Building a Readership on FictionPress

16 Nov

By Lynn Heitkamp


One thing my blog collaborators and I have discussed amongst ourselves is how unfair the favoriting and reviewing system on FictionPress can be.  It sometimes seems like the stories with lots of reviews are the only ones that anyone pays attention to.

Now, I’ve never read a story with hundreds or thousands of reviews that didn’t deserve the recognition it was getting, but I am sure there are also lots of stories out there that are absolutely wonderful and never generate any buzz.

In some ways, this isn’t so different than the publishing industry as a whole.  Bestsellers beget bestsellers, and it’s a lot easier for an author with name recognition to move books.  People who never set foot in bookstores buy titles from the New York Times Top Ten while they do their grocery shopping, then recommend them to their friends.

That’s great if your book’s on the Top Ten, but doesn’t do much for mid-list authors, who often get little to no help with publicity.  However, just as there are little things any author can do to promote their books, there are also a few tricks to increase your FictionPress readership.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m one of the lucky ones who has benefited from the FictionPress system.  I’d like to think that some of the reason my stories collected a lot of reviews and came to the attention of readers is that they’re interesting and written well, but I have to admit some of it may have been sheer luck or good timing.  I can’t make any magic promises about these tips and tricks, but I think they did help people find my stuff, and they might just help you too:

1)  The Summary Box is Your Friend — It’s not enough just to write a great story and come up with an intriguing title, you also get 255 characters, and 255 characters only, to tell potential readers why they should choose to look at your fiction.  Make the most of it.  Try to get the flavor of your story across as succinctly and professionally as you can; make it sound like a book cover.  Whatever you do, don’t beg for reviews or preface your summary with something like “This isn’t very good, LOL”.  You want your summary to entice readers, not turn them away.

2) Update Regularly — What stories are at the top of the screen?  The newest ones.  And they’re the ones most likely to catch the eye of someone who is just trolling the site looking for something exciting to read.  I can’t say it enough —  the more potential readers you have, the more chances you get for people to review or favorite your story, and that kind of publicity can snowball quickly.

A lengthy piece of fiction is almost always going to wind up with more reviews than a short story or one-shot.  But, if you can train your readers that you’re going to update your novel on a certain day or days of the week, the faithful will be looking for it.  I followed a pretty regular schedule while I was writing Thorn of the Kingdom, and I definitely heard about it if I posted late — which really is a good thing.

3) Don’t Tease — This kind of ties in to Tip #2, but readers won’t sit around waiting for your muse to strike.  They may love the first two chapters of your latest work, but if you don’t give them more story within a reasonable amount of time, they may never come back to it if and when you do decide to post again.  Sometimes real life or writer’s block intervened, but I always tried to keep at least a chapter ahead of where I was posting so I could keep as close to my schedule of posting three times a week as I could.  There have been FP stories that I have really loved that were left hanging and I know how frustrating that can be to a reader.  I never wanted to do that to someone else.  (This is the part of my review where I ignore the sad, incomplete statuses of The Beaufort Legacy and The Crazy Grad Student Who Thinks She Has Time to Write a Novel.)

By the same token, if your story’s complete, make sure people know it!  Make it part of your summary, so potential readers know they won’t have to wait to read the next chapter.

4) Be a Good Neighbor — Part of the fun of FictionPress is the interaction and the community.  I may not have responded to every review I ever received.  But I did try to respond to everyone who took the time to e-mail.  To this day, when I get an e-mail from FP saying I have a new review, I will immediately check out the author page of the reviewer to see if they’ve written anything interesting, or have anything on their favorites list that I might want to read.  You might be surprised at how much reciprocal reviews can add up!  And, the added bonus is, you get to read stuff that people who like your stuff, like!  Now that’s what I call social networking!

5) Be a Good Reader — Back in the days when I was really active on FictionPress, I wasn’t just posting material, I was reading a lot of it too.  Some of the stories I read were friends’, or from people who had reviewed my story, but a lot of them I found simply by browsing the site.  I tried to read and review as much as I could, because I enjoyed it, but I did realize a benefit from it too.  A lot of people I found that way, would review my story after I’d commented on theirs.  As I said above, reciprocal reviewing really does work!


Currently Reading: Rumors (Luxe, #2) by Anna Godbersen


15 Responses to “Building a Readership on FictionPress”

  1. sarahjmaas November 16, 2009 at 12:15 AM #

    Really great post, Lynn! You definitely hit the nail on the head! Maintaining a good relationship with your readers is SO important to keeping your readership interested–it’s just a matter of devoting some time every day to replying to letters. And you’re SO right about the summary thing–I mean, my QoG summary on FP SUCKED, but I never looked at stories that were like “PLEASE READ AND REVIEW!” or “Sorry if this sucks, I’ve never written anything before!”

    Even though I no longer read stuff on FP, I really wish there were a way for the lesser-known stories to get some attention, as I know there are TONS of hidden gems on that site! So much of your success on FP depends on word of mouth, too.

    Great job!!! 🙂 Looking forward to your next article!

    • Lynn Heitkamp November 16, 2009 at 11:30 AM #

      Thanks! I wish there was a better way for lesser-known stories to get attention, too. But I hope these tips can help someone work the imperfect system that’s in place and get more attention for their stories.

  2. Savannah J. Foley November 16, 2009 at 7:21 AM #

    I love Number 3 especially! And I’ve been guilty of it too…

    • Lynn Heitkamp November 16, 2009 at 11:32 AM #

      I figured I’d better give full disclosure there, so I don’t come across sounding like the world’s biggest hypocrite!

      Someday, Beaufort Legacy and Crazy Grad Student…. Someday…

  3. rachelsimon November 16, 2009 at 8:10 AM #

    Lynn, what a wonderful post! Is it bad that I forgot it was Monday and we were going to have new blog entries this week? 😉 I definitely remember reading fantastic stories that I LOVED that never got updated, and there was never an explanation for it either–they just were stuck at chapter three or whatnot for all of eternity. It was such a drag! (Sometimes, I go back and check if they’ve been updated–usually, no.) I think that building a relationship with your readers is not only really useful, but it allows for familiarity for the readers–they know that this author will take the time to get to know them or be aware of them and then they can recommend to their friends that author. Hmm…I wonder if it works like that in real life (not just on FP). Well, again, excellent post, Lynn! 🙂

    • Lynn Heitkamp November 16, 2009 at 11:34 AM #

      Thanks, Rachel! I’m thinking there are probably more than a few parallels between making your work more visible on FP and promoting your books in the “real” world. A published author could probably adapt some of these tips.

  4. priscillashay November 16, 2009 at 10:03 AM #

    oh! Another thing would be keep in contact with other authors. I reviewed a story and the author and I got to talking (we’re FB friends now). And I mentioned her and her story at the end of one of my chapters (and she did the same with me…both unsolicited) and we’re been kind of sharing reviewers. Her story is modern and mine is Historical so we have didn’t fan bases, but there are a few that cross over and we’ve both gotten a few extra readers and publicity.

    And, you’re reading Rumors?? I haven’t started that series yet, but I have read The Season by Sarah MacLean. It was really good 🙂 I friend requested her on FB

    • Lynn Heitkamp November 16, 2009 at 11:44 AM #

      Keeping in touch with others authors is definitely one of the best parts of FictionPress! More than just crossover traffic and publicity, I think it’s really important to have friends who understand the writing life because they are right there, dealing with the same issues you are. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a lot of friends in “real” life who are serious writers, but FP put me in touch with at least four or five who I’ve really kept in touch with over the years. Two of them are also active on Let the Words Flow, which is how I got involved with this project!

      I just started reading The Luxe series last week. I thought the first one was great fun in a soap opera-style way, but I haven’t gotten far enough in to Rumors to tell if it’s more of the same. So far, this one seems to have a different tone.

  5. Rosie Gamble November 16, 2009 at 7:00 PM #

    Hey, i just wanted to say as an FP reader that when i am looking for potential stories i don’t necessarily look at the reviews but i do cross reference the chapter numbers with the word count. For example i saw a story today that had 5 chapters but only 547 words….. so i would obviously avoid that story but a story that has been updated a few times and has 10+ chapters and a sensible word count i would at least take a look at, then if i enjoyed the story and thought it would be worth leaving a review i would. If i really liked it would add the story to my alerts 🙂 and keep leaving reviews. I would love to write my own fiction but being a full time uni student i run out of hours in the day for my workload as it is and i hate being left with half a story so i don’t want to leave people with half a story that i had written. I did attempt an fp story many years ago but it was so cringe worthy it came down so yes ramble over.

    Rosie x

    • Lynn Heitkamp November 16, 2009 at 7:22 PM #

      That’s another good point.

  6. junebugger November 17, 2009 at 9:59 AM #

    This is an awsome article!!! I think my life would have been much easier on FP had I read this when I first started. It took my a while before I figured out everything on my own, how to promote myself, with a good title and a catchy summary. I think the summary is THE most important. I remember getting more visitors after rewriting my summary.

  7. Lynn Heitkamp November 17, 2009 at 10:30 PM #

    Absolutely! Your title and summary are the first thing potential readers see. If they’re a mess, you’re going to turn off a lot of people.

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