Thursday, August 22, 2013

On Discoverability and Its Catch-22

First, if any of my many new followers over on Wattpad are over here, welcome!

Second, if you are here, mind letting me know how you found my story? Was it on the auto-recommend engine, in some other part of the site, on some 3rd party site…?

Asking because I've I was fairly steady at around 20 follows per day… and suddenly skyrocketed to 200 followers in one day and have now been getting a good 500 new followers on Wattpad per day for a solid week. And at least a few hundred readers, if my "read" stats are any indicator. (The story only has 9 "parts" on the site… And I've gotten over 200 new followers since I went to bed last night. O.O)

Now, I'm downright elated that so many people who enjoy my work are finding me. (And, as a reformed presbyterian, I'm thanking God for His Providence.) I'm admittedly a bit boggled by the abruptness and the volume—and I'm unsure how, precisely, they're finding me—but that's fine. I'll probably never know, and there's nothing wrong with that.

I didn't advertise anything. I can't find any linkbait mention of my Wattpad page or any such thing. (And I've checked with backlink search engines.) Therefore, I can only assume that Wattpad's internal referral engine has kicked in.

That in-site recommendation is a form of self-propagating word of mouth. That's the point that most authors want to hit for their websites or novels, whereever their works are located. That's why some authors desperately spam "Buy my novel! Buy my novel!" on social media—or, if they have the funds, buy a bunch of their own books—to kick their books' placement in the rankings so it can get noticed in a way that'll hopefully linger.

It's the Catch-22 of life. You have to be noticed to get noticed.

Just think of those authors, actors, and artists who suddenly get popularized in the media. Usually, those folks have been building their audience for far longer than even the general populace who's just discovered them gives them credit for.

For example, when the Dutch band Within Tempation had their first official release in the US, some folks scoffed that they were Evanescence knock-offs…even though that wasn't the case. Technically, Within Temptation was formed a year after Evanescence…but they were the first to release an album.

Within Temptation also had their first major hit—Mother Earth, released in 2000—a few years before Evanescence released Fallen. Those are, in my opinion the most similar albums between the two bands, so if anyone ripped off anyone, it would've been Evanescence. (But there are enough differences—and each band has enough relatives on its respective continents—that I suspect the sort-of concurrent development was coincidental.)

The sort-of comparable Finnish band Nightwish formed the same year Within Tempation did. They just were faster about getting albums out and getting on national charts before Within Temptation did. (And, as someone who listens to that genre of music, more folks seem to know who Nightwish is than who know who Within Temptation is.)

Each band had to be "discovered" in its respective country before its audience could grow to the point that it reached the other band's territories…which made people in those other countries wrongfully assume that the native band necessarily came first.

Er, I may be just a bit annoyed when people ridicule others using bad information that could easily be corrected with a basic glance at Wikipedia. ^_^

You have to be noticed to get noticed.

The same principle applies if you're seeking a promotion or raise at your job, actually. That means doing something worth getting noticed and, often, drawing attention to what you do. (I suspect that's part of why men tend to get higher pay than women. Men are more likely to say, "Hey, when do I get a raise?" Another reason would be the detail that women often have career interruptions in the form of childbearing and childrearing, meaning their priorities can be on negotiating schedule rather than money—but I'm meandering*.)

*I'm actually not ADD. I just have an ADD mother and ADHD brother, so I've grown up with ADD-style communication being normal and non-ADD-style being…abnormal. You could argue that my mind's actually been trained to jump topics. Speaking of which—pardon me a moment, my cat's giving the "Belly rub?" meow—and since she's asking politely, it's best to reward that. (An tap and a single lick on my arm, plus a "request" tone to the meow. Much preferable over when she gets ticked off at the other cat and will only accept attention from me, because she gets demanding and can bear a grudge for a week. To be fair, the other cat does give her reason to be ticked off.)

Okay. Back on topic…

The thing about discoverability… It can only happen if there's something to be discovered.

On Wattpad, I have a public, clearly announced posting schedule: at least one scene in a first draft, every Friday (although I admittedly missed one when ill). That gives people who like my writing a reason to follow me.

I also have multiple stories available on the site, which gives the readers who like my writing a sufficient taste of it to probably—hopefully—remember me well enough so they'll see my name and think "Ooo! New story!" rather than "Man, I wish I could remember who wrote that book I liked with the purple flame…"

My only non-Aleyi story on Wattpad right now is Thrice Uncharmed, because it was my first "First Draft Fridays" project. But it's been reduced to the blurb and a "What happened to this story?" page, because it's contracted to a small press and currently for sale on Amazon (e-book = $1.99).

Aleyi has always been my "Let's try this free fiction thing…" world. I suspect it isn't a coincidence that it also has the most sales, though my sales are also low enough that the in-site discoverability hasn't fully kicked in, so far as I can tell.

Interestingly, posting on Wattpad seems to have started helping sales after I began posting book #2. (Thanks if you've bought any copies of my work, by the way. And please don't feel bad if you haven't or can't. I intentionally participate in the "complete free fiction" style of marketing because I mostly grew up in the "Can't afford to buy even used books" bracket. That isn't hyperbole.)

But my current situation on Wattpad illustrates something about discoverability: You can't force it.

Oh, you can try to. You might even succeed for a time. But any attempts to game the system won't necessarily work…

And any discoverability you do earn won't necessarily last.

Some authors' response to that is to constantly be in promo mode, in the mode of "They can't buy it if they don't know it exists" and the rule of seven (which are true, but constant marketing isn't necessarily the only or most effective method to do so with the time input).

Some don't fret over it at all and focus on just getting the next book out, in the mode of "If you build it, they will come" (which isn't exactly true, but if you build your covers and blurbs and categories and keywords properly, search engines—vendors' and online—should enable your book to be found, though word of mouth will probably take time to build).

Personally, I dabble with some promo things—technically, the Wattpad thing is one—but I don't fret over it. And I recently had a short story in the KDP Select program for a 3-month stint, the success of which was debatable. (And the continuing influence of which seems to be non-existent, though I do have three reviews on that story…two by folks who obviously don't read the genre, so I have revamping the cover on my eventual to-do list.)

You could argue that I therefore have a foot in both worlds and am therefore shooting myself in both feet—not spending enough time on promo, not spending enough time on writing.

Well, I'm primarily a freelancer, so that's where the majority of my time goes: Taking care of clients. What I do after that depends on what mode I'm left in after taking care of them.

There is a reason I tend to play with cover design in batches. I find it something to do that provides some stimulation without requiring too much concentration. I find it, like sudoku, a pleasant way to unwind and get out of critical-editor mode when I'm having trouble pulling out of it. (Yes, I'm one of those people.)

Actually, I tend to do everything in batches. Read a novel—I'll read two or three in a day, or one every night for a few days, then none for a few. Experiment in the kitchen—I'll test three different recipes, make plans to improve them, then not get around to trying again for a few weeks. Write a story—I might write 3k words on a short story in my spare time on a day, then forget* about it for months. (*Okay, so I've not forgotten about that one yet, but considering it's a Wool fanfic and I need to read the rest of the series to finalize it, I probably will by the time I get to doing that.)

That's actually one reason I started the "First Draft Fridays" thing over on Wattpad. It forces me to actually work on a particular story until it's done—something I have far too little practice doing, because I was completely undisciplined for the first years I spent writing, starting maybe twenty stories for every one I finished. I'm still fighting the aftereffects of that bad habit.

But another reason I run those First Draft Fridays is discoverability. It gives me an update schedule for putting consistent content up there, in a form that encourages reader input. It's effectively a method of promotion that suits both Wattpad and me, intended to take advantage of the visibility boost I gained from being featured by the staff over there.

And, judging from my recent uptick in traffic on that site, it seems to be working—for Wattpad.

Will it last? Maybe, maybe not.

Will it lead to discoverability on other sites? Maybe, maybe not.

Even when time reveals the answer for my own work, that'll still be too small a sample size to judge if my experiences are consistent with or contrary to the norm—and the Internet changes so fast anyway that any adequate data compilation and analysis would probably be out of date about as soon as it was published, anyway.

Ergo, why I don't fret over it. (It helps to be Christian who believes God's the one who causes things to fall into place or not. Things always end up so much better when I'm relying on Him rather than on myself.)

Speaking of Christian fantasy writers, did you know Robin McKinley converted to Christianity? I just poked in her blog this week and found out because the post I read mentioned her recent conversion, which led me to track down the post wherein she actually talks about it.

What do you think of discoverability and its Catch-22? Do you think active marketing a necessity for the average person to be discovered?


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