writing & publishing

If You Build It…

First, my next post is online, where I talk about the similarities of mystery and fantasy fiction. Feel free to jump in with your thoughts.

Now to business. I thought I’d share the graph of my web stats, month by month over the last couples of years.

Pretty cool, isn’t it? Yes I’ve covered up the numbers, because I was questioning the etiquette. (If you do want to know, drop me a line.) The spike in December was the infamous Death of SF period. The leap in hits for this month is, I’m guessing, because of the US debut, combined with the UK mass market release, and everything reaching a critical mass.

The point is, given that authors are told to get out there and publicise themselves, you can go from nowhere to somewhere, just by sitting at your computer. I’ve been on a few panels talking about social media and all that nonsense, where people come for advice on this subject, but there’s no secret really. It’s like a relationship, and like in any good relationship, you should not look to see what you can get out of it yourself (I must blog to get sales! Uh, no), but you should look to nurture it for the sake of enjoyment – which means you must put in effort.

And before someone says, “But look, you are doing all this to sell books!” – well, if I didn’t want to sell books, I wouldn’t write them in the first place. Writers all have egos, let’s not deny it. We all want to be read – there’s nothing malicious about it. Blogging is not a direct way to sell books, and should never be looked at in such a way. It’s about a chance to connect to the community, and also it’s about the author brand, which I’ll mention later.

Making the assumption that, as a writer, you aren’t going to inherit a five-figure marketing budget to heavily promote your work across all media (welcome to the real world), here are the basic things I’d suggest to get nice, upward-sloping lines:

1) Blog regularly. I’m talking at least three times a week. We no longer live in the age of news items, but constant updates. It’s not rocket science – how many times are we ourselves put off by seeing graveyard blogs, updated once every two or three months? Exactly. It stinks. And that’s what people will think of you.

2) Put dark text on a white background so people can actually read what you’re writing about. The more readers are forced to squint to understand what your point is, the less they’ll want to come back.

3) Be yourself, so long as “yourself” is something vaguely interesting. Do I care how many words you typed today? Nope. Unless you’re George R. R. Martin, a few million others won’t care either. With all this white noise online, readers will need a reason to keep coming back. Your daily word count, or your grocery list, is not a reason to return. And “interesting” doesn’t have to be much: your thoughts, a video, a muse, something you saw, a funny anecdote about your editor, whatever. Just keep number 1 in mind.

That’s pretty much it. Simples. You can do other stuff of course – and for that, I’d recommend visiting Mr Edelman – but I’ve not consciously gone out to market myself. I’ve just set up a digital soapbox. Sure, you’ll get a few haters, but that will happen simply because you’re out there. It’s amazing how people can secretly be enraged behind their monitors, since it lacks the human touch.

It’s all about the author brand. My general observation is that – online at least – writers are viewed in the same way as brands (or music artists or sports teams – you get the idea). We might not like that situation, but it’s my gut instinct on how writers are perceived online. Or if you don’t like to think that, would style be a more applicable word? To authors who want to take advantage of the opportunities of the internet, you might need to think of yourself in the same way. Blogging is another way you can control your brand or style, outside of your writing. People might choose to listen to what you’ve got to say because they enjoy your blog style.

And luckily, authors also have books with which to build a brand – what you represent as an author with a particular style or niche of writing – but as I say, without a massive marketing budget or a commercial cover, there’s no guarantee your work will miraculously fall in the hands of readers overnight – it could take years.

So to deliberately misquote Field of Dreams, as the graph shows: If you build it [and maintain it properly], they will come.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

2 replies on “If You Build It…”

On point 2 – yeah I know, but the Un:Bound logo is way too gorgeous in black not to completely disregard this very constructive comment. ;p
It helps of course that I don’t need to sell anything and that it’s all black on white in googlereader.

My feeling is that with the easy access to people and information that the internet provides fans have come to expect a much greater presence from author. You can’t hide behind tables for a couple of weeks when your new book is launched and call that your lot anymore. That exposure inevitably means a more marketing concscious approach is needed to how you (that being the generic you obvs) present yourself to the public. In some cases just being a slightly filtered version of yourself is enough, in others constructing a definite persona can be safer. Then of course there are all sorts of difficult issues like how much do you put of yourself out there. It’s a minefield really, but in most cases i’d suggest one worth negotiating.

Thanks for sharing your stats! What do you think accounts for the zigzag pattern around the end of 2009? Was that from guest posts on other blogs where readers found your blog, then stuck around.

I originally found your blog through along with a bunch of other book blogs. Some were by writers that I knew already, but have since stopped visiting. So many are about word counts and day-to-day stuff. Let’s face it, writing in action is a real snooze fest. The average office worker has a more interesting day-to-day life, more to gossip about.

I kept coming back here because the posts were about a whole lot more than you and your books. (Though I did go on to buy your book, it arrived from Amazon this week.) I think one thing you left off here is that you need to enjoy it. I’m not blogging because my traffic is growing at a snail’s pace, but because I love having a spot to share my thoughts a few times each week.

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