Hi there! Duolit is on hiatus, but please feel free to explore our extensive archive of posts and our free Weekend Book Marketing Makeover. Thanks for visiting!

How to Engage Your Crazy-Dedicated Fanbase

This series has been expanded into a step-by-step eBook! Find out more about Building Your Fanbase: A From-Scratch Guide for Indie Authors.

Check out other posts in the reader-centered marketing series: 11 Questions to Turn a Target Market into a Reader Profile and Pinpointing Your Crazy-Dedicated Readers’ Favorite Hangouts!

Imagine this: You’re back in high school, it’s the first day of Chemistry class, and you don’t know one other student in the room. You need to find a lab partner, someone you can work with for the entire school year, and you have two possible strategies for trying to accomplish this:

  • photo by west_point

    Strategy 1: You start approaching people at random with eager handshakes, immediately listing off to them your GPA, class schedule and previous Chemistry experience. Before they can say a word in response, you drop to your knees and beg them to be your partner, pleading and promising that you will be the best partner if they will just give you a chance.

  • Strategy 2: You hang back for a moment and size up the room full of people, notice one person in particular who has stickers for three of your favorite bands on his binder. You approach and ask his name, chat him up about your similar tastes in music, and discover that your lockers are close to each other. After getting to know each other for a few minutes, sharing a couple of laughs, you suggest that your similar tastes would make you great lab partners.
Which strategy do you think is better? Which would you use?

Maybe we stacked the deck a little, but hopefully you see the appeal to Strategy #2! This should be your overall approach to engaging with your readers as well.

No matter where you’re going to meet your potential readers, you should approach it with the intention of making a friend, not making a sale.

Instead of a pushing for a lot of quick, one-time purchases, using Strategy #2 will create the kind of loyal, dedicated fanbase you can build a career on.

But what, specifically, should you do?

Last week, Toni pointed you toward a variety of places where you can find your readers, based on the sample reader profiles we created the week before and our overall principals for reader-centered marketing. Now that you know who your fans are and where they hang out, we have one last step to bridge the gap between you and them:

Stop being a wallflower and make some connections!

Here’s the lowdown on how to do that in each of the arenas Toni recommended last week:

  • Blogs:
    • Get your foot in the door by commenting on blogs where you know your fans would hang out. DO NOT just write “Good post” or “I totally agree!” Add some details and most importantly, add some personality! Ask questions, suggest further reading, etc. Be part of the conversation!
    • Once you get familiar with the blog owner, reach out via e-mail and ask if they would be interested in a guest post from you. Suggest a topic you’re familiar with that you could write for them (save your shameless plug for the end) and go from there. Be kind, be patient and above all else be genuine!
  • Twitter:
    • photo by laccentnou

      Once you start following potential readers on Twitter, sign up for a service like HootSuite so you can create a separate feed for just your potential readers. Jump into the conversation and talk to them! Again, avoid generic retweets, really respond and connect with them about your similar interests.

  • Facebook:
    • Find fan pages that your readers would probably like (and therefore have in their feeds) and comment on pictures and posts on that page. Don’t go crazy — one comment on one post a day is great to get started. Don’t just post a plug for your book either, it’s okay to talk about whatever subject everyone else is talking about. If you make good points or add engaging comments, you’ll be noticed, don’t worry.
    • You can also post photos, status updates and links on your fan page that you think your fans would enjoy. Don’t make it all about you — share other things that are related to your genre or subject matter and slowly add your own mentions and promotions to the list.
  • Other Social Media:
    • Whether it’s LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google + or another social media site, you should go about it the same way as Facebook and Twitter. Ease in, find pages/people where your fans already hang out and jump in the conversation. Eventually they will notice your witty, charming comments and seek out more information about you.
  • Web Communities:
    • Forums are a great place to connect with your desired fanbase (yes, forums are STILL around and no, it is not 2002). Make sure you do your research before joining any paid forums to be sure it’s well populated with your potential readers. Find thread topics you’re passionate and knowledgeable about, then start contributing! Be conversational (try to avoid being a smarty pants) and don’t shamelessly self-promote. If there’s something you can tie in to your book or your career as an author, by all means go ahead, but remember to always be subtle and humble.
  • Offline:
    • These places can be a little more intimidating to join than online communities, but they can lead to some great long term relationships with your readers.
      • If you’re a YA author, schools can be a great resource for finding new readers. Contact your local high schools and offer to speak to English classes about novel writing, or provide a few of your books to their library.
      • The best method for offline interaction is to find out what you have in common with your sample reader. Toni mentioned alumni associations, book clubs, parenting groups and service leagues, all of which are great places if you have a genuine connection. (In other words, don’t join an alumni association for a school you didn’t go to or a service league you don’t care about, but if there’s an opportunity to overlap your interests with those of your target readers, go for it!)

You’re all set! The fans are waiting!

At the beginning of June, you might not have known exactly who your readers are or where to find them, but four weeks later you should feel like an expert fanbase detective! You’ve got the skills, the tools and the great book to share, what are you waiting for? Get out there and find some readers!

WAIT! There’s one more thing you need to do…

If you haven’t done so already, join our mailing list so you’ll receive updates (not junk or obnoxious sales stuff) on future marketing freebies and courses, writing tips, and other indie author tools, resources and fun stuff. (We think we’re pretty funny, too, so you could consider it a form of free entertainment…)

  • Great post, Shannon! Love the chemistry class example — I totally would have been the weirdo wallflower, but definitely understand now how making connections is uber-important. It’s also much less intimidating (for me) to do it online than in person, so if you’re an introverted author, relish the opportunity to engage while still hiding behind the computer 😉

    • Thanks Toni! Also it’s worth noting that in our high school chemistry class you paired up with someone else while I was in Spain and left me to be lab partners with a stranger. So you weren’t a weirdo wallflower, you were a deserter! 😛

  • I love the chemistry class example also, because it’s an action I admire. I have been trying to follow 80/20 lately, even though I’m neglecting my writing.

    At least I got one page done yesterday…

    • Hi there, Chihuahua! Question: is it a struggle to find time for your writing while you’re in promotion mode? Do you feel like you have to choose one or the other?

    • Nah. I have a lot of time. It’s just that I don’t use it wisely.

    • Ha! Thank you for your honesty — we definitely want to work with authors to make the use of their spare time as efficient as possible. Great fodder for future posts! :-)

  • Good post! I totally agree!

    …kidding. Though I do totally agree–it’s important to seek out that “ideal reader” and try to win their heart individually. At that point, we’ll realize, “oh, there are a million people out there who ALSO are exactly like my ideal reader!”

    Doing it one at a time maintains personality, individuality, and it just seems nicer. Great post, guys! Thanks!

    • Exactly! You hit the nail on the head, Nick. In the hunt for sales, fiction authors feel like they need to sell to everyone, but that’s totally counterproductive. Embrace what makes indie publishing great — total control and the opportunity to personally grow a crazy-dedicated fanbase. Make your readers feel like they’re a part of something special (because they are)!

  • Amen!

    Engage first, sell second

    In fact, it should be more like sell 4th or 5th :)

    Good advice and something we should all take on board. Those readers won’t know what hit them

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

    • Right on, Matt! Build that fanbase one person at a time by being grateful to every fan and for every sale. Think of them as friends, not simply customers :-)

  • What a fantastic article!

    I’m in the early stages of gathering a social media following. So far, I am using Twitter to share useful links and content, with Facebook acting as a more personal hub for those interested. It’s growing steadily, but I’m sure the effort I am putting into it will pay off in the end. :)

    Thanks for a great post. I will definitely be looking to use some of the methods you have suggested, such as giving HootSuite a shot.

    • Hi Ryan! Shannon did a rockin’ job with this one, didn’t she? I’m going through your site now, but so far it looks like you’re doing a perfect job with your mix of give and take. Your perspective on how to use social media is spot-on, too!

      I know some will disagree with me here, but I think slow and steady growth is the way to go. I love ramps, not spikes! :-)

    • Thanks for the feedback Toni! I totally agree with you. I can see why it might be easy to lose heart, people being more selective about clicking that ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’ button. Its important to persevere, and as tempting as spamming may feel, resist it! Spamming might secure you a few sales, but it won’t secure a long-term audience, I believe. :)