Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Writing can be a lonely business.
Long hours are spent planning, writing and editing your story, and when it’s finally published, you receive very little, if any, thanks for all your effort.
But it doesn’t have to be this way – thanks to unique communication opportunities created by the internet, you can develop a fan community that not only gives you constructive feedback, but also eagerly shares your work for you, helping your readership to grow even faster.
A two-way street
Building a following online is different to traditional print publishing. In print, the flow of ideas only travels from the writer to the reader, with little communication flowing back the other way. On the internet, though, the relationship between writer and reader can be far more symbiotic, with readers able to give direct feedback on what they like and don’t like about stories.
There is a precedent for involving fans in the writing process stretching back as far as the Victorian era, when eager readers persuaded writers such as Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle to give some of their literary works more upbeat finales.
In more recent times, video game studio Bioware were convinced by fans to rework one of the novels in their Mass Effect series after it was shown to have a series of canonical errors. Fans of every era have felt a strong desire for their involvement in the creative process (hence the popularity of DVD commentaries and behind-the-scenes features) and with the internet it’s easy to give them what they want: direct access to you as a writer.
The easiest way to turn casual readers into die-hard fans is to engage with them. Be open with your readers; give them a way of contacting you directly, and ask for feedback. When you receive a response, you have an opportunity to build a trusting relationship by taking their feedback on board. While you don’t have to make all changes suggested, helping them to feel valued and respected will inspire them to increase their personal investment in your writing, and in turn will make them more likely to share your work with others.
Involving readers in the writing process and giving them a voice encourages the development of a community among your readership.
Build it and they will come
Once you’ve started to attract readers to your community, they’ll need two more things from you: a regular space to gather and discuss your work and regular interaction with you; whether that be through exclusive content, insight into your writing process, or just regular messages and updates on your writing experience. If you provide your readers with a space to share their fandom, their love of your work will continue to grow.
A great example of a well-functioning community hub is JK Rowling’s Pottermore, an interactive audiovisual retelling of the Harry Potter books that features exclusive behind-the-scenes notes from Rowling. In addition to this, Pottermore users are able to interact with each other, both in discussing the books and in competing against each other for points in a way that mirrors the House Cup competition from the Harry Potter books. While your burgeoning community may not need a forum quite as elaborate as Pottermore, it’s certainly an excellent pattern to follow when developing your own community hub – perhaps around a Facebook page or a newsletter.
Community begets community
When you show love to your community and make it fun for them to participate, they’ll want to share it with their friends. Your potential fans will probably already belong to other fan communities, and once they’ve seen how enjoyable it is to interact with you, they’ll naturally get enthusiastic about inviting others to participate. It’s this culture of sharing that makes the internet such an excellent marketing tool – not only are you able to reach out to potential readers all over the world, but when you interact with them, listen to them and befriend them, their natural reaction is to share your stories far and wide.
Similarly, one of the best things you can do to attract brand new readers to your own fan community is to be a good community member yourself, not just in your own fan group but also in the fan communities for stories that you love.
Are you a Harry Potter fan? Get involved in Pottermore, and when appropriate, tell the community about your own writing projects. Find the fan communities for other writers that you love – the chances are if you enjoy these books, the other fans will enjoy your stories too. Send emails to writers that you admire, thanking them for inspiration, and let them know about your own literary works – you’d be surprised how many writers will be interested to see what stories they’ve inspired.
As you reach out and engage with your readers, you’ll reap benefits that are unique to publishing online. Not only will you encourage your readers to be even more faithful to your works and invite new readers to discover your stories, but you’ll also benefit from the positive feedback that your readers provide. What’s more – and perhaps most important of all – you’ll forge friendships with your readers and fellow writing enthusiasts that will last for years to come, and these friendships will inspire you and help you to further develop your craft.
What techniques do you use to grow your readership? Have you found that one approach works better than others? Please share your experiences in the comments below.How To Turn Your Readers Into Die-hard FansClick To Tweet