If you’ve come to this website because your interests are in science fiction and fantasy, chances are that you feel at home on the Internet. I would bet that many of you have already trolled the web looking for the websites or blogs of your favorite sf/f authors. Did you find them?
More and more authors are turning to the Internet to publicize their work and increase their profiles. (See the Publishers Weekly article Innovative PR in SF/Fantasy, the piece that initiated this one.) But are web-savvy authors precluding the need for publicists? No, they are supplementing their publicists’ efforts. And why not? Getting noticed is the biggest hurdle for an author to overcome. In one of the simplest but most insightful quotes (in this case regarding copyright violations of books, but still appropriate here), Cory Doctorow says “The biggest threat [authors] face isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity.”
Getting your name out there, then, is the name of the game. But how many authors take advantage of the Internet? Relatively few. Some of those few are longtime Internet mainstays [looks at Bruce Sterling] but several-up-and coming genre authors have also become big names; at least in the blogosphere. The relatively recent boom in electronic self-publishing – blogs – has allowed these innovative upstarts to become their own publicists. To name-drop a few genre authors who have reaped the popularity benefits that blogs can bring, there’s Doctorow, John Scalzi, Charles Stross and Jeff VanderMeer. And still many others are hot on their heels.
I’m not privy to any detailed information regarding how this exposure specifically translates into book sales other than that it helps. Exposure to a writer builds name recognition. When you see the book of a familiar author on the shelf or at Amazon, you are more likely to pick up the book. It’s better than word of mouth; you’ve seen it with your own eyes.
Blogging for the sake of blogging is not enough, though. Becoming a good author/blogger requires a mix of things, I think. Posts have to be well-written, entertaining and insightful. A peek into a writer’s personal life is fine as afar as it goes, but a peek into their professional life (backstory of a book or character’s creation, for example – think “DVD extras”) is better. Author blogs can raise their hit counts via popular pushbuttons as well, but only if they are sincerely interested in the topic or have something to say. Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi frequently (and eloquently) talk about digital rights management, for example. Politics is another form of content, but its controversial nature can easily backfire (see: reaction to Dan Simmon’s recent post.)
Besides content, there are other ways authors use their blog of the Internet to promote themselves. Foremost is interaction with the fans. This gets a bit tricky as a constant flow of conversation can be time consuming enough to take away from what matters most: their writing. It’s a delicate balance, but many do pull it off.
Self-promotion is a way for authors to offer something to fans while helping their own profiles at the same time. Some authors (like Tobias Buckell) put up sample chapters of their work. Doctorow, Stross and Scalzi have even made entire books freely available under the Creative Commons License. James Patrick Kelly offers podcasts of his stories. (Author Justine Larbalestier – wife of author/blogger Scott Westerfeld and owner of a popular and respected blog of her own -talks some more about “self-promotery“.)
Are authors who don’t leverage the Internet behind the curve? Before Al Gore invented the Internets, it was thought to be mainly the job of the publisher to publicize a book. Doesn’t the technological landscape of today demand more? I think that if publishers and authors want to gain new readers – yes. Today there are plenty of other avenues of entertainment that are vying for our dollars. (Thanks, again, Internet!) If people want stay in front the wave that could bury them, they have to learn how to surf.
When it comes to leveraging the web, its clear even publisher’s still have some work to do. The frontrunner has to be Baen books with it Free Library. Tor, for all of their time spent as the number one sf publisher of sf/f, has a woefully underutilized and outdated website. (Maybe a web presence doesn’t matter so much, then? Or, is it just a missed opportunity for even greater sales?) Del Rey‘s website at least offers a look at current titles. Smaller but content-rich sites like Prime Books and Subterranean Press put some of the big boys to shame. Generally speaking, though, the state of genre publisher websites is a mixed bag.
The good news? Things are heading in the right direction. As time goes on, more and more authors and publishers are making themselves known on the web by embracing the technology. This is a good thing for books and also for readers.