The Art of Connecting with Influencers
in the Indie Author Community
What are Influencers? I call Influencers anyone who your potential fans or readers listen to when it comes to those things that you care and write about as an author.
A fact I had to face early on is that most authors are introverts. Since I primarily think of myself as one too, this was fine for me. You all are my people! Unfortunately what that often means is that authors tend to be a bit reluctant to do marketing in general, and it’s even more true when we talk about connecting with “Influencers.”
For those rare few of you who aren’t introverts, you might be more inclined.
What Are Influencers, Anyway?
Influencers? What are they? Well let’s get a definition out of the way: I call Influencers anyone who your potential fans or readers listen to when it comes to those things that you care and write about as an author. It’s a bit of a cumbersome definition, I know. I could have also said, someone in your niche who people listen to, but then I’d have to define niche.
The truth is that both the words Influencers and Niche have been badly overused, and like most words that get overused, they’ve often lost much of their value and power. We’ll talk about niches more another time, but for now I want you to think of Influencers this way:
Once you’ve taken time to think about your author identity, who are people you know and trust who talk and care about the same things you do?
These are your influencers.
What Aren’t Influencers?
In the book world, we often hear people talk about influencers as reviewers or launch teams. That’s not what we’re talking about here. Yes, they might have some influence (we can debate how much), but that’s not what you should be looking for. So why not?
Well, because they’re too unspecific. They’re reviewing books and might review a book today about the royal family in England and tomorrow one on the Oregon Trail. What you’re looking for is someone who cares about either the Royal Family in England or the Oregon trail, not just historical fiction. They’re only targeting readers. Not people with interests in the particular things your book is about.
I’m also not talking about big time multi-million follower social media influencers. Unless your book’s about the things they care about, chances are they’re not really what you’re looking for.
What to Look for in an Influencer
So if you’re not looking for reviewers or celebrities, what are you supposed to be looking for? Well, for starters, when you think about what you like, you probably already know some influencers. Look at those people and ask yourself the questions: “What do they do that resonates with me?” and “What doesn’t?”
Once you know that, you can start to think about what else you’re looking for.
It’s also difficult to give general advice on this because it’s an awfully specific, particular-to-the-author kind of thing. There might be someone who looks like the exact kind of influencer you’d want to connect with, but for whatever reason you can’t stand them. If this is ever the case, find out why and run in that direction.
In the end, what you want to find in an influencer is a friend and partner, not a stranger you want something from.
The Purpose of Influencers
You might think the purpose of influencers and finding them is evident: if they talk about your book, you’ll sell more books.
Honestly, this is a side effect.
What you really want with influencers are—as I said above, but it bears repeating—friends and partners. Influencers should, once they read your book(s), become your biggest, truest fans. And, conversely, you should be theirs.
In the end the purpose of influencers and influencer relationships is to create a community for your readers where they can connect and go deep with other like-minded people. Once you build these communities, they serve to amplify one another. Everyone becomes more than the sum of their parts. These communities become groups of your communal true fans.
Even Influencer marketing is about service!
Strategies for Identifying Influencers
All this theory is well and good, but when the rubber hits the road, how do we find influencers?
It’s a good question. I might have convinced you that you need and want to find them, but I still haven’t told you how beyond “you already know some.”
The good thing is that once you know some, it becomes orders of magnitude easier to find others, all you have to do is be deliberate about it. There are lots of signals.
When social media influencers put an idea out, they use hashtags. Hashtags, for those who may not know, are ways for social media to track and connect different people and posts to a common central thread or thought. You can choose which ones seem to match most closely to your why and follow them. When you do, these social media platforms will show you lots of other popular people talking about the same things.
When you go to someone’s website, you’ll notice that they use some words more often than others. These are keywords that search engines use to determine the intent of the writer’s content. Sometimes they’re accidental and come out just because the site owner cares about those topics. Very often, though, they’ve also crafted their content to use these to improve the chances people will find them. If you’re on a favorite website, pay attention to their keywords and then search for them in Google and any other search platform (even Youtube, Social Media Sites, Reddit, etc) and see who comes up.
If you’re having trouble recognizing keywords, consider using tools like Ubersuggest to analyze your favorite sites for what keywords they’re ranking for.
The easiest way for most people to find other influencers is to follow popular ones in your “niche” and let the social media platforms recommend some for you. These platforms have a vested interest in capturing audience attention, and helping you create an engaged community is in their interest as much or more than yours.
Sometimes influencers exist in ways you wouldn’t expect. Sometimes, often even, they’re not flashy or big. They’re just quietly doing the work of community building and, sometimes, they don’t even know it. Examples of this are those people who always have useful suggestions in group discussions online, or people with Top Fan badges, or people who are always asking engaging questions and starting conversations. These people are already building these communities, and you’d do well to engage with them.
There are no end of ways to find people who think like you and care about what you care about, so experiment and find what works for you.
Building Genuine, Authentic Relationships with Influencers
If you want to build a relationship with someone, you don’t just start by asking someone for something, right? And yet, you’d be surprised by the number of times I see authors go straight to the “ask” when it comes to influencer relationships. “Will you endorse my book? Can I be on your podcast? Will you share about my launch?”
Even if influencers agree, your results from that kind of behavior probably won’t be very good. First, their heart won’t be in it and their audience will be able to tell that, and second, you probably only get this one ask.
But if you build a genuine relationship with them, you can go back to that well over and over because they’re going to be excited to help you, and that excitement will spill over to their audience.
The key to this is to be as excited about them as you want them to be about you. That doesn’t mean be fake and fawn over someone because of what they might be able to do for you. It means finding their value for you and making it clear you care about it for its own sake.
How do we do that?
Like, Share, and Comment
If you’re on social media, this suggestion is somewhat obvious but those of us who are introverts might struggle with it. But we need to be willing to be vulnerable and let the influencer and their fans see that we care.
Curate their Content
Like sharing, if you’re linking back to something they created, influencers are going to appreciate that. Backlinks, like keywords, are some of the greatest currency of the internet. And, on top of this, curation provides value to your readers and fans and gives you the ability to feed and serve them without having to create something new.
Create Inspired Content
We all have those people who have made us think of something in a new way. Write down your ideas and share them with your audience and give the influencer who inspired it credit. They’ll see that you really cared about what they created, and they might share it themselves.
Connect with Them Directly
While I don’t recommend sending emails or direct messages right away (this can sometimes be a good way to get blocked or labeled creepy), eventually you will want to connect directly with influencers. A tip: know their preferred method of communication and go there. If they hate direct messages and love email, don’t direct message them, or vice versa.
If you’re connecting directly, you’ll probably want to have already used some of the strategies above (or others you’ve come up with) so that the influencer already knows you and knows you appreciate them.
Goals of Influencer Relationships
In the end, influencer relationships are about creating communities that are of the mutual benefit of all. That includes you, the other influencers, and your fans and audience. With everyone amplifying each other, it’s a relationship that everyone benefits from and everyone is willing to continue to pour more effort into building.
Ultimately you will want to create relationships with at least 10 different influencers. Some will be willing to come into community with you and others. Others will be more defensive and see other influencers as competitors. Know which are which and don’t force anything that doesn’t work.
Even if all your relationships with influencers are between you and them and not as a group, you’re the one building a community by connecting your fans to others who they might also be interested in. You can become the hub of your fans’ lives.
Becoming an Influencer Yourself
One of the things that’ll happen as you go through this process is that you become an influencer yourself. If you’re very successful, you might become the de facto leader in your “niche” and be the person everyone in it goes to for the best content, whether that’s what you create, your books, or what you curate and share from others.
Combining connecting with influencers and other strategies like content marketing will build you a platform from which you can sell books and any other products you might create. But first, and foremost, it forms the foundation from which you can start building the world you want to live in and be a part of every single day. It can create financial success, but it can also more importantly create fulfillment even while you’re still struggling to get there.