Karen Whiting

Karen Whiting (karenwhiting.com) is an international speaker and award-winning author of sixteen books and more than five hundred articles. She writes to help families thrive and grow tomorrow’s families today. She’s the former television host of Puppets on Parade. Her newest book, The One Year My Princess Devotions: Preschool Edition (Tyndale), encourages girls to become princesses in action and develop royal character traits. She loves to splash creativity on the pages of her writing and inspire others to be creative. As a board member of CAN (Christian Authors Network), Karen works to help authors cooperatively market books to reach audiences.

Christian Authors Network

Write on Target

Messy, tasty, and fun! That’s how I often relate to my readers.

Before Christmas I invited neighborhood children over to make chocolates. I also made candies with grandchildren and a church youth group. I do this and other activities every year—and not as self-inflicted punishment.

I write for children, and my books usually include crafts and hands-on activities. Doing projects with kids is part of staying engaged with my readers. I love my readers and enjoy getting involved with them, even if it means getting sticky fingers. I make such activities easier by preparing ahead for each group. For candy making, I covered surfaces with plastic to make cleanup easier. I saved small disposable containers to hold the melted chocolate so everyone had their own dish to use. I mixed the ages and encouraged older girls and boys to help the younger ones. We all had a great time, and I enlisted the kids’ help in the cleanup too.

Since I am currently writing a book for boys, I took the opportunity to really listen to the boys and see their reactions so I can write what will engage my audience. Writing for your audience means getting to know them—and not just with a passing hello or sitting in a mall to spy or listen to snatches of conversations.

Working side-by-side with people, the kids tended to open up and be themselves. It’s provides opportunities to notice emotions and reactions. I noticed kids who withdrew because of teasing and watched to see how other kids reacted.

My Princess Devotions

We also made cookies. One youth dropped a knife with frosting and wanted to continue using it to ice a cookie, saying, “It fell on a clean part of the floor.” Another yelled that was gross. The knife-dropper cringed and drooped her head. I responded, “People walked on that floor, so that’s like letting someone lick the bottom of a shoe.” That sparked some “yuks” and chat about germs and where their shoes had traveled. Everyone started laughing at places shoes go and what might be on the soles. The attention went from the one girl to shoes. I handed the offender a clean knife and smiled. She smiled back and started icing again. The conversation will wiggle its way into the book I’m writing.

Experiences give us the reality for our writing and connect with readers in both fiction and nonfiction. That’s why editors at conferences always stress that writers need to know their audiences. We connect when readers sense we understand them and like them. For this New Year, be sure to add activities in your calendar to connect with readers and be creative in how to interact.

One writer who has a full-time job in marketing met with me recently for ideas on selling books. I asked how she interacted with her sci-fi readers. She replied that mainly she gets together with other writers, but as we talked she realized that she needed to find her readers. She had participated in an author scavenger hunt with 56,000 contestants but mainly developed relationships with the other authors. I suggested that she should contact the readers who posted on her blog to win a book and connect more with those contestants. She also decided to check with her local library to hold a sci-fi event and invite the audience to dress as a sci-fi character or invent a gadget for a character to use. This goes deeper than simply speaking to the readers. The show-and-tell time allows her to engage them in creativity and learn what types of gadgets fascinate them. She might use a few ideas in her next book.

I also try to connect with secondary readers or other buyers and influencers. I have taught craft workshops at senior centers to show how grandparents can use my books with their grandchildren. Adults often buy books for kids. I’ll be speaking at a children’s ministry conference soon to reach out to youth directors who can use my books at their churches. With the launch of a book in the spring, I will be signing books at a library convention. I like to do more than sign books, so I’m preparing craft bags with materials from a project in the book to hand out as I sign copies. That gives people an immediate opportunity to try something from the book. In the past I’ve handed out quizzes and tip sheets to audiences. Quizzes that include humor can be fun and memorable for readers. Handouts allow the author to give readers a personal message and invite them to engage with them in social networks.

Watching how successful authors connect to readers can inspire new ideas. Sandra Felton (The Messies Manual) held an online party with incentives for readers who took photos and posted them of parties at their locations. Tricia Goyer invited readers on her blog to take part in her twelve days of Christmas giveaway, in which she shared family traditions and memories. Last year I had fun with readers when I wrote the twelve crafting tips of Christmas. These types of activities can get lots of responses and generate fun while connecting with readers. I’ve also followed up with readers, and developed some good friends, who won books from me in contests.

It takes time, as all relationships do. Planning also helps. At CAN we are planning an author scavenger hunt. We’ll be talking about maximizing these opportunities and ways to engage the readers on our various blog-post stops during the hunt. We want to make the posts short and fun to grab attention and get readers to respond. We hope the readers will want to stay in touch with each author and also the organization to continue relationships started with the hunt. They may go after the treasure we offer, but we’ll treasure each one of them. Becoming friends with readers is the best connection that will grow your readership.