W. T. Meadows on Developing a Readership

Author W. T. Meadows, a dear friend from college, was kind enough to answer my questions about how he developed a readership for his work. Tom is a particularly charismatic person: outgoing, funny, and sincere, and he always took my trash talk during Mario Kart with a laugh. Talking to him always makes you feel seen and appreciated, and picking up a conversation after any amount of time is easy and natural.

Tom has written five novels in the Shaman States of America series, an urban fantasy world originally created by Chrishaun Keller-Hanna.

Three siblings of the same gender
means they all have to Hunt
or face monsters coming to their door.
When did you first start building a readership?

I started talking about the books openly a few months before the first book came out. Amazon lets you post pre-orders 90 days before the book goes live, so we started talking it up a little before the preorder went live. It helped that my co-author and the creator of the universe where the series took place, Chrishaun Keller-Hanna already had an established readership and community. She mentioned me in her newsletters and we started doing social media posts talking about the first three books, which were all slated to come out within about 3 weeks.

Did you have readers ready out of the gate or was the growth more gradual?

I had my friends who were kind enough to show interest in my books and people who were largely interested in the overall world where I was writing. The first three books became Amazon Best-Sellers within their own smaller categories within the first week of their publishing, but the thing that not a lot of authors say is that that’s just a badge. It’s certainly something to be proud of, but the numbers to achieve that weren’t earth-shattering.

Since then, the growth has been much more gradual. The numbers aren’t huge, but the people who read my work have become ardent fans and that’s something I'm infinitely more proud of. Personally, I will take fans who will introduce me to someone else or their book club than a temporary orange badge above my book.

Were the steps to build a readership more methodical or more by-the-seat-of-your pants?

I guess the short answer is yes. It’s been somewhat like the process for writing the books. I have a general plan and a bunch of major points planned out, but if the process takes me somewhere else I’ll go there instead.

As I mentioned earlier, the people who dig my work have graced me by telling others for me. Sure, there’ve been some ad buys and newsletter mentions, but one of the biggest places where I’ve had success was with finding ways to engage with my audience. Whether that’s been at conventions or on social media, it’s always a trip to have someone say “hey, this is the guy who’s books I was telling you about” or even things like “I’m eating WAY more greasy diner food now, and it’s all your fault!” Those are both things that’ve happened from people I’d never met and neither were interactions I planned or expected.

Another thing that helped me build up my readership was something that started as nothing more than idle curiosity. I have a single-question poll I’ve been conducting since the launch of the first book based off of an event riiiiiiiiiiiiight at the end. I was very curious what my friends thought, so I asked those who I knew had finished the book first. Their answers were fascinating and encouraged me to have people ping me on social media, typically through my facebook author page, when they’ve finished the book. I try to make everyone know that I’m not about to ask them if they liked the book or not so it doesn’t seem like I’m fishing for complements. The question has nothing to do with the quality of the book, but just that single event. The answers remain delightfully varied. The question has also prompted some amount of additional engagement through social media as well, which again helps bring the interest of more people.

Did anyone help you along the way?

Absolutely. Not a question in my mind.

CKH has been an astounding amount of help throughout this process. I’ve certainly developed my own readership separate from the rest of the Shaman States books, but her helping me out along the way was absolutely intrinsic to that process. She remains a sounding board and constant advocate for me. I could not be more grateful for her.

Additionally, groups like 20 Books to 50k have provided extremely valuable information. As both Craig Martelle and Michael Anderle both say, a rising tide floats all boats.

Have you ever lost readers? If so, why?

Not to sound glib, but I don’t think so? Even my worst reviews so far, and I’m sure just saying this will prove otherwise, have still been relatively positive. It will certainly happen at some point and I’ll deal with that when it happens, but I hope I’ll remember the wondrous words of Neil Gaiman at that time:

“When things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician -- make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor -- make good art. IRS on your trail -- make good art. Cat exploded -- make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you're doing is stupid or evil or it's all been done before -- make good art.”

What is the best advice you can give other writers for finding and keeping readers?

My first instinct is to urge other authors to read that same quote again. Then read it again another few times. Consider Kurt Vonnegut’s advice to create for the sake of creation. There’s absolutely a fine line between creating things that are made to sell well and things that are done for the art of the thing. If you want this to be your career, you may have to find the balance between those things, but I encourage you, much as possible, to lean into making the art you want to make.

With that in mind, engage with the people who are interested. Kindle the flames of that interest. Show them how much you appreciate them and that interest will spread to those around them. Be active on social media or your newsletter. Ask questions and don’t worry if you only get a few views or responses at the time. More will come in time if you persist and nurture the audience that’s there.


Find out more about W. T. Meadows and his work on Facebook or Amazon.