Who Are These People? Finding Your Audience

Part 3 of The Fan Fiction Experiment

Mr. Baggins saw then how clever Gandalf had been. The interruptions had really made Beorn more interested in the story, and the story had kept him from sending the dwarves off at once like suspicious beggars.
***
‘A very good tale!’ said he. ‘The best I have heard for a long while. If all beggars could tell such a good one, they might find me kinder. You may be making it all up, of course, but you deserve a supper for the story all the same.’

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

As writers, we all want to tell a story in a way that will prepare our audience to be the most receptive. Experimenting with fanfiction can help you approach your original fiction with a map that takes you right to the heart of your reader because it can help you realize who your audience is and how to talk to them.

Fanfiction sites give you opportunities to connect with all sorts of readers. If you post your work online, and it has potential, you’ll earn fans because they like something about what you’ve written. Fanfiction sites also give you tools that can help you get to know your readers better, so you can communicate with them more effectively. That way you can analyze what audience your style and story themes seem to attract. You may find it’s different from the audience you thought you were writing to.

But how do you attract these readers who are often introverted bibliophiles who read fanfics anonymously? (I started out as one of them.) And, anyway, what’s the point exactly in attracting those shy, bookworm types?

For one, they are the ones who buy the books on the bookstore shelves. They’re often lurking in specific fandoms because they’re caught up in some author’s world to such a degree that they need more to read about the characters to whom they’ve grown attached. Isn’t that the kind of fan-love you hope your characters receive some day?

They also know what makes a good book for them. If you happen to be writing in their area of expertise, they can sometimes be persuaded to explain it to you. Baiting these lurkers and hooking them can be a valuable asset in your writing journey. They can encourage you in the genre in which you really excel.

But as long as the reader remains a lurker, leaving little more than a hit and a country, that reader can’t really help you improve. (Unless the writer has a ton of hits from, say, Slovenia. If so, he/she might consider presenting future material to a Slovenian publisher.) Here are ways to lure those valuable shy readers, as well as keep your current readers actively involved in your journey:

1. Set up your story to accept anonymous reviews. There are enough filters in place to help you deal with anything offensive, and it will encourage those who aren’t ready to commit to an account yet to submit a review.

2. Send private messages. For a writer, there is much to be gleaned from fanfic sites beyond the story itself, and beyond what is publicly displayed. Cultivating one-on-one conversations can garner fantastic feedback because a shy reader is more comfortable expressing critiques and insights privately. They can give you a picture of what it is about your story, or your style of writing, that your audience wants to read.

Private-messaging is this undercurrent that builds goodwill and friendships. I’ve received private messages from shy readers who told me they signed up just to be alerted when I updated my story with a new chapter. I’ve never let a message like that lie dormant in my inbox. It is an opening for a potential writer/reader powwow.

Also, lookup the fanfic members who favorite you and/or your story. It’s to your advantage to reach out to these members. Send them a message thanking them for favorite-ing or adding your work. When you can, read their profiles to look for ways to personalize the note. Your message serves to break the ice.

3. Ask your readers for assistance. Many readers like to help out writers, but they won’t unless they know you’ll take suggestions well. So, post a note above or below your chapter that you are open to advice or suggestions. You can also say you’re looking for information on some aspect of your story that you wish to improve and would appreciate reader concrit.

While writing one of my stories, I requested to be contacted by readers living in a city where my character stayed briefly. Through the responses, I gained all sorts of details and anecdotes to help me better understand the environment, which helped me give those few paragraphs the finishing touches.

4. Encourage your readers to write detailed reviews. Answering thoughtful reviews for the recent chapters you’ve posted can help you receive more specifics from your readers. If you answer them publicly at the bottom of your next chapter, you can get a multi-viewer conversation going that encourages discussion and questions that will flourish into vital feedback! Here are guidelines to keep your review responses on task:

  • Make your response brief. Don’t go over 6 lines, if you can help it.
  • Don’t explain reasons or motives in your story. If you must explain something, chances are that explanation needs to be worked into the story itself.
  • Make your response entertaining, witty, complimentary, funny or all of the above. You want your reviewers to look forward to your response as much as you look forward to receiving their reviews.
  • Be confident about where your story is going, especially when you are the most unsure!
  • Be discreet. Reviewers can write about anything and everything—and they should because it tells you more about your audience—but a fanfic writer should be conscientious in responses. Otherwise, it might hamper a reviewer’s candidness.

Next Monday, I’ll focus on character relatability–which WordPress doesn’t recognize as a word. 😛

(Disclaimer: Not all lurkers want to be lured. Sometimes they want to leave one comment and disappear again. Some need time to get to know you. It took months for me to gather the courage to post my first anonymous review.)

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Author: Rilla Z

I'm a scribbler. I write about this world, the worlds inside my head, and the world to come.

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