Posts Tagged platform

Social media: a message in a bottle

3928105188_3e98ca7eb3_zYou’ve seen this week’s Undercover Soundtrack? I want to tell you how I met its author, Dave Newell.

He emailed me out of the blue because he’d run across a comment of mine on a blog written by Nathan Bransford. It was a post about the difficulty of self-publishing literary fiction, and Dave – whose work is indelibly literary – was asking if I knew where those readers hung out on line.

The funny thing is, I left that comment more than two years ago. When I look at it I was talking about episode 2 of My Memories of a Future Life, which had just gone live. Oh, nervous days – I probably wrote it in the hope that it would lead ME to a secret vast land of literary readers. (It didn’t; I should probably work on that.) Probably no one else took much notice, and so it stayed there, falling under new comments and posts, sedimenting into the substrata of the ever-renewing, multiplying internet. Then two years on, Dave Newell typed a few words into Google and it led him there.

We struck up a conversation. I don’t know that I was much help with his problem, though we had fun talking. But I did offer him a guest spot on The Undercover Soundtrack, which I’m very glad he took. Especially as I then had an email from a fan of the series who told me how excited he was to discover this author. (I’m sure there were other converts too, only they didn’t email me to share.)

So does this story have a bigger payoff? Does it end with a hardback deal, an Amazon landslide, a red carpet? Actually no. But it does end with a special reader, who was charmed by a post by someone he’d never heard of. As Dave Newell leaped on a random comment by someone he’d never heard of, which had been made by someone visiting a blog hoping to find likeminded folk. A chain of strangers finding they have kindred interests; that’s rather nice.

Author platforms are also on my mind because this week I was a guest speaker at an online author marketing conference called Get Read. A message we heard constantly was that platforming is a long game, and we might feel like we’re getting nowhere, giving so much of ourselves and wondering if anyone notices. This episode reminds me to keep the faith.

It also reminds me that platforming is full of contradictions. That for all its widewidewide reach, it operates at a micro scale, person to person. That our blurts on websites and social media seem trivial but are actually eternal, and might be summoned to the top of a search by the right Google spell (just like bad party photos). The take-home point of my GetRead session was this: be yourself and stay gregarious. Anything you write might find a new reader, an ally, or a friend.

Thanks for the pic SergioDJT

It’s a bit of a different post this week, but I’d love to discuss this question. Has someone found you because of a comment, post or a tweet you’d long forgotten? Have you followed a trail and made a worthwhile contact?

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Predictions for writers in 2013 – and guest post at On Fiction Writing

ofw2Everyone’s writing prediction posts right now. I wouldn’t have dared, except the website On Fiction Writing asked what I thought might happen in the industry in the next five years.

Obviously writers can’t be oblivious to what’s going on in publishing, but if you look at what’s changed in the past two years, do we have a hope of predicting anything with accuracy? Anyway, who would trust the predictions of anyone who makes things up for a living? Worlds, economies, social movements roll out of our imagination to suit whatever story we want to tell. (And I see they put my interview next to a novel called The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. Adorable cover anyway.)

The only certainties I can predict – for myself and for other writers in 2013 – are these.

  • I will need to weigh up several new social media environment and decide if they’re worth the effort. I will need to remind myself that once upon a time I was scornful of Twitter, Facebook and even – gasp – blogging.
  • I’ll need to embrace at least one new platform for publishing, on a device that I don’t see the need for. I will have to remind myself that putting Nail Your Novel on Kindle turned out to be a brilliant move.
  • I’ll never decide what’s worthwhile unless I have help – which I will probably find by firing off a tweet or a Facebook post to all you guys.
  • I’ll get stuck on the novel I’m writing, and when I think all is irretrievably lost the answer will fall effortlessly onto the page. (I talk about writer’s block in my interview, in case you’re wrestling too.)
  • I’ll discover several writers whose work contains such insight, I will not know how I did without them (I talk about favourite writers too)

Predictions aside, I’m also talking about self-publishing, publishers developing new roles as partners for indies, finding readers – and ghostwriting. Do join me there and if you’re in a predictive frame of mind, leave a comment here with conjectures, projections and outright fabrications and fantasies for writers in 2013.

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Platform: ticket to creative freedom

What’s your view of this publishing necessity called platform? Do you resent having to cyberhobnob alongside writing? Do you wish it was just enough to write?

Let me phrase this another way. Look at the kind of novel you’re writing now. Look at the way it might be marketed – perhaps by a traditional publisher, perhaps by your own efforts as an indie. In five years’ time, will you be playing with the same ideas, treading the same themes? Writing the same genre, perhaps the same kind of characters?

If the answer is no, you definitely need a platform.

Genre rules

Traditionally in publishing, writers get tied to one genre. Careers are built in pigeonholes, set up by editors and marketers. That’s not surprising; it’s their job to decide where you fit in a bookshop, not to nurture your long-term art. After that, publishers want broadly similar works from you, a row of books like a matching set of table mats.

Actually, the readers want that too. A Big Six editor I know was telling me recently that [author of phenomenally big series] wanted to try a new direction. (Yes, those brackets are frightfully coy. Sorry.) She was disappointed to find her fans didn’t buy her ‘departure’ novel. It seems they wanted only [coyly bracketed phenomenally big series].

But look at the music industry. Musicians aren’t expected to stay the same. Their fans are far more forgiving when an artiste evolves. Writers, though, don’t get away with it. Why? Because we hide behind our disembodied words, or only emerge in targeted publicity campaigns built like DVD extras around our books. The books build the readership.

No room to hide

Of course, our books are what matters. But it seems there’s a danger in letting them do all the talking. It’s even worse if you leave platform-building to someone else, because they become the intermediary between your work and the world. Which might paint you into a very tiny corner.

Building a platform is an extra job. It doesn’t come easily to everyone. Ironically, it’s the genre authors who find it simplest – mainly because there are well defined templates to follow, established groups to hang out with. But if you’re not easily pigeonholed, you need it even more. You need to show people who you are under the books, where you go exploring for ideas. That relationship will keep readers with you when you venture to new places.

Writers now have a fantastic tool to own our creative identity. We can now be like the musicians who aren’t damned for developing or for reinventing ourselves – and indeed are respected for it.

If you know you will always be adding new tools to your repertoire, be stirred by new influences, will change the ways you seek escape and enlightenment – hell, if you might just get older and wiser, you need to build a platform.

It is your ticket to creative freedom.

Thanks for the pic Thuany Gabriela

Tiny bit of news. My Memories of a Future Life was nominated for an award at Underground Book Reviews last month – and I’ve just discovered it won a Reader’s Choice award. If you helped by giving it a vote, thank you very much

Do you think platform is just for one kind of writer and not another? Do you resent having to do it? Do you embrace it? And what are you doing to build it (assuming you are not about to leave a comment screaming ‘NOOOOOOO’)

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If you normally blog about writing, how will you promote your fiction?

Yesterday Laura Pauling asked me about my decision to self-publish My Memories of a Future Life. She also had another question:

‘Now that you have fiction you’re promoting, will you be blogging about topics other than writing? Kristen Lamb, who blogs about social media and platform building, said recently that bloggers shouldn’t be blogging about writing to find their readers.’

Laura, you’ve nailed perhaps the most difficult question for writer/bloggers. Most of us start blogging and find – hey presto – we’ve got lots of readers who are writers.

But not all our writer/readers will like our fiction, because everyone’s tastes are individual. And we hope that far more people are going to buy our books than just other people who write. Because although the blogosphere may seem infinite to us, it’s only a tiny grain of the reading world.

In mainstream publishing, authors get noticed by writing and talking about their novels’ subjects and issues in big-circulation media. This is where a traditional publishing deal can be really worthwhile. They will punt you in front of readers you can’t reach on your own. This is what publicists do as well, although there’s one area where bona fide publishers are still ahead – because many reviewers simply won’t look at self-publishers.

If this is starting to sound waffly and generalised, then it is. Every book needs a different sales approach. You have to identify where your specific readers are likely to be, and then reach out to them. I can’t tell you how to do that for your book; all I can do is tell you what I’m going to do for My Memories of a Future Life.

My biggest problem is that it isn’t a genre novel. If it was supernatural, paranormal, historical, sci fi et al I could trot over to the lovely collectives who review those books, find the forums and spread the word that way. I could review books myself, talk about other novels in my genre that I like. But instead I have a contemporary, offbeat story about a lost soul trying to find where she belongs. It should be a story anyone could read, but I need a better target than that.

I have a platform, but as Laura has pointed out, it’s about writing. And I like to keep it that way. You may indulge me with the odd splurge like this (and really it’s still about publishing) but one thing I’ve learned from many years in magazines is that readers want you for a certain thing, not for others. Here is where you want fighting talk about writing – and here is where I want to write it. If I want to write arty farty pieces about kick-ass pianos (which I had to learn about for my novel) that doesn’t belong here unless I make a useful writing point out of it. (Although that book did teach me a few hefty lessons about writing, and I hope you won’t mind me sharing them from time to time.)

Similarly, on my Twitter account @DirtyWhiteCandy you want writing advice. I’m not going to dilute that either. (UPDATE 2014: now @Roz_Morris. DirtyWhiteCandy was a naive blogging handle which I eventually dropped )

So here’s my marketing plan for spreading the word without annoying you all. If you’re in this position, you might find it helpful too.

  • A parallel Twitter account@ByRozMorris. I’ll use that account to chat about my fiction, but also about subjects that inspired me to write the book – stage hypnotists, memory tricks, illusionists, mysterious injuries, music and, of course, kick-ass pianos. (UPDATE 2014: it was too much trouble so I closed it!)
  • Blogging at other venues with a wider remit. I’ve been invited to be a regular guest blogger at Kindle Authors UK, a collective of professional UK authors branching out with independent projects that are too edgy, bent and challenging for mainstream publishers. Watch out for me on the 20th of each month – but drop in there at any time and you’ll find a lot of pro writers with exciting indie projects. (UPDATE 2014: I also had to stop that because of workload!) I’m also blogging at Women Writers, who have invited me to talk about any subject close to my heart  and link it loosely with my book (UPDATE 2014: see previous update!). I’ll signpost these guest spots with short introduction pieces here, as I usually do, but if they’re not your cup of tea they won’t be clogging up your inbox.
  • Creating a website for My Memories of a Future Life. Behind these walls I’ve been constructing a parallel world of the red piano, which I’ll be opening soon. I’ll post material there that’s specific to the book, for those who are curious. (UPDATE 2014: this became The Undercover Soundtrack… still very much alive.)

All books have to find their audience, and this is how I’m going to find the readers for mine. But without intending to, I’ve already been building curiosity for it – I mention it in Nail Your Novel and I’ve been getting inquiries from people who want to buy it.

But I do have a big secret weapon to send it into the Kindlesphere with a bang. It’s either a really good idea or a totally dumb one. But hey, you only live once. Or maybe more than once… I’ll be revealing that in a couple of weeks…

Have you solved this problem of developing a platform for your novels? I’d love to know what you’re doing. Especially if there’s anywhere you can suggest that I should introduce myself! Share in the comments!

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Self-publish first book, seek an agent for the second? Good, bad, risky?

As publishing becomes increasingly like the music industry, should you self-pub to kick-start your career?

I’ve had an interesting question from Stacy Green‘An online writing friend is going to self-publish a novel to build an audience, and then submit a second book to agents. What do you think’

The writing industry has become like the music industry. Writers are starting their careers not by  genuflecting at the desk of an agent or a publisher, but by getting out on blogs and websites, gathering like-minded folks on Twitter and Facebook. Effectively we’re gigging.

With Kindle books so cheap and so instantly available, it makes sense to have a book to prove ourselves with as well.

But should you self-publish a novel while you’re building your audience?

Is it spoiling your chances of a proper deal?

Six months ago I’d have said it was. But a few trailblazers have changed the world. Crucially, they have proved to the sceptics that self-publishing isn’t for slushpile losers. Traditionally published authors who retained their e-rights are putting their backlists on Kindle, showing that ‘proper’ authors self-publish too. Some agents are thinking of doing it for them.  Some authors are ditching their publishers and going it alone, or bringing out their more off-piste work themselves. And there’s that Kindle millionaire Ms Hocking. Yes, she’s in a minority but a lot of people took notice.

If you self-publish a novel, is it written off?

Agents warn that if you self-publish a book you won’t get a deal on it, ever. However, a few self-published authors have had offers for foreign rights. Again, they are in the minority, but it does happen.

For the vast majority, though, no publisher will touch the novel that’s been self-published.

That might not matter. Traditional publishing deals hardly pay very much these days so your earnings might not be much different if you keep all the rights for yourself. If you secure a deal for your second book, that will expose you to a wider spread of readers. If they like you, they will probably seek out your first book and won’t care where it came from. And so your first novel will not be sacrificed into a void.

But why shouldn’t Stacy’s friend approach traditional publishers?

Last night I was talking to a former agent and publisher who told me about the soul-destroying business of acquisitions meetings. He and his fellow editors would be passionately championing a book but just one veto from the marketing department could reject it.

The major publishers, he said, will only take potential best-sellers. Market is what speaks to publishers now, even more than merit.

Of course, new smaller publishers are stepping in to take their place, but they only publish a handful of titles a year. You might wait for ever. All the more reason to get out and gig your book.

Before you do…

Here comes the nagging. As everyone says ad nauseum (including me), make sure your book does you credit. Don’t toss a novel off so you’ve got something to get started with. Don’t put a book out because you don’t dare query with it, or you suspect an editor would tell you there were flaws. Edit and polish as slowly and carefully as you would for a formal query. Get a professional opinion and treat it like a job.

Authors who have blazed a trail this year have demonstrated that self-published writers are capable of policing themselves. Because of this we all have a better chance than ever before of building a career this way. But only if we all set our standards high.

Thank you, Hoong Wei Long for the photo.

To Stacy’s friend I say: good plan. If you have a book ready to gig, go for it.

What would you say?

 

 

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