readers, reader relationship, gatekeepers, publishing, pubsoft, chuck wendig, publisher, traditional publishing, selfpub, self-publish, reader communities, book reviews, amazon, bookseller, hugh howeyOne of the most important relationships in publishing today is the reader relationship, whether it is between author and reader, publisher and reader, or even reader and reader. Readers are the new marketing team, the new grapevine, and some may even say, the new gatekeeper.

There are, however, those that disagree (often vehemently) with the “readers as gatekeepers” ideal

And as, Misha Burnett says, “Writers don’t get to decide if their books are good or bad. Nor do publishers, editors, reviewers, or literature professors. In the end there is only one meaningful standard by which books can be judged—do people want to read them?”

There is no magic formula that determines a book’s success, or as Burnett calls it, the “goodness” of a book.

“If there was a formula that could be applied to determine the “goodness” of a book then bookstores wouldn’t insist on guaranteed returns. The amount of waste in the publishing industry is unbelievable,” states Burnett. “It doesn’t matter how much of your heart and soul you pour into a book, it doesn’t matter how many editors parse your prose with a fine toothed comb…it doesn’t matter if you get glowing reviews in The New York Times Review Of Books. What matters,” says Burnett, “is if people want to read it.  Period.”

Readers. They are the real salesforce. Publishers today that have recognized that and the importance of the reader relationship are the ones that will thrive in this new publishing landscape. Jan Reichelt, co-founder and president of Mendeley, agrees.

“The questions publishers should ask themselves for the future are how to create continuous engagement with their customers and consumers of their content; how to learn more about them in order to serve them better; and how to leverage technology to develop solutions and to build a relationship with their end-users, so customers don’t go away and get what they need somewhere else,” says Reichelt.

One of the reasons self-publishing has become so popular among well-written indie authors is because they understand the value of their readers and the reader relationship. They invest time and effort into the reader relationship. They visit reader communities built around their genre, or even their own brand. They engage with their readers intimately, making the readers feel a special kinship with the authors. They offer a direct sales channel with multiple purchase points, so their readers can always access content. And the really innovative few use  data analytics from readers to create what Reichelt calls “create continuous engagement with their customers and consumers of their content”—AKA nurturing the reader relationship.

But to do so, to nurture the reader relationship, publishers big and small need to utilize a combination of technological capability (data analytics) and personal engagement with readers (social media, reader communities, customer service). It’s a marriage of sorts with the reader; for the author and the publisher. It’s time well invested. So, for better or worse, cherish the reader relationship.