One of my favorite things about the book industry is the sense of community. I love watching publishers and authors connect with new readers and writers through twitter and Instagram and learning about my favorite authors’ writing processes. Readers from across the globe want to talk about the books they love and share that love with others. This sense of community is possible thanks to the internet, especially social media, and the space it creates for publishers and readers alike to connect.

At the recent Bookseller’s Children’s Conference, Marketing and Publicity Director of Simon & Schuster Sarah MacMillan talked about how they were utilizing the power of online fanbases to build buzz for Cassandra Clare’s newest release, The Lost Book of the White. I found the way MacMillan and her team engage with Clare’s fanbase to be inspiring and innovative for future marketing plans.

We all know what it’s like to feel protective of your favorite book or series, and MacMillan and her team work with this, considering Clare’s superfans custodians of the Shadowhunters brand. These readers have stake in the series. Many have been reading since the first books was published in 2007, and they feel a sense of ownership. Direct contact with fans who run fan sites and accounts is a worthwhile investment for the publishing house. By giving readers first access to special reveals and early insights, these fans share with their own following – often reaching global audiences. And global audiences should not be ignored, as many fans from around the world will order special editions from UK booksellers just to get the exclusive content and to support the author they love.

Engaging in online communities is becoming increasingly important when it comes to marketing books, especially in YA communities, but publishers can’t just give readers bonus content and leave. Readers are looking for authenticity in interactions with companies, especially as trust for big corporations’ online presences wanes. We’ve all had or seen a strange interaction with a brand’s twitter account that put us off from buying from them again. This is where authors have an advantage.

Clare’s online presence has created an environment where her readers look for exclusive content, like deleted scenes, directly from her. She has been providing this bonus content on her own platforms for years, so bringing the content directly to readers is just an added touch with an air of exclusivity. The new content brings in old characters and hints of Clare’s writing process, calling back to the series as a whole so it doesn’t feel like the publishers are marketing only the newest release. MacMillan knows this is important for making sure readers feel valued and that Simon & Schuster is being authentic in their marketing practices to their readers.

Engaging with readers directly and viewing them not as just consumers, but as members of a community, is vital in the age of social media. With readers, especially young adult readers, who are becoming more social media savvy and skeptical of inauthentic marketing practices, publishers and authors have a chance to play to the strengths of the book community and social media. We’re all seeking connection in a time of social isolation, and the online bookish community can provide that for everyone from authors to readers.