The challenges of a fan forum, part 3

For the last two days we talked about the challenges of running a fan forum. If your board is busy, you’ll have the accompanying problems of a busy board: arguments between forum members, spammers, trolls, and so-called “Fans” with their own agendas. Running a fan forum might not be a good use of your promotional time and resources. And if your board is slow…how much effort are you and your associates willing to put in to try to get a slow-moving forum off the ground?

Fortunately, there are other ways to reach your fans than running your own message board.

That’s why, rather than making your own message board, I’d generally recommend finding one or two message boards that look welcoming and active and have a theme or interest in common with you and your stories. Note that people will notice, and resist, if the only reason you visit is to talk about your books and exhort people to buy them. Instead, find a board that interests you, a community you’d want to be part of, and discuss your shared interests: space opera, urban fantasy, ghost stories, whatever.

Maybe you are already a member of a board like that. Or maybe you prefer other venues like Twitter or Tumblr. If you don’t spend much time on the Internet, perhaps you can ask your writer friends what apps or methods they use. It’s often easier to join a new community when you have a friend who’s already a member who can show you the ropes.

A pre-existing board isn’t going to be all about your novel and your world – and that’s okay. For a new author, putting out new material at a pace fast enough to sustain an entire message board is not possible. If you’re writing with a circle of other authors in a shared world, or if your books become blockbusters, or if you have a creative fandom who want to share fan art, fan fic and crafts based on your stories, you might get there…but it’s putting the cart before the horse to make a forum and hope people show up. If you build a fandom first, the communities will happen organically. Maybe you won’t get a message board: maybe you’ll get a tag on Tumblr.

You can certainly join boards for writers — networking with other writers is important — but don’t forget to reach out to people who are readers first and foremost. I’ve been to cons where I didn’t make any money because all I did was trade books with my fellow writers. My lesson – to distinguish between networking events with other writers, and events where my goal is to sell books to an expanding base of readers.

We all have enough duties and obligations. Most fellow members of the message board communities I’ve belonged to go there to socialize, relax, and have fun. You can network and even advertise a little on message boards, but in the end, people will hang out on a board if they feel it’s fun to do so.

Similarly, have fun in your message board networking, and be mindful how much time you spend on them. They’re neither really “work” (like writing, editing, or bill paying) nor really “play” (like enjoying your hobbies or spending time with your family) and they should not take away the time you need for both of those.

Happy writing!

The challenges of a fan forum, part 2

Yesterday we talked about the challenges of running a busy message board. But what if that’s the problem you wished you had? What if your message board is a stagnant ghost town and you can practically hear the e-crickets chirping?

I’ve also been a member of unsuccessful message boards. Some of those boards were healthy for a time. They faded as long-time members lost interest, left, and weren’t replaced. Others never got off the ground, despite the efforts of the original members.

If a group or message board board moves slowly, people will stop checking it regularly. They’ll only check it once in a while, or lose interest in checking it at all, if they feel that nobody is ever responding to them, or that there isn’t likely to be any new and interesting content since their last visit. This is why blogs that update several times a week generally get more traffic than blogs that update monthly, or randomly. When a board is active, or when a blog update often, readers know there’s usually something new for them to see.

I found that many people balk when they are told from above that “there is a message board for X and we expect you to be active on it.” It’s hard to make a mandatory work-based message board into a fun and appealing place to socialize.

It’s the same if you set up a board and then feel that you have to make it be active, even if you’re only talking to yourself. If the board is a chore, it won’t feel like a community in your living room–it’ll be the online equivalent of an awkward meet-and-greet at work, where you put in your time and then go to do something else that’s either rewarding or fun.

If you’ve got your heart set on running a message board, the best thing to do would be to invite a number of people you socialize with anyway – perhaps your local writer’s group, or a board for area writers who write the same sort of fiction you do, or some people you know from conventions. If you would be chatting and communicating with these people anyway, then setting up a board that can double as a fan-forum for all the members might be a workable option–depending on their interest and preferred method of communication. You might find that some people prefer Twitter, or Facebook, or e-mail, over message boards.

Fortunately, a message board forum isn’t your only option.

Come back tomorrow for some alternatives to setting up your own message board.

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.