Strategies to Pull Fans into Your Online Universe
by Amy Maida Wadsworth
Ever bought one of those re-releases of your favorite movie on Blu-Ray, even though you already have it on DVD and VHS? Come on, admit it. You can’t resist the hours of exclusives complete with an alternate ending, director’s commentary, and behind-the-scenes documentaries about the making of the film. I bought all three extended editions of The Lord of the Rings. And I watched every disc. More than once.
It’s a brilliant marketing strategy, and it applies to more than just film. Authors like J.K. Rowling have mastered the art of fiction exclusives. Sign on to Pottermore and get quizzed by the sorting hat before you join one of the Hogwarts houses. You’ll get exclusive access to short stories about minor characters living in the magical world of our favorite young wizard. Speculations and family trees based on what happens as the children in the books explore life after Voldemort. Who marries whom? What do they name their kids? It’s all somewhere in the Rowling web. And if it isn’t, it’s somewhere on a fan site. This is because her fans so love the world she created that they still want to live there long after the Deathly Hallows. It’s a world that Rowling shares with her fans—a community all their own. How do you get more exclusive than that?
You don’t have to be Rowling to give your readers some insider perks. Stephenie Meyer kept her audience hooked with short stories between her major releases. Bree Despain teases her audience with glimpses of upcoming book covers and fantasy casting of her books, complete with actors’ headshots. Robison Wells gives inside scoops about his writing process, public appearances, and podcasts and frequently answers reader questions about his characters.
The modern key to keeping your readers part of your world is your website. No longer is a website just a glimpse at the author’s bio and a list of published books. When Orson Scott Card first released short stories as part of the Ender’s Universe, he did so on his website. Even now, you can find on his website the original short story, “Ender’s Game,” on which the novel was later based. Card has had a handle on the multiple uses of a website for years, offering writing courses, writing forums, discussion boards, and even writing contests that rewarded the winner with goodies ranging from autographed copies to free passes to his pricey boot camps. (I don’t think he’s offered these for a few years, particularly since his stroke. But the idea is brilliant.)
So, how do you use your site to pull readers into your universe?
- Make your website interactive—a type of social media interaction between you and your fans. Post surveys, ask questions, post mood boards and soundtracks you listened to that inspired the book and see what your readers would include. If you love indie shops, ask what local bookstores readers want to see your books in (and offer a prize if they get your book there), or ask where you should do your signing when in their town. Give hints and speculations about what may happen in your next book. Tease them. They’ll love it. Here’s an excellent example announcing one of Maggie Stiefvater’s books: Call Down the Hawk.
- Make sure your website is easy to find, with an easily spelled and unique name, preferably your author name as part of it. Then link your website to your other social media sites—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or whatever social media you use—so your website is accessible from many gathering places. Then ensure the exclusives on your site are clearly advertised in all those locations.
- Hold contests for your fans—writing contests, plotline predictions, or even most-dedicated fan contests (even art contests depicting places or characters from your books!). Give them a reason to not just visit your site, but to visit often to see what’s happening next.
- Set up a newsletter opt-in on your website so you can notify interested people whenever you post something they won’t want to miss.
Once you get them, what exclusives can you offer? Try these now:
- Remember that backstory or prologue your editor (or writing group) made you cut because it didn’t move the plot along? Flesh it out into a short story and offer it to your fans.
- Give your readers a glimpse of an important scene from another character’s point of view. This will be especially interesting if you publish it on your blog between sequels.
- Explore the world after the climax, from your villain’s point of view.
- Do you have swag relevant to your books? Bookplates? Handmade art? Signed posters? Limited-edition postcards? Maybe an inside joke with your readers that they can wear on a T-shirt? Offer it as a giveaway on your website.
Excellent Further Resources
Below are two fantastic articles with must-have checklists to get you started on a professional, smart, and interesting site (plus excellent examples)!
- 29 Author Websites with Stellar Designs
- 9 Author Website Trends You Need to Know About
- 17 Sites with High-Quality, Royalty-Free Stock Photos
Your turn: What kind of exclusives would you like your favorite author websites to offer? What successful exclusives or web draws have you offered on your own site?
Amy Maida Wadsworth published three novels with Covenant Communications—Shadow of Doubt, Silent Witness, and Faraway Child. All three books are available for Kindle and Nook. Amy started teaching fiction writing in 2006 and has been a writing coach ever since. She works as a freelance editor and blogger for Eschler Editing, and is pursuing her master’s in human development and social policy.