Make Your Readers Part of Your Process

Surveying your audience during the creation process can help them feel more engaged and committed to your book's success.

Photo by Pixabay on Stockvault

It’s not uncommon for an author to do a cover reveal on social media. This helps build interest in the upcoming book. You can take this idea further for even more benefit. As an author or other content creator you should engage your audience in your process.

When I wrote my book, I started to have doubts about my title. Having worked in online marketing I was very familiar with A/B testing of marketing campaigns. Using this process, the marketer tests two (or more) versions of a campaign and quickly sees which gets more engagement. Typically, a small percentage of the budget is used, and once A or B is selected the campaign is ramped up.

While you can’t reasonably publish two different titles for the same book, you can test the title in other ways. Some authors do run test marketing campaigns before settling on the title. They will spend a few hundred dollars running ads for the upcoming book with each title and see which gets more clicks. I even know of some who do this at the concept stage; they run ads for different books they may write, to see what the demand is for the different topics.

All of those are good techniques but they don’t really engage your audience. I ran surveys among my communities. You can use your email list, online followers, or any other group. There are many survey tools, but I recommend Google Forms, since it’s free and easy to use.

I used the surveys to pick a title, subtitle, narrow down cover concepts, and then refine the cover. Each time I ran two surveys in parallel, one was to my target market, the other was to my friends. In the latter case I’d post on Facebook. I intentionally separated it because if my friends liked one thing, but my audience liked another, it was important to focus on my audience’s and not my friends, but my friends’ input was valuable, nonetheless.

The primary benefit is getting feedback. When doing the survey, you’ll ask a few questions like, “Which covers do you like?” but also be sure to ask for comments such as “What did you like / not like about the covers?” or “Any other input?” On my favorite cover design several women pointed out it was a picture of a man and that was a turnoff. I was blind to it but because I asked for their input, and not just their vote, I saw the issue and it gave me the option of using a refined cover instead of casting it aside (although in the end I did go with another cover because it was a clear winner). When doing checkboxes, selection, or other types of voting, be sure to check the option to randomize responses. This helps prevent bias where the first title or cover images anchors how respondents think about covers.

There’s a second benefit that I hadn’t considered initially. One of my friends noted that he felt like he was part of the process by being involved in those surveys and was excited to see how it turned out. Teasing people with a title reveal or cover reveal is great. Asking people for their input is even better since that gets them more engaged with the project; they spent time thinking about it. It’s typically only thirty or sixty seconds, but they now feel connected to the project and its success (or at least its completion).

The survey results don’t have to be public, so you’re not committed to simply taking the most popular choice. It is important, though, that you acknowledge their input. This doesn’t have to be done individually. You can run the survey, share some key ideas that came out of it, and then reveal the final decision. As with my cover, you can do multiple rounds. For example, your title could have a survey picking different concepts and then a second survey a month or two later wordsmithing the concept chosen in the first round. Each survey can have the post promoting it, some follow-up posts, some key insights (maybe even a “funniest comment” or “most surprising”), and then the reveal. You can easily get a dozen or two social media posts to create engagement with your audience as the lead up to your book. Some people even like to tease the runner-up concepts before the reveal.

This technique works for any type of book. Obviously self-published and hybrid-published authors need anything and everything to promote their book. Even a traditional publisher can benefit by getting direct market research and other sources for ideas, but also to create increased engagement and excitement about the upcoming book. While this was written for books, it can apply to all sorts of creative undertakings.

No author is an island. You can’t market your book alone. You also can’t create your book alone. We’re used to using editors, cover designers, reviewers, and others, but it doesn’t have to stop there. Getting input from your audience gives your feedback, but it also helps to promote your work and get people engaged with seeing it succeed.