Sunday, August 3, 2014

Writer's Platform Part III: Web Presence

The past few weeks I've been blogging about writer's platform: how we writers can stand out in the midst the crowd so people know our name, know our "brand" (genre/quirks/unique qualities), and know that we have a product worth buying, i.e. our books, stories, presentations, etc. I've also been listing resources you can consult for more information.

This week's resource is Christina Katz's Get Known Before the Book Deal. In plain, easy to understand steps she explains what platform is, how to build one, and gives lots of great advice. She's also written a number of other helpful books and offers writing services from her website. I met her at a conference and she's another very personable, helpful writer that knows her business! One of her big topics is a web presence.

A web presence is usually what people think of when the term "writer's platform" is mentioned. That's only one piece of the puzzle. You also benefit from having a public presence and a publishing presence which I've discussed in previous blog posts (links above).

In this post, I'm going to briefly tackle that huge monstrosity we call a web presence, then run away and hide. Why? Because building and maintaining a web presence is not only overwhelming, it's time consuming and a little dangerous. (cue flashback music)

Three years ago I was teaching Internet safety to children. (I still am, but that's off topic.) One of the things I stressed to them was the importance of keeping their identities and pictures OFF off the Internet. Everything is traceable. Everything is permanent. Every clue you leave is one more piece of the puzzle that Internet predators can use to track you down, find you, kidnap you, and hurt you. Do not start a Facebook page. Do not share your email address with strangers. Do not chat with people you don't know. Never, under ANY circumstances, agree to meet Internet friends in public. And on and on....

And the good teacher I was, I modeled my lesson. You could search for HOURS on the Internet and not find my phone number, my address, my name, my email address.... I had purposefully kept everything off of the public record and intended to keep it that way.

Until...

Lo and behold I went to a writer's conference and I found out that if I wanted to be successful, I had to (cue scary music) THROW myself onto the spit of Internet and roast my screaming carcass as often and as fast as possible over the fires of social media if I were to be taken seriously as an author. There was this thing called "platform" I was supposed to be building and so far, I had next to nothing.

Terrified yet determined, I started with mincing baby steps onto hot coals, then jumping over pits of flame, juggling fiery batons, and even tried breathing fire. I have asthma. That didn't end well. But over three years the process continued until I gradually felt more comfortable in the heat of the spotlight and knew what and how much information to put out there so I could both remain safe yet findable. It's a delicate balance.

So what was I doing? First I started a Facebook account and learned how to use that as a marketing tool rather than a time waster. Then I tried Twitter and found I'm not a Twit. (It works for some people but not for me.) Initially I failed to attract attention with my blog, but eventually I learned how to do it RIGHT and now I've learned how to double and sometimes triple my hits by picking the right topics and the right audiences. I started a web page. I surf and use Google+ communities (LOVE Google+!) Recently I've been dabbling with LinkedIn. And that's just the tip of the iceberg of what's available for authors to use to build platforms. Other possibilities include:

  • Instagram
  • Pintrest
  • Flickr
  • Tumblr
  • Vlogs/YouTube
  • Book review sites
  • Genre specific chat/web sites
  • ...and others too numerous to list

Now the question is, after having NO web presence three years ago, what have I accomplished?

When I go to Google.com and type in "Janet L. Cannon writer", the first five websites feature something I wrote: articles for the independent press I work for (Walrus Publishing), a guest blog I wrote for a cool website that supports writers (WOW! Women on Writing), my personal website, and an Amazon.com review I wrote that got a lot of "this was helpful" clicks. There's also a sixth entry later on of a post from a chat website about science fiction and fantasy.

If you click on images, the first two are my picture and on the first page are SIX other images from my blog and my website, some picked up from re-postings of my blog from my Google+ followers.

You get different results if you type in different variations of my name, but I still get at least two or three top entries in both web and images in all cases.

Wow.

Does it take three years to build a platform so that you're the top five listings in Google? No. Absolutely not. I made a bunch of mistakes including the fact I wasn't consistent with my name. I didn't put as much time into it as I could have, and I had no idea what SEO (Search Engine Optimization) was until recently. However, this is still not an overnight affair. You're building personal relationships. You're learning new programs and new protocols. (I got a post deleted last week due to the fact I didn't read the fine print. Ouch! It happens!) Learning takes time. You're looking at six months to a year depending on what you already have in place.

Don't let that depress you. Let it spur you to work hard to prove me wrong. ;-) Google yourself right now. Write down or print the results so you know where you stand. Then start by looking at what media you're using now to figure out how to optimize your results:
  • Do you have a Facebook account? Start using it as a marketing tool instead of a time waster. How? #1: QUIT PLAYING GAMES. Sorry, but seriously, I know from experience how much time I've wasted playing stupid games on my tablet that I could have been using productively. If you need brain breaks, find something short and sweet and TIME yourself so you can get back to work ASAP. #2. Write short paragraphs, post motivational posters or pictures that fit with how you want others to see you i.e. your "brand" so that people start to view you as a unique individual, not just another person on Facebook. I like motivational posters about running because I'm a runner, but they also apply to writers and life events, too, so I pick posters that apply to a number of people. I also post silly things about myself so people can laugh and pictures of me so people can identify with me as a person.
  • Do you have an e-mail account? RIGHT NOW you need to go to Settings and add a Signature with your author name, contact information (preferred e-mail address, web address if you have it, Facebook account if you have it, links to any books you've published, organizations you belong to, etc.) This is one of the BEST ways to advertise yourself.
  • Do you have a web page? If not, make it your goal to set one up in the next six months. You can pay to have someone do it for you, but with free services like Wix and Weebly, for most folks, you don't need all the bells and whistles.
  • Do you have a blog? If not, start one. This article from PC Magazine might help get you started choosing a service. Most of them are free. (Don't pay for a blog!) Make a commitment to post on a regular schedule and STICK TO IT. You may only be able to post once a month, but post once a month. What should your topic/niche be? THAT'S in next week's blog. ;-)
What about other options? Here's my advice for whatever it's worth. About 80% of your time, spend it on maximizing your results with what you're already using. About 15% of the time, try something a little out of the box but not so much so that you feel stressed about it. Then every few months (5% of the time) try something crazy just for kicks and see what kind of results you get. It might work, it might not. However, that 5% will help you expand your comfort zone so you can get better results in your other categories.

And guess what? It's okay to fail. I tried Twitter and totally bombed. I hated it. I didn't understand it. The interface bothered me. The feed of information was too fast. Overall it didn't fit with how my brain works. So I quit. And I STILL succeeded in building a great platform. So don't feel bad if you try something, hate it, and try something else. That's okay and natural and the only way you're going to learn what works for YOU and what doesn't.

One more thing: don't trust offers to sell you "likes" or "viewers." Yes, they will most likely produce people to click the button and inflate the numbers on your pages, but will those people come back again to view your content or are they only going to click the button once and collect their money?

In conclusion: a web presence for your writer's platform doesn't happen overnight but some of you have more of a foundation to build on than others. Optimize what you already have then step out of your comfort zone to make it bigger and taller. A tall platform is one of the best ways to get noticed by readers AND by agents and publishers!

Revision. It's not just for writing.

(Oh, and BTW, do you like my new background? I'm learning how to use PhotoShop. I call this piece "Underwater Susans." PhotoShop is the ultimate in Revision, don't you think?)


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Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
Writer's Platform Part IV: Blog Niche Blues

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s