Be the Kudzu and Increase Your Readership and Fanbase

Kudzu, The Vine That Ate the South
Image by *Kid*Doc*One* via Flickr

Joe Konrath has been pioneering new promotion methods since he sold his first book. He’s blogged about his experiences with drive-by book signings, blog tours, and electronic book sales.

His latest post covers his efforts to increase his readership and fanbase by being everywhere, like the southern plant kudzu.

Kudzu, a fast-growing vine that climbs, coils and trails along the ground and over plants, shrubs, trees and buildings. It is prolific in the southern US and is classified as a pest weed due to its persistent and rapid growth.

While you don’t want to be considered a weed as a writer, kudzu is an impressive plant to emulate with your writing career.

Because not every person who reads one of your stories will become a fan, building a fanbase of lots of readers means getting your stories into as many hands as possible. The more stories that you make available in more places, the more chances that readers have to find you and to fall in love with your stories.

How to Be the Kudzu

Submit your stories to traditional publishers whenever possible. This is still the best way to get started in publishing.

When you’ve decided a story is done making the rounds with no takers, look for other ways to get it into the hands of readers.

Step 1 – Prepare Your Stories

Polish all stories up to your current writing standards, especially any under-the-bed novels that you wrote years ago.

Joe rewrote each of his rejected novels to his current writing standards before making them available to the public. By releasing only quality materials, you’ll keep your current fans happy and increase your chances of gaining new fans.

Step Two – Package Your Stories

Gather several short stories into one file to form your own short story collection. Novellas can probably stand alone, depending on length, though you could combine a novella with short stories. Novels can also stand alone.

If you don’t have enough material on your own, get together with writing friends and create your own themed anthology of short stories.

Design a graphic cover for your book, either do it yourself or enlist a friend with graphic design skills. Great cover art is eye-catching, so make it the best you possibly can. Study the cover art of popular books in your genre for ideas on fonts, colors, text placement and common genre elements (i.e. male/female/couple on romance novels; weapons, mystical symbols or animals on urban fantasies; broken things, bloody weapons, chalk body outlines on mysteries or suspense).

Step Three – Publish Your Stories

Save them in PDF format and list them on your website as free downloads.

If you’ve gone together with friends and created an anthology, have each writer upload the file to their own website and provide download links for it.

Go to Smashwords and follow their Style Guide to format your ebook and publish it through them.

For more exposure, also follow the guidelines to get your ebook included in the Smashwords Premium Catalog that goes to mainstream distributors like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony and other retailers.

When publishing through a company like Smashwords, set the price of your ebook low – $1.99 or less. You’re asking strangers to take a chance on an unknown author. Make it easy and cheap for them to do so and you’ll get a better response. The intent is to get your work into the hands of a lot of readers. Making a lot of money in the process comes later.

For an anthology, read the Smashwords guidelines carefully and discuss how you’ll handle payment to each writer if you choose to publish through Smashwords and charge for the ebook. (Might be easiest to price it as free to avoid the hassle. Each writer can always release their own expanded version of their story or a different story altogether as a paid version.)

(Yes, you want to post the same books for free on your website and for sale on Amazon, iTunes, etc. Some people feel better about paying for a story – it’s perceived as higher quality than a free one. But free downloads are a great reward for people who go to your site to check you out.)

Step Four – Promote Your Stories

Write a blog post announcing the free downloads available on your site and that the ebooks are also available on Amazon, Sony, B&N, etc.

Send out an email to your newsletter list about the free downloads.

Provide links to the free versions and the paid versions of your ebooks on your site.

Announce the availability of your ebook on your social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc.). Remember not to be pushy with the announcements. (“Buy my book, Taming the Kudzu!” is bad. “New story: Taming the Kudzu available for download. (link)” is good.

You don’t have to do all four steps immediately. Your first job is to write some stories or resurrect old ones that can be polished. Then take each one through the steps – Prepare, Package, Publish and Promote.

Your Challenge

Take a high-quality, unpublished short story, novella or novel (that you are not actively submitting and that you don’t plan to submit), save it as a PDF, and make it available on your website as a free download.

Send an email to your newsletter list telling them the story is available for download.

Then leave a comment with your website URL so we can read your story.

Be the kudzu and start spreading your stories everywhere.