In today’s highly competitive market, authors have to be creative not only in crafting their novels but in finding ways to sell them as well. That often means stepping outside the box and doing things that might make others in the field uncomfortable. It means searching beyond the known audience for your novel and tapping into readers who have yet to discover not only your writing but your genre as well.
When Fireship Press, the publisher of my debut historical adventure, The Prodigal, suggested to their authors that they build a presence on Tumblr, the concept was not completely foreign to me. I was familiar with Tumblr through various entertainment aspects such as movie fandoms and artwork, and I followed a couple of Tumblr blogs already. But I didn’t have my own account at that point.
At first I figured Tumblr would not be “my audience” for my historical novel because Tumblr has an overall younger demographic than the traditional target audience for historical novels like The Prodigal. But then I considered that perhaps that younger demographic was exactly what I needed to tap into to help boost sales of The Prodigal. After all, what are some of the biggest selling movies/books in recent memory? Things like The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, the Twilight series, etc. Say what you will about their literary merits or lack thereof, the bottom line is those series are huge commercial successes because of their young audiences.
So, I wondered, how could I make Tumblr work for me and my writing while also being an enjoyable experience, a place where I was highly motivated to post daily? Treating Tumblr like I treat this blog, which is dedicated to writing subjects, would not gain me followers among the younger crowd at Tumblr (which, by the way, is now in the Top 10 social media websites in the United States). So I asked myself what did I–a 48-year-old woman–have in common with the younger folks on Tumblr? What do young adults spend much of their time doing? I wish I could answer reading but unfortunately that’s not true. No, they are more likely to watch a movie than pick up a book. After all, going to the movies is a social activity while reading a book is decidedly more private. And young adults are all about the social aspect of life.
So I set up my Tumblr account, introduced myself as a writer and promoted The Prodigal at the outset, then I went off the rails by many professional writers’ standards: I began blogging about my current favorite movie, “The Dark Knight Rises”, and my current favorite actor, Tom Hardy, both of which have huge followings on Tumblr. Tumblr’s biggest asset is its awesome photographic capabilities and the ease with which bloggers can reblog others’ posts, pictures, etc. It makes it a very interconnected social site, something that feeds the fandoms because, again, the visual is more likely to grab a follower’s interest than just a bunch of text.
How does engaging in such fandoms help a writer sell their novel? You introduce your followers (who then, hopefully, reblog your content to their followers, and on and on) to your writing craft. But I knew I couldn’t just slap content from The Prodigal out there and expect the non-traditional audience to suddenly lap it up. So, like with the shared experience of movie fandoms, I needed (and wanted) to write something that they would want to read. A subject I already knew thousands of people on Tumblr were interested in and that I was interested in as well. Something that would introduce new readers to me as a writer, something they would read and enjoy enough to consider then going to Amazon, etc. and checking out The Prodigal.
So one hundred pages later I’m into an ever-expanding story that tells the origins of the fascinating character Bane from “The Dark Knight Rises.” One of my followers on Tumblr, after reading the first chapter, suggested I post the story at FanFiction.net, which I did. At FanFiction.net I have readers from 34 different countries around the world. In the month of November, the story had 2,403 hits and 914 viewers. There, like on my Tumblr, I promote The Prodigal by posting the book blurb in my profile and regularly mentioning it at the end of new installments, directing those who enjoy my writing to consider buying/reading my debut novel. I know of at least two people who bought the book through this type of promoting. With Tumblr’s beautiful picture capabilities, I regularly post a “Shameless Plug” for The Prodigal, complete with a gorgeous picture of the book’s cover.
Fireship Press recently posted on their Facebook page a story of an author who wrote a story for her Twitter followers and generated a lot of interest through it. Many others give away free books to generate new readership. But like my story on Tumblr and FanFiction.net, or that author’s story on Twitter, writing a “free” story on social media can be just as effective and definitely more interactive than giving away a physical book. It encourages your followers to come back every day to your site, waiting with bated breath for the next installment, and introduces your voice to new readers. And, speaking for myself, it’s just a helluva lot of fun to write “just for fun” and share that passion with readers who then give you instant feedback and create a valuable dialogue between writer and reader; you build a relationship.
I recently received this message from one of my Tumblr followers, a sample of similar remarks I’ve received between the three different sites where my story is posted: “I just wanted to tell you how much I love Risen From Darkness. I check it all the time for updates, and it’s one of the highlights of my day when there’s a new chapter. I love your characterization of Bane, it feels so spot on for a child in that situation. I’m definitely going to check out your book!”
To those more traditional-thinking writers who might poo-poo these new strategies to expand your audience, consider this. 50 Shades of Grey originated in the fanfiction world before it ever became a novel. And we all know how many copies that novel sold. Though we all may talk a good game about “real writing,” the bottom line is sales because without sales there won’t be another book.