readership versus inventory

readership versus inventory

I was looking at some of my old stories and posts on my earlier site and came across a post I'd written back in April 2013, wondering which social media platform I ought to be using to promote my stories and gain readership. Funnily, I don't think I'd ever thought of what I'd do if and when I gained a few hundred readers or a few thousand views of my website. I suppose I never really trusted the readership of my website to grow beyond a handful of family and friends.

I faced a similar dilemma a couple of months ago when I announced that I'd resume posting short stories on my site using the 'Tales for D' tag. As soon as I had published the first story, I felt instant regret. I didn't want to commit to putting out free stories online again without a clear idea of where I was planning to go with this.

I was questioning the merits of putting free content out there online when I myself am still struggling to find a balancebetween my current freelance job and writing. A number of answers presented themselves in the past couple of weeks.

First, I read a few reports on how musicians have taken to performing online for free as the pandemic forces people to stay indoors. There were articles warning musicians of the dangers of getting listeners used to free content, a habit that would later become hard to break. The articles went on to draw parallels with the newspaper industry, which began to put up free content online to gain readership only to find themselves grappling with a reader base that had become accustomed to reading news for free.

I'm part of a few authors' groups on Facebook and I've learnt from the discussions there that there are two kinds of readers: those who will only read free content and those who buy books. Most of the wise souls in those groups concur that offering freebies does not necessarily translate into new sales, unless, say, you offer the first book of a series for free to lure readers to buy subsequent books in the series.

Dean Wesley Smith too advocates against putting up anything for free forever. He recommends offering a freebie for, say, a week. Kristine Kathryn Rusch, an author and also DWS' wife, puts up a story on her website every Monday. The story rests there for only a week. The following week, another story takes its place.

But here's the thing. Rusch puts up her free-for-a-week stories as a marketing tool to entice readers to purchase any one or more of her gazillion works from her ever-growing inventory instead of trying to build a fan base or group of readers who'd, hopefully, buy a book of hers when she publishes one in the future.

This difference is so fundamental and completely shifts the way I've been viewing writing and publishing stories online.

Create a stack of books, and the readers will follow.

And when authors start to build a huge arsenal, one sale can quickly spiral into several more. There is a saying famous among writers: "Nothing sells a book better than the next one."

In these last seven years of floundering, I had been completely unaware of these necessary and fundamental basics of publishing. Well, I'm learning now. Better late than never.

Another nugget of wisdom I recently gleaned from DWS is this. He urges writers to indie-publish their novels rather than follow the traditional publishing route, but he recommends that they write short stories and put them in the market and get them published in magazines, as this becomes a significant promotional tool for their novels.

In an audio interview, DWS talks of how he took upon the challenge of writing one short story a week, while working three jobs, for an entire year in his initial days of writing.

In another very old post of his, DWS lays out exactly how a writer can write a quarter of a million words a year even with handling a day job and family responsibilities.

All this information has inspired me to change how I view my work and to honour it for the labour of love that it is.

So henceforth I don't intend to put up any of my new pieces of fiction on the site or on FB or Instagram for free. I have plans for my works, both new and existing ones. To say that I am excited by this new path I'm on, this new wind filling up my sails, is an understatement.

Attribution: Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash