One author's success doesn't diminish the possibility of our own. Because there's not a finite pool of sparkling, shiny success that slowly empties with each new book published. We all know that, right? But there are still book deals that make even the most level-headed of us go Umm... what? I'm still slogging away in the [midlist/query trenches/self-pub maze] while they're showered with stardom for THAT? For some it was Fifty Shades. For others it might be the latest reality star's memoir. For many, recently, it's the six-figure deal for a One Direction fanfic picked up from Wattpad.
I don't particularly care if someone wants to read fanfic about a boy band. If that's their thing, more power to them. I'm not disparaging that. Usually I ignore such out-of-nowhere rise to fame stories, because it's sort of like that one person who wins a multi-million-dollar lottery jackpot: the odds of it happening to you or me are astronomical, but it does happen to some people. This time, however, I got to thinking. Even if Anna Todd's 1D fanfic book deal is that one in a million jackpot that none of us are likely to experience for ourselves, maybe there were still things we could learn and apply to our own journey. Turns out, there are.
Pace and productivity
According to the article linked above Todd's fiction was posted in 300 daily installments and garnered several hundred million views. Not hundreds. Not thousands. Hundreds of millions. I think there's something to be learned from the pacing and serialization aspect of her success. It's sort of like blogging, where one of the biggest pieces of advice people have to give is to have a consistent schedule, and generally the more often, the better. If you're on Wattpad browsing stories and someone else is on there posting a story (or part of one) every day for almost a year, chances are good you'll stumble across something they've written even if you aren't searching for them specifically. Fans of the story will want to read more of the series or even more from that author regardless of the story world. If they're pushing out something new very quickly, there's less chance of fans getting bored, wandering away, and forgetting to come back to look again.
What does that mean for you or me? Self-publishers may have a bit of an advantage here because they have more control over their publishing schedule, but those publishing traditionally can pay attention to their pacing as well. It might mean waiting until you have the first two books ready to go and another nearing completion before self-publishing the first one so you're able to set a quick pace with your releases. If you aren't writing a series, that doesn't mean you can't try the same technique with unrelated books. High productivity helps to create visibility and increase discovery. Setting a quicker pace ensures that people who enjoy your writing never have to wait too long for something new.
Where the fans are
Todd could have posted her writing on her own blog, or on another writing web site that didn't have a specific fanfiction category. But she didn't. Wattpad has a category dedicated to fanfic, and people go there to read it, if the number of views on many of the top rated stories are any indication. It sounds simplistic, but being where your audience hangs out is important. That's why it's important for aspiring authors on social media to understand that tweeting or blogging only about writing techniques, while great, means the audience you attract is going to consist almost exclusively of other writers. Yes, writers are readers, too, but there's also a huge potential audience of non-writers out there.
I'm not saying we should all post our writing for free on web sites that have a lot of readers interested in our genre. But if you love to knit so much that the main character in your cozy mystery is a sweater-knitting sleuth, I really hope you're hanging out in knitting circles or online forums, or that you're tweeting your favorite knitting patterns in addition to writing advice. Does your book feature a talented tenor who must decide between his dream opera role and the love of his life? Then talk about opera and singing! Seek out places online or in real life to engage with other singers and other fans of opera. Most importantly, though, engage with people this way as a fellow fangirl first and an author second.
Fanfiction is, by nature, written by fans of something. They have a passion for the subject already. In reading her interview responses, it's easy to see how much Todd loves One Direction and how that passion bleeds over into the stories she's written. It may seem simplistic, but never lose sight of the joy and passion you have for your stories. If you aren't in love with the plot and characters you're writing, it's going to be difficult to get anyone else excited about reading it. Unbridled passion is contagious, so go ahead and let that cat out of the bag.
How do you usually respond to the latest big thing? What other lessons can we learn from these literary lottery winners?
J. Lea López is an author who strives to make you laugh at, fall in love with, cry over, and lust after the characters she writes. She welcomes online stalkers as long as they're witty and/or adulatory. Kidding. Maybe. Check for yourself: Twitter, Facebook, Blog.