An avid reader, Anna has been writing fiction far longer than anybody’s been paying attention. As an editor for both Web Fiction Guide and for Ergofiction magazine, Anna is a staunch supporter of the online fiction community. She writes two online serials from her home in London, a city not half as foggy as some seem to think.
“What’s the point of using social media?” the archaic author asks. “Why should I waste my time promoting my work online when I have writing to do?”
Despite the digital revolution and the new technologies that keep us hyperconnected to each other, the myth of the solitary author persists. All that is needed, people think, is a pen and a notebook and a quiet retreat where one can scribble in peace.
Now, while actually writing is the cornerstone of being a writer, there are a number of other activities in which an author is expected to participate, the key amongst those being marketing. This has always been the case, even before the internet, but of course the internet just makes it more apparent whether you’re doing your job properly.
It’s simple: if you can’t be found online, you don’t exist.
That may sound like the opening to a dramatic cyberpunk thriller, but it’s true. Readers, literary agents, editors, and just about anyone will Google your name, and if they don’t find anything, you’ve lost the chance to connect with them. Without an online presence, your networking circle becomes severely limited. You have no brand awareness — and remember, in fiction writing, the author is the brand. (Stephen King, anyone?)
Open a new tab, Google your name, and see what comes up. Yes, right now. Go do it.
For me, the first three results are my websites, and the next four are websites I participate it. Perfect! Why? Because what you want to aim for is findability — you want to dominate that first page of results on Google.
WHERE TO BEGIN?
Ah, the double-edged sword of quality versus quantity. Of course, the more places you appear online, the better your Google results. However, as Eli points out, the shotgun approach is rarely successful:
“Because here is one truth: what platforms you advertise on will determine the kind of audiences you reach out to, and here’s another one: your time is limited.” –Eli, Novelr.com.
Online platforms are not created equal. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and what you need to figure out is what you’re willing to do, what you’re aiming for, and how much time you have to do it.
The starting point — perhaps the absolute essential — is to have a blog.
(Note: I will focus on blogs for this post, but I do highly recommend twitter as well, and for some tips and tricks on how to make the most of twitter, refer to Debbie Ohi’s Writer’s Guide to Twitter.)
You need to have a blog to make full use of other social networks. Think of it as your headquarters, with all your other online activities building roads towards it. But nobody likes driving down a one-way road. You can’t blog solely about your own stuff, trying to sell your own book — this gets you labelled as a troll.
The key is engagement, i.e. associating your brand (you!) to the ideas it represents, and establishing yourself as an expert in your domain. More specifically, linking to other horror websites, writing about horror events and competitions, getting guest contributors, etc. Posting content from a variety of sources helps establish your credibility. Posting only about yourself gets you marked as a spammer.
Engaging with your audience ensures brand awareness (as mentioned), a credible online reputation, and personalization — people like feeling that they’re connected with another person. The more your blog invites discussion and participation, the more people will return to your blog, and the stronger your reputation and brand.
This is very much a grassroots marketing style.
Of course, the problem most people have is in figuring out what to post. A mix of the following tends to work best:
- Personal news: what have you been writing? Do you have any upcoming interviews or releases?
- Relevant links and articles: what outside sources have you found useful? What other horror books and writers are you enjoying?
- Guest content: invite others to post on your blog.
- Free samples of your writing.
Some authors never want to give any of their writing away for free on their websites.
And, yes: by posting a story online, some markets will be closed to you as the publishers will consider the story “previously published”. You may lose a sale.
But I believe online samples of your writing — whether microfiction, short stories, or full-length novels — can only help you as an author. First of all, writing fiction regularly on your blog will give you experience, which improves your writing skills and your confidence.
Secondly, by providing free samples you have the chance to build an audience. People who have read and enjoyed the writing on your blog are much more likely to go and buy your book when it’s published, and are much more likely to promote you to their friends and family.
In addition, there are a lot of websites aimed at promoting freely available online fiction (or webfiction), and by getting your site listed on these directories, you’ll improve your Google results and your overall brand awareness.
Besides, there are a number of paying markets that accept previously published work, as a quick search on the very useful Duotrope’s Digest will show.
This may all sound like a lot of work. And it is, but being an author is hard work. You need to do more than just write — you need to sell yourself and make sure people want to buy what you write. Having an online presence is one of the best ways to ensure this because it helps your readers connect with you as an individual.
The hyperconnectedness of the internet means that readers want more than just your writing; they want you. Get yourself online, engage with others, and most importantly have fun while you do it. Soon you’ll find it’s not half as painful as it sounds.
Just beware: it’s very, very easy to become addicted, and while being an author involves more than just writing, you need to get the writing part done, too! Speaking of which…