How Authors Can Build Content Communities
Digital technology is changing the way we read, but it’s also changing the way we write. How can authors take advantage of this?
A friend of mine who writes crime fiction is interested in how this might happen. She is a bit worried about it, too. I told her how impressed I am by the depth and detail of the research she’s done for her novels, and I wondered whether her readers like to get a glimpse of this, too—a bit like the behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes filmmakers add as bonus material to DVDs.
“What happens to all that research?” I asked. “Oh, I don’t throw it away,” she replied. “I organize it carefully then file it in case I want to use it again.”
Like most authors, my friend has her own website, which would be a natural place to offer such bits of background content. Doing so could be a great way to encourage her fans to ask questions and give her their comments. It would also provide readers insights into an otherwise invisible side of the creative process. Fans are often intrigued by the stories behind the stories, and encouraging this interest is a great way for authors to build and reinforce enthusiasm within their reader communities.
Authors already encounter this curiosity at readings and book signings and can potentially benefit from indulging it. Like all feedback, if readers are more interested in one character than another or want to know what’s behind this or that twist of the plot, it may help an author think about how to plan the next novel.
And it’s not just back-stories that are intriguing to readers. The facts behind the fiction are fascinating, too. It doesn’t take moving mountains for authors to test more experimental approaches to ebooks, combining short-form fiction, like novellas, especially in “pulp-fiction” or “B-movie” genres.
Take the GetFisk!
series of thrillers by Lynden Gillis. As the plot leads the characters to fictional adventures in different locations, hyperlinks in the ebook link to facts underpinning the narrative. Sometimes these are like virtual footnotes (Footnotes in pulp fiction? How radical is that?), and occasionally they link to external websites, too. The links don’t get in the way of a speedy read, but they add a depth of interest that’s normally missed. The format allows illustrations and animations to be added as well.
Authors of all kinds of nonfiction may see the benefits to such an approach as well. A travel writer might like to share a bit more information than the constraints of the published format allow. A food writer might enjoy adding anecdotes that would not make it into the more formal cookbook format. These additions increase the personal insights that readers of all kinds value, which reinforces loyalty and can lead to increased sales. Authors’ websites can even become extensions of their research by encouraging crowdsourced contributions.
A structured approach to the creative processes in both fiction and nonfiction also makes it easier to update and reuse that very research. And structure in one way or another is the essence of the digital environment, so the potential freedom it offers authors is thrilling. A digital tool like a simple database is a great way to do this, although an old-fashioned filing cabinet works well, too.
The benefits to authors of being able to use more of their work in more than one way—research notes for stimulating online conversations with enthusiasts, for instance—are obvious. Beyond this, the digital approach opens multiple opportunities for communicating knowledge and enthusiasm. The potential for sharing your ideas and passions on the web, in podcasts, videos and social media just grows and grows.
And better still, it doesn’t leave the print or ebook behind, instead leveraging all the different media and channels to support one another and build communities of enthusiasts around an author’s ideas. Neither does it need to create more work for writers or publishers; no reader expects such “outtakes” or “back-stories” to be as polished as the finished book. Indeed, their comparative informality is a part of their charm.
The digital future is generating vast new worlds to explore, where not only authors but the content they create and the enthusiasts they share this with can all thrive together. The biggest challenge to authors lies in embracing the changes digital content can bring to both the processes and the rewards they can expect. And this is what will spur on the new ways of writing as much as new ways of reading.