Monday, November 22, 2010

Online Persona Workshop Week Eight: Finding Friends and Followers


 Because finding friends and followers is such a big part of the whole online presence thing, we'll be having a few posts on this topic. This week, we'll hear from Jennifer Hubbard, a long time Shrinking Violet, YA author, and successful user of social media.

 Introverts Finding Followers and Friends Online

I once read an interview with Brent Hartinger where he said (I’m paraphrasing here) that our public presence should be about the readers, not the writer; that the question should not be what do I want, but what do they need.

I think of the blog, or any online site, as a way to give. I talk about myself on my blog, but I try to talk about the things I’m going through that I think will resonate with others. “Here’s what I’m dealing with—how about you?” is the main message of my blog. I share tips, quotes that I find interesting, links to other posts that I admire. A couple of years ago, I started a “Library-Loving Blog Challenge” because I wanted to use my blog as a force for a greater good (in this case, raising money for libraries). In keeping with the above principle, I don’t require my blog readers to leave money; all they do is leave a comment, and I donate money. I invite other bloggers to do likewise, and I celebrate those that do. I did not start the blog challenge as a way to beef up my blog readership or promote my book; I did it because I wanted to help libraries. And it turns out to be incredibly fun!

I do talk about my book, but I try to keep it to the occasional mention of my biggest milestones. I don’t want my blog or Twitter stream to be an endless list of my awards, my appearances, my foreign-rights sales. In his essays, whenever Andrew Rooney talked about himself and the details of his daily life, he often said something along the lines of, “I’m writing about this not because you necessarily care about this little aspect of my life, but because I believe it will get you thinking about this aspect of your own.”

The trickiest thing for an introvert in carving out an online presence is balancing the privacy and solitude that introverts crave with the “social” aspect of social networking. But we manage to do this in our writing, too: we share deep and intimate parts of ourselves with total strangers. Yes, we have the filter of fiction or (in nonfiction) selectivity and a specific narrative voice. But what we’re doing in books is what we can do online, too: share the inner parts of ourselves that will resonate with others.

I had an interesting situation with my original agent, Nathan Bransford, because he had a very popular blog on which he showed my book cover, posted a couple of guest posts and contests related to me or my book, and often linked to my blog. Also, I often link to his blog, not just because he was my agent, but because his posts about writing and publishing are excellent.

Because we both have online presences, some people assumed that my agenting relationship itself was public. But in fact, it was a very boundaried relationship, and here are some of the boundaries we observed:

--The information we discussed online was already public. My book cover, my release date, my blog posts, his blog posts: all of that was public before we blogged about it or linked to it online.

--I was okay with being mentioned on his blog. I know that at any time, if I’d decided to be a hermit and ask him not to mention me there, he would have respected that wish utterly. Similarly, if he’d become a hermit and erased his online presence, I would have respected that. Not all of his clients had online presences to the extent that I did. But I was quite happy to be featured on his blog.

--We never blogged about details of my works in progress, when my manuscripts were being submitted, where they were being submitted, what my offers were, or any details of my contract negotiations. He did not disclose that information about any of his clients, ever.

--We respected each another’s confidentiality. If we knew behind-the-scenes details about each other’s personal or professional lives, we did not reveal them online.

And I think those are useful guidelines for any online relationship, especially if we have relationships that extend into the offline world. Early on, I set boundaries around what I would and would not talk about online. My relatives: almost entirely off limits, especially those who are minors. My cat: fair game (he doesn’t have the same privacy concerns that my relatives do!) My day job: Off limits (it’s irrelevant to my writing career, anyway). My writing toolbox: Fair game. My angst about writing: Fair game, unless it starts to sound whiny.

The thing for an introvert to remember is: you can choose what to say, when to say it, and to whom. The risk of revealing ourselves brings many rewards, but we can take those risks at our own pace.

======================================

Thanks so much, Jenn, for those terrific words of wisdom! And for this week's exercise, try and spend some time thinking about what you can give others through social media! All commentors will be entered in a drawing to win a copy of SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi, which was nominated for a National Book Award! And it's an awesome book!

And this week's winner is Laura Ruby*! Laura, you win a copy of Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.  Email me and I'll get that out to you!

*I numbered qualifying comments one through eight (not counting Kimberly Lyn's since she was just acknowledging her prize) then hit the ol' Random Number Generator.

28 comments:

Caroline said...

Thank you for posting- this blog is always a calming inspiration.

Sue Roebuck said...

This is exactly the kind of advice I need at the moment - being an introvert and hating the constant bragging I seem to have to go through. I'm a writer, not a marketer! Thank you, you've really given me food for thought here. What can I give to my blog followers that isn't about me? Excellent.

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Thank you, Jenn, for this wonderful post. Somehow, I missed the part about you donating to a library whenever someone comments on your blog - what a wonderful, generous thing that is! (And of course, Jennifer also knows how much I adored her book,The Secret Year. It's Brilliant.)

I'm going through a weird thing right now in that I've been following all these amazing Online Persona Workshop Posts by Robin the past several weeks and my blogging has practically come to a screeching halt. I blame it on launching my new book, writing the next book in 6 weeks (which has already been editorially revised and gone to copy edits no less!) DURING the craziness of launching and all the book/school events, as well as a new baby in the house and I'm just so darn tired! And every single day I feel SO guilty about neglecting my blog. I still post comments here and there, but I cannot keep up with it all. Even the good friends I've made here in the online writing community the last few years have been neglected. I can only skim posts and occasionally comment - while my own personal blog sits blank. And I keep thinking every single day "I've got to blog!" "My hits are way down, I'm going to be *forgotten*," "What am I going to write about?" "There's just so much that's happened lately, and I'm so behind where can I even begin!"

I'm frozen now.

I do an online monthly teacher/librarian newsletter called SPELLBINDERS and I'm one of the founders of the new MG blog, "From the Mixed-Up Files" and one of the three people who do a majority of the behind-the-scenes work on keeping it running so both of those are very time-consuming.

The other huge project the past few weeks is writing up 12 interviews and guest posts for my blog tour December 1-20.

Oh, and I did a 1,200 postcard targeted mailing to teachers and librarians for THE HEALING SPELL.

And did I mention I'm really tired??? LOL!

So what do we do when we're in a blogging and time-constraint funk?

I don't know whether to close down shop or start blogging again and pretend I've been here all along (I'm down to about two posts a month and one of those is the Spellbinders monthly issue.)

HELP! Advice GREATLY appreciated from anyone out there! xoxo, K.

writerjenn said...

Thanks, Sue & Caroline!

Kimberley:

First, thank you!

Second, most writers I know have to scale back on blogging when they're in the throes of the launch.

Third, about jumping back in, my 2 cents would be: just post something fun & interesting, something you're really motivated to post but that doesn't take a ton of research. Don't worry about explaining your absence--those who follow you through feed readers will see that you're back, and there's no need to go into the "sorry I've been so busy" routine. Everyone's busy and I think everyone understands.

Jenn Hubbard

aquafortis said...

I'm so behind on this series of Online Persona Workshop posts, but I couldn't resist reading this one out of order. Thanks, Jenn, for your insights on this...I feel like I'm frequently revisiting the idea of what I want my blog to "do," and I probably need to revisit it again now that my first book is going to come out. But I think about it similarly to the way you think about yours...I think. :) Sharing things that I hope people will be able to relate to in some way and help them get to know me a little better, too, without crossing boundaries that make me uncomfortable. It's a different aim than the one I started with (for my personal blog), which was to stay in touch with friends and let them know what I was up to.

Of course, sometimes I also just blather and post weird links, but I've started moving that stuff over to Twitter. :)

writerjenn said...

Aquafortis--I do think an online presence should be fun, too. If we're not having fun, how can we entertain others? I remember one of the earliest blog posts I did that got a lot (for me, at the time) of comments was something about political commercials in which I made a joke about turnips, and for some reason people really responded to the turnip comment!

I think of it as sharing freely within the boundaries we've set. Outlining the territory we're willing to explore, and then running barefoot through that territory. :-)

Jenn Hubbard

liz said...

Hi Jenn,

Thanks for a thoughtful look at creating an online presence. The idea of setting boundaries is a very helpful one, particularly for a newbie!

Liz
PS

I still refer back to the post you did on your blog about revision letters!

Lisa Schroeder said...

"...the question should not be what do I want, but what do they need."

Yes. The tricky thing, however, is that as an author gains more readers, the audience grows and changes. Where first the writer is talking to mostly writers, as time goes on, more teens/teachers/librarians stop by and read. They probably don't comment much, but they do read.

Recently, a teen asked me if there was any place she could look on-line that would help her with an author report she was doing on me. I pointed her to my livejournal blog and told her to click on the tag "Life." I said here she'd find me talking about TV shows I like, places I've been, things I like to do, etc. She e-mailed me back and thanked me because she found the information she needed.

Sarah Dessen's blog is not necessarily helpful or inspirational or any of those things that I often tell myself my blog should be. It's usually more a day in the life of... And people like that too.

David Guion said...

Week 8? I obviously have to do some exploring on this blog. I'm not much about book promotion (although my history of the trombone came out last summer after about 15 years of research and writing). But I have articles all over the Internet to promote. I'm constantly wondering what to put on Face Book or Twitter besides links to my latest article or blog post that will possibly be of interest. This series ought to help me answer that.

writerjenn said...

Thank you, Liz!

Lisa, you're right that we have many potential audiences. I think some of the workshops Robin put up in recent weeks can help people identify which audience they connect with and which topics will be most fruitful to cover online. There isn't just one way to blog or tweet.

Welcome to the SVP neighborhood, David!

Jenn Hubbard

R.L. LaFevers said...

First of all I want to thank Jenn for holding down the fort in the comment section for me! I was in LA all day yesterday, then had a INO (Introverts Night Out) with the Violetus Emeritus, Ms. Mary Hershey herself. (And what do introverts do when they get together? Why, go see movies about medieval nuns and mystics who've taken a vow of silence, of course! (VISION, about Hildegard von Bingen, in case anyone is interested.) And then I spent all of today alternating between catching up and recuperating.

Caroline, I am beyond thrilled to hear that SVP is a calming inspiration to you! Exactly our goal!

Sue, Jenn's post resonated with me, too. I'm going to spend a lot of time thinking about this over the next few weeks.

Kimberly, I started to answer comments over here earlier, then read yours and had to go lie down. Jeebus, woman! I think you need to cut yourself some SERIOUS slack here. You are doing a ton, even if it's not blogging. And I think you're running into a phenomena we're all going to hit: time is finite, the internet is not. We've got to do it in ways that work for us.

For now though, I'd quit worrying about your personal blog hits until you can figure out how it fits better into your life. Or just keep people up to date on what you're doing elsewhere. Tell them you're spending a lot of time getting MIXED UP FILES up and running, or setting up a fun blog tour. They'll understand, especially if you clue them in to what's happening.

R.L. LaFevers said...

Oops. Now I see that Jenn and I sort of contradicted each other on our advice to Kimberly. Now she has options to choose from. :-) Whatever feels right, is what I'd suggest.

Aquafortis, the workshop isn't going anywhere! It'll be here whenever you're ready to work on it, and it's probably better you do so when you have some time to spend on it.

Liz, I am so glad Jenn talked about boundaries, because you're right, they are SO important for us introverts.

Lisa, you bring up a great point about different sorts of blogs working for different sorts of people/writers.

And welcome, Dave! All the workshops are on their own Workshop page to make them easy to find/follow.

Chris Eboch said...

For my blog, I decided that what I have to offer is lessons on the craft of writing. I've written dozens of articles on writing technique, and taught a variety of workshops -- which also means I can draw upon those for my blog posts, which saves me time. I don't talk about personal stuff at all, except as it relates to the craft of writing (overcoming writer's block, revising a chapter ending into a cliffhanger). I don't have a large following yet, but it is growing. I may not be directly promoting my books, but hopefully I am promoting myself as an "expert" teacher and critiquer.

Chris Eboch
http://chriseboch.blogspot.com/

writerjenn said...

Sounds good, Chris--giving what comes naturally!

Jenn Hubbard

Anonymous said...

I'm not a control freak about most things, but the internet can be a scary place. I try never to reveal more than I would tell a stranger sitting next to me on an airplane.

I like the rules about what to say about others as well. A person close to me often feels free to say anything about anyone. Not good!

writerjenn said...

Anon--Yes, I usually wait until friends have posted their own news online before I blog about it. And I try to be mindful of the privacy of people who aren't online themselves (of which there still are a few!) :-)

Jenn H.

Pat Miller said...

Blogging and other online ways to reveal one's self feels similar in some ways to the new airport scanning machines. The big difference is that we have a choice what to reveal online. This article has given me impetus to work on my blog / newsletter because as a way to give back and connect to readers. Both of these are things I enjoy doing in real life, though the online acquaintance involves relinquishing the choice of who meets me. Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Do something every day that scares you." Social media qualifies for me!

vivian said...

Great words of advice, Jenn! Thanks so much. You're so right about setting boundaries and keeping privacy.

writerjenn said...

Pat and Vivian--Any kind of communication involves that balancing act, doesn't it? The desire to connect vs. the desire to protect ourselves. The desire to share vs. the desire to enjoy solitude. I think we can only find that balance for ourselves, to draw our own lines, which may or may not be where anyone else draws them. Good luck to you both in finding your balance!

Jenn Hubbard

Laura Maylene said...

That was just a lovely post. Thanks so much.

I just started my blog a few months ago and have been navigating some of these same issues. Sometimes I feel exhausted, that it's all so narcissistic and "me me me," but like you, I try to post about my experiences in a way that could hopefully offer some insight (or, at least, entertainment) for other writers.

And yeah. Cats are totally fair game.

SWK said...

Wonderful post. Early on, I struggled with boundaries for my blogs (both personal and just the basic risk of boring readers!). Now that I've made some clear decisions about what I want to and will post, blogging feels much freer and more enjoyable.

J. T. Shea said...

I can imagine many things, but Nathan Bransford becoming a hermit isn't one of them!

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Laura and SWK: Thanks! I hope you're finding your balance, feeling comfortable & having fun with your online networks.

JT: Hard to imagine! and not at all what I expect to happen, but we always need to allow our friends & colleagues space to change and grow.

siobhan82 said...

Excellent post. I saw the link from Nathan's blog to yours and glad I did. I'm an introvert and at first, I had trouble dealing with my life "online" but like you, I've decided to no longer discuss certain things, such as the day job and family. I think once you set boundaries, it helps you relax somewhat.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Siobhan: Just as there's more than one way to write, there's more than one way to be online. I think we can always find a way that's fun and comfortable, too--and when we're comfortable with ourselves, others are comfortable with us.

Laura Ruby said...

Hey! I won! I never win anything!

This was a great post, Jenn, in particular the bit about making your blog/communications about what readers want.

As for finding a way to be online that's fun and comfortable, well, hmmm. I sometimes have fun but I'm rarely comfortable. Perhaps more therapy? Right.

-- Laura

Rusty Webb said...

I too just followed the link over from Nathan's blog and appreciate your insight. I always felt like an online introvert and have forced myself to start blogging but have never really figured out what to say. So I ramble - a real stream of consciousness sort of thing - it never works as well as I'd like.

Great advice. Thanks

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Congrats, Laura (and btw, I loved GOOD GIRLS).

Rusty: If stream of consciousness is your style, go with it. But don't feel forced to put out an online presence that you're not really into. There are so many options, and one will be right for you.