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Rated: 13+ · Article · How-To/Advice · #1933280
Thoughts on the what it takes to build an audience.
Many of us write for the joy of it, many of us write because we have no choice – and the story demands we tell it and tell it right.

I am someone who has published their first novel with a small press and a sequel, and who at this stage is officially an amateur (since I don’t earn enough off writing to be considered professional or have not sold to a “professionally” accredited market). You have to have two professional level sales in order to join the Science Fiction Writers of America or likely any other of the writer’s guilds. There’s another hurdle to achieve if you wish to succeed as a professional (even a not particularly well paid one – remember don’t give up your day job!).

That hurdle is building an audience. Over ten years ago I read about a couple who wrote mysteries set in Cincinnati. They believed in their books and copyedited and perfected their work that they couldn’t find a publisher for. So, they self-published and approached a local bookstore in Cincinnati, offering to do a signing there. They couldn’t afford coverart, so the book had a black cover with just the title and their names on it. They also sent out review copies to the Cincinnati area book reviews for the good old newspapers. Every glowing quote they added to the back of the second printings still coverart less black cover. They were building up a regional audience, which these days is called building a platform, and were finally getting some attention for publishers interested in their next book in the series.

At Balticon several years ago, I attended a book launch for a fantasy novel which had been serialized in audio podcasts through the author’s local writers’ group. Many of the members served as the books cast of characters. Ultimately ten thousand people followed the story chapter by chapter online. That not only built her audience, but helped her interest her publisher. I also know an author who has been doing podcasts with friends for years and interviews best-selling authors and discussing books in the genre he loves to read, which has helped him, a self-published author, connect with thousand of readers.

Alas, I haven’t invested myself in the ways they have, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t think about ways that might work for me, which led me to join Writing.com.

I recently celebrated my Writing.com account anniversary. I joined in 2010 with the purpose of trying to build a platform for my novel and ultimately my series, Highmage’s Plight, my first published novel. As members of the Coffee Shop for the Fantasy Society you know what a wonderful resource WDC is and this group, in particular, is. This group is a support system and training ground, all of WDC is as well, but CSFS is about the genre we love, which means we’re a group of people who “get it” and understand when one of us, ourselves included, write something that misses the mark, narrowly or widely. That makes this group an invaluable in learning our craft.

Each of us is likely in a different place, seeking different goals for where we are as writers at the moment. I set aside sharing my stories for twenty years after receiving a number of rejections and critiques from editors with major and less major magazines and publishers. They hurt too much. I took it too personally. But I kept writing, re-writing, and reading (which is an important part of a writers education – which Stephen King stresses in his book, On Writing). My writing got better over time and still is…

Building a platform takes time, perseverance, a lot of luck, and a great deal of networking. I’ve been to a lot of sci fi/fantasy conventions (where I either participate in workshops , serve on panels, or just ask questions to the panelists looking for ways to build my readership based on their life lessons). It’s hard work trying to build an audience. I’ve participated in three blogger book fairs and will participating in another soon. I’ve had a booth at a book fair which gets thousands of visitors, but where I may only sell a few copies. I blog, tweet, joined Shelfari, Goodreads, the Librarything, and am selling quite a few books (my print-on-demand editions) personally through a gift shop, and am still struggling to build my audience. Just today I got an email from someone I’ve never met through my website asking me when the next book was coming out. So, I’ve some indication that I’m moving in the right direct… but it’s a slow process.

Getting published in the right place can also bring readers your way. That’s one reason why traditional publishers have an edge (including marketing budgets) over small presses (which don’t have marketing dollars and depend on their author’s effort) and the self-published (who likely wish they had a marketing budget, too).

On Writing.com, I serialized the Plight and entered each story in the Separate Worlds Monthly Contest, where the winning entries get published for WDC gift points. I won first prize and second prize a lot there and honed each section of those stories of the Plight still further before seeking a publisher, which I landed on the first try after the last chapter was published in 2011 (which should be considered under the commercial’s heading of “results not typical”). Its publication in Separate Worlds helped bring it an important level of the attention that made it stand out to the small press that published it in 2012.

I’ve submitted the first book in a Young Adult urban fantasy series, {bitem: 1932415}, to another large small press (it pays a small advance and professional rates), and have posted sample chapters on Wattpad.com, a free reading site primarily for young adult readers (currently with about 15 million of them as members). Author Corey Doctorow posted five stories there in 2013 to build his already good-size platform and expand it into the YA market. I’m hoping to build my audience there over time, but there’s a lot of competition for “eyeballs.” But this attempt could have a nice payoff if it catches on there.

On the flip side, I’ve posted a review request through CSFS, primarily seeking reviews from teen members of our group for {bitem: 1932415}. I’ve posted the first six chapters of Dare2Believe here, which are restricted to members of this group only. I’m looking for input on a novel that’s as unusual for urban fantasy as you’ll likely ever see. Said input will likely prove vital in my long term attempts to both find a publisher and build my platform.

I hope a few people can take a look at it and give me their opinion. I’ve revised and revised it and even read these chapters aloud to a rather patient 11 year-old who loved every word. Then again, relatives are a captive audience and may be less then representative.

Wherever you are in your writing career, if you one day hope to be a successful writer of fiction, think about and plan how you’ll build your audience, your platform. I wish you every success!

D.H. Aire, (Highmage)
Author of Highmage’s Plight and Human Mage (available on Kindle and in print on Amazon)
© Copyright 2013 Highmage - D.H. Aire (dhr2believe at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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