blogspot.com Neurotic Workaholic

    I do have a small number of people who regularly read and comment on my blog, but it would be nice to have more readers. I agree that consistency is important. I follow several blogs where the blogger will disappear for several weeks or months, pop up with a new post or two, and then disappear again. So I’m never sure whether I should unfollow because I don’t know if the person stopped blogging or not. I’ve also found that some people follow blogs but they don’t read them. I’d rather have readers than just followers.

  • http://www.jilliankent.com Jillian Kent

    Jody,
    You have a blogging gift that many of us admirer. I really believe it’s a gift, not that it can’t be learned, but I do think it comes easier to some than others. I think one of the hardest things for me, other than the whole thing:) is picking the right title for a post. I’d rather title one of my books, I’m better at that.

    I’ve noticed in the past couple of months that some of us are choosing to post less often, which makes it even more crucial to provide good content; always challenging. I’m only posting once a week now on Tuesdays but also post over at the Realms Blog, Just The Write Charisma, once or twice a month.

    I have noticed that my blog posts frequently get read at other times. A post that may have received 10 comments yesterday, may have 100 + page views a month later. So I think we also need to remember that what we write in our blog posts might catch someone’s eye next month or next year. When you think about it, that’s very similar to selling books. Some readers might find us right away where as others may not find us for a year or more. What an interesting business we’re in and at such a challenging time in publishing history.

    • http://jodyhedlund.com Jody Hedlund

      Thank you for the very kind words, Jill. I’ve noticed that over time, it’s gotten easier to write blog posts. I believe if we continually work at honing that particular writing muscle we’ll get stronger at it! I’ve noticed the same thing with my fiction-writing. After several years of writing every day, I can write faster and the words flow a little easier. Not every day! Some days I have to wrench the words right from my heart! But overall, I think the more we intentionally write or blog, the easier and better we’ll get.

  • http://messymiddle.com Amy Young

    The phrase that caught my eye was “realistic expectations.” Of course I know that the right answer is, “yes” … but the truth is closer to no :). I’m willing to put in the work over the long haul, I’d just like to start reaping benefits now!

  • William Kendall

    I started blogging a couple years back, while writing my first book, soon to be out and about. After I found my niche in blogging, I was astonished- and still am- that it found quite a readership. I think it’s because I’m entertaining and amusing the readers.

  • http://girlseeksplace.wordpress.com Brianna

    Thanks for the tips, Jodi. I’ve added your blog to my reading list.

  • http://www.meredithtowbin.com Meredith Towbin

    I have to admit that I do get discouraged sometimes. I’ve been blogging since April, posting four times a week, and it’s a ton of work. So when I see only a handful of hits on some days, I can’t help but feel I’m doing all this work for nothing. I know it takes a long time to build a readership, but patience is not my forte! It’s nice to read posts like this that remind me to just keep on chugging along and things will (hopefully) start to pick up eventually.

  • http://100stories100weeks.com Jack Dowden

    Consistency was something I worried about before I started blogging. Then I came up with the idea for 100 Stories 100 Weeks.

    It’s pretty simple, I have to put up a story on Sunday, every Sunday, for two years. During the week I blog about it. It’s a lot of fun, and people know what to expect. Except when I took two weeks off because of pneumonia.

  • TAMMY CUEVAS

    Thank you for such wonderful advice. I have been blogging for almost 2 years now, and although my blog experienced growth for a time, it has slowed recently. I realize now that my lack of consistency is partly to blame. Also, my original plan was to have a cooking blog, but I have added book reviews. Is there a better way to incorporate the two without losing either group of readers?

    • http://jodyhedlund.com Jody Hedlund

      Hi Tammy,

      One suggestion is to put a note in your side bar right at the top explaining what you will be blogging about on what days. For example, if you’ll be blogging about cooking on Mondays and Wednesdays, you could indicate that. And then if you’ll be posting book reviews on Fridays, you could list that too. Then people who come to your blog know what you’ll be doing and on which days. They can then come to your blog for the topics that interest them the most.

  • http://www.rinellegrey.com Rinelle Grey

    Great post Jodie. It’s somewhat of a relief to know it takes time, and good to be reminded. I’m just starting out with my blog, so just at the beginning of this journey.

  • Kathy Rouser

    Hi Jody,

    I’m late to this post, but I appreciate the well thought out advice.
    I’m thinking of starting a blog–something I’ve been shy about–but I am trying to make sure it’s well thought out. Thanks for your post.

    Kathy

  • http://www.trueloveintime.com/ Elena Andreev

    Hello Jody,

    This is very interesting and found that you have included very important facts here and its a honest writing..Overall it’s a great job..

    Thank you for sharing this post..

    Best Regards,
    Elena

  • http://hutt-writevoice.blogspot.com Linda

    ‘Write from the heart’ and ‘slow and steady’ works for me. Enjoyed this post and all comments!

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  • http://thesimplemoneyblog.com Kirby @ TheSimpleMoneyBlog

    I think your points about consistency (we too post on the same two days each week) and quality content are spot on. No one wants to read a poorly written or irrelevant post, so spending the time to really think about what your readers want to read is very important.

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