When I started Tales of MU, I'd been trying to make
weblit happen for years
, though I didn't have that word to describe it. I'd particularly avoided the blog format because of a feeling that a blog is a blog and what I was trying to do wasn't a blog.
I feel differently now, obviously. A blog is simply a Content Management System, and it's a better one for text-heavy applications and for casual/non-technical oriented users than most things that advertise themselves as CMSes are.
But the first popular blogging platform is not, in fact, simply
a Content Management System. It's also a social network. I'm talking of course about Livejournal
When I decided to write Tales of MU on Livejournal (as mutales
), I wasn't thinking "Maybe I'm wrong about this whole blog thing."
I was thinking "Maybe the social networking aspect will pay off enough to make up for the weaknesses of the blog format."
Yeah, there was almost nothing right about that sentence. The social networking angle was huge
, no "maybe" about it, and the blog format was nothing but a boon. Especially on Livejournal. I had nothing to set up and nothing to maintain. The options for monetization were limited and there was (and still is) a genuine threat that my content could suddenly and arbitrarily be declared verboten by a change in policy or in its application, but this is fact: Tales of MU would not be what it is today if I hadn't started it on Livejournal. It wouldn't have gained enough traction, enough momentum, enough support.
And you know? In the years since then, when people have asked me for advice, never once have I said: "Start it on Livejournal." I've advised people to get their own website as soon as possible, because with that comes the money and the control and the customization. But you need an audience for money, you need some content built up before the threat of it being wiped out matters (and you keep backups), and customization takes time to get right.
Most new authors/projects probably aren't ready for their own website at launch, and it's a good thing, too, because you can gain so much by plugging yourself into a community.
Being on Livejournal meant there was a whole megacommunity of people used to using the internet to read who already understood the format of my website. They could easily "subscribe" to my posts by friending me, and in doing so, they became viral advertisers as apparently some people on internet click on each others' friends lists to see what's going on with their friends' friends and interests. I don't do it. I don't understand the impulse. But as I've said, my brain does not social well. But it happens, and I benefited from that.
Now, any site with an RSS feed can have an LJ syndication that can mostly serve the same function. But you have to go out of your way to interact with the people reading you that way. When you post your stories through Livejournal, you get a notification on comments. You can reply and interact. I met one of my best friends and most ardent supporters, popelizbet
She has encouraged me, she has advised me, she has hooked me up with opportunities I wouldn't have otherwise had. I call her my Functional Muse. She doesn't specifically inspire creativity. She can, as so many people can and do. But her role as a Muse is to make things happen, to make things work.
I'm not saying "Put your post on Livejournal and you will get your own personal Functional Muse." But by seeding yourself into a social network, you might meet a patron who will help sponsor your career. You might meet someone who has their own following, for creativity or just on their blog, who will tell their friends and fans about this great new thing that they love and are sure their like-minded friends will love. You might just catch the eye of the loudmouth who's going to shout your name from the rooftops.
These things may or may not happen. They're more likely to happen the more easy it is for people to connect to your site.
Now, the subject line at the top of the page comes from a discussion I saw back in my early days of obsessive Google-trawling for mentions of my work (protip: this isn't always healthy or helpful
). People were mocking the fact that I'd paid money to have a Project Wonderful ad on Something*Positive
to advertise a Livejournal. I was advertising the story on the Livejournal, but this was absurd to them.
But you know what?
It worked. It got people clicking through. Not everybody liked it. Not everybody stuck around. I got more than a few comments to the effect of "I'd like this story if it were more adventure." or "I'd like this story if it were more classroom-oriented." or "This is a nice story but you ruin it with lesbians."
But as I said previously, it doesn't matter how many people don't
like your story. They can't fire you. They can't drive you out of business.popelizbet
found my work through the same set of webcomic-based ads that other people derided. She was hooked by the same stories that other people found lacking. There's a lot more to my success to her. There's me. There's other people who've helped me along the way. There's a good deal of luck, apart from the good fortune of meeting her. But I'm not at all sure I would have made it far enough for those other things to matter if I hadn't put myself in her path.
The takeaway from all this is not "Put your work on Livejournal and all your dreams will come true, eventually."
It's the folowing things:
- Don't get a personal site before you're ready for one.
- Pick your initial platform based in part on how easy it is for people to connect to you and for their friends to stumble across you through them.
- Figure out a way to put yourself out there. If you're too shy to flog your wares personally, take out some ads on sites with content you enjoy and/or you think would appeal to the same mindset that your work appeals to. If you're too poor to advertise... look at Project Wonderful very carefully and see if you really are too poor to advertise... if the answer is yes, get up some courage and start flogging. Some combination of the two. Join communities that exist for mutual promotion of writers, like Web Fiction Guide... not those writing communities where anybody can make an account and make stories that are hosted locally on the site. Those sites can have their uses for getting feedback, especially early on, but it's hard to attract a real following on them because everybody there is a writer trying to get noticed.
The internet is not made of islands, it is made of connections. In my previous post, I established that you don't need to appeal to everyone to succeed and suggested that this might in fact be counter-productive. Well, the only way you're going to find the audience that you do
appeal to is by making sure there are a lot of paths leading into your site.
Of course, one problem that many of us have with self-promotion, whether it's through ads or otherwise, is that we feel sleazy and creepy and pushy
and grumpy and dopey and doc
doing it. That's going to be the subject of my next post in this series.