I don’t like the idea of lumping engagement together with self-promotion, because engagement entails caring about other people, while self-promotion involves concern for oneself and one’s work. However, authors who engage appreciatively with their readers and fans will benefit by cultivating goodwill. The act of engagement then becomes one aspect of self-promotion.
There’s no need to explain the benefits of engagement to most extroverts, who already understand cause and effect and use it to their advantage. Most authors, I imagine, are not extroverts, so it can be difficult for them to see the correlation between a particular author’s popularity with readers and the amount of effort that author puts into making and maintaining connections.
Today’s authors almost always promote themselves and their books four ways: online, in person, with video or audio recordings, and in print-on-paper media. Aside from personal appearances, online is where identifying readers who have an interest in a writer’s work is easiest.
Unfortunately, too many writers assume that attracting readers and fans, and their comments, will be a passive process online. They’ll write something, they’ll publish it, and fans will accumulate while the writer is occupied elsewhere. In reality, followers will gather where they find an author behaving graciously—or, failing that, at least brazenly—and with an awareness of the fans’ presence.
Authors who are not ‘net natives might have a difficult time discerning who is taking an interest in them online, unless they learn something about web analytics, which I encourage writers to do. In addition, there’s a simple way to locate people who are writing online about an author or a book. Authors who care about their readership should set up several Google Alerts in order to be notified via email when and where conversations in which they’re being mentioned are occurring. Then, they can engage with the people who care enough to write about them.
There will be occasions when it’s better for an author to avoid engagement. If a conversation is extremely critical of the writer, then joining the discussion can require more tact than most people possess. Consulting with a neutral third party who is an especially diplomatic communicator, before deciding what to do or say, can be helpful.
In many, if not most, instances the comments about the author will be neutral or favorable, in which case it’s a shame if the writer neglects the opportunity to express appreciation.
Learn more about this topic
Chris Brogan: An insider’s guide to social media etiquette
Jane Friedman: How to meaningfully grow traffic to your site/blog