Spreading the word

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Let's get you some readers.

The first thing to acknowledge is that your book has to be good. Sure, you can use baity tactics like plastering your cover with photos of celebrities and dancing around the edge of copyright law, but I'm going to assume that you're doing this properly and want your book to stand on its own two feet.

Almost all online platforms favour regular content. That's how YouTube, Wattpad and others gain users and make money, after all - by bringing people back on a regular basis. As a consequence their algorithms tend to reward creators who stick to a schedule. The first thing therefore is to start writing and the second thing is to keep on writing. If you do that and stick to a regular schedule, it'll help your book start to surface. Write a good book and people will start voting and commenting and adding it to reading lists, and they'll start following your profile. It's the same old social media grind, in some ways, and as with many other platforms, if you keep it up, it'll slowly build an avalanche effect as your network spreads out across the internet.

That avalanche will probably start slowly, unless you're Taran Matharu. He started serialising his novel during NaNoWriMo and published every day throughout November - six months later he had over three million reads. That will almost certainly not happen to you but it still goes to show how sticking to a schedule can really pay off.

My readership for A Day of Faces built very slowly, starting off with only a handful of reads per chapter. It was much like the one-off short stories I'd published on Wattpad, which had never found any real traction. The difference this time is that I kept going: this wasn't a short story, it was a serialised novel which would ultimately comprise 60 chapters. Every new chapter brought in some new readers as well as bringing back some of returning ones and that cumulative effect started to make a difference. Rather than a single short story hitting a couple dozen reads and stopping, my read count kept going up, with a new chance to get noticed every week.

Social proof is important and in the case of Wattpad if you see a story with a lot of reads you're more likely to give it a shot, as long as it's within your area of interest. If all those other people have enjoyed it then it must be good, right? Conversely, a story with half a dozen reads doesn't look so appealing. You want other people to do the quality checking first.

It's all a bit chicken-and-egg at this stage, and breaking through that first 100 reads can feel like a huge challenge. That's where it's useful to call upon friends and family - people who you know will check out what you've done. That'll give you a foundation of interest that will then help to attract the attention of strangers.

Next up, you want to reach outside of Wattpad. If you don't yet have a presence on the platform you can't just assume it's going to come to you organically. Post on your blog about your writing, share your chapters on Twitter, Facebook and any other relevant channels. Use a service like Buffer to make it easier to share your chapter at optimum times. Make sure you link to your Wattpad profile across all your other social profiles. I blogged a behind-the-scenes article for each chapter of A Day of Faces and would often see an extra bump on the read stats when the BTS went up. If you talk about the process you also start to attract reader-writers, who may not be immediately interested in your fiction but will happily read about your writing experience; this could very easily then lead to them reading the book itself. This kind of transparency also helps to establish you as an author and a personality that people can invest in, which ultimately is simply another means to decide whether to read your book or not. Be sure to have a mailing list people can sign up to, so that you can keep in touch with interested parties.

Back on Wattpad, get networking. If somebody follows you and they look even vaguely interesting, it's probably a good idea to follow them back. Search for prominent writers in your genre and follow them to see what they're up to. If somebody starts voting on chapters in your book or adds it to their reading list, consider dropping them a little message to say thanks - that interaction can be the impetus they need to keep reading. You don't want to overdo it and seem creepy but in my experience readers are quite happy to receive a genuine "thanks!" from an author. This gets harder as your story becomes more popular, but in the early stages it's very manageable.

Also keep an eye out for competitions, as these can be a great way to reach new readers as well as have fun working on a tangential mini story with some built-in inspiration.

Always take advantage of Wattpad's messaging system to contact all of your followers when you post a new chapter. That should be a default part of your publishing process. You can send out updates which aren't about new chapters but make sure you don't start spamming people; only contact them if you have something worth saying.

Networking can seriously pay off. At some point in 2015 I started following Rebecca Sky, a hugely successful Wattpad writer who now writes professionally and full time. Her fiction isn't naturally my kind of thing but I was intrigued by her success and the way she presents herself to her audience. A short while later she sent out a message to her followers about an event she was thinking of putting together on Facebook which would be a 24 hour celebration of Wattpad writing. I tentatively signed up and in September 2015 took part in the first Story Fair. That event raised my Wattpad profile and brought in a bunch of new readers, as well as some very positive and encouraging feedback from complete strangers. I was almost halfway through writing A Day of Faces at that point and it really helped to invigorate my writing for the second half.

The Story Fair ended and I was invited to join the Wattpad Winter Block Party, run by Kelly Ann Blount. At this point I had no idea who this lady was but it sounded good, so I joined the team. Being involved in both these events brought Victoria James to my attention, another successful Wattpadder who had just made the transition to being traditionally published. It was then that I discovered she was organising a big Wattpad meet-up in London at the start of December 2015, so off I went to Foyles to hang out with fellow writers and readers.

The first New York equivalent, run by Kelly and Vic, took place in October 2016, so they know what they're doing. It was here that I encountered a couple of Wattpad community moderators, as well as Gav - aka the Orangutan - who leads on Wattpad community activity in the UK.

The Block Party took place in February and boosted up my reads considerably, as did the summer follow-up. Once A Day of Faces was complete in mid-2016 I switched it to 'complete' and considered submitting it to be considered for being featured, only to discover that submissions were closed due to overwhelming interest. I was a little disheartened but received a message a few days later offering me a featured slot - I don't know the details of how that came about, but I suspect Gav may have had something to do with it.

Being featured is only an option once you've completed your book and its impact cannot be overestimated. Before being featured, the finished book had gathered about 2500 reads in a year-and-a-bit. I was very pleased with this, it being my first Wattpad serial and the first fiction project I'd shown to people other than friends and family. 2500 reads seemed immense.

A couple of months after being featured, A Day of Faces had over 30,000 reads. Now, writing in December 2016, it has 95,000 reads. Being featured lit a fire under the book and propelled it into view, sticking it out front in the science fiction genre and raising its profile massively. I've only done this once, so I don't know if this is guaranteed or happens every time but absolutely be sure to submit your work for featuring once it's complete!

The main thing to wrap your head around is that the promotion wheel never stops turning. You have to keep pushing, and watching out for opportunities. And there will be opportunities - you just have to spot them, and grasp them.

What tips do you have for finding readers? Tell all!

Next up: On taking criticism

If this guide helps your writing, you can buy me a coffee here: http://ko-fi.com/simonkjones  

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