The challenges of a fan forum, Part 1

I’ve been a member of several message board forums over the years. Message boards can be a great place for fandoms to grow and thrive. They provide a venue where people from all over the world can get together to discuss a common interest. But is a message board a good way for a new author to build a fandom?

If you’re considering creating a message board, Yahoo Group, or other fan forum for your fans to get together and talk about your writing – a place where you can chat with your fans and let them know about what you’ve got in the works – there are a few options for you to consider.

The beauty of message boards is that you don’t have to be online at the same time as the people you’re talking with. You can make a comment or ask a question, and then leave to do something else. When you come back in a few hours, or a few days, you can see if anyone’s responded. And your thread will probably still be visible a day later, unlike social media, where many people don’t even see tweets or posts that are more than 24 hours old.

One challenge with message boards is that it’s easy for them to become targets for spammers and trolls. The busier a board gets, the more likely it is to attract the attention of people–or bots–who want you to visit their store or fall for their scam. Trolls will visit boards to see how much trouble they can cause.

But trolls aren’t the only challenge. If you have enough people with different viewpoints on a board, inevitably there will be a falling-out between them. You can ban a troll, but what do you do when two long-time fans are at one another’s throats?

Before you create a fan forum–message board, newsgroup, or anything else–set some boundaries, both for yourself and for the fans who would like to take part in it. Decide how you are going to settle disputes. You need to walk the line between not being overly controlling — it can alienate potential fans — and recognizing that some “fans” are not worth having on your board. Specifically, the sort who don’t have your best interests at heart.

You do not need “fans” who only want “favours” or “inside information” out of you that they can use to make themselves look good; you do not need “fans” who feel entitled to call you to defend your storytelling choices as though you were on the stand in court; you do not need “fans” who are there to argue in bad faith and waste your time for their entertainment; and you do not need “fans” who sling accusations and abuse at you or at other posters on your board.

Your message board is your “living room,” and you have a right to ask people to be civil. The best message boards I’ve been on have had clear rules of conduct and moderation teams to enforce those rules.

If all this sounds like a lot of work – it is.

A busy writer might not have time to also be the head moderator of a busy board. If you’re lucky, you’ll have fans who volunteer for the sake of the fan community. These people can help to keep an eye on the boards, break up arguments that go too far and deal with spammers and trolls when you’re not around.

Tommorrow: What if you have the opposite problem–what if you open a forum, and no one’s there?

SPFBO

One of the best things about the writing community is when an established author devotes some of their valuable time to helping out those of us who are still up-and-comers, particularly indie authors. You’ve heard about that sort of thing a million times over on this site via Superstars Writing Seminar, but today I’m going to talk about author Mark Lawrence‘s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (or SPFBO for short).

For the past three years running, Mark has coordinated a contest with ten blog reviewers per year (even more generous with their time) where self-published fantasy authors can submit their work and have it compete. The books are divided up equally among the bloggers, who then read each of their entries and select their favorite to advance. There were three-hundred entrants the year Unwilling Souls was in the mix, working out to thirty books per blogger, so as I said above, this was a significant time investment on the part of these reviewers.

The ten favorites would then advance to a final round, where all ten bloggers would read all ten entries and then vote on the best, which is declared the winner. But this isn’t like the Super Bowl, where only one team goes home happy. Each step of this process is a chance to increase the number of reviewers who have been exposed to your work and, if they like it, who may tell others about it. Unwilling Souls didn’t win its heat of thirty books, but it did runner-up. Mark kindly held online interviews with each of the runners-up of their respective heats, a chance to give a little extra exposure to books that had just missed the final-round cut. In addition, the contest put me in touch with several authors and bloggers increasing the number of cool people I know as well as the size of my networks that are critical for an indie author.

The SPFBO is just one example of the community of authors and reviewers working together to spread the word about great books that don’t have the kind of exposure you’d see with a traditional bestseller. It’s a community indie authors in particular need to get plugged into. I’m not sure if there will be a 2018 SPFBO or not, but even if the contest is put to bed, my larger point stands: get out there, find people who are enthusiastic about reviewing indie author’s books, and get in touch with them. The main tool indie authors have at their disposal is word of mouth, but that requires a lot of upfront work on our part, spreading the word until hopefully, one day,

About the Author:

Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. He is the author of the Unwilling Souls series, as well as stories in the A Game of Horns, Dragon Writers, and Undercurrents anthologies. He writes the kind of stories he likes to read, fantasy and science fiction tales featuring vivid worlds, strong characters, and smart action all surrounding a core of mystery. He lives with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his twitter (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

Using Conventions & Appearances to Build Your Base

One of the toughest things an author has to do besides cranking out a sizable body of incredible work is to get those works in front of reader’s noses. Jim Butcher, Stephen King, and all of the other household names don’t have to do that since the world is ready to drive like a maniac to the bookstore to get their next novel. When our latest work comes out, few of those same rabid readers notice. It’s possible the only being that is waiting to read your book is your dog, who has been loyal and supportive for all those years of toiling behind a keyboard.

The problem is to get your name and novel to the readers, which means they have to connect your name to your book. One way to do that is to go to genre conventions as a panelist and find other appearance opportunities to garner some name recognition.

If people remember that you were funny, smart, or even just nice and friendly, they’re going to connect your name to positive thoughts. “Oh, yeah, that person who was on the panel at BigCon who kept making me laugh.” If they remember enjoying your humor, they might pick up a book to re-experience the fun. If they can recall how nice you were to them as you signed a free bookmark and not trying to guilt them into buying a book, they’re more apt to plunk down a few bucks to make up for running out of money because they bought a ten dollar hot dog and a five dollar soda.

There are several Fictorian posts about getting into conventions, so I’ll just give you this link if you want to find out more.

The other thing you can do to get your name out there is to look for other interesting opportunities. A good example happens to be tomorrow’s Free Comic Book Day, a worldwide event that happens the first Saturday in May. There are readers who will be converging on one location in your neighborhood, so why not be there to smile and to offer them something. Tonya and I will be at Freedom Comics in Lebanon, Missouri tomorrow. Tonya is a professional cosplayer and an author, so she thought it would be a good idea to go to the event dressed up as a comic book character. The shop is advertising us and will allow us to sell books and prints. We’re going to be bringing some copies of my graphic novel to give away in exchange for an email address for our list. Afterwards, there will be a slew of new potential readers who happen to be local. Now that they know who we are, we can send them some information when the next book comes out.

You can create your own event if you want. Do a “Meet the Author” at your local library. Visit some colleges or even high schools to talk to some classes about writing professionally. Bring books and set up an impromptu display at your local Starbucks while you eat your bagel and sip some expensive coffee, poking at your keyboard on your next blockbuster. The idea is to be accessible and to build some recognition. If you don’t try, it will be hard to accomplish your goals.

If you’re gifted with a very high midichlorian count, you can always use today’s reference to assist:

May the Fourth be with you.


 


About the Author:
DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
His latest novel, Solar Singularity, co-written with Josh Vogt and Peter Wacks, is a finalist for the 2018 Scribe Awards from the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. The winners will be announced at San Diego ComicCon.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

What is a fan?

We all want fans, you know, those people who love our books enough to buy them not only for themselves but for others too. Plus, they spread the word and soon, your book, your writing are known to the world. But fandom doesn’t happen overnight. How do you go from the cold calls of signing books in a book store or ebook promotions, convincing people to not only buy your book but to become ardent fans?

Part of that answer lies in understanding what each stage of fandom means and requires. Yup, I said the word stages! Just like writing a novel is a progression of stages (idea, concept, premise, outlining/plotting, revision, beta readers and more revision), so it is to create a fan base. The other part of obtaining readers and converting them into fandom, is to understand that this is abusiness and as a business, you have to have goals. Is it to get an email list and 50 fans this year? Is it to have 1,000 fans spending $30 a year on your books and products (hey, that’s $30,00 a year, doing something you love!)?

Any good business plan understands its market and has a systematic approach to reaching that market. So understanding market segments makes that job much easier. Read to teh end where aI reveal the one category of fan most writers tend to forget about.

For transparency, I must tell you that I didn’t come up with these amrket segments/stages of audience myself. I got them from Monica Leonelle who has a brilliant course for writing and marketing. You can find her and more information at http://monicaleonelle.com/. Her books Prosperous Creation and Get Your Book Selling: Jumpstart Your Sales With a Simple Plan that Just Works are great reads to understand marketing and sales.

There are 10 segments or stages of audience. When I first read this, it felt daunting, but now, it’s a thing to know because when you’re aware of the stages, you’ll know how to approach and therefore meet, the needs of the customer.

Stages 1 – 5: GETTING READERS TO PURCHASE YOUR STORY

As fiction writers, our goal is to find readers for our book or series. Once you get through these first steps, the conversion from buyer to fan is much easier. There may be a lot of speaking one-to-one at book signings, conventions, sales tables, at parties, and other venues. It may mean readings at the public library, talking to friends about leaving reviews on Good Reads, Amazon and other ebook sales and review sites. It’s a lot of work, but if you are aware of the stages, of what you must do, then each reader you win over becomes a big victory indeed.

A couple of notes: in these first stages, consider having an email list so you can send out notices or newsletters about offers, promotions, new book releases and book signings. Asking people to sign up is a great way to make their committing to you and your work easier.

Stage 1 – Target Audience: Reads books like yours but hasn’t heard of you.
This is the pool from which you must entice people to buy your novel. Know the sub genres, read the reviews and back cover blurbs of the best selling novels. Note the style of cover art. Become known in fan circles by contributing (not spamming or pushing your product) to discussions. Create buzz by doing things like having your social media circles choose a cover for your upcoming book.

Stage 2 – Lead: Has heard of you but is not actively considering your books
This person knows that you write books similar to what they read, but not much more. So, what can you do to provide that nudge to the next stage? What psychological triggers or marketing materials can you add? Part of these answers many come from understanding your target market. You’ve introduced your work to them, now you need them to consider your books. Options to entice may include a free sample, or a discount on the first book of the series.

Stage 3 – Prospective Reader: Actively considering your books but is looking for more information
This prospect needs more information which can be given in the form of a synopsis, background information on your website, a sample read (Amazon’s ‘Look Inside” provides this service), or a freebie link.

Stage 4 – Trial Reader: Downloads a sample of your book or freebie
This is great! Now, is the time the prospective buyer decides of you’re the writer for him or her. There’s not a lot you can do because you’ve made sure you’ve put out your very best product! However, if you’ve giving a sample read, make sure it ends on a cliff hanger.

Stage 5 – Prospective Customer: Is at buying decision, usually on the product page
They’re on your website, the cursor ready to hit BUY. What can you do? Feed on their primary needs as a buyer – is it the best thriller ever, a romance that will captivate their hearts, the hottest trend on… you get it. Appeal to the emotions, the reason why they should buy your book.

STAGES 6-10 BUILDING YOUR COMMUNITY

Once people are readers, it is much easier to give existing customers more and to keep them excited about buying your stories and products. These stages are about supporting the fans who support you. This can take many forms such as new novels (series or stand alone), give always, autograph sessions, information either about yourself or the novel on your website, an exciting newsletter/social media presence which lets fans know what your up to or talking about something which excites them like your favorite chocolate of the week.

The more you give to this group, the more publicity, recommendations, buys, and reviews you’ll receive. These are the fans who will bring in new buyers and create new fans from their enthusiasm. But the bottom line still is that if you produced a great book, these stages become self-perpetuating and sometimes you don’t have to do as much – but you will always have to give something back to your fans.

Stage 6 – Buyer: Bought the book
The book’s been bought, how do you ensure the book gets read? Perhaps its with emails, asking for a review on your website, announcing that the next book is coming, announcing a fan question and answer day, an upcoming webinar, anything which will elicit a response. Other ideas include asking readers about a story idea for the next book – anything which engages reader participation in which they have to be knowledgeable about the book. Oddly enough, this also works for manuscripts in the final stages of revision wherein feedback from experts creates a buzz – does The Martian ring any bells?

Stage 7 – Reader: Read the book and enjoyed it
Convert these readers into fans by doing things like giving a freebie sample of the next book, maybe even giving then an ARC copy to review. Let them know when book launches and signings are happening, or which conferences you’ll be attending. Be a speaker or panelist at conferences thus giving you the reader a chance to find you.

Stage 8 – Fan: Joined your email list and maybe bought another book
Keep this fan engaged and informed. See previous suggestions from Stages 6 and 7. Hook them with tidbits from upcoming books. Give them a release date, maybe the blurb. Create some buzz and get them to create more buzz. They’ll be as excited as you are!

Stage 9 – True Fan: Left a review, joined your email list and purchased more from you
They love you! Love your fans back. Thank them for allowing you to do what you love!

Stage 10 – Evangelist: Shared your book with friends and is willing to promote
They really, really love you!

For True Fans and Evangelists, consider what promotions, what events you can hold to thank them and to make them feel special. For example, some authors hold contests and the winning fan’s name becomes a character’s name. But really, all the things we’ve talked about to this point still apply to these stages.

DON’T NEGLECT THIS FORGOTTEN CATEGORIES OF FANDOM

I’ve talked a lot in this blog about the category of fan we call a reader. But there is one other category we tend to forget about because we lump all readers together. This fan base can prove to be very lucrative, even sustain careers and that fan is the writer.

Rarely do writers consider the needs of their fellow writer fans but those who do, are very successful, in part, because of it. Who do we as writers go to listen to and learn from at conferences? Other writers? Whose webinars do we pay for? Other writers. Whose fiction books and books on writing do we read? Other writers. See what I mean? Who do beginner writers take workshops from? Other writers? Who do teachers ask to come talk about writing and to teach their children about the process/craft? Writers. Make sure your marketing plan includes other writers.

Segmenting your target market and understanding their need at every stage of the buying process will go a long way for you as you work to reach your business goals and hopefully (fingers crossed) allow you to quit your day job!