Tag Archives: Mary Pletsch

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.

Seeding the Future

Some series are structured from the beginning; others are open-ended. If you don’t know how long your series will go on–if you want the possibility to add more books if it does well–then you’ll do yourself a favour by seeding ideas for the future.

This technique might not be useful for you if your series is highly structured and working towards a certain predetermined end. For example, the Harry Potter series was planned from the beginning to be seven books long–one for each of Harry’s years at Hogwarts.

But suppose your series is about the crew of a starship. You’re sure you could write a lot of books about their adventures. Or suppose your series is about a detective. You’d like to be able to write a number of stories about her cases. How long these two series will be is going to depend in large part on how well the early books sell. Based on sales, you’ll choose whether to extend the series, or whether to write something else.

If you’re extending your series, you don’t want each book to become Episode of the Week. A new crime to solve, a new planet to explore–but so what? One way to make each book “count” is to reveal more about your characters. Maybe one of them changes in a meaningful way. Or maybe we find out about someone’s past. Or maybe two characters start (or end) a relationship.

And then there’s your seeds.

The navigator of your starship crew always wears a helmet. Nobody’s ever seen his face. In the first few books, this fact is just a matter of mild curiosity. But if you need a story idea for a later book—take off that helmet. Has he assumed someone else’s identity? Is he an alien? Is he hiding an injury or a secret?

Your detective believes that her son died after meeting with foul play. His body was never recovered. In the first few books, this tragic past is why she became a detective. But if you need a story idea for a later book–one of the criminals she arrests has a tip that her son may be alive.

If you choose not to extend the series, these “hooks” become background information, matters of curiosity, things mentioned in passing, general “flavor.” But if you do choose to write more books later, you’ll have ideas to explore that have been “written into” the series from the beginning.

It is possible to go overboard on the story seeds. If your starship crew spend the earlier books constantly wonder what’s under the navigator’s helmet, then your audience will feel dissatisfied if they don’t ever find out. You also don’t want to overly restrict future stories by laying too many hints that you can’t contradict later on. You’ll have trouble making your detective the youngest of six daughtersif you mentioned in book one that she’s an only child!

But if you seed ideas into your earlier books, then if you extend your series, your later books won’t feel like “add-ons made up off the top of your head”. They’ll tie into previous books, expanding on ideas that you suggested from the very beginning. And if your characters grow and change, or if your audience learns more about them, then your series will maintain a sense of continuity–and possibly take both you and your readers to some surprising new places.

No “Hack Jobs” Allowed

MTMTE3When a new movie comes out, or a new toyline releases, or a new TV show takes off, it’s common to see plenty of licensed merchandise on store shelves, hoping to cash in on the “hot property” of the day.

Most of us have probably encountered “hack” novelizations of movies, toy tie-in kids’ books, direct to video sequels….and sometimes feature films themselves which count on popular characters with established fanbases to put butts in movie seats, even if the movie itself is awful.

A major piece of advice I got at Superstars Writing Seminars was never to turn in a “hack” job on anything. If you’re hired to write purple unicorns, no matter how stupid you think purple unicorns are, you turn in the best purple unicorn story you can.

Your name as an author–the foundation of your writing career–needs to be tied to quality work. Don’t get a reputation as a “hack.” Get a reputation of turning in a great story, even if it’s about a concept that you (or other people) might think is silly.

You might be surprised where it leads. 

James Roberts, the writer of Transformers: Lost Light and its prequel series, Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, has won (well deserved) awards for his fascinating, multilayered, inclusive, comic-and-tragic sci-fi storytelling. It’s everything the feature films aren’t.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is beginning its eighth season soon. Along with great all-ages comics, a feature film and a spinoff series, MLP: FIM has expanded the My Little Pony brand to all manner of fans who’d never have thought twice about ponies when the show first started.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has built an empire on one-time “B-list” characters whose rights no film studio wanted. (Black Panther is magnificent.)

None of those success stories would have happened if the creators involved had turned out the minimum effort, taken their paycheques, and gone home.

Make the most of your opportunity. Respect the franchise you’re writing for. And build the kind of reputation you want.

 

About Mary:

Mary Pletsch is a glider pilot, toy collector and graduate of the University of Huron College, the Royal Military College of Canada and Dalhousie University. She is the author of several previously published short stories in a variety of genres, including science fiction, steampunk, fantasy and horror. She currently lives in New Brunswick with Dylan Blacquiere and their four cats.