Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.
Fans are one of the greatest rewards of being a writer. It wouldn’t take much, since there’s so little money in publishing, but still. A loyal following of readers provides many benefits beyond book sales. Fans can provide a warm welcome at a convention, or a couch to crash on during a book tour, or a seething army to smite your critics online. Inspiring this loyalty doesn’t happen overnight, even for bestselling authors. Let me show you what it takes:
Business Cards: First, print some business cards listing all the places your fans can interact with you–your website, Twitter, Facebook, Livejournal…wow, Livejournal’s still around, huh? You may as well list a Hotmail address…oh, you’ve got one of those too, huh? Wow.
[pullquote]Fans can provide a warm welcome at a convention, or a couch to crash on during a book tour, or a seething army to smite your critics online.[/pullquote]
Business cards double as bookmarks, and are great to give out at readings, as tips at restaurants, to the cashier at the grocery store. One trick I like to use is to print them on the back of coupons. Even if they don’t buy your book right away, they’ll forever associate you with that one time you got them 20% off a pint of Chunky Monkey.
Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, and blogs allow you to reach your fans without having to actually be in the same room with them, proving that there has never been a better time in history to be a writer. Set up a discussion board on your website so fans will have a place to praise you while they get into screaming matches over unrelated minutiae. Ask readers to Instagram your book in different places around the world, whether that’s in a far-away pub, on a tropical beach, or next to the toilet. Get in Twitter flame wars with nincompoops who misunderstood the Christ symbolism you put in Chapter 7 that should have been INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS, JERRY!
Fan Fiction: You’ll know you have some dedicated fans when they start writing fan fiction about your work. If you want to encourage it, publicly state how flattered you are that your fans care enough to write a nonsensical alternate ending or a poorly conceived spin-off. If you really want to encourage it, tell them that you hate fan fiction, and create a pretend law firm to threaten legal action. Pro tip: Set yourself up for success by planting clues in your manuscript about which characters might make good slash fiction pairings.
Sponsorships: Make your fans feel like they’re part of your book by naming characters after them. All you ask in return is a lot of money. For $1,000, I’ll name a character after you. For $1,500, I’ll make it an interesting character. James Patterson does an auction, then donates the proceeds to charity. You know what a good charity is? Working writers like yourself. If you could afford to spread money around to the unfortunate, you wouldn’t be reading this article.
[pullquote]If you want to encourage fan fiction, publicly state how flattered you are that your fans care enough to write a nonsensical alternate ending or a poorly conceived spin-off.[/pullquote]
Contests: Ever wonder what a movie adaptation of your book would look like? Don’t wait around to sell the movie rights. Have a contest for a fan-made film! Having trouble fleshing out a character? Give away some random bauble from your desk for the best fan art. Staging a contest combines the exhilaration of finding diamonds in the rough with the dedication and production costs of a sweatshop.
Live Readings: You can buy a book, download an ebook, and photocopy an entire novel at your office copy room after 5 p.m., but you can’t download the feeling of seeing your favorite author give a live reading. If you’ve already had a book launch party, set up some “just because” readings in local bookstores, with whom you’ve probably already got a working relationship. “Jeez, it’s that guy again,” they’ll say. Coffee shops are good spots, too—they have to conduct at least one open-mic night a week to maintain their coffee license. If they’re nice, they may let you leave some copies to sell by the cash register. Make sure to give them the business, though. Tip well, and order something complicated enough that they can make fancy foam art with it. This is what they live for.
If you’ve followed my advice, you should now have a fandom that would rival Firefly. If not, clearly it’s because your writing isn’t that good. That is the only other possible explanation. Good luck!
Have any tips for building your fan base that you want to share? Let us know in the comments!