October 2012 - Author Forums
An online author forum is a place to come together to exchange ideas, seek friendly advice, expand a professional network, or cultivate a following. These collaborative communities invite aspiring authors and their fellow wordsmiths to interact with one another on subjects of mutual interest, ranging from tips on how to improve a story line to overcoming writer's block. Forum members' comments are posted chronologically in "threads" on a virtual discussion board.
As with all other interactive online communities (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Pinterest), forums are all about making shared connections. Since they are structured as supportive environments that facilitate conversations between peers, they do differ than those spaces designed to connect authors with the reading (and buying) public. They are also set apart from self-help sites that offer expert advice on the fundamentals of building an author platform.
Still, forums can be highly instructional and do provide promotional benefits. These type of groups rank well with search engines, and although a direct selling approach is frowned upon, there are designated sections within forums (signature area; introduction) to promote a book title.
Authors can join topic threads on any aspect of writing a book and bringing it to market. There are ongoing conversations on industry procedures (how to find your first agent); the mundane (grammar and punctuation); marketing (blogs, author give-a-ways, social networking); self-help (reviews of products and services); and "Dear Abby" type of support for those paralyzed by the daunting book publishing process. Forum discussion boards are free-flowing entities that continue to evolve. A comment or unique viewpoint can change the direction of the dialogue.
Mentoring of newbie authors by seasoned professionals is a common practice within forums. Authors can submit their writing samples to the group to be critiqued and receive valuable feedback from authors that have been down the same path. Yet-to-be-published authors also provide helpful feedback, and friendships are often forged along the way.
In addition to the selfless rewards of coaching fellow authors, previously published writers can explore a niche for their next book. Also, being an active contributor on message boards is very valuable in connecting with agents or publishers that are looking for new clients. It is advantageous to maintain a rapport with others in the industry.
The majority of forums are hosted by public domains, but authors can also host forums on their own website. A successful community can garner a huge following, be monitored effectively, increase traffic, and ultimately, help to sell more books. Community discussions keep fans and readers engaged with an author, even between book releases. Overt selling is not the true purpose of a forum, but through increased visibility, sales may result.
There are some drawbacks to author communities. They can become a very time consuming endeavor, particularly if you are involved in more than one. Notification of members' comments is often sent through email, resulting in an avalanche of unread messages that can overwhelm even the most well-intentioned of forum participants. Choosing a forum is a "trial and error" proposition. Over time, each develops its own "voice" and rules, and authors may need to experiment before finding a suitable match. Even a simple feature like the ease or difficulty of site navigation can sway a decision on joining one group over another.
There are "bad eggs" in every forum that abuse the privileges of membership. The better forums have moderators that control the group by weeding out those that are rude, insulting to others, unnecessarily critical, use foul language, ramble incessantly, or are entirely self-serving.
Writing a book can be a lonely proposition. Joining an author forum can help to ease that isolation by providing a place for like minds to congregate. "It takes a village" is an often repeated phrase and it rings particularly true for writers seeking camaraderie and an easy give-and-take exchange on topics of mutual interest.
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