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On forums.

I am an inveterate forum hopper (I am including my regular facebook groups as forums, simply because they have the same feel). I have about four I'll post something every day in and another eight or so I'll bounce in and out of.

Why? I like forums. I like getting to know people (except the odd arsehole you meet) and I type fast so can interact smoothly on them. But I like some better than others and - because this is a blog about writing - I find some more in tune with me as a writer than others. And that's all perfectly normal.

I will admit to getting lucky. The first forum I tried - the sffchronicles.com - is still my most central one. I met my writing group there, my first publisher, my editor, my first readers. I got hooked right about then.

Forums are about culture. They're about a particular mix of people who make a particular little community. You can't predict what you'll find when you first join - I've been surprised in both ways about a community - because that cultural mix only becomes overt when you've been there a while. In fact, one of the fun things I find is that I have about 10 mates who all frequent multiple forums. We meet each other in all sorts of places. Yet, despite that I'll be known on one forum, have been read and reviewed by members, and another author -adored on another forum - will barely make a dent there. And that's to do with so many things - the interest of the forum (I tend to enjoy ones that either cover both sci fi and fantasy or, where it only does one genre - two of my main facebook groups are genre specific - they have fun with lots of silly memes and the odd interesting article. But spacecat memes are hard to beat....

So, what do you do when you first get to a forum? How do you work out if it's for you?

1. Post an intro thread. Most forums have either a dedicated thread for this or are happy for you to post one. Admit you're new and might not be good at knowing your way around. Keep it short about your books - this is not the time or the place (see point two) - and try to come back to any comments.

2. Don't walk in the door bragging about your book. Chances are, even if you're the bee's knees on other forums, you won't be known on a new one (this happened to me tonight, exactly like that). Most forums have strict rules about self promoting - or all forums would turn out to be nothing but buy-my-book-fests. But newby authors are the worst - or most ingenious - a finding ways to circumvent that. Obtrusive signatures, bringing every thread round to your book and never letting go.

Look, I know it's hard. They've asked a question about something your book does and readers like and you want to shake someone and say 'what about mine!' If the community gets to know you and some give your book a chance, they might post that they liked it. But self promotion is mostly the guaranteed way not to get noticed.

3. Spend a bit of time assessing your likes against a forums. I finally joined Reddit fantasy last night - despite knowing I won't be a big poster. I've dragged my feet because I am not a big conventional reader. I read a lot of magical realism and have tried most of the major authors at some point or another, but fantasy isn't my favourite genre. And that's Reddit's strengths. But they also have great thought-provoking links and a very active community and I will enjoy being there - I just know I won't have as much go contribute there as in other places. And that's fine - like any community there will be central members and occasional ones and that's what keeps things vibrant and fresh.

4. Keep an open mind. I'll be honest when I found Best Fantasy Books on a google search I wasn't at all sure (see above about my reading tastes - and this was a reading focused forum). But the forum members and admins were very welcoming and friendly and I stuck around. Now I'm there most days, have made quite a few online friends there and like it an awful lot.

5. Give back. Even if you're not a regular on a forum try to give more than you take. Answer other people's questions with thoughtfulness and good manners. If you critique, give more than you take. Communities thrive on people's goodwill - help them thrive.

Comments

Peter Long said…
I'd actually been thinking of doing an article like this, although it would have mainly been me screaming like a hungry child about point number 2. I'd offer a slight correction. Instant self-promotion does get you noticed - in a bad way. Doing it makes you that person at a dinner party who does nothing but talk about themselves, how the food could be better, and the most politically edgy thing they can think of. It should be author 101 - don't open up with the self promotion.

I'd add a few more bits of advice

- Don't be controversial right off the bat. People will assume you're a troll and treat you like one.

- Engage with people. I've lost count of the number of people who come onto a forum and spew unrelated one liners everywhere. If you want to make friends and learn useful things, reply to what people have actually said and ask questions for people to respond to.

- Go slow. As you say, every forum is different. Things that fly on one will not fly on another. Forum first impressions are formed over a number of posts unless someone really sticks their foot in it. Better to go slow and careful than trip over something.

- Join Chrons.
Joanne Zebedee said…
All good advice, thanks Pete! And join Chrons!