Most authors know the value of building a platform and growing their readership. Unfortunately, fiction authors have a difficult time finding practical advice that works for their unique needs. How does one build a crowd of the right readers? We have assembled a list of suggestions that should get the wheels turning on your content strategy.
- Part 1: Share Your Fiction
- Part 2: Talk About Your Fiction
- Part 3: Talk About Other Fiction
- Part 4: Create Nonfiction that is Related to Your Fiction
Fiction authors, I know your pain. Like you, I have read the books on marketing and listened to the experts on how to build my platform and grow my audience. Unfortunately, so much of their advice is driven by their experiences with marketing nonfiction—and their marketing suggestions make for an awkward fit for fiction. Sure, they casually throw off something like, “Oh, and these will work for fiction, too,” but offer either an obvious example or no example at all.
The other problem is that so many experts and authors think that you can just start writing about writing. As I can tell you from experience, all that does is draw an audience of fellow writers who have zero interest in buying your books—they just want more free writing advice. Whatever you do on your blog, avoid talking about the craft in a way that will appeal primarily to other writers. Unless your audience is other writers—and nobody else—then the biggest mistake you can make is to write about writing.
Do not misunderstand me—it is a fine and noble thing to write about writing. Just do not make the mistake of equating that with drawing a crowd of your target readers.
Below is a big list of suggestions for generating content that will promote your fiction. None of these ideas, all by itself, will necessarily grow your audience—there is no quick fix available. (Certainly not at these prices.) Building your audience is a long-term, multi-faceted prospect.
However, if you enact some of the below strategies, they:
- Give you an excuse to engage with your existing audience
- Give you something new to share through social media
- Give you fresh content for your email newsletter
Doing one or more of the items listed below will become tent poles in your larger strategy to build an audience for your work.
16 Content Ideas for Novelists that Will Draw the Right Audience
PART 1: SHARE YOUR FICTION
#1 Serialize a Whole Story—1000 words at a time
If you are a good writer, then the best way to get new readers is for them to sample your work. All the plot descriptions and summaries in the world pale next to the actual proof that you can tell a compelling story, with a great beginning, middle, and end.
If you have a finished novel that is not under contract to a publisher, one option is to simply serialize that. In years past, that particular move would sour potential publishers against a book—but with all the changes in the publishing landscape, that is generally no longer considered to be taboo. (Of course, if your book is in an exclusive agreement—whether KDP Select, or any other exclusive arrangement—then serializing this book is off the table.)
Another possibility is to create original fiction for your blog. In installments of anywhere from 300-1,500 words, you can serialize short stories and novelettes (1,500-30,000 words), novellas (30,000-50,000 words), and novels (50,000 words and up).
Given that you’re trying to point new readers to the fiction you have for sale (or plan to have for sale), it makes sense to try and stick too close to the same genre or category. You may even want to write new stories that are related to your published work; for example, you could write adventures of minor characters, or stories that serve as prequels or that fill in gaps in the narrative.
If your blog posts are set to allow comments, then you can even allow your readers to participate in the process, offering comments, suggestions, and corrections.
Of course, you are still free to publish this content later. (Please remember to do all the necessary revising, editing, and packaging.) The short stories could be published as individual eBook shorts, and also bundled up into short story collections.
#2 Write micro fiction
Similar to #1, the key difference with this option is that short-short fiction is, by definition, short enough to always be a self-contained blog post. By most standards, a short-short story—also referred to as flash fiction, sudden fiction, and micro fiction—is a compact 1,500 words or less. (They can even be as short as a text or a tweet.)
An interesting exercise would be to write a short-short story every week. If you did that, then every six months to a year—say, every time you have 25,000-50,000 words—you can bundle up your short-shorts into an eBook collection.
#3 Read your fiction aloud
Another way to engage readers is to create audio and video files of you reading the work aloud. Not only does this share your stories, but it also allows the listeners and viewers to hear your voice, which will draw some even closer to you as an author.
There are a few ways to approach this idea:
- Make it a podcast
- Post audio files directly to your blog
- Post video directly to YouTube and embed on your blog
There are some technical considerations to consider. For example, podcast files would need to be hosted by a separate media server—because the amount of traffic at your site can become a drain on the system, slowing down the website, or even making the website crash. However, there are some inexpensive options available.
If you are just posting short files, you can just upload audio files right into a Word Press blog. (If you have a different blog service, you’ll have to check into availability.) Don’t call these a “podcast,” though, because the term refers not to the format, but to how the content is distributed.
YouTube, of course, is a free media host. (That fact alone is way bigger and more wonderful than most realize.) There are a couple of ways you can take advantage of this miracle service:
You on camera: Create short videos of yourself reading from your work, do some light editing and post-production, and upload directly to your own page on YouTube. (Make sure to have good lighting, good sound, and that whatever is behind you is not unpleasant or distracting.)
Just your voice: A “video” can also be the audio file of you reading, matched to a simple image or series of images. It can be just your book cover.
Files hosted on YouTube can easily be embedded on your blog.
#4 Post excerpts of your work
The above examples are all related to sharing complete works. However, you can also provide excerpts to your fiction. These excerpts would need to make sense as standalone pieces, with very little context. You also want to avoid posting any excerpts that give away too much.
PART 2: TALK ABOUT YOUR FICTION
When you watch DVDs of a movie or television program, do you watch or listen to the bonus content? The best kind of bonus material—which can include commentary tracks, featurettes, audio content, and more—brings context to the work, and helps audiences get to know the personalities behind it.
#5 Tell the story behind the story
Fiction: World building
Nonfiction: Why you wrote this
The “story (or stories) behind the story” can either serve as information about the world of the story, or it can be a window into the process behind how the story was made. Examples of the former include creating character profiles, and technical information about places or things in your story.
#6 Author commentary
On a DVD, a film’s commentary generally runs the whole length of the film, with the creators or personnel providing insights into how the film was made. These comments can run the gamut from the minute details (why a character is wearing that shirt) to the big picture (how this story relates to the larger discussion of a social issue).
For a novelist, the approach to the “commentary track” can work in a similar way: Either in concert with or without the original text, you can provide behind-the-scenes info about the book, one chapter per blog post. (This approach will require spoiler alerts for anyone who hasn’t already read the novel.) Why did the character do that? What real-life person (or people) inspired this character? What real-life event or personal inspiration led to this scene?
This is also a great way to share any trivia related to the story, or what you learned during any of your research in writing the novel.
Another kind of behind-the-scenes content is a short feature about a type of thing found in the film (and, sometimes, others). For example:
- The heroes of your story
- How your heroes compare to heroes in other stories
- The villains of your story
- How your villains compare to villains in other stories
- Themes in your story
- How your approach to a particular theme compares to how other authors have approached the same theme
These short features can take the form of articles, audio, or video. Think of 3-5 topics from your novel that can be monologued.
#8 Deleted scenes
Even the best manuscripts have to be cut. Sometimes, there might be a scene or scenes that need to be pulled out. Sharing this cut material might provide some additional context to the final story, might provide another glimpse into a character, or demonstrate why it was wise to cut it from the final work.
#9 Q&A with your characters
PART 3: TALK ABOUT OTHER FICTION
Here is where you work to associate yourself and your fiction with appropriate examples that are well-known to your target reader. Think about it like this: When you go into a store, the “endcap” is the product display at the end of an aisle. Often, these items are often grouped together—items of a similar type, or with a common theme.
At a bookseller, an endcap may include titles grouped together by category or theme. What kind of fiction do you write? Who else writes that kind of fiction? The key is to associate your work with those authors and titles that are similar, while also bringing name recognition.
#10 Interviews with authors who write fiction similar to you
A simple interview with another author—whether an email Q&A, or an interview recorded off Skype or a Google Hangout, is a simple way to get new content, and promote their work as well. Remember to talk about topics of interests to readers—and with authors who write in the same category as you. One mistake I have seen (and, to be honest, have made myself) is to interview any author for the blog—and then you find that you’ve built an audience with zero interest in the type of fiction you write. Whatever type of fiction of write—romances, thrillers, YA, SF, whatever—spotlight other authors who write for the same type of readers. The most famous author in the world is of no use to your marketing if he or she brings the wrong readers to your website or blog.
#11 Reviews of books, movies, and content similar to yours
Make a list of authors with whom you’d love to be associated. Look at classic and current titles available from these authors. Read them, write about them, and post reviews on your blog and Goodreads. The more that similar authors and titles appear on your blog, the likely that Google will notice and start sending fans of those authors your way. As they get to know you as a reviewer, they will eventually notice that you write in a similar vein.
You might also review movies, television shows, merchandise, and anything else that is complementary to your storytelling. Again, the key is to generate content that will attract an audience that, when they discover that you write the type of fiction that is just like the stuff you are covering, they will see the connection. (And, you hope, become one of your readers.)
#12 Make lists of related books, movies, and more
A great way to write about multiple authors and books at the same time is to create lists—11 authors who write a certain type of story, 7 books that revolve around a similar theme, 3 authors who have unusual hobbies, 5 movies where the main character has a particular career—whatever comes to mind. The key is to make sure all the authors and book are similar enough to you that, sometimes, you can either reference your latest book or you can be included on the same list.
PART 4: CREATE NONFICTION THAT IS RELATED TO YOUR FICTION
#13 Write about nonfiction topics related to your fiction
Does your particular brand of storytelling fall within some category that lends itself to related articles?
- If you write about characters from a particular culture
- If your characters do a lot of traveling
- If your characters have interesting jobs
- If your stories take place in a historical era
Think about whether you might write some background articles that explore the context of your characters and their world.
#14 Q&A with yourself
This is another way to share what you were thinking as you created the story. Be sure to stick to questions and answers that will engage your target readers.
Here are 5 suggested questions to get you started:
1) What is [NAME OF NOVEL] about?
2) Did you start with the story or with the characters?
3) What led you to write it?
4) What real-life events or people inspired events or characters in this book?
5) What authors or stories inspire you as a writer? (i.e., who are the authors or stories that, if I like their stories, I will probably also like your stories?)
You may want to come up with 10-20 questions altogether. (The more questions you can come up with that are unique to you and your novel, the better.) You can post the whole Q&A at one time, or you might spread it out over several blog entries.
#15 Answer questions from your readers
Do your fans have questions? Maybe they want to know how you do your research, or about the backgrounds of your characters or stories. If you open up the floor to questions from the audience, they may have some great ideas for blog topics that will point people to your fiction. (Remember, though—try not to answer too many questions about the writing process, or your target readers might wander away, and you end up with an audience with no interest in your genre.)
#16 Hijack the news (tastefully, of course)
The term “newsjacking” refers to finding a current topic and using it as an entry point to explain how your own story contributes to the larger dialogue. While some of the clumsier authors on social media latch onto any cheap excuse to say “buy my book”—yeah, I rolled my eyes when I saw that, too—there are legitimate opportunities to tie a relevant story to an appropriate newsworthy event. This can range from holidays (which, of course, happen every year) to current topics or events that catch the eye of the media.
Newsjacking can work if done properly. Now, before you go off and do something you will regret, keep these points in mind:
- Don’t casually attach yourself to some event that is horrible or painful
- Only do this if your story is actually relevant to the topic