Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Will they come if you build it?

Anyone who has ever written a whole book will tell you it's tantamount to erecting a baseball or football stadium. Planning, summoning the courage, gathering resources, funding, finding time, seeking like-minded individuals for support, all the figuring out of markets, and then ... publicity and promotions.

And that's where the similarity ends! People flock to stadiums because it's where sport enthusiasts, athletes and participants must meet. I have yet to hear of a sports stadium that never hosted a match, perhaps some sort of stellar event, weekly games, or even a few humble training sessions. I do not think there's such a thing as a stadium that got ignored. It was built, and they came.

Wembley Stadium, London EnglandImage via WikipediaBooks are different, and so are writing careers. One can build all one likes, but one can never rely on there being an audience. It's a spooky fact that no one might come. The books can very well remain unread, unrecognized, unnoticed. There is no career with books that are unread.

A lot of advice about publicity and promotions for authors is very strange. It all seems to start with Step Two. There are behests to "Send people to your landing page", or "Direct people to your books on Amazon", or "Your blog should invite people to read: have a call to action". All these things require people to address. It's not possible to send people anywhere, or get them to do anything, without having their attention first. Many have asked me about this. And I have asked myself a number of times: where does one find that initial knot of people willing to try a new author out; willing to take an action; willing to read a blog; willing to try out a first chapter?

Unlike a huge stadium, a book has a mountain of competing books among which it is completely hidden. Buried. Overwhelmed. Placing a book on Amazon, starting a blog, setting up a website or ordering a box of paperbacks are all great steps, but they take place in pitch darkness. No 'people' can see them. There are only a few people to tell, but they are not nearly enough to fill your 'stadium'. You might have built it, metaphorically speaking, but who will come? How can they come if they don't know about it? How do you tell the crowd out there? Putting a new book on an unknown blog is like never having done a thing.

They say that all one needs is a thousand true and loyal fans. That makes it easy, because each will tell seven friends, and your books will become popular through word of mouth. Until one tries, one has no idea how difficult it is to gather a thousand readers. If you are reading this and nodding, agreeing that even two dozen sales was a phenomenal result, after a superhuman effort you don't think you could summon again, you are not alone. All the world's new authors are nodding with you.

It is monumentally hard, for most new writers, to gather any interest at all for their work. The hardest thing ever attempted, they start to understand, is to get anyone to read anything you have written. There are many, many books on Amazon that have no ranking - which means no one has ever bought a single copy from the Amazon site. The author might hold a roaring sale at every writers' club meeting or shop signing, or university workshop, but Amazon registered no sales. There are millions, literally millions, of Amazon titles with a ranking over 2,000,000. This means very infrequent sales.

Why does this happen? Where are the people? Why is having a title on an online shop not enough? It's not enough, because new books by new authors are virtually invisible. Someone must tell people they exist. But who can the author tell? How does one address a market? Where are the readers of your book? They are strangers, almost impossible to reach.

It doesn't matter how fancy your blog is - if no one sees it, it matters little what's on it, or whether you promote your books or not. All those clever instructions you keep reading require an audience you cannot understand how to obtain in the first place.

Here are a few suggestions to create that knot of people who might become your first readers.I hope you find a thousand!

- Join an online discussion group concerned with your genre
- Join a number of interactive social media sites
- Comment regularly on a set number of relevant blogs: don't be random
- Seek authors who successfully formed a fan base, and observe what they do
- Be prepared to offer advice and interesting commentary
- Seek out avid readers in your genre
- Start small, but start

These activities will befriend you with a number of like-minded authors, readers, and curious people. If you have enough to offer and you are interesting enough, acquaintances might very well grow into friendships, which you must nurture. Generate a list of email addresses you can use (with permission), and formulate a method of keeping in touch infrequently, with interesting observations or news. Those who do not like this kind of contact will soon let you know. The list will evolve into a fan base.

You might start with five, which might grow to fifty-five in about a year. Remember we dreamed about a thousand? Yes - it takes years, and there's no time to start like the present. It's a new year, the industry is becoming more and more amazing. Go out there and instead of building a stadium, start a game of marbles in the dust, and see who will come out to play.

Are you creating a fan base? A knot of loyal readers? Tell me what you do.

Are you a loyal reader? What do you like about the activities and work of new authors you find?

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  1. Great post! You make some great points, and thanks for the great suggestions! Yes, indeed it does take time and a lot of networking! Take care!

  2. Rosanne, you always create wonderfully thought provoking blogs - and so well written. Bravo. I would like to think I am helping build a fan base by being a member of a specialist blog for readers of my novels, embracing Facebook and am a loyal reader when I find an author I love. And therein lies the start and end of the circle, hmm?

  3. Lena, Noelene - I try to find topics other authors can relate to, with solutions that might work. Thank you for your comments.

  4. I haven't gone near Facebook or Twitter but do try and keep up with online discussion groups with other writers and readers.And I maintain a blog in which I try to feature relevant topics.The current topic is about image and writers.
    I like hearing about the way other writers work and yesterday heard an interesting interview with Liz Byrski, a favourite author. I have read most of her novels and those of other favourites.

  5. Thanks Rosanne. Confirms what I suspected. Guess I'll just keep plugging along as I am doing mostly the right things.

  6. "Will they come if you build it?" That's the question for anyone writing a book, isn't it? You're building something with no idea if 'they' will come. And I adore that Monet painting.

    I just joined this Facebook Indie Writer's group that would be better off with you in it. Please give it some thought.

  7. That is flattering Jeff, thank you - I already belong, and was invited to contribute, so your thoughts are echoed somewhere out there!

    That Monet painting is one of the items that inspired my upcoming romantic thriller Camera Obscura. I can't wait until BeWrite Books releases it later this year.

  8. Rosanne, Just happened upon this blog, If you build it, they will come. What a terrific post. So realistic. We all know this problem. But you have captured it, exactly. I believe you are on the right track with your own efforts and truly think that you will sit back one day with a sigh of relief, and say, 'Thank goodness all that work is over.' You will have built your following and you do deserve it. Margaret Sutherland

  9. Margaret - you always write such lovely responses to my blogs, thank you. Yes, my following is slowly growing. It takes years of patient work and nurturing! Not dissimilar to gardening, in a way.

  10. Rosanne, you have offered excellent advice, and I know how hard you work at your PR side of writing - don't we all these days?

    When I first started my readers' email newsletter list, I had 5 members, but I went on sending out newsletters. It's now two steps forward and one step back, because people forget to change email addresses and when newsletters bounce, Yahoo suspends people.

    I think the answer to your blog is the same as it was to my newsletter: you have to have faith.

    Good luck to your books and you!

  11. What a timely post! I am just going through my reader and doing an overhaul on the blogs I've added over the years; taking out the ones that are inactive or authors who haven't been in touch. Its a weird balance but commenting on blogs is a great way to be interactive and keep in touch (something I plan to do more of :P) Happy writing!