The Internet is a boon to your writing career, offering an infinite blank billboard upon which to shout your message from the metaphorical rooftops. But many writers balk at the prospect of developing an online presence. Some feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Internet vehicles like Web sites, blogs, forums, chat rooms, and electronic zines, just to mention a few. Others shy away from electronic innovations that pop up daily like YouTube, MySpace, podcasting, and goodness-knows-what’s-coming-next. How’s a busy writer to keep up?
Getting your name known online a little bit every day really adds up over the course of a year. You can get your name out there using both new and tried-and-true methods that anyone can master after only an hour or two of time invested. If you can dedicate fifteen minutes to a half hour a day to online platform development, you will be truly amazed at the trail of “online shingles” you’ll leave behind. Try a gradual approach and watch your influence and reputation ripple out across the ether over time.
And remember to have fun getting known, as we discussed last month. Internet vehicles are neutral. It’s the intention behind the expertise you offer—your sincerity, authenticity, and integrity that make the biggest impact. When you bring your unique personality, flair and mission to the virtual playing field, that’s what folks are going to remember.
When you begin with the easiest-to-build Internet vehicles and progress to more complex vehicles as you go, you will learn quickly and be able to apply what you learn from one experience to the next. Jump in and try these tools! I bet you’ll find yourself enjoying the process in no time.
Build a Squidoo Lens
Go to http://www.squidoo.com/member/registration and register to build a Squidoo “lens.” You can’t learn to swim without getting in the water and this is especially true for “Squids” (a name for Squidoo members). At Squidoo you can build what is called a “lens,” which is one page of information about the topic of your expertise. As you go along your merry lens-building way, you can add cool stuff like photos, text blocks, polls, Amazon recommendations, café press products, links, Google Maps, iTunes, and even eBay modules (that’s how you build a lens, with “modules”). Squidoo is not only free; your lens can actually make a little money for you and a good cause of your choice. Check out my Squidoo page as an example: http://www.squidoo.com/getnonfictionpublished and soon, you’ll be swimming with the Squids.
Claim Your Space
Go to http://signup.myspace.com. Don’t think of a laundry list of reasons why you don’t want to be on MySpace. It’s for everyone these days, not just teenagers. For example, visit my “Writer Mama” page at http://myspace.com/thewritermama. Also see my publisher’s page at www.myspace.com/wdbooks. See? Everyone else is doing it. Just be sure to put your professional face forward, otherwise you might be mistaken for someone who is there to hook up. Also MySpace may have some questionable copyright rules, so don’t put all of your best writing up there. It’s simply another billboard for the topic of your expertise and a great way to make lots of “friends” (you befriend them and they befriend you), whom you probably wouldn’t otherwise meet.
I recommend WordPress.com for new bloggers because it has nice templates, many of which are customizable, and––best of all––allow you to categorize (tag) your blogs easily as you post. Compared to other blogging platforms, this makes the tagging process a relative joy. When you utilize tags in your blog, search engines like Google can find you that much more easily, which means folks searching for your topic on the Web can find you within twenty-four hours. And with WordPress, you can start blogging and probably blog for quite a while free, since payments are based on how much memory your blog uses. Here’s my wordpress blog: http://thewritermama.wordpress.com/. Also check out the Writer’s Digest Editor’s blog, which is a good example of a blog that feels more like a Web site: http://www.wdeditors.com/wordpress/.
Attract an Audience Through an E-zine
There are many e-zine communities that invite you to join, create, and send your own customized zine in either text or html formats. Though some of the old text formats used to be fine, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that when you are ready to launch an e-zine on your topic, it’s worth going with html format, which includes images. For example, by using a blog and an e-zine together, you’d hardly have a reason to have a Web site at all. This is good news, because most nice-looking Web sites are either labor-intensive or expensive to hire out. When you are ready to splurge for an html format newsletter, check out Constant Contact (http://www.constantcontact.com). Their online control panels are easy to use and they offer a free sixty-day trial. Willamette Writers uses Constant Contact for their announcements and now I use them for both of my zines, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama.
Use e-mail signatures like mini-press releases
E-mail signatures are a few lines that appear at the end of e-mails you send out. You can usually set them under the “Preferences” panel of your mail software. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to update them frequently, say once a month, in order to keep them brief while highlighting the most newsworthy things you have going on at any time. For example, I usually mention my upcoming classes, appearances, and a testimonial or two about Writer Mama in mine. I also typically list the link to Writers on the Rise, my blog, and whichever of my sites I am promoting most.
Try not to get distracted by the latest technological advances. A good place to keep tabs on what’s new is Suzanne Falter Barnes’ blog, Painless Self-Promotion (http://selfhelpsalon.typepad.com/painless_self_promo/). But don’t feel like you have to jump right on the latest online tools bandwagon just because everyone else is doing it. Give Web innovations some time to get the bugs out—usually a month or two—before you try the latest-greatest online gadgets.
Off you go, now! Have fun playing online.
Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007). She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at http://www.thewritermama.wordpress.com/. For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at http://www.thewritermama.com/.