Martin wrote a note and asked, “How much of your novel should you post on the internet before you have an agent or publisher? I posted three chapters, and it has proven to be so popular that I now have readers writing to me and begging me to post more of the story. My fear is that I don’t want to give it away, but by the time I wait for a traditional publisher, my readers will be gone.”
Interesting scenario, Martin, and you’re asking questions about something that has changed considerably in the past year or two. I used to rarely encourage an author to post his or her chapters on a website outside of a promotional campaign for a book’s release, since it seemed like there was no way for the author to win. I mean, you might garner some attention from an agent, but it would seem like you’d be more apt to get some of the know-nothing, fly-by-night types to contact you. And as for readership, you’ve hit the problem dead on — you might gain readers, but will they stick around long enough to buy the book? That used to be doubtful — from the time you turn in a completed manuscript, you’re looking at a year’s wait before there are ink-and-paper copies on store shelves.
BUT over the past couple of years that has changed. We now have seen numerous authors post a few chapters to get readers hooked, then later sell them for the entire book. Sometimes that plan has worked; sometimes it hasn’t. The alternative has been to post the entire book on line, sell it, and use it to build a readership. Then you try to steer faithful readers to purchase your other releases (so you capture the names and emails of readers, you get in touch with them, etc).
Of course, over the past few years we’ve seen a bunch of writers turn their blogs into books, and there has been the explosion of self-published novels (some great; some lousy), so suddenly the process has changed. With that in mind, I’d say the answer is to ask yourself what the purpose of posting your book is. If it’s to get the attention of an agent, it may not be that helpful, since it requires agents to go trolling (and most already have plenty of manuscripts to wade through). If the purpose is to get the attention of the publisher, it may or may not work, but will be best if there is also clear communication with editors, to make sure they are looking. If the purpose is to gain readers, I think we’ve pretty well accepted the fact that posting words is a great way to find readers – the key is to get it noticed somehow, so you’ve got to figure out where those readers are and get in front of them.
All of this sounds more complex than ever – and it probably is. I’m going to answer more questions about queries and proposals, but I’d like to know what you think is working in terms of building a readership. What have you tried that succeeded?