I think many writers harbor the secret hope that whatever they're creating will one day spawn the sort of rabid loyalty and passion that many before it have achieved. Also the chibi fan art. So much chibi fan art.
What is it that inspires the cult following of a book series or television show? Is there a formula that can be followed, or is it all up to random timing and chance? Does the moon have to align a certain way? Is it the rarity of the storyline, the relatability of the characters, or the camaraderie of the fans?
I'm not sure. I don't think there's a particular code to crack, and I do think marketing and a bit of luck play a part in which creations spawn a massive following and which slip quietly into the ether. However, I think it's pretty rare for something genuinely awesome to fly completely under the radar. The fan base may start small, but it starts somewhere.
Most often, when browsing Tumblr or Twitter or any of the other eight billion social media and websites dedicated to various fandoms, the standout focus seems to be on the characters. So, that's somewhere to start. Fans develop a bond with a particular character, or the relationships between characters. It doesn't hurt for the plots to be well-written and the twists to be mind-blowing and the world to be achingly wonderful, but I think for a fandom to truly spawn, it comes back to character.
The love of characters can come in many forms. Sometimes it's a character that fills a wish or need in the fan's life -- wish-fulfillment, if you will. Sometimes it's someone they admire or aspire to be like. Sometimes the humor and chemistry between two characters inspires a fierce loyalty. Whatever the reason, it's clear that the audience needs to connect to somebody. When they form a bond to a character or characters, everything else seems to fall into place.
I don't know that there's a way for anyone to force this sort of bond. I think we can learn a lot from studying the material that has already created such loyal fandoms, but short of outright mimicry, I don't think we can recreate the phenomenon intentionally. The best we can hope for is writing a world readers want to get lost in and characters they can fall in love with. Characters that live and breathe and crawl into people's chests to live. Not literally.
What do you think about fandoms, readers? Do you belong to any? Which is your favorite, and why?