As an aspiring author, I've been thinking a lot lately about issues related to building a community of (future) readers. There's quite a bit of discussion on the internet about giving away content as a way to forge relationships with your audience and as a way to increase sales.
Cory Doctorow is the front runner in this. He has managed to leverage his large internet presence, technological savvy, and his writing creativity to build a huge following of readers. Perhaps they (as I did) discover him by his free fiction, and then go on to purchase his books.
But this model doesn't work for everyone, as this post by J.C. Hutchins, a SciFi writer and podcaster discusses. He put his all into podcasting and making his writing available for free on the net, but despite all that work and a loyal following of readers/audience, it didn't lead toward increased sales and his publisher declined to publish the sequels to his work.
Even industry insiders disagree on whether or not to share work on line. This post at Writers Unboxed shows the 'pro' side.
A conflicting view is here, on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog.
And Writer Beware has a recent guest post talking about the dangers of self-promotion.
So what is an aspiring novelist to do?
I think it depends on what your goal is.
I have 6 completed novels, and a 7th in process. My agent is working hard to sell one, while assessing a second for its marketability. Both of these are YA fantasy novels.
One of the first novels I wrote was an epic/high fantasy novel about a war between humans and shapeshifters. I have extensively revised it over the years, as my writing skills improved, and I now think it has moved from the category of 'trunk novel' to a story I would be proud to see on the bookshelves.
Trouble is, it's not a genre that is very commercially viable right now. It may be years before it is. And it isn't exactly a fit with the majority of what I'm currently writing. (Contemporary YA Fantasy)
I love this story and I want it to be read. That's really the goal of the artist--to get the work in the hands of an audience. That's what completes the creative cycle. So I have been mulling over the prospect of releasing it for free as a serialized novel.
My hopes in this are:
1--to share a world and a story that I believe in with readers
2--to start to build a network/tribe of interested readers who would get a sense of my work before having to commit to a (future--I hope!) purchase
3--to get a sense of reader interest in high fantasy (I'd love to write in this world again)
My concerns center around retaining credibility as a professional writer, not losing the ability to sell the novel for future publication, and not falling into the trap of undervaluing my work. In the end, I wish to make a living as a novelist. And that can't happen if the work isn't available for purchase and people don't buy it.
If you are an industry person, a published writer, or an aspiring writer, I would appreciate your thoughts on this.