Why engage with your readers

Last week I asked my readers for their feedback on a possible title for my next book. The response was amazing, thank you! Today I want to share my process for analyzing this data, and illustrate why engaging with your ideal audience — even long before your book will be published — is not only useful, but deeply fulfilling.

What Engagement Looks Like

For me, engagement looked like this:

  • 150+ responses
  • More than 11,000 words of feedback

Plus, these emails contained other words of thanks, updates, of questions that weren’t related to the book title. I didn’t count those in the 11k. I was surprised at the total word count when I added it up, illustrating why we engage: because people want to share. They want conversation. They want to feel that their words count. They want to co-create with us.

How to Get Engagement

This is the big question, right? Some of the answers will be downright annoying:

Q: “Dan, how did you get 100+ responses to your question?”
A: “Well, I sent out a weekly email newsletter for 15+ years. Oh, and I’ve sent 29,500 Tweets in that time, 2,965 Instagram updates, hundreds of podcast episodes, as well as hundreds of webinars, courses, and other programs.”

Nobody wants to hear that! And while those things are true, they not the entire story to how to get engagement. Yet they do support what I often talk about: that the foundation of engagement is showing up in the lives of your ideal readers. To be generous where you can. To care about their goals and challenges. To forge a sense of communication and trust through many small moments.

But in a single email, here is what I did to get engagement in that last newsletter:

  1. Pre-work: my question about the title wasn’t flippant. I got feedback from a close collaborator, Jennie Nash. I came into this question with confident expert advice. We discussed it over the course of many months. And even now, it’s still not a final decision. I also reached out to a handful of people I really respect the week prior to my newsletter to get their feedback. Their answers gave me great insights and further confidence.
  2. In the newsletter I was up front about what I wanted the reader to do. I put it in the first line: “I would like to ask for your help today.” That made it not only clear, but personal. There is a vulnerability in asking for people to help, and that is part of why many people responded. I didn’t beat around the bush: the next sentence asked the question very clearly. “Do you like this title?” and then I shared the title.
  3. I asked open-ended feedback where the reader could use their voice. Meaning, I didn’t funnel them into some form. I didn’t ask them to rate it on a scale of 1 to 5. I asked a question that allowed them to use any language they wanted, any length they wanted. I encouraged them to reply via email so that it felt familiar, not some link to a form.
  4. I gave people permission to hate the title, encouraging them to give me any feedback, even negative feedback.
  5. I then shared more about what the book was about, giving 3 choices for subtitles. Sometimes it’s easy to pick between three things.
  6. Then, I shared my “why.” My belief system around creativity and sharing that the entire book represents
  7. I ended the newsletter with some very personal stories about my childhood, sharing who I am as a writer and artist, and where I come from.

Hopefully, this gave people not only clarity of how to engage, but a deeper connection to me and my work. Of course, after the newsletter was published, I shared this on my blog and all of my social media channels.

There are many other ways that this can be done, but I simply wanted to deconstruct that one newsletter in case it was useful for how you would consider engaging your audience.

How to Analyze the Feedback

How did I process all this feedback? I will admit, part of me was tempted to just casually read it over, and then get a sense of what my gut told me I just read. But that would have been wrong. Why? Because looking at the data and analyzing it means I have to look at reality, not perception. So I used (drumroll please)… a spreadsheet! One by one, I copied each of the 150+ responses to a spreadsheet.

I created the following columns in the spreadsheet:

  1. Feedback: the actual words that people shared.
  2. Reaction: for this I created four categories: Love, Like, Meh, and Didn’t Like. So I would tag each piece of feedback as one of these.
  3. Subtitle preference: which of the three subtitles they preferred, if they liked any of them at all.
  4. Subtitle ideas: lots of people shared their own ideas, so I wanted to put them all in one place.
  5. Book title ideas: some people didn’t fully resonate with the book title I presented, but had ideas that were similar.
  6. Thoughts on the concept of “Human-Centered Marketing” which appeared in the subtitle. More on this below.

What is all of this for? To create a system to process everything. Otherwise, I may end up overwhelmed amidst 150+ emails. So it is critical to move all of this out of email. Then, I want to turn feedback into action, which is why there are so many columns.

Challenge Your Assumptions

So how did people feel about the title for the book, “Share Like It Matters”? This is how it broke down at the time of writing:

  • 15 people really didn’t like it. They had clear and specific issues with it. They would not give a book with this title a second look.
  • 12 people felt “meh.” It just didn’t resonate with them.
  • 80 people liked it. They would notice the title and pick it up.
  • 51 people loved it. The title immediately grabbed them. It lit them up inside and got them excited.

So at this point, it is tempting to simplify things and say that more than 80% of people liked or loved the title, so that is the answer! And while that is true in a sense, I wanted to go deeper. 51 people saying they loved it really jumped out at me. That is not what I expected, though it is what you dream of when choosing a title. That some segment of your audience reacts in a visceral and positive way.

But the 27 people who didn’t like the title mattered just as much. As did the many many many ideas and notes from most of the respondents. Some insights I’m seeing so far:

  • The title of “Share Like It Matters” isn’t perfect. Some people won’t like it, and I will lose readers because of it. People gave really specific reasons why the title doesn’t work, and it gave me a lot to consider. That will apply to any title I choose. The balance I’ve been considering is a title that represents the content of the book, and also is engaging and memorable.
  • In two of the subtitle choices, I included the term “Human-Centered Marketing,” which I’ve used to describe my general philosophy for how writers and creators can market their work. But 18 people either didn’t like the term, or worried that it felt too businesslike and clinical. That is great feedback for me, not just for the title, but for my messaging in general.
  • Also in the subtitle choices, the term “system” really resonates with some people because it signifies a plan to follow, and scares other people because it sounds too rigid.

Why Engage?

In reading all of the feedback, I was not just deciding a title, but also a subtitle, the messaging for my business overall, and learning more about how I will market this book in general. That is an amazing process to go through before a book launch. This is why I encourage writers to begin their book launch process 12+ months before launch date. (If you are a writer planning your book launch in 2023, please consider working with me!) It’s better to learn these things now, when you have time to really create a strategy around them, than when you are in the midst of a launch and have no time to make changes.

Engaging with others also feels deeply fulfilling. I am so grateful to be able to be able to connect with each person about the themes of this book, and get their input. It makes the book feel more alive, even before publication. Plus, it helps the entire process feel fueled with creativity and community.

Thank you for your support and being here with me.