What Does It Mean to Have an Engaged Audience, and Why Does It Matter?


how to make readers more engaged

Engagement. It’s a buzz word in both blogging and publishing, but what does it actually mean? Is it the next “synergy”–my favorite marketingspeak word that I love to hate?

As I wrote about here, a lot of my process of sorting through potential clients involves looking at hard numbers—traffic stats, social media followers, subscribers, etc. But in reality, what I’m looking for underneath all of that is simply engagement. Does the potential author have a highly engaged audience? Do they already have a large group of fans who would fork over their hard-earned cash for a book?

This could be an audience of millions, in which 10% of the people are engaged enough to make a purchase, or it could be an audience of 50,000, where every last person would gladly exchange $21.95 for your book. The size of the total audience matters to a certain extent, but when it comes down to it, it’s really the conversion rate that means the difference between a bestseller and a flop. (I wrote more about the “stickiness” factor of engagement and conversion rates here.)

Conversion rate can sound like more empty marketingspeak (one of my writing pet peeves!), but it’s really a simple concept that boils down to this: how close are you to your audience? Think of this closeness like you’d think of your real-life social circles, where you have varying levels of familiarity with everyone from your spouse to your mailman. Here’s what that usually looks like:

The Fanatic Fans: This is your inner circle, your immediate family and closest friends. These are the people that you speak to the most frequently and who know the most about what’s going on in your day-to-day life. These are the good folks that, if you published a book tomorrow, would probably buy a stack of copies and proudly shove them upon everyone they know.

The Fans: Then there’s another circle of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who you speak to regularly and who know about the major events of your life. If you published a book tomorrow, these people would be happy to support you and buy a copy, but they probably wouldn’t run around evangelizing about your endless genius like your mom would.

The Connections: And finally, there’s the outer circle of connections—people who you know and who know of you, but whom you communicate with only sporadically. Random Instagram friends and Facebook friends you knew from college fall under this category. If you came out with a book tomorrow, you’d be able to get a message in front of these people that your book is releasing, but only a small percentage of them would actually care enough about you and your work to buy the book.

Obviously, it doesn’t take an MBA to know that you want more of the fanatic fans than the distant connections if you’re trying to successfully launch a book. But what defines the level of engagement that people in each group feel toward you? Two things: a personal connection and regular communication.

The first is all about being a real person. Don’t be a marketer; don’t be a book-pusher; don’t even be an author all the time. You’re a three dimensional person, and it’s okay to talk about how your new puppy just barfed in your Bean boots, or why you’re moving to Hollywood to become a stunt double. (Someone please do this!) Your family and friends love you because they see the dynamic person you are and are able to root for you the whole way through, so don’t be shy about being a real person to your readers, too. (I’ll break this down more next week.)

The second is about keeping in touch with people. Are you actively maintaining these relationships and making sure people know what you’re up to? Or are you hoping that, by chance, people will remember to stop by your website to catch up, or that your social media update will make it onto someone’s feed? This is where email lists become so important for keeping an audience close.

Luckily, no matter how crushing it or how stalled you are in terms of platform building, you can still benefit from incorporating these two elements into your strategy plan, even if you don’t have a book (or other product) to launch yet. And because I am all about easy, practical action steps, next week I’ll be back with a little surprise resource I created to help you stay on track. Except I guess it’s not a surprise anymore, since I just told you about it. Damn.

Anyway, think of it as my thank you to everyone who’s cheered me on as this little publishing blog has grown and become my small piece of fun on the Internet!

5 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to Have an Engaged Audience, and Why Does It Matter?

  1. Your posts are interesting and informative, Maria. Thank you. I don’t have a clue about the business side of things when it comes to writing, so I look forward to your posts in my inbox.

  2. Hi Maria,

    Thanks for another great post! You say that engagement is more important than numbers but how is that proven? Can you also tell us if there a minimum number of “fans” for social media, mailing lists and site visits that we should be aiming for before submitting a query letter or book proposal to an agent or publisher?

    Any insight would be appreciated!

    Thanks again,


    1. Hi Andrea,

      Both great questions! So the tricky thing about engagement is that there isn’t one metric that can clearly track it. Engagement is a feeling, not a number. It’s the feeling readers have when they think they know you as a friend, and they care about what you have to say and want to see you succeed. Think of it as the difference between your mom and your mailman. You may interact with both once a day, but your mom would buy dozens of copies of your book, while your mailman might not buy it at all. Engagement is about the depth of connections, not the breadth of connections.

      As for numbers, that is the question I get most often! And the hard truth is that there are no standard numbers, because there are too many other factors that can change the equation. Everything from genre, to stats, to marker conditions, to engagement, to book concept, to personal connections, to press, to a million other things will influence how all the numbers interplay.

      I’ll write a longer post about my thoughts on numbers in the next few weeks. Thanks for the great questions, Andrea!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *