Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Are writers sick of talking to each other online?

I am a frequent lurker and occasional poster over at KBoards, an online community for indie and hybrid authors. (A hybrid author is one whose work has been both traditionally and self-published.)

There was recently a post at Kboards to the effect, “Hey, the forum seems dead! No one is posting much here anymore.” The sentiment was echoed by other posters.

While Kboards is not exactly dead, I have noticed a drop-off in activity. The veterans are posting less. The newbies have become a fleeting, constantly rotating crowd.

What gives? Well, here are a few ideas.

1.) The end of the novelty phase has arrived: Many of the original indie author hangouts were focused on rebutting the arguments of agents and traditionally published authors who said, “How dare you publish your own books!” (Joe Konrath’s blog comes to mind here.)

Times have changed. With indie authors like Andy Weir, Hugh Howey, and Blake Crouch getting movie and television deals, the need to constantly reinforce the legitimacy of self-publishing is no more. (There is a new problem, however, which I’ll get to shortly.)

2.) A forum is not necessarily the best source for concise, pertinent information: An open forum like Kboards attracts a lot of beginners who ask the same questions over and over. There are still useful nuggets of information in the mix, but you have to dig for them. That takes time.

Nowadays, I find myself relying more on authors who are professionally curating that information. In most cases, they have packaged their research into some sort of a business model, even if it’s only a podcast. These curators are also increasingly working together in teams.

My favorite authors/teams in this field are The Creative Penn (Joanna Penn), the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast, the Sell More Books Show, and Sterling and Stone. Chris Fox and Mark Dawson are also very good resources. 

In a fifty-minute podcast, I can get a lot more information from any one of the above curators than I can from hours spent poking around on Kboards. (And I can listen to the podcast while I’m walking on a treadmill at the gym.)

3.) Writers need to communicate more with readers, and less with other writers. If you’re a writer and you identify yourself as such on Twitter, you’ll immediately be followed by scads of other writers. 

The vast majority of these writer-followers have little interest in your content. But they’re following you because they’ve been told that following other writers is the thing to do on Twitter. 

Then you get the counterproductive situation of several hundred authors marketing their books on Twitter—to each other.

Hanging out with other writers is not necessarily bad, but it shouldn't be the focus of a writer’s online activities. 

Every component of my online presence—this blog, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube—is unapologetically focused on readers, not other writers. 

4.) Yes, writers are competitors. There is something of a myth among independent writers that we are all on the same team, that there is a “community of writers” in which writers all join together, hold hands in a circle, and sing Kumbaya. 

The most frequently given rationale for this fantasy-based viewpoint is that, “No reader reads only one author.”

That much may be true. It is also true that no reader consumes fifty books a week, which is the approximate reading rate that would be required for all independent authors to find a sufficient readership. 

Since the advent of the Amazon Kindle, the number of ebooks available on the retailer’s site has grown faster than shower mold. An article from last year gave the figure of 5 million, and that’s already obsolete, I’m sure. 

Once an author breaks out, the discoverability issue is well, less of an issue. (This is why indie authors who have already broken out typically underplay the competitive aspects of the endeavor.) 

To put the matter in terms of traditional publishing, Stephen King doesn't compete with Danielle Steel, because everyone knows what kinds of books they both write, and there is little overlap in their target markets. Stephen King and Danielle Steel rarely compete for the same dollar of book sales, in other words.

Theoretically, the same can be said about independent Kindle authors. The more practical truth is that right now independent Kindle authors are locked in an intense competition for discoverability.

This has made available advertising options—Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) ads, Facebook ads, etc.—far more expensive and far less effective than they once were. Even well-known authors now struggle to get a place on a Bookbub mailing, so saturated is the service with authors hawking their wares. 

The longer-term implications of this situation comprise another topic for another day. In the short run, though, the bottom line is that authors are very much competitors. 

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This means, again, that if you are an author, you are better off spending your time online talking to potential readers, versus jabbering away with other authors in a forum. 

There will likely always be author forums on the Internet, but one can make the case that their period of peak usefulness has reached its end.