Online is a big word. But what does it mean for a writer? It means ‘online presence.’ What is your online presence? Have you ever tried searching on your name? Hit Google and type it in. You might be surprised. If you have an uncommon name, you might get some interesting results.
More to the point, how can you build, maintain and grow an online presence? What can you do to ensure that this appears the way you want it to? That is a trickier question. We’ll start with the basics.
If you are not on a social media platform, then by all means, pick one. Just start somewhere. Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter. I have only met one author in all my years in publishing who really didn’t need to be on social media. She was 80 years old and had published a book of her mother’s letters. It was more than a personal family project, but not her own work. She needed something online, so she created a website, and was good with email, so that was all I could ask of her. I cannot imagine her zipping along on Facebook. It just wasn’t going to happen.
You’ve already seen my Early Early Early mantra. If you are knee-deep into your book already, it’s not too late. But start as soon as you can. It may take years for you to truly get where you want to be with your online presence. It can be done quicker, though, if you focus and work on it.
The first thing you should do is to synchronize your presence. Make sure that you are appearing as you want to appear wherever you are mentioned. Be mindful about your brand. This may involve some thought, it may involve a designer creating a logo, it may involve a discussion with someone who can help you focus your goals.
Once you get a concrete idea of who you are and what you are trying to do online, you need to cultivate that presence. Be aware of how others perceive you. It takes some work, but then so do most things worth doing. When you speak to someone online, remember that you are speaking to them as that online presence. If this is simply your personal self, so be it. But if you are trying to cultivate an image of being upbeat, offering helpful advice, and coaching people, then it wouldn’t do, for instance, to complain about your neighbor, office mate or traffic all the time. Find somewhere else for that outlet.
This is not to say you should be phony. I know, it’s complicated. Your online presence should not be artifice. But it should be on purpose. I know one author who does an excellent job of engaging with her fans, but she doesn’t mention the names of her family members. And when her father died a couple of years ago, she simply stated that and said she was taking some time off social media (this was all happening on her Author page). This allowed her fans to express their condolences, but not to be enmeshed in her personal grief. This is one of the biggest arguments in favor of having an Author page on Facebook. So that you can keep the personal personal.
I do know some people who simply mix it all together. They would have to be gregarious, extroverted people in order to do this, and that does not describe most authors I know. If those who are naturally private do not separate their personas, it only causes them to be wary of social media and stilts their engagement. An online presence that cultivates the professional aspect of what they are doing will serve to allow engagement on that level, which is better than none at all.
You can engage on social media without giving away all your secrets. You just have to do it on purpose. Draw up some rules, if that will help. What will you not mention? What areas are off limits? Kids’ names? Names of their schools? The name of the town where you live?
On the other hand, if you want to just go all out and be yourself on social media, you can do that too. It’s all about your comfort level and what you are trying to do accomplish. The bottom line is, the more you engage, generally the more your online presence will grow.
Your online presence is about more than social media, though. It includes your website, your blog, and any profiles you may have on any other websites. It includes posts that you leave on other people’s blogs, it includes guest blogs, and it includes information about you on the websites of any organizations you may be involved in. I am a member of several organizations that include member information on their websites, including the Minnesota Book Publishers Roundtable and the National Book Critics Circle. I also have bios on websites for which I’ve done a guest blog, where I’ve taught a class, or where I’ve participated in a reading.
All of this makes up your online presence. If you want to ramp this up, the first thing to do is to sit down and think about what you are trying to do overall. If you can pinpoint that, you will be on your way to a cohesive, professional image that will project your mission to the world.
One last thing: Know that being active online may lead to some conversations you may not want to have. You may find that not everyone online is a nice person. Someone who continually makes nasty comments or who tries to pick fights is called a troll. Be aware of the trolls. Above all, don’t engage them. Just ignore them. They are the schoolyard bullies of the internet.