Is a “Personal Relationship” with Authors What Readers Want?

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

The latest trend in online marketing is building a “personal relationship” with customers and readers. Sending newsy emails about your fab summer vacation isn’t enough anymore. Now you have to ask them about their fab summer vacations.

This is supposed to let readers know you really care about them.

Does it?

Speaking as a reader, that would be a…not so much.

I read lots of books. Do I want all those authors clogging my inbox, trying to be my BFF? Nope. Not even if it’s Margaret Atwood. If she really cares about me, she’ll write another book, not have a virtual assistant send me a faux-friendly email.

As an author, it all makes me want to cry. How can a working author find time to be pen pals with thousands of readers—even with robotic help?

. . . .

In this current marketing scenario, the author/vendor offers a bribe, like a free ebook (called a “reader magnet”) in exchange for a potential customer’s information. (And recently many vendors have dropped the freebie, and the “magnet” is simply the privilege of entering a website.)

Once they’ve got your deets, they’ll hammer you into a “personal” relationship with their robots whether you want it or not.

. . . .

The plan goes like this: once you’re on the hook, the author or vendor sends an immediate automated email that asks friendly questions like:

  • What books do you read?
  • Where do you live?
  • What do you like to do?
  • Yoga? And when are your classes?
  • Oh, so you’re out of the house on Tuesday evenings between 7 and 9?
  • Where do you keep your valuables?

Kidding aside, not everybody feels warm and fuzzy when asked personal questions by complete strangers. The line between “friendly” and “invasion of privacy” can be a thin one. When you cross it, you are going to have less than positive results.

. . . .

And somehow unsubscribing takes weeks, if it happens at all. (I still get emails addressed to “Dear Unsubscribe Me You Morons.”)

And unsubscribers are also subjected to a major guilt trip. “Where did we go wrong?” one site asks if you try to leave. Or you have to hit a button that says: “I’m not interested in becoming a published author,” or “I prefer to remain ignorant.”

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog


19 thoughts on “Is a “Personal Relationship” with Authors What Readers Want?”

  1. Speaking as a reader

    And here’s where she makes a bad assumption. She’s not an ordinary reader. She’s a writer.

    Now, I don’t have thousands of readers clogging my inbox, but I have become friends with several of my readers. Asking questions definitely results in more reader engagement, and as far as privacy, no one’s forcing them to answer the question posed in the email.

    I’d say she read Newsletter Ninja and didn’t like it, despite the fact that the techniques definitely work.

    • This is just the view of one reader, and as all readers are different it may be that nobody will agree with me. And I’m ignoring Twitter and Facebook as they’re really not my thing.

      However, as a reader Anne’s views are very similar to mine, and I’m no writer. The kind of website processes Anne describes would send me running: the last thing a writer needs is to come between a reader and information about the books. If you want to develop a personal relationship with your readers it needs to be voluntary, discrete and easily avoidable by a website visitor.

      My suggestion for a writer’s website would be: information about the books (reading order, blurb, sales link to every market in the world) and contact information in case a reader needs to ask a question or report typos. If you want the personal stuff separate it out in an “all about the author” page. Give them an offer to sign up to your newsletter, but don’t push this with an intrusive pop-up.

      Your newsletter should just give book news: this book is up for pre-order, that one has just been published, some are on sale.

      If you want to make friends with your readers write a blog with as much personal info as you want and encourage anyone interested to comment (and advise them to follow you on Feedly or the like). If a reader really wants a personal relationship with you they can always write you a letter (well email actually) and you can take it from there.

      • Oh, and speaking of popups, I use ad-blockers. No apologies. So, if there’s something you need for a reader to see, and the reader is not willing to put up with the crap that gives rise to adblockers: have a static ad “widget” in a sidebar or footer. has an example: the left sidebar has a picture of a magazine cover, and they have text letting you know you can buy back issues in PDF form. That kind of ad I can see, and will cheerfully tolerate, as it’s relevant.

        Observe how the ad doesn’t block content the reader came to read. It doesn’t move, it doesn’t play music, and best of all, it doesn’t freeze up my computer or install malware on it. I can see it even with my adblocking browser, because it doesn’t do anything; it’s just plain HTML and not a script. It is seen, but not heard. As it should be.

      • Some readers want more engagement than simply getting a notice about preorders, etc.

        Some really do. Not you, but many.

        I handle this by splitting my newsletters into two types, a monthly newsletter that includes personal news, news about all my pen names, a giveaway, and a free short story. The rest of my newsletters are notification-only; they only go out when I have something important to share (like a sale or a new release) or need reader input (e.g. a survey on which format a novel should be released as).

        This works for most of my readers and it’s really not that much more work on my end. I don’t have an assistant. Everything is written by me and readers know that. They have an option of how they receive news about books, via a chatty monthly newsletter or an every-once-in-a-while email. Regardless of format, the ones who really want to engage do. The ones who don’t, don’t.

        I originally set up this system as part of my move from writing under pen names to writing under my own name, but it’s working out so well that I may keep doing it as a long-term thing, even after I shift over to writing solely under my own name.

        I really enjoy hearing from readers and their input is invaluable to me. That survey I mentioned kept me from making a HUGE mistake on how I will release an upcoming novel. I would never have known that my readers preferred one method over another by a large majority if I hadn’t asked.

        It’s not all about getting a sale; it’s about servicing our readers. Reader engagement is important. It doesn’t have to be over the top or obnoxious. It doesn’t have to be intrusive. It just has to work for any particular set of authors and readers.

  2. I’m a reader.

    What I want is a good story.
    I don’t care if the author is lefthanded or a righty, loves cats or dogs, roots for the Cubs or the Indians. I don’t care if their day job is teaching english or designing rockets.

    Just give me a good story and let me move on. I might be back if the next book sounds interesting. Or not.

    Definitely not in the market for a personal relationship with authors; I figure they’re too busy to mess with the likes of me. Besides, I’m not a fan of mixing commercial and personal.


  3. I could give a list of my own personal preferences, but that’s just it, they’re mine and no one else’s.
    I think one of the biggest mistakes an author can make is to assume that most or all people are like them, but here’s the thing, there is a reason why many authors are building personal relationships with their readers and it’s because it works.
    I imagine it’s also contingent upon genre as well, for example, someone who read military science fiction is probably not going to want to know about the author but people who read romance or Christian fiction might.
    Everyone should just do what works for them, but there’s no harm in trying something new.

  4. Depends on the reader. Depends on the writer.

    A lot of my readers love my community. But my community is not for all my readers. Doesn’t harm me any to enjoy the community with them. 🙂

  5. I don’t ask questions in newsletters because it ends up creating more work (more responses going into my box that I then feel I should respond to), but…

    I think the person who signs up for a newsletter DOES want more than a “hey, here’s my new book” email. They can sign up for an Amazon alert if that’s all they want.

    Judging from all the responses you will get if you ask questions, some people are looking for a connection. It’s just up to the author if they have time to take that on. I think it’s something you might enjoy doing in the beginning, but then it gets tougher to manage as you become more well known and have a bigger list. Especially if you publish often and have a lot of balls in the air at any given time.

    • I follow a collection of authors on Amazon but have found the service rather inconsistent. Never been told about pre-orders – and I like pre-orders – and the notification of a new book often arrives some time after publication. When I sign up for as newsletter it is basically for the new book information, I don’t mind a few extras such as a prolific author setting out their future publication plans but personal information I can do without.

      As someone who reads a lot I am subscribed to a lot of newsletters and don’t want to spend my time reading them unless rewarded by a “you can order or pre-order this now” message. And I’ve always assumed that this button click is what the author wants from the newsletter.

      And to repeat what I’ve said often enough before that it will bore regular readers: put in order links for all the bookshops, don’t assume that is all you need to sell on Amazon. And don’t use an intelligent Amazon link that chooses the bookshop for the reader, these can get confused when away from home (I’m visiting younger son in WV and clever links don’t send me to Amazon.UK where I want to buy).

  6. Never wanted to meet Issac Asimov or Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Never wanted to meet the Beatles or B. B. King. Never wanted to meet the ’85 Chicago Bears or Micheal Jordon and Scottie Pippen.

    While I followed all of them and consumed the stuff they created, (yes, sporting events, too), I knew if we ever met there would be disappointment on both sides.


    • I totally wanted to meet Asimov when I was young. I reread his autobiography about ten years ago. From the perspective of my more advanced years, it was obvious that he was insufferable. He would probably be fun at a party, provided that everyone was willing to let him be the center of attention. One on one? It would be exhausting to maintain the level of adoration he required. Also, I understand that he was quite handsy with the women.

      More generally, dealing with celebrities: I grew up in southern California, where it was a genuine possibility of finding yourself sitting next to George Clooney at the lunch counter. The prevailing ethos was a combination of “let the guy eat his lunch” and “don’t act like a tourist.” If you found it necessary to say something, the correct formula is “I enjoy your work.” This allows him to say “Thank you” and then finish his lunch. The same principle applies to authors.

      • I knew a man who encountered Clooney at the Detroit Athletic Club during Clooney’s stint as Batman. The man was sitting on a bench in a locker room, and Clooney came out of the shower and sat next to him. The man was startled to see him, and asked,

        “Say, aren’t you –?”

        But Clooney wagged his finger to his lips and said, “Shhh! I’m Batman.”

        I thought that was a graceful way for Clooney to handle dealing with a celebrity-sighting noob. So that’s another thing: Be graceful to your fans, however you encounter them.

      • I love Asimov’s writing.

        And his literary personna was amusing (“…above all, devilishly handsome…” ) but my suspicion has always been he’d be too much Cliff Clavern in real life. I preferred not to find out.

        Some things work best in small doses.

        • His literary persona was of a raging egotist, layered atop self-aware modesty. The thing is, it is obvious in retrospect that the modesty was also a layer, atop seething insecurities requiring constant affirmation. Being around this would get old very fast.

          I actually did meet Harlan Ellison once, at a con around 1980, give or take. I rode an elevator with him. As a teenaged SF geek, I was completely and eagerly prepared to be an adoring fan. It took only that elevator ride to bring me to the conclusion “What an asshole.” I have no idea, at this far remove, what he did or said to produce this response. That memory has long faded. But the substance of my reaction to him comes through strongly.

          • One thing Asimov said was that you need a strong ego to think anybody would pay for your writings. Probably true but the flipside if that if you don’t you have to fake it.

            Or had to.

            Another thing self publishing changed.
            All you need these days is the curiosity to find out.

  7. I agree with the blog idea. I never open the author newsletters I do subscribe to; their purpose is just to let me know that the author has published another book. If you’re putting new information in the newsletter that you don’t normally have, e.g., a contest, then mention that in the subject line.

    One the other hand, there’s a sci-fi author whose novels I’ve never bought but whose blog I visit. He does guest posts by people who give overviews and plot bunnies on different sci-fi / fantasy topics. Think genetics or magic systems, etc.

    The blog could be adjoined to the author’s “just-the-facts ma’am” site. The blog might contain posts about the cool research the author did in the making of the story. Along with other behind-the-scenes information. One author’s blog I read just because I wanted her bibliography for my own research, but it turned out I’d already read the same sources she did. Alternatively, if the author has enough FAQs about the lore of a series, she might just put up a site dedicated to that series.

    I probably would not care about an author’s personal details — kids, friends, pets — unless they relate in some way to the storytelling part. I don’t care about their frolicking cats, I may care if a cat swallowed the flash drive where the writer kept the sequel I’ve been waiting for — does the drive’s data get destroyed when the vet does an X-ray?

    Do tell how you designed the eyes of your aliens to match the glow-in-the-dark thing that your cats’ eyes can do. I don’t care about your fight with your husband, but do tell how he helped you choreograph the sword fights that appear in your novel.

    Whatever you do, make it easy for readers to get in touch with you. I gather that in the original edition of “Ringworld,” Larry Niven made a major mistake, where he has the main character traveling the globe in exactly the wrong direction. Pre-internet, he could have been privately alerted to the mistake via readers’ letters. These days, an author could be publicly alerted to mistakes by Amazon reviews, if readers can’t find contact info on the author site (or newsletter).

  8. Email marketing is a proven and successful form of marketing – and one of the most successful for selling books. Of course, it’s also a form of marketing that can be done well or badly, or done in a sleazy way, or with genuine authenticity and actual respect for your audience.

    This whole post is a procession of straw men and the argument can be easily parodied: “Here’s ten terrible blog posts. Therefore, blogging is dumb and anyone who blogs is an idiot.”

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