How Writers Build Successful Online Communities

A recurring conversation I have with editors and clients is about the importance of building online communities that engage with fellow writers and readers. I bring this up again and again because writers in the earliest stages of their querying and publication process need to know how to navigate this unchartered territory.

Here are 12 reasons why you need to be captain of your digital ship in a big way:
Manage your own brand

First impressions make the difference between someone clicking the ‘buy’ button and someone navigating away from your site. Websites and blogs need to be: cleanly designed; clearly communicate your name, book, the hook, and sales links; have an up to date author photo; link to social media platforms; and be updated frequently. Do not make the mistake of putting something up just to save your domain name. Make it count. Get a fantastic graphic or website designer and never let them go. Be objective: is this an author site you would buy a book from and/or be inclined to find out more?

Increase discoverability of your work (and thus sales)

With smooth linking between Facebook, Twitter and your website/blog you can seamlessly guide readers from one experience to the other and lead them to buy your book. Clunky navigation and unclear purpose leave visitors confused. Some visitors may overlap between your platforms, but some visitors might be unique to each platform. What information do they each need to know? How will each type of visitor be able to find your book? These are the answers:

  1. Good hook
  2. Great cover photo (when it’s available)
  3. Links to e-commerce sites
  4. Links between your platforms to increase engagement
Meaningful relationships

Unique visitors is one way of measuring online success, however editors and marketers are increasingly interested in the community you’ve build in recurring and engaging visitors. How do you keep your readers coming back? Consistent and frequent posting? Are you known for your writing tips? Find out what is making your visitors come back and grow in that space. In time they’ll feel like they’ve grown with you and this leads to communities that promote via word of mouth and feel like they are championing one of their own.

Fan loyalty

Once you’ve secured your visitors and build that community how to you keep them loyal?

  1. Exclusive content
  2. Cover reveals
  3. Pushing information out yourself rather than have your publisher feed the information to you

Again, this makes readers feel like they are on the inside instead of the outside. Everyone wants to be the first to discover a cool new band, right? Think of how new readers are going to discover and promote you in an indie way.

Virtuous circles of engagement

When you learn to engage your fans, deliver what they want, make them feel included and cross promote in the community this brings in new fans. Reward them with exclusivity, bonus content, and contests.

Understand opportunities

Social media is not for broadcasting, it’s about individuals interacting around content that is meaningful to them.  Never forget that. That should be the biggest take away from this post. Take the opportunities to do guest posts and be open to new platforms because you’ll never know which will take off and which will lead to new opportunities and connections.

Feedback from your community

Communities are great for feedback opportunities, especially for aspiring writers. Use the networks you’ve built to create online or Skype critique groups. Take a chance and post what you’re working on to see what others think. It’s hard to put yourself and your work out there, but as a writer you want your work read and you want readers to connect with you.

Finger on the digital pulse

What better way to know about what’s going on in digital publishing, or just being aware of publishing news than being engaged on Twitter. If you are knowledgable about the way the industry is moving you can more clearly see your role in it.

A good platform means it’s less about who you know…

To get your manuscript looked at you used to have to know someone that knows someone and get it passed along. While referrals are still fantastic and you need an agent to access most editors that is no longer the only way to get attention. Self publishing success stories are ubiquitous and the excitement is contagious. The bigger your online platform and the bigger your community means the stronger your message is being communicated with buying power.

International scale

Digital platforms and networks know no regional boundaries. The amazing part of online connections is that they can bring you to readers in territories that you never thought your writing would connect with.

Supplementary material opportunities

I touched on this above, but a big part of keeping communities active and buzzing is supplementary material. This included bonus chapters, book trailers, first looks at cover design and perhaps the covers that didn’t make it. This supplementary material provides a personality behind the writing, behind the book, and makes you a real person to your readership. How can you give your readers more?

With this comes responsibility

With these tools comes great responsibility. It’s easy to think small and go down a convoluted digital route with no idea how to reach people. The biggest take away is engagement in community setting. Writing a blog post and tweeting the link does no good if there’s no one there to receive it. When starting out keep it simple with a clean site, clear message, and select images.

As you can see I am clearly passionate about this subject. My job is to be the advocate of writers and presenting writers in the best possible angle for success. Don’t wait for an agent or a book deal to start your website and Twitter accounts. When queries come in we want to find you and see your social engagement.

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

7 thoughts on “How Writers Build Successful Online Communities

  1. Thank you Ms. Watters. I found the piece very helpful in planning my use of digital/social networking.

    I personally must concentrate more of my effort on Supplementary Material. For a start, I am considering serializing my first book and publishing the 32 chapters and epilogue over 33 weeks. I hope it will work as both an attraction to help build a community and a magnet to keep and interact with that community.

    Will keep in touch


      1. You motivated me to get on with it.

        Today I have released a serialized edition of Treachery In Turtle Bay my first novel and the first book of the Anna & Hugh Masterson Mystery Series first trilogy.

        So if you have nothing else to do and would like to read one of my novels…the one that has thus far won the most awards, go to

        Thanks for the push!


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