Friday, September 17, 2010
On Being a Writer in the Age of the Internet
Long gone are the days when writers scribbled away on clackety typewriters in self-imposed solitude. To be a writer today, you have to wear many hats. And to be a successful writer, it helps if you're not an anti-social, reclusive technophobe.
Earlier this week I discovered that my web host, in its zeal to 'update' everything, has somehow misdirected both the domain names I own: the one for my author site and the one for my Australian Shepherd kennel. One day, everything was there exactly as I had painstakingly designed it and the next . . . well, things are . . . missing. Attempts to communicate with tech support have resulted in them spewing back technical gibberish which may as well have been Swahili. And this during the week that I'm releasing the paperback edition of Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer, and when a front page article about me and my books appeared in the local community paper.
Can you say 'bad timing'?
Thank goodness there are still other ways to stay in touch with and provide information for readers, like YouTube, Goodreads, Twitter, an Amazon author page and e-mail (please excuse the shameless links I've slipped in there while my web is on vacation). But this (hopefully) temporary crisis made me realize how reliant authors are on the internet these days. I, for one, did not realize when I first sat down to write stories over a decade ago that I would need to became a semi-expert in the arts of social media and web site building. While I love picking out artsy fonts and getting my page colors to be all matchy-matchy, if you start talking about things like 'file transfer protocol' you may notice me sticking my fingers in my ears and going 'la-la-la-la-la-la'.
The truth is: I learn enough to get by. Sometimes I need help. Bless husbands whose best friends are computer engineers. And writing buddies who mentor me in the etiquette and rituals of Tweeting and Blogging.
The internet provides numerous ways to reach potential readers and . . . the internet also takes time away from writing. Thus the dilemma. So hone your writing first; then find ways to get your name out there. You can't write or edit if you're tweeting all day long; but no one will know you exist if you don't have some kind of internet presence. Is it possible to sell lots of books while remaining incognito? Hmm, possibly, if you have a major publisher pumping $$$ into publicity or Oprah selects your book for her book club. Good luck with that.
One of my favorite blogger-writers (who I incidentally discovered on Twitter) is author Jody Hedlund. Her first book, The Preacher's Bride, is due out in October from Bethany House Publishers. Jody has created a substantial following through her informative posts. She talks candidly about everything from platform building to time management for writers. By serving as a filter for helpful information, Jody has succeeded in building a name for herself and consequently an audience that will be eagerly awaiting her book's release.
Still, blogging, tweeting or a slick web site are not the only ways to connect to potential readers. Many other writers simply interact with readers and other writers on a personal level on various forums, like Kindleboards, which is a closely moderated site that does not allow for obnoxious plugging that might alienate readers who are there purely to discuss books or their newest Kindle acquisition. At some point, a reader or book blogger tries their book, likes it and enthusiastically endorses it. Then, the proverbial snowball of success starts rolling as the book rises up through the ranks by word of mouth to compete with traditionally published bestselling authors. Some recent examples are Amanda Hocking, Karen McQuestion, David Dalglish and David McAfee, just to name a few. This isn't going to happen if the book doesn't strike a cord with certain readers. In other words, being social in itself doesn't lead to success, but paired with a well-written book, the potential is there for that to happen.
It has been said many times that "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity". Writers today can't neglect their writing (preparation), nor can they ignore the great equalizer of opportunity that the internet provides.