So, you've done it! You put in the time and the energy and the effort, you've drained yourself creatively, and you've put together a story that you can be proud of. One that can touch and inspire as well as excite and arouse. Awesome! Now, all you have to do is put it out where people can read it so they can be thrilled by your genius. Just find a place to post your work...and wait.
And wait some more...
Ok, so what's going on here? Where's the praise? Where are the great reviews? You poured your heart and soul into a story that you think is really impressive and well put together. So what happened?
Well, while writing the actual story is a fun a passionate experience for a writer who's searching for an audience...it's not enough. That's not to say that your story isn't great literature. It might be a truly engaging story, filled with heart and wit and written with immaculate skill. But merely putting it in a place where people can see it doesn't mean that it'll get seen. That takes extra. Hehehe, don't groan! This part can be a lot of fun too! So let's talk about getting yourself out there, and getting some readers to notice your talent.
The first thing that I want to tell you, before we move any further...may sound a bit discouraging, but don't let that bother you. Ready? Here goes...
Chances are...I'd say that 85% of all the people who read your story online...will never send you any feedback on it. That sounds pessimistic, but I'm actually being optimistic by keeping it at only 85%. It's something that I've learned after many many years of doing this, and at first, it's going to be really disheartening. A part of you is going to think that if people liked they story, they'd tell you so. So the deepest cut of all for any writer is silence, because they immediately assume that you didn't like it or weren't interested. That's a mentality that you've got to break before anything else. Get past that. The internet is full of so many distractions that it would be impossible to even begin to appreciate it all. Think of all the Youtube videos you didn't like or share, or all the articles you've read, or the meme images that you laughed at and moved on. It's not that you didn't 'like' it, you've just got a lot more going on. So lose the idea that a lack of response is a comment on your talent or the quality of your work. That's not always the case. That kind of thinking will only demoralize you and keep you from moving forward. Got it? Good.
Now that we've got that out of the way, let's get into the meat of it...
It takes more than simply putting your work in a public place to get noticed. You spent all this time on getting your story just right, so why not market it a little bit? Let people know how to find you among the thousands of other people who are doing the same thing. We can look at this in three layers. The first layer is on the surface. You want people to check out your story? You want to draw them in? You're going to need to catch their eye. You need to be the shiny object on the table in order to grab their attention. We start with a 'catchy' title. Something interesting, something different, but uncomplicated enough for a potential reader to commit to memory. If you title your story, "Gabe's Story"...well, there's nothing wrong with that, but will that grab your attention when somebody is scrolling down a page of 150 other story titles? Also, if you call your story, "The Unbelievably Annoying Chortle Of My Best Friend"...that's going to scream 'skip' to people who have never read your work before. Those titles can come off as wordy and a little offbeat to the point of turning some readers away. Once you establish a fanbase, that can change. But just starting out and building a name for yourself takes mass appeal. You want the average reader to take a random chance on you so you can show them what you're capable of. You shouldn't judge a book by its cover...but people do. And in cases of online fiction, a lot of times you don't even GET a cover! So the title is everything.
The second layer? WRITE!!! Write until your fingers hurt! Write until your back aches and your butt is flat from sitting in your computer chair for so long! If you can get up from your seat and not ache and feel stiff and worn out...you haven't written enough. Take a break and come back to it. A great way to get yourself noticed is through short, one time, stories. A story told from beginning to end, maybe somewhere between 3000 to 5000 words max. Something that will give you enough room to build character and a decent plot, but won't get too involved to the point where it takes half a novel to make your point. Think of it as a collection of 'extended examples'. And experiment with different genres and ideas. Keep a pocket sized notebook on you at all times, you'll need it for jotting down spontaneous ideas. The idea is not only to practice and hone your craft, but to have a variety of stories out there for people to find. If you have only 'one' story out there, no matter how amazing it may be, getting it noticed will be harder for you. Maybe you have a title that doesn't grab the reader's eye. Maybe you have a theme that a percentage of your readers aren't instantly enthralled with. Or maybe you just got passed over for no reason at all. BUT...if you have five stories on that list, somebody is about to find ONE of them. And when they read it, and discover that they LOVE what you have to offer...they'll immediately look for other stuff that you've written. By that time, you'll have a wealth of material that will prove to them that, "Hey, that story you liked wasn't a fluke! I've got more!" You want them to love 'you' as a writer, even more than your individual stories. Stand up and prove you're up to the challenge of impressing them with almost everything you put out. Build a 'brand' for yourself, one that people can believe in.
If you've written a high school love story...try a college story. If you've written a modern story...try something with a sci fi twist. Every time you try a new genre, you grab a new audience. And those audiences will all follow the breadcrumbs you leave behind to see what else you've created to give it a chance as well. This is how you build multiple fanbases. Except, since you're at the center of it all, all your fanbases combine into one entity. You may only write one story, but some people might enjoy it, and some may not. Write two stories? Some people might like one, and not like the other. Write five? You might get three stories they love, and they'll give the other two a try, even if it's not really their thing. The more you write, the more material you put out there, the better chance you have of getting your work noticed by new readers. Simple mathematics.
The third layer? Get involved with your readers! This is probably the most fun part, at least it is for me. You get to meet and talk to a lot of really great people, and get some feedback on your work at the same time. The first thing you want to do is have an email account where people can reach you. Make yourself readily available for comment and review. Even if you get criticism, that part is important too, because it'll give you a different perspective on your writing in general. Get a Twitter account! Get a blog! Get a mailing list! Find a way to build your own forum, and keep a constant presence in ALL of these places at all times! Be there. Get to know your audience personally. If they can take the time to say, "I liked your story", then you can take the time to say, "Thank you!" Let them know what you're working on next, listen to what they have to say and use it to get an even better idea of how your writing is being seen by other people. Adjust accordingly.
Also, make sure to add your contact and social media info on everything you write. Put it at the top of your manuscript, so people can see it before they read a single word of your story. And then add it again at the bottom of your story, so when they finish, and they have that big smile on their face and that sugary sweet feeling in their heart, they can look at it and go, "Oh yeah, I can actually 'talk' to the person who wrote this! Let me send them a quick message." Invite some sort of interaction between you and your audience. They are really COOL people! I've made some of my best friends ever through the stories I've written, so allow them to get to know you, and then you'll get to know them in return. Like I said, this is the FUN part!
So, a short recap...
Step 1 - Grab their attention with an interesting title and a well-written story.
Step 2 - WRITE! Get as much quality material out there as you possibly can! Let me put emphasis on the word 'quality'. Don't just put a bunch of mediocre fluff out there for the sake of having a bunch of stories online. That will only hurt you in the end. Don't rush. Do it right. Your potential fans will appreciate the extra effort.
Step 3 - Be social! Start by giving people a way to contact you directly, and then set up public ways to let everyone know when you have something new in the works and when it's getting released. Do this on your own. There are sites with automatic announcements and daily updates and the like, which is great...but that works best for the 'website' you're on. You want to actively connect with your personal fanbase on your own. Your direct involvement should be your main priority, and all other websites should be a very cool bonus in helping you get attention. Not the other way around.
Try out a few of these techniques, and I can guarantee you that you'll start increasing your fanbase within a matter of weeks. It takes time and effort, but anything that's worth it always does, right? It's not a 'trick' or a 'strategy'...it's simply a matter of you taking the passion that you put into your stories and extending that to the people who enjoy them. So don't take the self-promotion step for granted. Remember, a work of art loses its value if there's no one around to see it. Don't let your hard work fall into that category.