Making business more personal is all the rage right now, and significant resources are being put toward gaining a thorough understanding of customer predilections and preferences and to cultivate those accordingly. There’s nothing new to recognizing the value of doing so, but a key driver now is that customers themselves are more apt to demand it. This can take many forms, but some of the most common expectations are that communication will be personalized, contacts will be quick to respond, and that knowledge of the customer will accrue over time. In return, consumers are willing to respond by being loyal and supportive.
Authors and illustrators have understood this consumer desire for a long time and have in various degrees engaged personally with their readers. But those who are experienced have learned that relationships between themselves and their readers can be complicated, and that knowing where to draw boundaries is crucial.
Individual contact can take the form of face-to-face engagement at events, responding to personal inquiries, or can be more extensive for authors who actively cultivate fan involvement. In each case, preparing ahead and evolving a consistent way to behave will help ensure that you respond in ways that are thoughtful, respectful and appropriate to the situation.
The first things to consider are your time constraints, your resources for connecting with your readers, and your own comfort level with fan engagement.
Then map out a plan outlining what you are willing to do and listing any challenges you think might arise. This can include deciding how to respond to requests for referrals, what to say to fans who ask you to read their manuscript or talk in-depth with you about their books, and how to manage people who may become rude or critical if you don’t respond in ways they expect. Being patient and maintaining a sense of humor are helpful as is conveying understanding and empathy. But knowing ahead what you’ll say will also help you to be firm and to be consistent.
Some authors and illustrators find it easier to keep their engagement less personal and to respond to an audience as a whole rather than to engage individually. If that is your preference, you could still incorporate personal stories others have shared with you and look for ways for the group to engage with each other to create a more intimate experience. If questions arise that you can’t or don’t want to address immediately, you can offer to respond to them afterwards in writing or via your publisher. Another way to provide fans a more personalized experience is to add interactive components like surveys and other interactive components to your website or social media platforms to provide opportunities to give input to you or to other fans.
There are many creative ways to cultivate fan relationships and to engage meaningfully without setting unrealistic expectations or getting forced into uncomfortable situations. But it’s helpful to recognize that consumers are being treated differently than in the past, and as they become more accustomed to that, they are likely to evolve their expectations in this industry as well.