Authors talk and think all the time about who is reading their books, but how often do you think about who talks about your book and who gets others to read it?
Gaining readers is only the first step of building an audience. A reader is merely someone who read your book whether they loved it, hated it, or were indifferent. If all you’re building is readers, you’re doing all the work yourself, one reader at a time. You can have success this way, but you can have more success paying attention to the other types of people you’re looking for.
Fans are people who love your book and talk about it. Evangelists are people who get others to buy it. Building up these segments of your audience is far more important than building readers alone. These people will be the army you need to grow your brand.
So how do you build fans and evangelists?
• The first step is to provide a place for fans to gather. If you don’t have a blog, start one. If you don’t know what one is, you’re reading one. The internet has no lack of articles to learn how to blog well, but here is a good place to start.
• Use your website and/or blog to let people know more about you and your message. If you’re a fiction author, you can write short stories or back stories about the characters in your book and post them here. Do whatever you can think of to give more to people who want more. Think about the things you like to read about famous people you admire and provide these things.
• Encourage anyone who comes to the site to post comments and questions, and respond to them. Readers think every author is famous, and the more they like your book, the giddier they’ll get about hearing from you. When they’re excited about hearing from you, they’ll tell all their friends that an author replied to their comment. They may post a link to your blog or website on facebook or on their own blog. You can encourage this by giving blanket permission to repost your posts if they give you credit, like I did with the tips on blogging from Ford Saeks. (If you haven’t clicked that link yet, it’s right here.)
• Wherever you go to speak or sign books, tell people about your blog and/or website, and encourage them to connect with you there. If you use projection slides with your presentation, put your blog or weblink on the last slide, and make sure it stays onscreen while you are taking questions from the audience.
• Always, always, always ask people to tell others. Obviously, I’m not talking about accosting strangers and asking them to tell people about your book. That would be creepy. However, whenever someone says something nice about your book, your knee-jerk response should be, “Thank you so much. Please tell everyone you know about the book. We’re trying to build an audience!”
• This is particularly true when people ask you when your next book is coming out. It is not uncommon for new authors to have 5 or 6 people ask this question and then try to put pressure on me to make their 2nd book happen. I can’t go to our acquisitions editors and say, “6 people have asked when the next book is coming out.” Their first question will be, “How many books have they sold?” If someone asks you when your next book is coming out, say, “As soon as we sell enough copies of the first one, so tell all your friends to buy it.” Some people will. Those are your evangelists.
• Reward your fans and evangelists in ways that are small to you but big to them. This could be anything from sending them a handful of bookmarks to naming a character after them in your next book. Some authors even use their blogs to workshop their future books. They share ideas or setting and plot points on their blog and work the feedback they like best into their writing. Be creative.
The crazy thing is that fans and evangelists don’t even have to be readers, necessarily. I’m a fan of Craig Groeschel, pastor of LifeChurch.tv. I interviewed him (skeptically, I might add) when I was the editor of a magazine that showed how churches use technology in worship. The more I heard his heart and heard his passion repeated through my interviews with the rest of his staff, the more I came to appreciate him. I’ve never read his book Chazown (that’s the Hebrew word for “vision”), but I like it because I’ve seen his God-given vision in action.
Even stranger, I’m an evangelist for Bill Hybels, another author who is pastor of Willow Creek Church. When I was 17, my dad gave me one of his books, and for 25 years now, I’ve called it “the best book I’ve never read.” The book is called Who You Are When No One Is Looking. The title alone convicted me and changed the way I look at the world. It has shaped my character again and again over the past 25 years, and I’ve told many, many people to buy the book. If you’ve never considered this issue or known who you should be when no one is looking, go buy the book and read it.
If you’ve done anything at all to build your audience, you have some fans and evangelists. Connect to them and watch how much faster your audience grows.
Comment below: What are some of the ways you’ve created fans and evangelists?