Having loyal readers can make it easier for an author to sell subsequent books. While reader loyalty is primarily fostered from love of a book, it can also be cultivated through online engagement. Getting readers to engage online takes time and effort, which may not yield immediate revenue, and the ROI of these efforts can be difficult to measure. However, there can be significant long-term gains from having loyal fans who are willing to preorder, review, and enthusiastically tell their friends about a book.
So how can authors engage with their existing readers online? Here are some creative ideas we’ve seen authors employ. We hope these ideas help you brainstorm some new ways to interact with your own readers, so you can test which strategy would be most successful for engaging your unique audience.
1. Ask for fans’ opinions
One creative way to engage with fans that takes minimal effort is to post a question asking their opinion, even if it’s not directly related to a book. This can make readers feel appreciated and engaged with the author’s online persona. Consider pairing the question with an image — Facebook posts with images see 2.3x more engagement than those without images.
Daniel Arenson frequently posts interesting trivia, photos, and videos relevant to his target audience of sci-fi/fantasy readers on Facebook, and often asks for his fans’ opinions, usually pairing his question with a relevant image. These posts usually get dozens of comments (if not more!), as fans love sharing their thoughts — and when it’s time for Daniel to promote his books, they pay attention.
Diana Gabaldon often asks for her fans’ opinions. Once she shared a review which sparked a debate, and asked her Facebook followers to chime in with their opinions.
2. Run discounts to encourage reviews
Reviews are a valuable form of reader engagement, since they can help convince other prospective readers to buy a book. In order to get more reviews, many authors discount their book and update their back matter to ask readers to leave a review. Our data shows that this is an effective strategy — 70% of authors who discounted a book and ran a Featured Deal saw increased measures of exposure, such as reviews, Facebook likes, and email list sign-ups. And 84% of authors who asked readers for a review in their back matter saw an increase in reviews.
Here are a few great examples of authors asking readers for reviews in their books’ back matter:
3. Run a creative author Q&A
Colleen Hoover encouraged fans to ask her questions for a combination Q&A and contest — each fan who asked a question would be entered to win a signed copy of her latest book. She coupled this with an image to catch readers’ eyes. As you can see from her comment, this was an off-the-cuff promotion, as she’d been planning a Facebook Live Q&A. But despite the last-minute change, this post had 1.6K comments and 1.2K reactions!
Jennifer Niven hosted a holiday party–themed Twitter Q&A a couple of days before Christmas. She created a hashtag so fans could easily follow along, and promoted the event weeks in advance on multiple social media channels, including Instagram:
During the Twitter Q&A, Jennifer provided her answers by quote-retweeting the questions:
4. Run targeted promotions where readers congregate
If you’re attributing a budget to a campaign and your priority is to drive clicks and sales, targeting readers who’ve already expressed interest in the author and are specifically looking for new books to enjoy can drive better engagement. Ad platforms like BookBub — where members are readers looking for books to buy — allow authors and publishers to reach relevant readers and existing fans. For example, advertisers discounting a book (in an effort to get more reviews) can target readers already interested in that book’s author.
If your priority is to drive comments and likes, other sites like Facebook and Twitter let you target ads to a fine-tuned audience based on preferences users have expressed on those platforms. While these users are not necessarily looking for books to buy, you can at least reach people interested in a specific author.
For example, on Facebook you can target users who are interested in specific authors:
On Twitter, you can target users who have followed a specific author:
5. Run a scavenger hunt giveaway
Running online scavenger hunts can be a fun way to get existing fans (and new ones!) to learn more about your books while vying for freebies.
Kate Brauning, a YA author and editor at Entangled Publishing, ran a giveaway where participating readers needed to follow the #EntangledBookHunt hashtag on Twitter to see her questions. They could find the answers by visiting specific pages on her website. Several authors published by Entangled Teen also participated in the hashtag by answering people’s questions.
Here is one of Kate’s tweets promoting the giveaway:
Here are the instructions Kate posted to her website (read the full giveaway announcement here):
This Twitter scavenger hunt had a ton of participation, which you can see by scrolling through the hashtag here.
6. Run a trivia contest
Trivia contests can be a great way to engage existing fans who’ve already read a particular book. Becky Albertalli ran a trivia contest for Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda on Tumblr, where the winner would receive a free ARC of her next novel, The Upside of Unrequited. Participants needed to email their responses to Becky, and each correct answer was worth four points. Read more details about the rules here.
“I love to design special swag or run creative contests for prize giveaways. I’m not sure these efforts directly reach new readers, but it’s really important to me to let my existing readers know how important they are to me. This [trivia contest] got a really good response, and I think that was mostly because people liked being challenged (i.e. more about the process than the prize).”
— Becky Albertalli, author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
7. Use videos to make interactions more personal
Video is a great way to grab readers’ attention and engage with them in a personal way. While creating videos might seem like a lot of work, many videos from authors that get tons of engagement are under one minute long and are not professionally produced — and fans seem to love them!
Emily Giffin published this casual video asking fans for ideas on what she should write her next book about. This was a great way for her to make her fans feel involved in her writing process!
8. Get fans to create teaser images
Want to crowdsource some book marketing assets? Run a contest where fans need to submit teaser designs as their entry! This can be fun for loyal readers who want to show off their design skills.
In Kate Canterbary’s street team group on Facebook, one of the moderators announced a “Create a Teaser Contest”. She provided two quotes from one of Kate’s books and encouraged participants to post their entries in the comments. Other group members could vote on their favorites to choose a winner.
This contest resulted in a bunch of creative entries!
9. Get giveaway entrants to tell a story of their own
Having giveaway entrants “like” or share/retweet a post is an easy form of entry, but their friends might find actual content from them more interesting (and might chime in as well!). So consider getting participants to tell you something about themselves — some sort of story of their own.
As part of her Twelve Days of Christmas giveaway, Debbie Macomber asked participants to tell her about their favorite Christmas story from their childhood for a chance to win. This post got more than 1.6K comments, where many fans shared what their favorite Christmas story was, and why.
10. Host a fan art contest
Hosting a fan art contest can be a great way to get loyal fans to feel more involved in the creative process for a book — and can also help you gather some great artwork to share on social media to build buzz. V.E. Schwab and her publisher Macmillan launched a fan art contest for A Gathering of Shadows where participants submitted fan art for its predecessor A Darker Shade of Magic for a chance to win an ARC. Participants submitted their art via an online form, and Macmillan created a Tumblr to display all of the entries here.
Another way to collect entries is to create a hashtag, so participants can post their own artwork on Instagram and Twitter, and you can easily find them. This can be a great way to get fan art more exposure. HoddersScape launched a fan art contest for the Wayfarers series asking participants to add a picture to Instagram or Twitter using the #WayfarerFanArtComp hashtag.
11. Create a reader community
Giving fans a dedicated community space can help them feel more connected to a book and author. While these communities might only have a few dozen fans (though some have hundreds or thousands!), those who participate often become loyal advocates for the author. Many authors and publishers use Facebook groups to house these communities.
Megan Erickson created a group called Meg’s Mob where fans can gather to chat. One of the perks of membership is interacting with Megan in a closed setting. She sometimes runs live video chats to answer fans’ questions. Here’s a post where Megan asks fans when they’re available for a live video chat:
She also regularly posts asking for members’ opinions on books and a variety of other topics (with themed days of the week, like “Wild Wednesday”)!
Authors, how else have you successfully engaged with your readers online? Let us know in the comments below!
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