Creating a web presence

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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 :)

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15 comments to Creating a web presence

  • Nice post, Catie. And to be honest, I didn’t know if MW would work either. That it has pleases me no end, but I had my doubts.

    I think that the key, as you say, is similar to that of writing. You have to want to do this stuff anyway. You have to want to blog and have a website, and to hell with the world if they don’t look. It’s like looking for a date: if you stink of desperation, if everything you do has “look at me!” written all over it, you probably won’t attract people. If you’re confident and you remain true to yourself and your interests and just do it, you’ll be successful. Because success will be the act itself, rather than the hit count….

  • Catie, very detailed and info filled post. I can add only one thing, directed only at the newly published writer. Network with both likeminded people, and with people who are just different enough from you to add spice. *And* if possible, with people who are a little farther along in their writing careers.

    Working with people is so very helpful, as at this site, working with Catie, Misty and David, means that I don’t have to come up with something interesting to say every day. (Okay, some people say I am interesting only once a month or so but I try to ignore them.) I can even take off a week or two if needed for personal or writing purposes, and the site still draws readers.

    Getting the networking here off to a good start wasn’t hard to do. Misty and I knew one another already. I met David at a con and we clicked, and I liked both of their writing. We three wanted to do *something* online, but had no clear idea what — though the nebulous idea of appealing to writers and readers of fantasy (as well as other genre) was there at the start.

    I had been a *huge fan* (screaming silly fangirl) of Catie’s for some time. I gathered up my courage and asked her to join us. The site and its focus really evolved from who we are. Which is what I’ve been leading up to: Stay true to yourself and networking can really help with online presence.

  • Another thing, whenever you sign up for other sites, message boards, blog sites, communities, etc, see if they have the ability to add a sig line in your posts. Then you can add your most important links. In the case of an author it’d be your main website or blog site. If you have an internet radio show it’d be that link. People are curious by nature. If it’s something that they might find interesting they’ll click on it. Just keep the sig lines short though. Quite a few people hate when someone comes to a community with a sig line that’s larger than most of their posts. The more you get out there talking about what you do, the more you gain a presence. Check this one out. Google Podunkville FX and see what comes up. That’s another way. Mention yourself wherever you go online. Our little FX company actually has a little bit of a presence through talking about it on other sites, sig lines, interviews, etc. If someone googles us they’re going to get a lot of stuff come up. Not necessarily important stuff, but enough to know that we’re out there.

    You can also, if you have a company (or something important to say, a novel you’re trying to sell, etc), get some flyers or business cards with your site on it and pass them out whenever you get the chance. If you have a catchy looking card folks might be interested enough to go check the address out, especially if something is there that might interest them. We’ve got just as many mentions about our toon style artwork on the site as we have the effects. People ask us if we do cartooning too.

    I have one of those very blog-sites mentioned, the non-published writer blog, but it’s more a way to help me keep focused. Sometimes it’s easier for me to solve s problem if I can get it out and see it first. If I get a reader or two from the links I’ve posted on Myspace and Facebook, then awesome. If I get some feedback on there, great. But even if I don’t, I have a journal of the start to finish and a reminder to keep going. πŸ˜‰

  • Wade Thomas Markham, III

    I find it hard to write about myself because I am uncomfortable due to the fact I am not a good essayist and I want to keep some privacy in my life. I also don’t have the any opportunity to network in person due to the fact I’m unable to travel on my own. When I do to go to cons, my speech limits my opportunities.
    How do you network on the internet anyhow?

  • Ah, Wade, yeah, the privacy thing. That’s a tricky one.

    I know people who post things on the net about their lives that I would never *dream* of posting. I leave a lot out of my personal blog, things that I don’t feel like sharing with a thousand strangers every day. You just have to decide what you’re willing to put out there, and don’t feel responsible for not wanting to offer up more than that. We all have limits.

    Being places like here is networking on the internet, being part of the online community we’re creating. Facebook and Myspace and Twitter are also all online networking opportunities, though I find them to be…less ‘real’ than what we’ve got here. I mean, I’m “friends” with Laurell K. Hamilton on Myspace, but I’d never ask her for a cover quote based on that.

  • I personally came to MW as a fan of one author but I have become a fan of three more. It is this great chemistry that the four of you guys/gals share that make this site great. To be brutally honest, there are hundreds if not thousands of author-info sites out there, but this one has a certain spark that the others lack. It is like sitting around a table sharing a meal and talking writing with a group of writers.

    As for the topic specifically, I feel that if you write well, your readers will follow you. So when given the chance, I would like to have my website published in your books so it is an easy reference for your readers. I would create unique material relating to the book/series that broadens that book/series for free on the website. And I would like to work out link/ad exchanges with high traffic targeted areas.

  • Network with both likeminded people, and with people who are just different enough from you to add spice. *And* if possible, with people who are a little farther along in their writing careers.

    Lol, Faith, that’s why I’m hanging out here. πŸ˜€

    Seriously, I like the interactive aspect of blogs. They are more like a group of good friends and don’t have the vast scope of social sites like Facebook where I don’t feel at home.

    David, I’ve seen new authors blog because their agent told them it might be a good idea. Those blogs were pretty bland and died an unglamorous death of neglet a few months later. You need to love blogging to create a blog people will read. If sharing lots of personal stuff isn’t your thing (it surely isn’t mine) find something else to blog about that will interest yourself and your readers. A strong blogging voice is also an advantage.

    Some sort of schedule is important, imho. I regularly cull my blogroll of blogs that haven’t updated for months without giving a reason (life can get in the way, but a post to announce a hiatus should be manageable even then) and these days I check new ones for posting frequency before I add them (8 posts a year isn’t enough to keep my interest in a blog). In those cases, a website may be a better way as online presence. If it has a nice, unobtrusive design and some background material about the books, and maybe a newsletter option, a website can still be a good marketing tool.

    Personally, I blog because I like; it’s something like a continuation of my travel diaries I kept as kid. Sharing photos and information is more fun. :) Of course, I also blog about my writing and while I’m looking for a new home for my website, I have two other blogs with snippets and some info about my Fantasy and Historical Fiction. I don’t know if I’ll keep them once I get the website running, but so far they seem to work well enough, esp. the snippets (which I shamelessly link to from my Lost Fort blog when a new one is up. πŸ˜€ ).

  • I forgot to mention another online marketing tool that is important for me as a reader who can’t browse German bookstores for English books but has to rely on Amazon. SNIPPETS (on the website, Amazon Inside, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, wherever). I need to know a writer’s voice before I invest in a book. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants them. :)

  • So, as a follow up question to this topic:

    When does a writer set up a web presence? I’m not published, but am working towards that goal. At the moment I have my LiveJournal page. However, when does one expand their presence to include something like an author website? Does an aspiring writer do this or is it more practical to wait until a written work has been accepted for publication?

  • Catie said, β€œAll you have to do is write a really good book.” β€œAll you have to do is provide something people want.” Great. No problem. We’ll get right on that, shall we?

    Last month when I was on the phone with my agent, she said something about NY wanting the next mega-bestseller, and said, “So you’re working on that, right?” Eep!

    Gabriele said, You need to love blogging to create a blog people will read.

    Absolutely. I just read a post from an LJ friend who has many published authors on her friends list, and she’s reached the point where she’s sick of seeing covers and contests all the time. For her, an author’s blog with a couple of lines of interesting content is way more attractive to read than weekly contests and reminders to buy, buy, buy.

    C E said, When does a writer set up a web presence?

    You don’t want to jump any guns, certainly, but if you think you’ll want your own name as the domain name, you might want to go ahead and purchase it before you actually sell a book. That way you know you have it.

  • CEdunkley >> I have heard Agents recommend setting up your own site after the book is written (so you haev content to post on the website) but before you landed an agent. This way you can include links to your website in your query process. Hopefully a great website will grab an agent’s/editor’s eye.

  • Actually, I came here because I googled ‘fantasy blogs.’ I blew the dust off of my fantasy a little while back, because I was nearly finished with the paranormal suspense I started it as a ‘little’ break from finishing the rough on the fantasy, and a brief two years later I’m working on editing it, and establishing some sort of website that will provide some details on both, and be interesting enough for people to keep coming back too. Speaking of which, if anyone wants to peek over there and give me some feedback on the pretty simple, straightforward site, t’would be much appreciated (www.jimnduncan.com). I also started up an LJ blog (named jimnduncan as well), which I put stuff on semi regularly, but alas I’ve made no contacts yet to actually have visitors.

    The hard thing I find about all of this, maintaining an interesting web presence and blog, is the time investment. A little more difficult being unpublished too. Still, you can easily blow two to three hours a day dealing with the blogosphere, and this isn’t even bringing myspace/facebook/twitter into the equation. Often, I’m lucky to have two to three hours to write, much less blog. It is however, necessary to some extent this day and age. People generally expect it. I enjoying messing around with my website and trying to make it into something more than the usual, but I want to write as well, so the site will be an ongoing work on progress, much like my story. I’m always impressed by the folks maintain an extensive online presence and still manage to get a decent amount of writing done.

  • I also came here searching for a good blog on fantasy writing. It seems I could find a million about romance, but my favourite genre was sorely underrepresented, especially from the writing side. I love the unique discussions that come up here, touching on everything from vast world-building to swear words. Genius. Those are the sort of things I can’t find anywhere else.

    I’ve set up my blog now, while the work is in progress, so that by the time I role around to publishing, it will hopefully become an established platform. As you say, aspiring author blogs are certainly no rare find, but it’s been a good place to start up dialogues relevant to my style of fantasy, and it also keeps family, friends, and others up to date on what’s happening :) The only other suggestions I’d add for people from my limited experience is to get links to your platform out to as many places as possible (I get at least a few hits from Twitter, deviantArt, and Facebook every time I link a blog) and get involved in relevant communities. DeviantArt is a pretty massive community, but if you’ve got a network or want to dive in, it’s a great place to get in touch with similar writers, get feedback on work, and potentially make some friends.

    As always, greatly enjoying the content here at Magical Words, and so glad I found you four. :)

  • I’m an unpublished writer (low fantasy/sword and sorcery) and already setting up a web-presence. I’m hoping that this will help me find both a publisher and an audience when I finally finish my manuscript(s) — right now I’m publishing smaller works and short stories, in open-domain, to try to get my name out there and build up some traffic based on those works. If people like my short stories, they’ll probably like my novels, and if they hear about me now (and tell their friends, who tell their friends, etc.), then maybe I can use web statistics to show potential publishers / etc. that indeed, I can write and people like what I write.

    Of course, this is all purely theoretical at the moment, as I’ve only had my webpage up for about a month or two, and I’m still in the progress of posting older work before moving on to newer stuff. Still, I agree — web presence is great for marketing and getting your name out there (or finding helpful websites like this one, which I found via Twitter).

  • The best way for writers to jump right in to social media right now is Twitter.com
    You should write a post on this or let me know and I will put one together for you.
    The blog, the social networking sites etc. can all come later.
    Writing is solitary and If you make it easy to get a web presence than writers will do Twitter and see in a few days how many new friends they have and they can use it whenever they want. I am also the founder of a twitter group The Calveni Group http://twitter.com/thecalvenigroup [# Bio A community of writers, publishers, social media, multimedia, readers & other voices. It’s about ideas, innovation and understanding and sharing.]
    kindest,
    Michael