By Jason Kong
Earning loyal readers through your writing is an awesome achievement. As a fiction writer, that is a significant milestone.
Not only will these fans support you with repeat business, they’re also the ones most likely to provide recommendations about your work. Positive word-of-mouth remains one of the most powerful forms of marketing.
You may believe that a faithful following doesn’t require much of your attention. That your time should only be spent seeking new readers to grow your audience.
Nothing is further from the truth.
Your biggest fans welcome your outreach. They’re the ones that attend in-person book signings, follow you on social media, or contact you via email. They want more interaction, not less.
That presents a wonderful opportunity. You have a chance to intensify the enthusiasm of your core supporters, and make them even bigger fans than they already are.
How should you engage them?
Consider saying the following:
- “My next story”
For a stranger, this sounds like promotion. For a fan, this is music to the ears.
Know the audience you’re addressing. They’re here because of your storytelling, so stay on their radar by working on your next book and letting them know.
Is heightening anticipation manipulative? That ultimately depends on how you do it. Manage expectations deliberately and stay away from overhyping. Like kids eager for Christmas, the worse thing you can do is disappointment them.
And remember, your readers may like your sparkling personality but they love you for your writing. Don’t keep them waiting any longer than necessary.
Bonus tip: Keeping yourself publicly accountable is a great way to force you to deliver the goods. Announcing you have a story in the works increases the likelihood of coming through on your commitment.
- “I know you”
Imagine hearing those words from someone you respect and admire. The bigger the fan you are, the bigger the thrill.
Your loyal readers may not have you on top of a pedestal. But you should recognize supporters that show up again and again. Take note of their identities and, if possible, call them by name when you interact.
The point isn’t to have perfect recollection of every exchange you’ve had with a fan. Just realize that people appreciate when you remember them, and that it’s worth the effort especially for those that hold you in high esteem.
Bonus tip: Someone seems familiar but can’t place the context? Do online research. You may not always remember, but Google does.
- “Come hang out”
Back in the day, the only fans got to see a favorite author was to wait until that person showed up in their town, usually for a scheduled event.
Now, thanks to various online tools, getting together is easier than ever. From online forums to social media, it’s up to you where you want to answer questions, engage in discussion, or have a few laughs.
Neil Gaiman frequents Twitter. J.F. Penn will show up virtually at book clubs via Skype. The writer picks the venue and sets the expectations for what goes down.
Connect with old friends and make new ones. What’s not to like?
Bonus tip: People may be showing up because of you, but that doesn’t mean you need to be part of every conversation. Fans love to connect with other fans of the same interest, so encourage those interactions as much as possible.
- “Just for you”
Your loyal readers aren’t like everyone else, because they care more about your work than everyone else.
That’s worthy of special treatment. Not just in the sense that you should reward them, but also in a way that only they would appreciate.
For example, indie fantasy author Lindsay Buroker posted a character interview on her blog. You have to know Sespian from her books for the piece to make sense, but that’s exactly the point. Lindsay wrote the post for her insiders, not newcomers. That exclusivity made it extra special.
What’s more, this is the kind of gift that requires effort, not necessarily a lot of money or time. The creative process can be a lot of fun for you too.
Bonus tip: Sharing exclusive gifts on your email list works really well because those who sign up tend to care the most about what you do.
- “What do you think?”
People love to converse on things that they care about. Asking them for their opinion is a simple way to encourage that passion.
The possible topics are limitless. You can seek their thoughts on certain elements of your stories, or have them explore a narrative gap. You can solicit their favorite book cover for an upcoming release, or whether you should add to an existing fiction series.
Besides generating interesting discussion, you also benefit from the feedback. You may get ideas that lead to better writing or a stronger connection with your audience.
Just don’t ask a question if you’re not open to hearing the answer. You may not agree, you may not comply, but you owe them your attention — at least for a while.
Bonus tip: Be aware of the vocal minority when assessing feedback. The loudest may not represent your entire audience, or even most.
- “Please help”
Are you surprised by this one?
You’ve probably noticed that the list so far is about your generosity, and what you can do for your loyal readers. Asking for help stands stark in contrast.
That’s not an accident.
Most of the time, you should be focused on making your fans feel special. But every so often it’s okay –and expected– that you seek their assistance.
Why? If you’ve been treating your core following well, they’ll want to reciprocate. It’s not presumptuous to request aid if you’ve built sufficient goodwill.
Just remember that asking for favors is only possible if you take care of your tribe early and often.
Bonus tip: Everyone benefits when you’re explicit about what you need. Want more reviews? Ask for that and provide direct links to the web pages where your books reside.
- “Thank You”
If you have fans, you have good fortune.
Once upon a time, you were just starting out as a storyteller. There was a period when few people noticed or cared.
You’re in a better place now. Even if you have just a handful of faithful readers, you’ve been validated. Someone values what you’ve written. A lot. And chances are, you’ll never experience total obscurity again.
You made it happen, but so did your fans. They supplied their money, encouragement, and endorsements that are changing your dreams into reality.
Let your supporters know about your appreciation. Be specific on why you’re thankful, and do it sincerely and frequently. Exhibit your feelings through both words and action.
Thanking someone is so obvious and so important, yet most of us still don’t do it often enough. If that’s you, start fixing that today.
Bonus tip: Finding ways to say “thank you” is good for your fans, but it’s really good for you too. Gratitude practice will make you happier.
Please add to the list
Do you know what it’s like to have loyal readers? Based on your experience or observations, what else do fans want to hear you say?
Jason Kong is a Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. He also runs Storyrally, an email-based subscription that helps fiction writers with their online marketing.
You can learn more about Jason here.