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Monday, January 14, 2013

Blogging and Platforms

I can't help it. I hate using the word "platform" or "tribe" to describe my readers. To me it makes it sound like my fans are nothing more than a launching point to my success. Of course, my success as a writer in sales is totally in my fan's hands. And I know what having a platform means. It isn't what some people may think it means. But I've been giving this some thought of late. Would appreciate any input from folks, especially readers who venture forth to read this.

Platform is more building a following to prepare to launch your next book(s). Not to increase sales of existing books, though if that happens, few authors are going to squawk about it. The goal, however, is to grow a base of interested followers so that when that new book comes out, you will have developed a relationship with potential readers who will likely be more inclined to not only give your book a try, but to become part of the "tribe" and promote it through reviews and telling others about it through their contacts. It primes the pump for a good book to get some traction.

The problem has been for fiction writers that this process is more designed for non-fiction. People who have an interest in how to raise platypuses, for instance, give someone with a book on that topic a natural focus to their blog. Since non-fiction tends to be topical, any blog about it focuses on that topic. But what does a fiction writer focus on? Our goal isn't to inform on a specific topic, but entertain people with a good story.

When I started this blog, initially I figured it would be an easy way for people to follow my announcements on short stories being published, or other milestones in my writing life. I wasn't looking to gain a huge blog following. It was primarily to be a "news about my writing and coffee adventures" blog. The coffee part never took off though I'm still drinking it. As I progressed in my blogging experience, I heard you should have more than just that if you want people to read it. They need to have something to come there for. Okay, that sounded logical, so I began doing a series of articles on various topics. Writing tips, book reviews, opinion pieces on writing topics, among other things thrown in here and there. All intended to give my blog some value. That has worked to a degree, but not like gang busters.

One thread that grew was some how-to articles for writers. My most popular post of all time was how to set up Open Office to write novels by using it to do what a lot of writing software does, like automatically renumbering chapters when you move them around. It has only been surpassed in a month twice, currently during this month by two other how-to articles on creating a mobi file and uploading to Amazon, and using Open Office and Calibre to create ebooks. The popularity of these articles led me to write the book How to Make an Ebook: Using Free Software, which has been my best seller.

All well and good. Still, that is mostly targeting writers. While writers are often avid readers themselves, they represent only a tiny fraction of the total readers out there. Those coming here to find my how-to articles are not in the mindset to grab my fiction while they're at it. So while the non-fiction sales and how-to articles are great, that doesn't build any kind of platform for my fiction.

So what kind of platform does a fiction writer build? I've heard two main responses to that, three...three responses. One, "I don't know." Two, "You can't build a platform for fiction, that is only a non-fiction process." Three, "A fiction author him or herself is the 'brand' and you've got to sell yourself."

However, I think those responses are focused on the outward symptom. What are other successful bloggers in fiction doing? Well, this one talks about issues. This one does book reviews. This one talks about various things in their life. This one broadcast their varied opinions on all sorts of topics. But that is just what they do, not what makes their blog interesting to readers and fans.

What does a fiction writer do? What is their goal? To entertain. What does a fiction writer have to do to generate a following through their blog that builds their platform? Be entertaining. Whatever you are talking about, be fun to read. Engage the reader. Whether your blog represents a buffet of things, or a narrow focus, if you fail to make it entertaining, what will motivate them to think your fiction will be anymore entertaining? If you are entertaining, what better advertizement do you have that you can do the same in a novel?

I think what many of us fiction writers do is read post about building platforms that are by nature non-fiction focused. Instead of asking why do people want to read my book—because it is entertaining—we copy others and think it is about dishing out information. We think it is about what topics we write about. But the fact is, if I can write an entertaining post about going to the bathroom, that accomplishes the goal just as much as writing about politics in an entertaining way. It doesn't so much matter what you write about, only that it be entertaining. That is what will build a platform for fiction writers through blogging. That is what successful fiction writer blogs do: they are entertaining.

This hit home to me today while reviewing my blog's statistics for the past month. As I noted above, my most popular articles have been my how-to articles. But this past month my unique page views have broken 1000 for the first time since I started this blog. In part because several articles have hit over 100 unique views when in the past it has been around a couple. One of those articles surprised me, for it is my Christmas fiction I wrote last month, and it has broken 100 views currently. Yes, a piece of fiction broke into the territory previously dominated by how-to articles. Why? Because it is entertaining. The story actually has comments saying how entertaining it was! Imagine that. This is what will give me fiction readers, not how-to articles.

So, having given this a lot of thought, and leading you through my thought processes in a probably not-that-entertaining way, here is what I've decided to do with my blog in the coming year that I hope will not only generate more followers and readers of the blog, but a platform that will be more aligned with fiction.

  1. No matter what I write about, I will focus on it being entertaining. That has to be the number one goal.

  2. I will do a fiction story a month, probably a flash fiction, but I'm not guaranteeing it will only be those.

  3. I will do something funny. Whether that be a "comedy" routine, or a character interview, etc., once a month.

  4. I will endeavor to post once a week, around Monday or Tuesday, not counting announcement posts, or future how-to articles, so readers will know what to expect.

I'll do this for a year and evaluate the results in January 2014, assuming I'm still alive and kicking by then.

This post doesn't count. So I'd better get busy and do one for this week. Thanks to all who are reading.

Why do you read the blogs of fiction authors?

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