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