The demand on authors to get out there and create a name for themselves is huge. Publishers, editors, agents, and marketing professionals all exhort authors to market themselves using social media. But clearly there are wildly different sets of expectations as to what being online means.
And that’s the goal of this workshop; helping you create an internet presence that you are comfortable with, that makes you accessible, and doesn’t feel like shilling. The workshop isn’t only about creating a new presence, but can also be used to refine, tweak, or revamp an existing one.
The truth is, the pressure to market ourselves online starts before we are even published! The problem is, there are already something like 14 billion blogs in existence, billions of Facebook users, and billions of Tweeters. How in the name of publishing, is an introvert supposed to get noticed through all that noise?
The answer is slowly, building one targeted connection at a time.
[Please note: This is an approach designed for introverts. If you are a extroverted online entrepreneur, this will most likely NOT be an approach that works for you, or even appeals to you, and that's okay. Since our mission statement is about introverts, that's what we're focusing on.]
Discovering one’s online persona is very much like discovering one’s writing voice; a fascinating and enriching journey inward. It’s more a matter of uncovering and re-connecting with what already exists in the first place. To really be effective at this, you need to wipe away market considerations and popularity considerations and go authentic. Just like the strongest writing voice, the strongest online persona will come from that truly authentic place.
What we will be doing for the next few weeks is going through a bunch of steps and exercises that will explore all the different areas that connect to our writing selves. Then we will sift through those and try to find the one that makes the most sense for you to work from as you develop an online presence.
This is not about creating a mask to hide behind or developing a fake persona, but rather discovering then developing an existing part of you.
That also means you have to be willing to go where the journey leads.
It may be that your most authentic online persona has only a loose tie in to your books. When Mary and I first conceived of Shrinking Violets, it had very little to do with marketing our own books. In fact, I’m pretty sure the number of books we’ve ‘sold’ through our presence here is minimal but that’s okay because an online presence doesn't have to be about selling.
A good persona can be about educating or informing or entertaining or supporting. It’s about providing something that resonates with people so they want to come back again and again and spend time with you. It can be about offering a service, but it can also be about building a community or a moment of respite from the frenetic pace of life. Be willing to be open to where this leads. Do not dismiss a particular angle because you cannot see how it will sell your books.
One of the first things you need to do is ask yourself: Why do you want to be online? What is the reason you are creating an online persona? This will vary greatly depending on where you are on your path to publication. Is it to create fans? Or connect with existing readers? To be a part of the writing community? To share your journey to publication with others?
These are hugely different goals and require different focuses and strategies.
To make it all even more confusing, our reasons for being online will often shift over the course of our career. A new writer starting out might want to connect with others for support and camaraderie, then once she sells a book, her presence might need to shift to focusing on the readers who seek her out online.
Clearly, as per last week's conversation, it is worth reiterating that an internet presence does not automatically translate into promoting yourself. Very few people (and even fewer introverts) are comfortable with that. So maybe instead of thinking of this persona/presence you’ll be creating as a sales, marketing, or publicity tool, think of it as simply raising your Visibility Quotient. It is a way to make connections with people so that they know you (and your work) even exist. It’s putting yourself in the path of the gods so that happy accidents can occur.
So. Why do YOU want to be online?
- Do you want to learn about writing?
- About publishing and the business end of things?
- Do you want to create an online community?
- Find an emotional support group as you go through your writing journey?
- A network of peers or fellow professionals?
- Talk shop with other writers?
- Advocate for a cause that you’re involved in?
- Fill a niche that you see going unfulfilled?
- Do you want to be an internet entrepreneur?
- Do you just want to sell books?
- Connect with existing fans?
- Create new fans?
Do you view your online hangouts as the office water cooler?
Or the bar everyone stops by on the way home from work?
Or perhaps an intimate group of a few like minded individuals you’re having coffee with at your kitchen table?
Okay, I can already see a lot of you thinking, All of the above, but at this stage in the process, you should probably try to prioritize what you want.
When deciding what you want to gain from being online, I think it’s crucial to understand what your publishing/writing goals are. (Since this blog is directed at readers, I’m going to assume writing, but feel free to substitute art, drawing, painting, book reviewing, whatever.)
If you haven't done this already, you might want to explore what role you’d like writing and publishing to have in your life. You can do that here. The answers to those questions are a huge factor in understanding why you want to be online.
Now you’re ready for this week's exercises:
1. Make a list of all the reasons you want to create an online presence. We talked about some of the reasons above, but there are dozens of different reasons. List as many reasons as apply to you. When you are done, mark the top three reasons with the numbers 1-3.
2. What emotion you want your online relationships to get out of their interactions with you? What do you expect them to take away from the experience?
3. What are you hoping to get out of these online relationships? (Be honest! If it truly is only a means of getting sales, you have to be willing to admit that to yourself.)
4. Make a list of your top ten online haunts. Study that list. What is it about each of those places that draws you or feeds you? What benefit do you get from those places?
Since these four exercises aren’t terribly personal, it would be great if some of you listed your answers in the comment section. (Anonymously, if you prefer!) That way we can clearly see any consensus or pattern in terms of why people want to be online, which will help with future workshops, and also WHO people are drawn to as blog readers, which will also be hugely helpful as we move forward and begin to analyze successful presences. You can absolutely leave the comment anonymously. Also, even if a ton of people have already listed the same reasons/blogs as you, go ahead and list them anyway—the reinforcement that comes from seeing how many people are drawn to a given thing/reason will also be helpful.
This is the first in a series of workshops on this subject, so check back next week when we begin to examine the many different facets of YOU and how those might connect to your online persona.