Why Social Media Marketing Will Become More Important in a Fiction App World

What to do when you can't advertise your content.

Hey there, Igniter!

The biggest complaint and challenge around fiction apps is that authors don’t have a great way of marketing their work there, which means they can’t consistently build their audience through methods that they control.

With the number of authors and creators out there, ads are a must for marketing your ebooks—but fiction apps are a different beast and require a different approach.

Some of the challenges authors face are:

  • Fiction apps are a closed ecosystem - It’s not easy to link within these apps, which makes it harder to drive traffic to many of them.

  • Novel readers won’t make the jump to serialized fiction - Because it’s a completely different type of story (serialized content vs. novels) and because it’s a completely different way of reading (phone app with coin structure vs. a one-time purchase for an ereader, which may or may not be an app on the phone), many novel readers stick with what they have.

  • The content might be novels broken into episodes - Most of the way independent authors have interacted with serialized fiction apps thus far is through taking their current catalog and breaking it into pieces for the app. It makes little financial sense for the author’s current fan base to buy from an app where they will pay more for the same novel that they can get on retailers. The content on fiction apps will likely change and get more exclusive to the serialized format, but until then, it’s hard to market fiction app content through the author’s current platform.

  • It’s tough to move fiction app readers over to retailers - Most of these apps don’t allow authors to link out to their own newsletter or website or books on retailers—it would make no sense to do so, as they would prefer the reader to stay in the app.

  • There’s not enough money to advertise fiction app stories - Authors don’t typically make enough money per conversion from these stories to advertise them through Facebook and other smaller ad platforms like Pinterest. (The two other platforms authors primarily use, Amazon and Bookbub, make no sense for advertising, so I’ve left them out of this discussion.)

These challenges will get solved in the future, but for now, what do you do to build your visibility, discoverability, and following on these apps? And should you even be worrying about this?

Hard Truths of the Fiction App Model: What It Looks Like Today Doesn’t Work For Anyone and Is Not Sustainable

English-language market fiction apps have functioned and grown through independent authors posting their backlist to these sites. That may continue, but it’s unlikely to work as a business model over the long-term because of the challenges I’ve listed above.

Fiction apps need new and exclusive content, written in the serialized format, as that performs better in their apps. Radish, for example, developed an in-house team to create stories that they can turn into major franchises. The current sweep of novels that they have built their numbers (which helped them get acquired) but it’s unlikely to be sustainable unless readers can pay roughly the same amount for a “season” (the serialized fiction term for a group of episodes, which are roughly comparable to a chapter in a novel) as they can pay for the ebook version of the same content.

For readers, this model doesn’t work either. Most authors are effectively selling ice cream for $20 and then selling the same exact ice cream next door for $5. Eventually, readers are going to figure it out and stand in the $5 line, every time.

We can see this happening already as several of the most popular apps change their payment models, either reducing the payout on coins or attempting an all-you-can-eat subscription model. These business model mechanisms are going to keep shifting until a season costs about $5 or less—around the same price as the novel. I can’t say whether that will happen in a year or five years, but it will definitely happen.

The last piece of the equation is authors. As more authors move into this space, competition will heat up. That means that advertising will heat up as well, and the space will become pay-to-play. The problem is, authors can’t afford to pay-to-play right now… the cost per conversion for these types of paid readers is high—higher than a novel reader at the moment.

The Business Model For Fiction Apps and Authors Will Have to Change

We are seeing changes on the fiction app side already, but what are authors doing to change? Here’s what I think is likely to happen:

  • Exclusive-to-format content - With the launch of Kindle Vella, which requires that no part of your content is in a book or freely available online, it makes sense to start creating specifically serialized content. This means there will be more authors on other fiction apps as well, because they are all writing paid stories for Vella and there’s no reason not to cross-post elsewhere. The days of recycling novels to these platforms are closing, and it won’t surprise me if other apps start suppressing these as more original serialized content comes to the platforms. It may take several years for this change to occur, but I believe it’s going to happen because while this content was useful in building numbers for acquisition, it is not really in the best interests of the apps in their next stages of finding sustainable business models.

  • Fiction apps are the end of the funnel - For authors, it doesn’t make sense to use fiction apps as discoverability tools. You’re working in direct opposition to the goal of the fiction app, which is to keep people inside the app. Having good word-of-mouth through social media is going to be one of the best ways to reach readers who are specific to Radish, or specific to Wattpad, or specific to Tapas, and so on.

  • Authors selling their serials directly to fans - If fiction apps move to the backend of the funnel, it only makes sense that there needs to be a frontend. In the comic book world, this is a website for each story/series, which the creator then uses to link out to a Kickstarter, Patreon, or direct sales link. This is also a way that authors can collect reader information through a newsletter or email list. And finally, this is one of the only ways that the math on running ads will make sense for authors, especially because you can use a Facebook pixel and email subscriber lists to get the word out.

  • The author website will be the central place for linking to retailers - Authors will find some readers within each platform who will stay in each platform. But they’ll also likely need find readers through their website that they can then direct to various platforms. I imagine a link for Radish, for Wattpad, for Kindle Vella, and so on, the same way that authors link to the various retailers now. This will increase their visibility in these fiction apps, which then helps them find more readers.

Social Media Marketing Will Matter in the Short Term

Before getting into advertising, authors would do well to build their social media platforms with the thought of marketing their fiction app content. TikTok, Clubhouse, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and more social platforms will become discovering grounds for discussion and community around certain stories. Word-of-mouth on these stories is key. In speaking with a number of high schoolers, they are reading stories that most independent authors have never heard of—because they are exclusive to fiction apps or freely available on the internet.

The next several articles I’ll be posting here are:

  • (Wednesday, June 16th) Using Social Media to Market Fiction That You Can't Run Ads To: Journaling Questions That Can Help You Get Creative (paid subscribers only)

  • (Saturday, June 19th) Facebook Advertising Trends For Serialized Fiction (paid subscribers only)

  • (Monday, June 21st) A Roundup of Interesting Kindle Vella Content

  • (Wednesday, June 23rd) My Experimental Kindle Vella Strategy (How I’m Hoping to Get Readers to Flow Between Stories) (paid subscribers only)

This will finish up the serialized fiction series (unless there’s a Q&A as I know this series has generated a lot of questions) and the next series will be focused on Apple Books as a platform: how the algorithms work, what marketing strategies work, and more.

As stated, I’ll be sending about 2-4 emails a week through this newsletter, with about half of them for paid subscribers and half for free subscribers.

If you are interested in the paid subscribers only articles, I encourage you to upgrade your subscription. There are two ways to do it and you can learn more here under the “Becoming a Subscriber” heading: https://aggressivelywide.substack.com/about

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