173: 173 – How to Establish Healthy Relationships with Your Readers

I’m tackling a question that I think more authors (blogger, creatives, and influencers) should ask before they establish their online platform. If they don’t ask before, they for SURE should ask soon after. The question is: how close should authors be to their audience?

You might be wondering what this question even means. Stick with me. I think you’ll understand why I feel like this is so important.

FROM THE IVORY TOWER TO INSTAGRAM

We are living in a glorious digital age, where more than ever, authors and readers can connect. My 12-year-old self would have DIED to be able to tweet at or email or DM my favorite author online. I remember LOOKING in the backs of my paperbacks to see if there was an address so I could write fan mail. Usually? There wasn’t.

Authors were in ivory towers, out of reach, out of sight, and far from readers.

Now? You might be able to find out what your favorite author ate for lunch, because they’ve posted it on Instagram.

You could know their kids’ names.

What shoes they bought yesterday.

What they’re struggling with personally.

The switch has completely flipped. Honestly, this all started with reality TV, as far as I’m concerned. We all got nosy (okay, humans have probably always been nosy) and enjoyed getting a front-row seat to all the inane (and dramatic) details of other people’s lives.

Then: enter the internet and social media.

We have ACCESS now. You can choose not just to post your lunch, but to do a live video or create an Instagram story about your lunch. And your readers get INSTANT access to your life, lived up to the minute.

This is, on the one hand, really amazing! I love this … in some ways. And as with social media as a WHOLE for people, this access can also be very, very unhealthy.

UNHEALTHY ACCESS TO AUTHORS

Here are a few things I’ve seen recently (a few details changed to protect those involved):

  • authors getting mad at their own Facebook group, make an offhand comment about killing a character to “show” readers, and a massive fallout off the hundreds and thousands of group members
  • readers DEMANDING that authors finish their favorite series faster and sending angry emails or posting public rants when books in a series take more than a few weeks to release
  • authors promising in their emails and Facebook groups that books are coming out, then readers getting angry because the author breaks those promises, then disappears from public view
  • readers bullying authors and personal assistants to authors
  • authors rallying their reader groups up to attack other authors or people on twitter or through low ratings on platforms like Amazon
  • readers in an author group getting nasty and mean with each other and the author not stepping in to stop it or moderate
  • authors receiving nasty personal emails about their families and personal lives because readers didn’t like books
  • readers giving up on authors (and announcing it publicly) because the authors didn’t do what the readers wanted OR what the author told readers they would do
  • authors apologizing profusely because they aren’t doing exactly what the readers demand

These are all pretty general examples. I don’t want to get more specific and share someone else’s story. You get the idea.

All this access has allowed for some unhealthy relationships to form! It may sound GREAT to share pics of your new baby in a group … until an angry reader makes a threat and names your child. (I know it’s weird, but stuff like this happens, y’all.)

HOW TO CREATE HEALTHY BOUNDARIES

Look. There isn’t one way to do this. It will be different for different authors. And you could do the best job ever, feel great about it, and still have someone lash out. (I’ve had readers freak out at me for things I 100% never did. Once I responded to an angry email and it turned out they sent it to the wrong person altogether! Still, though: yikes.)

We won’t all agree, but here are some things to consider and best practices for keeping and maintaining healthy relationships.

Decide how many and what kinds of personal things you want to share. Reevaluate, as this may change. Will you share the actual names of your family members? Are you going to share pictures of yourself and your family and friends? How much of your real life will your readers see?

Choose the platform that feels the best and healthiest for YOU. Where are you happy? What feels like a space that has a good vibe for YOU as a platform? If you choose too many places, you’ll be stretched thin, and that may impact how you feel and interact with your readers.

Consider establishing a space that can offer you control. If you find yourself on the receiving end of an attack, what can you do about it? (Ex: On Twitter, the gloves are off. In your personal, closed Facebook group, you can kick people out, report to Facebook, and block.)

Set the tone in your spaces. Your online space? Is YOUR space. Or, it should be. Really, this won’t be true on every space, which is why I suggested finding a place that offers control. This is one reason I love Facebook groups and would recommend spaces you can control. You can decide what stays and goes, what people post, and how people speak to one another. The culture of your group reflects YOU. So if you have a space that allows people to be nasty to each other, that can also turn on YOU.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Breaking trust with your audience is something you may not be able to come back from. Keep this in mind when you share things like launch dates or make commitments. Trust is a HUGE currency and one that’s hard to gain back once it’s lost.

Make sure your readers know that you’re in charge. Serving your readership is great. Creating a connection can be wonderful. But if you let the readers think that they OWN you or that you are going to do everything as they want, when they want, it’s not going to end well. They won’t be happy. You certainly won’t be. Find a balance between making the decisions YOU want and taking into account the readership you’ve built.

Don’t get so emotional, baby. It’s so easy to get emotional online. We are emotionally tied to our work. Social media can incite our feelings. But posting in an emotional state rarely brings good things. Take some time before posting. Step back. Sharing your feelings on occasion can be a really good thing, but if you’re posting a lot in the heat of the moment, it’s going to come back to bite you.

TAKE ADVANTAGE; DON’T BE TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF

As a final point, let social media and all this connectivity serve YOU. Don’t become its servant or let your readers demand things of you.

If you started out and hadn’t thought about this, THAT’S OKAY! Take some time to decide how you want to handle the relationship with your readers, where you’ll interact, how you’ll communicate, and what you won’t tolerate.

Have you ever given this thought? What is important to YOU in terms of establishing boundaries with your readers?

 

 

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