I was going to hit the Topic of the Week, but really, I think David nailed it with yesterday’s post and I can’t think of anything else to add, so I’m going to bring up another question a MW regular asked in email: how, in essence, does one create a web presence? As the reader (I’m not identifying him because I don’t know if he wants to be identified!) said, “Having a site and blog is all fine and dandy but it doesn’t do me a whole lot of good if nobody comes to visit and comment, and I’m a little at a loss as to how to go about building up the connections to do this.”
I would dearly like to have a brilliant answer to this question, and I really, really don’t.
Here’s the thing. Me, personally, I’ve been online for (holy jeez) 19 years this fall. I’ve had a website since 1994. I’ve had a blog since before that was a word, since about 1998 in the loosest sense and fairly regularly since about 2001. I have a personal site (mizkit.com), which I maintain essentially because I found myself meeting up with people I hadn’t seen in a while and we’d say, “What’ve you been up to?” and the answer was always, “Oh, you know, not much,” and so I started a journal so people could actually know what I’d been up to if they wanted to. I had readers from the start because I had a decade’s worth of online relationships. Now I know about a third of my Livejournal readers personally and the rest are people who’ve found me through other friends or through my books.
I have a professional site (cemurphy.net), which basically only has career-relevant news on it, and which is meant to provide information to people who really don’t care what I had for breakfast (which, as we all know, is Livejournal’s basic purpose). Enough people come by there that I have comment-conversations with them, but I don’t think it gets the same kind of traffic my personal site/feed does. Still, there’s content there–short stories, teasers, book covers, even a book I wrote a decade ago–so hopefully it’s enough to keep people interested and coming back. But there was nothing there, particularly, to draw readers in until I had books on the shelves and people had an external reason to come looking for me.
There are people whose blogs have helped them launch a successful fiction writing career; John Scalzi’s Whatever leaps to mind as a primary example, as does Cory Doctorow’s BoingBoing, or (to some degree, since he did have the head start of being) Wil Wheaton’s WWdN.The thing is, though, that they all had something to say or do that was of interest to people outside of their writing ambitions. BoingBoing is a repository of Cool Stuff; WWdN is, among other things, the story of a guy we all grew up watching on TV struggling to put together a life that encompassed both that kid we watched on screen with the self-defined “just a geek” he grew up to be. Whatever‘s tag line is “Taunting the Tauntable”, which is certainly a theme that appeals to a lot of people. Critically, all of these sites are done well enough that people not only come back for more when they discover them, but they’re inclined to point other people *at* them.
A moment of truth: I didn’t know at all whether Magical Words would have an audience. There are a lot of writer blogs out there, both group-based and individually run. I thought it was distinctly possible that we would throw a blog, and nobody would come. I’m exceedingly pleased that people *have* come, and that we’ve gotten ourselves a community here, but I honestly didn’t know if it would work. What /makes/ it work, I imagine, is that we are four authors who pretty much know what we’re talking about with regards to the publishing industry and writing. If we were four unpublished writers with stars in our eyes, people might come to watch our journey, but for all the published writers out there who are trying to impart kernels of knowledge, there are a whole lot more unpublished people whose journeys can be watched–or not.
I think to try to get an audience you have to at least start with the “If you build it, they will come,” attitude, but you’ve also really got to provide, somehow, something that people want. (Mostly what people want from cemurphy.net right now, for example, is to know when WALKING DEAD, the fourth book in the Walker Papers, will be out. (In September 2009.)) You have to post regularly, so there’s continuous new content to keep people coming back. You have to say to your blogger friends, “Hey, can you mention I’ve started a blog,” and you hope they do. You put meta tags into your page layout, and hope there are people out there looking for what you’re doing.
Actually, the whole thing is a lot like selling a book, now that I think about it. “All you have to do is write a really good book.” “All you have to do is provide something people want.” Great. No problem. We’ll get right on that, shall we? o.O