Sorry to mislead you with the title. I don’t have any sure-fire tips on building a fan base. I’m going to tell you what you have to endure on the way to having one.
Anyone who’s published a book and scheduled signings/lectures/panels has had the unhappy experience of no one showing up. It’s awkward. Store employees feel sorry for you. Librarians apologize for poor attendance. The spouses of the panelists ask questions, just to give you something to do for the scheduled hour. I participated in many, many events like this in 2010, the year my first book was published. (As well as in the years afterward, and I’m sure there will be more in the future.)
Then, of course, there’s the excitement of an event that is well-attended -- by your friends, co-workers, and relatives. These events are special, and every author is grateful for the support, especially when your parents and your aunts buy 5 books apiece.
But I will never forget the first time a stranger showed up at one of my events. She’d seen the advertisement and my book, We Hear the Dead, in the store a few days earlier. She recognized that my book was about the Fox sisters, who began their famous séance career in Rochester, New York -- which happened to be this woman’s home town. She came to meet me and talk about the Fox sisters. A fan of the topic—not necessarily me—but a stranger who attended my event nonetheless. My first.
Fast forward a couple years to a book signing at an indie store three hours from home -- always a dicey thing, because I can’t count on my aunts to attend and buy 5 books each. But I was astonished by the turnout of people who were loyal customers of the store. A few of had even been drawn in from nearby Catawissa, Pennsylvania, the setting of my book The Caged Graves. They were fans of the store and of books with a local interest.
Just this past weekend, I had a launch party for my latest release, The Inquisitor’s Mark. I was expecting the usual turnout of friends, relatives, and co-workers -- who did indeed come out to celebrate with me. But to my astonishment, there were a bunch of faces I didn’t recognize.
- Kids who had seen me at school visits and afterward read either The Caged Graves or The Eighth Day.
- A boy who had randomly picked up The Eighth Day in the fall and was dying to read the sequel.
- A girl who bought The Eighth Day at the Baltimore Book Fair and had driven with her mom over an hour to attend this event and get a signed copy of The Inquisitor’s Mark.
Fans of my work. About a dozen of them. Not hundreds, by any means, but I was elated. I had some fans who didn’t know me personally!
What did it take to get there? Five years. Four books. Many failed signings. A few lucky appearances at well-attended events. Some captive audiences at school visits.
Lesson? Very few of us will become instantly famous with our first book and have fans who turn out in droves wherever we go. For most of us, it’s going to take patience, bouncing back from failure and humiliation, and stubbornly continuing to write for years just to get a dozen fans turning up at an event.
It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.