Author engagement is important for an indie author because it humanises you to your potential audience and encourages them to be interested in you and emotionally invested in your success. If readers feel that you are their friend, they will be more willing to support you and your work.
But recently I’ve come across a few authors who just don’t seem to get it. They posted links to their blogs without getting stuck into conversations, or they tweeted nothing but promotional information about their books. From a reader’s point of view, this is off-putting. Nobody likes a spammer. What we want to see in our twitter feeds and on the forums we frequent is interesting information, helpful advice, people talking with passion about something they enjoy.
Engagement is multi-faceted
Engagement isn’t just “have a blog” or “tweet occasionally” or “join a forum”. Engagement is about community, and there are a lot of communities out there, even within niches. Communities overlap, they cover different aspects of what you do, they have different people in them with different approaches and desires and visions for what they want from their community. The more of it you do, the more facets you have to interact with your potential audience. And if someone sees each one of those facets, they’ll feel more part of your world and that you are part of theirs.
To belong to a community, though, you need to do more than sign up to a forum or get a twitter account. We’re talking about engagement here: that means jumping right in. Is there and interesting discussion going on about the symbolism of arming your protagonist with a sword as opposed to a different kind of weapon? Voice your opinion, respond to what others have said about it. Contribute.
Social networks are a different monster and I won’t claim to be expert on them, but sharing, replying and engaging in discussion or even just chatter is a good start.
But communities aren’t just a discussion forum, a place to be intelligent or funny. A community is more than that. It is a support network. If you offer support, you will find it offered back to you. Review other indie authors’ books, guest blog on their blogs, critique the excerpts they post, retweet their links to positive reviews of their books.
Engagement builds your audience; spamming diminishes it
In the first draft of this post, I started off talking about the last ten or so books I read. One was a recommendation. A couple were review requests from people who found this website. But the rest, every last one, was by an author who I had seen engaging somewhere (twitter, Reddit’s writing and fantasy subreddits, Mythic Scribes), about whom I had thought “this person is cool and interesting”, and whose book I had decided to read on the basis that I liked them. Not the blurb of the book, not what others had to say about it, not the cover design. Them.
For at least one, I’d previously ignored a recommendation to read his books because I had too long a reading list already, but because he interested me, because his posts were helpful and entertaining, I bumped a dozen books down the order to read his book next.
Meanwhile, those authors who only signed up to forums to post links to their blog or novel sales page? I don’t even remember their names. I pressed the X because it was obvious I was being marketed to, not engaged with. Apart from where chocolate is concerned, I am one of those people who is rather resistant towards obvious marketing. I critique or mock adverts I see on TV (not that I watch much TV except the BBC, there are too many adverts on the other channels), I have adblocker up, I shut the tab down if the Youtube video I’m watching starts with an advert. I can’t be the only one.
Spamming annoys people. Advertising annoys people. You don’t want to annoy potential readers because then they won’t buy your book. It’s fairly simple.
Directing traffic to your blog is not engagement
Don’t get me wrong; a blog is a perfectly fine thing to have. I have one, why would I say it’s a bad idea? Building a blog audience is a good way to attract potential book readers. A blog is part of the marketing suite an indie author needs to sell well. Part of, but not all. Getting lots of hits isn’t the be-all and end-all of your blog. Hits don’t translate through a simple conversion to sales, because you don’t know if any of those hits are from people who, well, engaged with what you had to stay. Spamming links all over the place might get lots of hits, but how many will be people who see “oh, it’s just another indie author trying to get me to buy their book” and press X?
Your blog is your office. It is your garden. It is the place where you can invite others and show off your bookshelf or your landscaping. It isn’t a free-flowing community. You control the content and the conversation. You are the ruler, overseeing and directing what people see. Your blog is centred on you. It is not a community. A community, for the purposes of engaging, is where there are several participants of, initially, equal status. Anyone can contribute, and any contribution has the value that the rest of the community decides it has.
By being an engaging author, you will get more people interested in you and your books than if you only spam links. And being part of a community means you can make new friends, hear new perspectives and arguments, and discover new books to read yourself. It’s good marketing sense, but it’s a lot more than that too.
And author engagement is not, as a certain someone in my life has suggested, asking an author to marry you.
Where have you seen author engagement done well? What books have you bought because you liked the author? Conversely, what author engagement no-nos have you seen – or accidentally attempted yourself?