Surfing the Network – Part Two
If you missed Part One of this article you can read it here.
So I’m sitting on a ledge, a little way up Mount Publication, eating some lunch. I’m checking out the view across the vast plain laid out before me, noticing how everything already looks so different from up here, even though I’m only at the start of the climb.
Before I began I could only see my friends and family back home. Once in a while I might stand in awe of someone else, someone that had ‘done stuff’. Like a roving minstrel they’d been places I’d only dreamt of, met people I could only marvel at, heck, they’d been given all the opportunities I hadn’t after all, hadn’t they?
One fine sunny day I packed my own bags and stepped outside the village. Let’s call it Comfort Zone. Blinking in the sunlight I took the first steps Out There into the big wide world. Away in the distance stood a mountain range, between me and that was the Bog of Apathy, the River of Opportunity, the Chasm of Give It A Try…all I had to do was walk.
And so I did. That walk brought me to this little ledge and I can now reflect on how I got here. Far in the distance I can see roughly where Comfort Zone still is. One day I might be the one that visits with tales of my journey, but I don’t even know if I’m half way or still at the very beginning. Ahead lies a lot more effort, with lots of steep climbs and the odd slip or two, hopefully with ropes to catch me.
From here I can see that the route I took wasn’t the only way; many roads lead to each town. I could have zig-zagged from one to another for years and still had a million adventures. Therein lies the Key. The Holy Grail of networking: Connections.
But the Key only works when it links in to who you really are. It knows when you are pretending to be something you aren’t, so here are a few tips based on what worked for me. Like the roads on the plains there are a million ways to do this, all equally successful so the first tip is the overriding one.
Give It A Go
So many writers have said they don’t know where to start; it’s all a bit daunting. They want to do it when they have time to do it ‘properly’. Well, I say, how will you ever learn to network if you don’t just try. Dabble in other people’s websites, get a feel for how they do it, take inspiration.
Oh, and remember, trust me, this bit is REALLY important, you’re a WRITER! So write! That is what you want people to be engaged by in a novel, so practice by writing everywhere. Even a simple blog post is writing and if it’s engaging enough you’ll get a response. What you won’t be able to predict is which things will really pull in the crowds.
Decide what non-writing things in life you are most passionate about. Now write about them. For me there are two big things that I care most about, the environment and music. Both are things I know a bit about but still have lots to learn too. I started looking around on the internet for sites that might be interesting. By this point my novel was taking shape and I knew that my love for Rock and Gothic music (yeah, I’m an aging rocker who moonlighted as a Goth when I felt like it!), was a major factor in the world that was developing.
A friend told me of a site called Musicbrick on which you could write about songs that mean something to you. I grabbed that opportunity with both hands and wrote a string of ‘bricks’, some of which have now had hundreds of views. Those views alone are nothing to an aspiring writer without connections, so you have to remember the Key.
Put some detail in your profile. Check the rules of the site, and then put in as much as you can about you and your writing life as well as the subject of the site. Most important, keep track of where you have set up profiles so you can update them all if anything changes.
Making use of sites like Musicbrick mean that you are leaving permanent markers around the web, right where anyone might stumble upon them and you could earn yourself a new follower. You may also make connections you couldn’t predict.
Craig Lockley picked up one of my bricks and saw that I am a fantasy writer. Craig organises book reviews for the British Fantasy Society so he messaged me. We became friends on Facebook, later on Twitter and, around two years later we finally met. Craig’s brother, Steve is in publishing and has a blog. I have just been invited to guest blog. All this from one Musicbrick.
Start a Site
Once you’ve dipped your toe into a few forums and sites start thinking about putting down roots of your own, if you haven’t already. There are lots of ways to do this too. If you want to keep it simple, you could just set up a blog. There are lots available, mostly free, you might consider WordPress, Blogger, Google, LiveJournal…check them out, ask around, look at others.
Alternatively you might want a full website, this is a bit more fiddly to update so you may decide to have both. There are options for free websites but it may be worth investing in something more substantial if you want more flexibility. I use my website for long term or even permanent material and my blog for a more fluid site that is simple to update whenever I wish. The choice is yours and depends on what you intend to do with it.
Set Aside Some Time
It is worth spending a while figuring out your public face, for that is what a web presence is. You will meet people online that have nothing else to judge you on and, like it or not, we all judge. Plan it out, sketches, menus, mindmaps are all useful ways to do this, shuffle your ideas around for a while before getting started.
Choose the look you want. Depending which site you’ve used you might have hundreds of options. Consider whether you want the site to reflect you, your current WIP, your genre, the possibilities are only limited by the templates, unless you start learning how to design one yourself, but maybe start small. Remember most people will hit the home page first, so carefully consider what it says about you and your work. Fill in the pages you want with at least one or two interesting things, they can grow as you do.
Now, remember, you are a writer. There is no excuse for poor spelling on a webpage. Even a blog can be reviewed and edited so even if you post a rant, go back when you’re calm and check it. In conversation with an agent at a conference a few weeks ago I was told that this does make a difference. Your website may be the first exposure an agent or editor has to your writing so make it count! Of course there’s no guarantee an agent will visit your site but if they do you don’t want it to be memorable for the wrong reasons.
Well, now you have setup home on the internet, here comes the fun part. Traffic to your website doesn’t just happen. You need to give people a reason to pop in. Visit other sites, leave comments, join forums and chat, join Facebook and Twitter if you haven’t already. Sounds simple enough right?
Now comes the Key: Whatever you do, wherever you go, make sure you quote your web address. Make sure it’s in your profile information and if you need to check a box to make it visible, then check it. If the forum is happy for you to do so, add it to your signature. Whenever you email someone new, add it to your signature there too. Finally, if you’re on Facebook sign up to Networked Blogs so any blog will be shared with all your followers.
Okay, now you have a permanent system working for you every time you post something somewhere. It doesn’t end there though. Found something you really just have to share? Great! Now you have a choice. You can retweet it on Twitter, which means you get mentioned and so does the person that you heard it from. You can share it on Facebook, which means it’s on your wall and so linked to your profile. You can also just ‘like’ it on Facebook which just gets your name a mention (or page if you’ve set one up). Always tag or mention your sources, they will appreciate and most likely return the favour.
The other alternative is to write about it. A blog about something shows that it really means something to you and gives you an opportunity to link lots of things together. You might refer to other friends, link to articles, link to your own work, add photos using sites like Flickr or Yfrog, music using Spotify or films with YouTube. Just get creative, you’ll enjoy it and you will draw attention to your site as well.
Before you know it you have a well evolved web presence. You will then be able to develop your writing CV and the more you are out there, the more you will be asked to do. Let’s face it, while I’m sitting here on my ledge, packing away and preparing to continue the climb, someone down on the plains might spot me and wonder how to get here. If you happen to bump into them tell them that if I can do it, so can they. Then friend them on Facebook!
Next month in Surfing the Network – Part Three we’ll take a look at real world networking. For many it’s the most daunting thing in the world but really, it doesn’t have to be.