Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Blogs, and Websites, and Social Networks, oh, my!




I’ve been active in various writing groups and communities for a long time. Over the years, I’ve noticed that a lot of new writers have a lot of the same questions… How do I find readers? How do I connect with other writers? Is Facebook helpful?... The list goes on.

I’m, by no means, an expert, but I can tell you from personal experience that there are a few things that really can make your life easier. Writing, for many, is a solitary endeavor a majority of the time, but having a support system can be incredibly beneficial, whether you’re just starting out or have been writing for years.

So…how do you go about building that support system?

A writing related blog is always a really good place to start, and I can already hear the groans over that, but it's truly not as terrifying as it sounds. Places like Wordpress and Blogger make it relatively easy to create a basic blog. The more comfortable you become with the entire concept, the easier you'll find it to expand your blog and personalize it.

So, why a blog?

First, it allows you to network with other writers and authors, many of whom have had the same experiences as you’re beginning to face and can walk you through the process or simply offer a little support or insight.

Second, it allows you to connect with your readers. I don’t know about any of you, but I hate finding a book I love, finishing it…and not being able to find any information at all about the author or future releases. I like to know things, and a blog is one of the best ways an author can keep readers like me in the loop.

Third, a blog allows you to create your own little niche. Are you an expert on Napoleon? Have you acquired a pile of resources that were helpful to you on a particular subject? Did you have an amazing experience at a bookstore during a signing? Do you wish you’d known ten chapters ago that the publisher you’re aiming for is no longer accepting manuscripts such as yours?

In the course of writing, you’ve probably amassed an impressive amount of helpful knowledge, hints and tips that can make life easier for others. Sharing that information not only gets your name out there, but it can help you organize it for your future use as well. Not to mention, if you suck at backing things up like I do, you have a little safety net in the form of your blog if you post research related things.

What you blog about is pretty much up to you. I've seen authors blog about everything from what they're currently reading to what they're currently writing, to obscure details and facts that they've uncovered and have incorporated into their writing. I've seen authors include interviews with their favorite authors as well as up-and-coming authors, favorite recipes, the importance of the perfect playlist, rules of grammar that they find particularly difficult or irritating, what they did over the holidays, and so on and so forth. What you write about will depend on what you’re working on and what’s going on in your life. A good rule of thumb, however, is to write about what interests you. Chances are, if you're bored to tears writing a post, your readers will be bored to tears reading it.

You don't have to follow any particular format. You can be funny or sarcastic. You can be serious or lighthearted. Be yourself and let your personality and style shine and you'll do fine. Just don't try to force yourself into a mold that just isn't you. People will notice and it will do you more harm than good in the long run.

(As an aside...it's important to differentiate between fact, assumption, and opinion. And I say this for several reasons. First, I'm a grad student and college tutor and it's been ingrained in me for the last six years to cite sources and verify facts. Plagiarism is a bad, bad thing, and, as a writer, you don't want someone accusing you of plagiarizing when a simple source notation could have prevented it. Second, it's helpful for others who stumble across your posts in the course of research to know where you're getting your information from. Third, you really don't want a reader (or fellow writer or journalist) to take offense because they've misinterpreted what you've posted and tell all and sundry that you're an uneducated fool who's told your readers that NASA found sharks on Kepler-22b. It's the internet, and it happens.)

Something else to consider is creating your own website. I can't count the number of discussions between writers and even readers about the entire website idea, and, generally, everyone tends to agree that even if you don't want to publish or have no plans to publish for years to come, having a website will allow you to display those works you are willing to share as well as provide more information on yourself to potential readers and fellow writers.

Readers like to be able to keep up to date with what's going on in your world and a website helps them accomplish that. In that same vein, it also makes it easier for an author, even the unpublished writer, to be kept in mind. It's also a great tool for networking with fellow writers and providing resources that you've come across and found particularly helpful.

Most of us aren’t tech geniuses, and a website can be a lot of work. As with a blog, however, it can be a harmless process. My website is done completely through Blogger. All I had to do was register the domain and set up administrator accounts (which Google and The Husbanator walked me through or I’d have been clueless). When I want to post something, I just log in to my Blogger account and do it from there. It’s simple, straight forward, and doesn’t require me to learn an entirely new skill-set. When you’re a grad student and work two part-time jobs…the less you have to do with a website, the better!

Next up is social networking. Regardless of what you may have heard about Facebook, Twitter and the like, it's not just for kids or for wasting time. It can be a powerful tool. It's a great way to hook up with fellow authors. It's also a rather easy way to keep in touch with your readers. You might not always have time to write out a long email, but it takes all of two minutes to write a note on a reader’s wall or mention them on Twitter to say that you got the email and appreciate their support, etc. It's also a great way to keep up to date on what is occurring in the lives of your readers and fellow authors, and to offer your support or encouragement.

Social networking, of course, shouldn't be used in place of all other forms of contact. If the only way your readers ever get a response from you is when they catch you on Facebook, Twitter, or a similar social network, chances are it's going to irritate at least some of them. But when used wisely, it can add a personal touch that might otherwise be lacking.

Did a reader just post that she's having a child or that she's turning thirty? Great! Send a little note along saying congratulations or wishing her a happy birthday. At the least, she'll appreciate that you took the time to respond to her and may make a point of grabbing your book when it hits shelves to say thanks. Don't expect that she will or that she has to simply because you responded to her; simply recognize the potential and make an effort for the sake of making the effort.

Another aspect of social networking that I want to touch on briefly is writing related social networking sites. There are an entire host of those, and they can be helpful in networking with fellow writers as well as in locating resources and information that can be equally as helpful. One of which is online writing groups.

Yahoo, MSN, Writing.com, and many others, allow individuals to get together with others of similar interests in “groups”. For places such as Yahoo, posts can be delivered straight to your email and you can respond the same way, making it a whole lot less time consuming a process. They also have tools in the group itself that can be helpful in keeping up with one another, sharing resources with one another, etc. These groups can be particularly helpful if you're looking to connect with fellow writers or even with readers. There are more than a few writing circles that run almost solely through these groups as well as groups that help you connect with beta readers, with critique partners, writing buddies and the like.

Because not all groups are a perfect fit and because not all groups are honest, my suggestion if you plan to utilize the group tool would be to talk to others first and find out what groups they've found particularly helpful or unhelpful. That way, you don't find yourself stuck in a group where all anyone does is argue or where you have to worry that someone else might be stealing your writing.

At the end of the day, you want to make your life easier, not more difficult. There are plenty of other techy tools out there that can help you do that. Fellow authors, your readers, and your friends and family are great sources of information on what is available, what works, and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to ask for their advice or input, and don’t feel like you have to join every group or social network that comes along either. No one can realistically keep up with all of it, and, for most, having one or two options for networking with readers and writers works far better than trying to maintain those relationships on fifteen different sites or groups.

As they say, everything but chocolate in moderation, right?

Cheers,
A.K.M.

*partially adapted from a previous article I posted elsewhere.

No comments:

Post a Comment