How To Be Popular

This is basically a couple posts I wrote on LiveJournal in 2011, which I went back and looked at because someone asked, and I figured I should preserve them in a more easily accessible place.


I write quite a bit, and people tend to enjoy what I write. How do I get my stuff out there and noticeable in the furry community? How did you do it?

I get this question fairly frequently, so here’s my answer, in two parts.

Part 1: The Basics

Behind this question is a sort of assumption that there is a magic pebble or magic connections, as if the furry fandom is organized enough to have someone who can magically make someone well known. The answer is disappointingly simple: I wrote a lot of stories and I posted them everywhere I could find. I wrote novels and I wrote them well enough to get them sold to a couple furry publishers. And I kept writing, and I kept writing. One summer I was posting a story every few weeks. The pace has slowed, but I keep putting work out there. The more stories there are, the more people will have to find when they chance upon one of yours and want to go looking for more.

So the answer is, simply, write well. And here is where the other unspoken assumption behind that question comes in. “People enjoy what I write” is assumed to be equivalent to “more people would like it if they only saw it.” This may or may not be true, but here’s the thing: the fact that a few people liked your stories doesn’t mean that more people will. Furries are both generous and fickle in equal amounts. We fixate on parts of a story that have nothing to do with the quality of the writing, such as particular fetishes, romance, species.

Out there in the business world, when people want to measure how much someone likes their business or service, one of the most powerful questions is “would you recommend it to a friend?” Recommendation is putting your own personal reputation on the line with your friend, and there is a definite gap between “so good that people leave positive feedback” and “so good that people point their friends to it.” When you’ve gotten good enough to get to that second level, then you will start seeing more views. (It also helps to be engaged with your readership and not to be an entitled ass who thinks s/he deserves success.)

In my case, I wrote a story that has apparently been good enough to get lots of recommendations, that has driven people to translate it into other languages, and that has brought people to my other works. I’ve written a lot of novels, which create immersive worlds that people seem to really enjoy. And I continue to strive to improve my craft and get better at writing, because I have this deep-down suspicion that the last novel will always be my most popular and it will just go downhill from there.

So the short answer is: write a lot. Post what you write. Keep getting better. Just because you are getting positive feedback, that doesn’t mean you have no more to learn as a writer. There is always more to learn. And you will be surprised when you apply some of this learning, and get a story posted that really makes people sit up and take notice. You can never tell what’s going to get people excited–I think “Aquifers” is far from my best story–but you can make it easier. Be the best damn writer you can be, and then get better.

 

Part 2: Social Media

“In order to be really popular, you have to be on Blogger/WordPress/LJ/Facebook/Twitter/Google+/FA/all of the above.”

(variations are “So-And-So is only as popular as he is because he’s on social media,” or “I don’t have time to promote myself on social media so I will never be popular”)

There are a lot of assumptions and half-truths buried in that statement, so let me try to tease them out in a thousand words or so.

Assumption #1: Success is entirely due to social media presence regardless of the quality of work.

This is a particularly annoying assumption to me because it is false, but not demonstrably so. I can’t pull back from the Internet, go completely silent, and wait a year to see if I’m still popular. I mean, technically, I could, but I’m not going to. Many of my friends are on the Internet and I like it there. I can point to popular authors who are very silent on the Internet; I can point to very social-media-savvy people who do not sell a lot of books. You can too. Would the popular authors be more popular with social media? Probably. Would the media-savvy people be more popular with better books? Probably. It’s a combination of things working together, but each case is so different that it’s easy to ascribe whatever result you want to whichever aspect you want, and so I can’t ever disprove your case. But trust me, from the inside: it is not true.

Assumption #2: It’s easier to be on social media than to write good books.

I will tell you a secret: I am terrible at social media. I keep a blog moderately active. I post stuff on Twitter occasionally. I upload to FA. That, more or less, is it. I am not a Cory Doctorow or a Neil Gaiman or a John Scalzi who have Presences on the net and find the time to write long, useful articles about a variety of topics (this current article notwithstanding). People do not come to my blog or Twitter because of what I write there. They come because of the books. Occasionally–very occasionally–someone will recommend one of my posts to someone else. But that is by far the exception rather than the rule. What I do mostly with my time is write fiction. I admire those people above, who can fit blogging into their writing life. I do what I can, when I can. But I firmly believe that 95% or more of the people who follow my LJ/Twitter/FA do so not because of what I say on those forums, but because they love my books and want to know a little more about the author.

Social media is not expected from everyone today, but if you have it, people do expect some level of connection, and that may not be your thing. If you’re not the kind of person who wants to Tweet, or blog, or Facebook, then your social media entries are going to show that and they will not help you. People can sniff out if you’re not being honest. So don’t stress about it. Put the energy into your writing and your books will find their audience.

 

(One thing to avoid is using social media to shill for your books to the exclusion of any other content. If you’re writing about your life once a day or a couple times a week, then talk about a book release or about new projects you’re excited about, and communicate your excitement. But if your Twitter feed consists entirely of “My book is on sale here!” and “Have you gotten your copy of my book yet?” then people will not be that excited about it. Can you blame them? How many Twitter feeds like that do you follow?)

Assumption #3: Social media popularity = book audience.

False, as anyone can tell you who has compared sales numbers to Twitter followers. Social media is free, it’s pushed, it’s very low-investment/moderate-reward. Buying a book is a substantial investment by comparison, and I think the usual conversion rate is that 5-10% of people who follow you on social media will spend money on your work.

For reference, I had something like 1100 Twitter followers when I released Weasel Presents, and I think about 85 people bought the book the first month it was released electronically. So there you go.

Half-truth #1: Having a social media presence helps you reach more people.

This is a tough one. It is true, yes. It gives people a place to look for news of your work, a way to connect with you as a person. At the same time, though, if you are not writing things that make people want to recommend you to their friends, it doesn’t matter if you’re giving out shiny business cards made of gold. A few years back (probably five) there was a guy giving out hundreds of copies of his book in different cities around the country. It was even a book with a wolf-spirit tie in. He reached a lot of people with his book. You know what? I can’t remember his name or the name of the book. I took one, but I never read it because it wasn’t compelling.

All the social media in the world will not help you if your writing does not back it up. But it IS a useful tool to help spread the word about your writing, and many people have used that in very savvy ways.

Half-truth #2: You can sell a bad book with good social media awareness.

This is sort of related to the above assumptions, but is kind of separate. And it isn’t completely false. But the thing is, you can only do this one or two times. Because people won’t fall for the same thing, and you will get a reputation.

tl;dr version of the above:

Social media is generally a good thing, if you are the kind of person who feels comfortable sharing parts of your lives with strangers and fans. Some writers who are not comfortable with that have entertaining blogs/Twitter feeds where they talk about being uncomfortable. Try making a Twitter feed for one of your characters, maybe. At the very least, you should have a site where you announce upcoming projects. But social media cannot operate in a vacuum, for writers. You have to have the work to back it up, and the work should always, always, always come first.

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One Response to How To Be Popular

  1. Tyrant says:

    There are two rules.

    First, write what they want. ‘They’ being your audience. Yes, the crowd. Crowd is a living beast…it’s hungry, it’s restless, and it’s waiting. Screw up and the beast will eat you alive. Succeed and you can ride it to riches beyond your wildest dreams. There’s also the ‘somewhere inbetween’ where you have some power over the wildness of the word yet it’s not enough to truly free you from the hunt for the white whale of wealth.

    A rather horrible fate actually.

    Second, write what you want, then ask yourself if that’s what ‘they’ want. If you’re smart you’ll see the flaws right away. Writing is a grotesquely relative art, that is to say you’re seeing a world you’ve created with words that no one else actually does. In the *reader’s* own ‘mind’s eye’ is an abstract of the reality you sought to craft in a word processor (or a piece of paper with cold, hard lead, though I doubt you’re so old fashioned). The harder you try to define the limits the less defined they’ll be to a stranger. Stay simple, direct and use your imagination rather than your vocabulary.

    You’ll need a venue larger than FA, though, of course. You probably won’t want to try to carve out a niche in fringe topics, very few can accomplish that successfully. Kyell managed it…and you might too, eventually…if you have a ton of patience, though you might be like me and fail abysmally…

    Think I’ve said enough lol

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