When your first book hits the shelves you're suddenly aware of a startling fact: someone, somewhere, is hopefully reading your book.
Hopefully they are loving it, and they can't put it down.
Maybe they'll venture over to Amazon or Goodreads and leave a review. Fingers crossed it's a good one...
Or they'll head to your website and send you a note via your contact form. FAN MAIL!
From a purely business point of view, readers are your customers. You want happy customers, and you want repeat customers. You want customers who love your product so much they recommend it to all the people they know.
Readers are your lifeblood. Romance readers are particularly wonderful, because they appreciate and love the genre. They're PASSIONATE about romance novels.
So it goes to say that keeping them happy is a big priority. This is one of those times when I honestly think my business mind melds with my emotional brain. Why? Because we're selling an emotional product that we believe in, and we're in the business of touching emotions through our stories.
The story is the most important point of contact. In plainest terms, you want to write the kind of story that readers will love. After you've written a few stories, you're pretty aware of branding and reader expectation. Your readership comes to expect a certain type of read from you, and it's your job to deliver. To do that, you'll make a series of decisions based on how your fans will react. For instance, did you receive a ton of mail about that hero's brother who was so interesting and deserves his own story? Might be a good idea to give him a happy ending. When I was writing THE HOUSE ON BLACKBERRY HILL, I ended up cutting most of a secondary plot line that ran through more than one of the books, on the advice of my editor. She was afraid that readers would be upset with the direction it took. It's a tricky balance between your creativity and how you want your character arcs to progress, and keeping your reader's reactions in mind.
But what about after the story's written and on the shelves?
I'm going to offer a small anecdote here. Once upon a time I met an author, introduced myself, and was greeted with a blank stare even though we'd exchanged several e-mails. It was in that awkward moment that I realized I'd been conversing with her assistant.
There is nothing like a personal touch.
I'm not yet at the point where I receive hundreds of e-mails a day in fan mail. But I do get SOME fan mail or people who stop by my facebook page to leave a comment and I always try to answer (on my page sometimes a comment will get missed, sadly) and I always answer myself. Even if the letter doesn't ask a question or need a particular response, I always send a quick Thank You for writing note. Other notes demand a response. One in particular I remember from early in my career came from a woman who'd spent a lot of time in the hospital with a sick baby, and she said my books helped pull her through that difficult time. What a compliment! I had to write back and thank her and ask how her baby was (he was fine!). And even the negative letters sometimes warrant a reply (not all. The really inflammatory ones are probably best left alone). With those ones, I try to be gracious. My books don't necessarily work for everyone, and at the very least I'll say that I'm sorry the story didn't work for them.
Your readers aren't numbers, they are people. They let you into their life with your stories. It's really quite a personal relationship when you think about it, and one you need to honor amid all the analyzing of sales figures and sell-through numbers.
And if you need one last reason why readers deserve your best attention: sometimes during a bleak work day with the numbers aren't great or the writing isn't going well, getting that one e-mail from a stranger saying how they're exhausted because they stayed up until 2 a.m. finishing your book? Priceless.
Donna's latest release is THE HOUSE ON BLACKBERRY HILL.
"Old family secrets, a bitter tragedy, and a restless spirit add mystery and an eerie touch to this compelling story that is steeped in small town New England flavor so rich you can taste it and beautifully launches the author's new series." Library Journal