Thanks so much to Edie Ramer and to everyone at Magical Musings for inviting me to come back today!! I spent several happy years blogging at MM, and I still miss getting to be here regularly. So glad to see you all again :).
A question Edie asked me recently involved ways authors build a loyal readership. I don’t know how much of this is simply my own experience and interpretation, but I think a strong author-reader connection comes down to a genuine sense of community. Creating a welcoming place and the kind of relationship where conversation is truly a two-way street.
I remember how stunned and pleased I was as an aspiring writer when I sent just a few of my favorite women’s fiction and contemporary romance authors messages saying that I’d loved their books. A couple of them actually wrote back! I was thrilled, not only because I could tell them how much their work had inspired me, but also because I knew they’d heard my praise.
A year or two later I went to my first Romance Writers of America’s national conference and met several other authors in person at the big book signing. Nearly all of them took a few minutes to chat with me. To ask me questions beyond just “How do you spell your name so I can autograph this?” I wasn’t looking to make them my new best friends, but I did very much appreciate having a real interaction with them that night. An opportunity to say, “This character you created in this book really stayed with me…” or even to ask a question about what had sparked a particular plot point or choice of setting. It wasn’t so much a matter of needing a lot of time or information from the writer in question, just the mutual recognition that this author—by the act of writing her novel—had initiated a conversation. And I—as the reader—could share some thoughts and insights on her story. That it was a true dialogue.
As a reader, I’ve stayed very loyal to authors like that. And as a writer, the biggest gift of being on social media and beginning to build my own readership is that I get to experience that feeling of shared dialogue from the author’s side now. If a reader ever has a comment for me about a character in one of my novels, a question about something that happened in a story I wrote, or a response to a personal anecdote I shared online, it’s a privilege to get to respond to that. And I do my very best to reply to everything—on Twitter, Facebook, blog posts, and in emails—whenever possible. I want the readers who visit me at one of my virtual homes to feel as welcome there as they would if I invited them into my house for coffee and cinnamon rolls. (Although, nothing quite beats a warm, freshly baked cinnamon roll…LOL.)
I’ve felt a wonderful sense of community on the social media pages of many of my fellow writers. I think we, as authors, have a responsibility to make those places fully and truly our own and to reflect the relationship we want to have with our readers. Since it’s one of my goals to create a harmonious sense of community, it’s important to me that my sites remain as accepting and tension-free as possible.
In the writing world, I’ve been working to create a warm and friendly (albeit somewhat gossipy) fictional suburb in my new Mirabelle Harbor series, too, so the subject of community has been on my mind a lot. Ultimately, I think there are a few rules—regardless of whether the community is real or fictional. The main one is that its members should know what to expect. That the environment stays fairly consistent. That everyone who is a part of it is on the same page.Not all communities are happy and welcoming, though, nor do they have to be. I know plenty of fictional communities—some set in homicide departments or mafia houses—where a fun and lighthearted relationship between the characters wouldn’t work at all. And I’ve written across genres myself. The community in my romantic mystery, The Road to You, for instance, is rather different from the community in my first two Mirabelle Harbor books, Take a Chance on Me & The One That I Want. Likewise, although I prize an open, drama-free atmosphere on my blog/FB page, I know some bloggers who thrive on being bitingly sarcastic, arguing with the readers, or posting provocative topics that are intended to spark controversy. That’s their choice, and as long as readers/visitors are onboard with that, it’s all good.
So, in my opinion, to build any kind of strong readership, the readers need to know what they’re getting into when they enter that author’s sphere. And the more we can meet their expectations—though our personal interactions with them and through our stories—the better chance we have to entice them to want to return to our world.
Do you have a real or fictional community you love visiting? I love the story world of Stephanie Plum & her friends in Janet Evanovich’s comedic mystery series, and I’ve always enjoyed visiting Anne Lamott’s author page on FB for her true observations about life and writing. Both fascinating communities!
Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy, and mystery. She was named the Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict and a music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato. Visit her website www.marilynbrant.com and her new Mirabelle Harbor discussion group on Facebook—“The Lounge”.
The Road to You – http://www.amazon.com/Road-You-Marilyn-Brant-ebook/dp/B00FIXEVY0/
Take a Chance on Me – http://www.amazon.com/Take-Chance-Mirabelle-Harbor-Book-ebook/dp/B011W01AF0/
The One That I Want – http://www.amazon.com/That-Want-Mirabelle-Harbor-Book-ebook/dp/B0106BJVUW
Twitter – https://twitter.com/marilynbrant
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/marilyn.brant
Blog – http://marilynbrant.blogspot.com/
Email/Contact – http://www.marilynbrant.com/contact/
The Lounge – https://www.facebook.com/groups/MirabelleHarborLounge/