Monday, October 4, 2010

The Shrinking Violet Online Persona Workshop: Week One

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.


Anonymous said...

Okay, I'll play.
1. I'm a recent return to writing...used to write a bit probably 10 years ago--a couple stories published but mostly got to feeling like I was wasting time, so I quit for 10 years. In the past year I've gotten back into it and am enjoying myself--working to stay focused on the process (which I always loved) and not focus on the outcome. However,despite my best intentions, I did start occasionally looking at agent/editor type blogs and kept coming on this whole "platform" concept. As I read, i started having this sinking feeling--you know, like the one you have when you're shopping on October and you hear Christmas music playing? The "I'm already behind schedule!" feeling? So, I suppose that's the answer to the first question. Right now I don't want one, but I don't want to feel like I'm not doing something I ought to be doing...I mean how crappy would it be to get my book just beeeeutiful and have some agent or editor say, "well, it's great and if you only had a PLATFORM we would take it...." I realize that I'm being ridiculous, but I can't help it. I hate feeling behind the curve and out of it, so I worry.

2 and 3 I don't know how to answer those questions. I suppose IF I were a published author I would want folks to want to purchase books, but it would certainly also be very cool to have a relationship with folks who liked my work and who liked other stuff I liked. I'm currently a member of an on-line writing group and being with this group as we all work on our projects has been a huge part of why I'm having so much fun writing now.

4. Well this blog (which I just found recently while I was going through my spasm of hyperventilation regarding PLATFORMs. Another couple writer blogs and agent blog. And, okay I'll admit it a couple fashion blogs (embarrassing but true). I find that I tend to read blogs that have information or opinions that I'm interested in. In other words, blogs by people who know more about their subject than I do. I don't read any navel-gazing know the "I got up and brushed my teeth and had an existential crisis about whether life is worth living" type. Because of this, I can't imaging having a blog--I mean what on earth would I have to say? I'm not an expert on anything in particular, so if I were to have one I fear it would have to be an anecdotal typer of blog...and I work hard enough to come up with fresh, funny interesting material for the book I'm working on. The idea of having to do that for a blog as well is exhausting.

So there you have it? What advice would you have for someone like me? Is there a way to painlessly dip a toe into this whole on-line presence (well, I do have a facebook acct of course) enough that I am doing what a sensible hopeful should be doing, but without engaging in a humiliating and overly time-consuming level of self-promotion?

R.L. LaFevers said...

First of all, thanks Melissa for playing along!

Second of all, I wouldn't worry too much about platform. Nathan Bransford had a terrific post just a little while ago about how platform just meant how many eyeballs you would draw to your work. I thought that was a terrific description. He also pointed out it was more essential for non fiction.

As for what I would recommend for you, it's too early to say. This is the first of 8 or 10 planned 'lessons'. By the end of all of those, we should be able to have much more specific advice and recommendations for you!

Thanks again for going first!

Yat-Yee said...

Robin, thanks so much for taking the time to put all this down. It's clear that you have thought a lot of about the issue and I'm so grateful that you are sharing the fruits of your experience and experiments with us.

I will have to re read this a few times. Some of what you said resonates deeply, and others I have not really thought much about.

Thanks again.

KK Brees said...

Count me in! I'm not liking this publicity work all that much. My web guy's system crashed just as my book came out a couple of days ago, adding to the stress. I'm really going to enjoy your series.

Step one for me: I'm now following your blog. I'm not sure how to get folks to follow mine.

Sarah Stevenson said...

Wonderful post, as always--I'm really looking forward to future installments of the series! With my first book coming out in January, and me sort of dithering around the whole author website/Facebook page/"branding" realm, this is SO timely. I'll have to give those questions some thought.

I'm putting my author website together this month, actually, and I can't help feeling so self-absorbed as I do it, even as there's a part of me that's pleased to be creating a new online space for myself. So I appreciated the reminder that it's about the visibility quotient. Revising how I think about it is key--seeing it as an opportunity to put all my information in one place for people to easily find, rather than a self-promotional tool...

Thanks for this, Robin! :)

R.L. LaFevers said...

Yat Yee, I am not known for my brevity in blog posts.:-) And I'm so glad you think it will be helpful!

Oh, KK! What a nightmare, to have your website crash at such a critical time! And we will talk about how to get people to follow your blogs later in the workshop, once we've hammered out the focus of our blogs. In fact, later today I will put up a proposed schedule for the workshops so everyone can see the game plan.

Aquafortis, so glad the timing works out so well. I totally planned that, btw. :-) And thinking in terms of visibility quotient really helps me get past tripping over the idea of promotion.

Shevi Arnold said...

Thanks, Robin. This is very informative.

Anonymous said...

Great meeting you in the O.C.!

Anonymous said...

I put up a blog because I thought that I needed to. I keep posting for a few reasons:

1. It gives me a place to share some "behind the scenes" information for interested readers. I loved all the information in the extended versions of THE LORD OF THE RINGS and thought it might be fun to do.

2. It's turned into a bit of a project diary for myself. I've been recording some of my "Ah ha!" moments. I'm tracking the progress of my work in progress with a few observations about the challenges of writng novels.

3. And yes, I've done just a bit of "shilling" here and there, especially for my soccer novel. But I'm not necessarily trying to increase sales so much as number of readers. I'd be delighted for them to find it in a local library. There will be some young girls' soccer players out there who would really relate to the main character in DEFENDING IRENE. I couldn't sell Girl Scout cookies back in the day, so I really do qualify for Shrinking Violet status overall. I had to take a deep breath before hitting "Publish" on that post.

R.L. LaFevers said...

Glad you found it so, Shevi!

Heidi! It was fabulous getting to meet you! I sent you an email but got an autoreply that you're on a fishing vacation. Hope you catch lots!

Kristin, I do love finding behind the scenes information about books on author websites. I also really like your distinction between increasing sales and increasing readers. Very good point! And I wish I could tell you just how many times I've had Poster's Remorse and wished for an Unsend button!

Liz said...

Thank you for this thoughtful and thought-provoking post. Like several of the people who left comments, I'm at the beginning stage - starting a blog and setting up a website -- in anticipation of my book's release in Feb. Several of the blogs I follow aren't by folks in the writing field, but they capture moments of time beautifully, and I would like to be able to do that. I'd also like to connect with people who read/write the same types of books that I do. And I think having committed to writing a certain number of entries a week helps me hone my writing skills.

Anonymous said...

I was a little overwhelmed with the list of questions, Robin. You sure gave us lots to think about! Here’s my summary:

I’m usually online to research for projects, but I do enjoy keeping up with what’s going on in the publishing world. Favorite haunts are Publishers Weekly, Shrinking Violet Promotions, CYNSATIONS, Alice Pope’s SCBWI, Nathan Bransford, Verla Kay Message Board, Facebook, and just about every children’s book publisher in America. LOL!

I also follow favorite authors and illustrators because I’m always interested in seeing what they’re up to.

In a nutshell, I love writing and reading books first, and everything else will have to follow in moderation. I’ll never be the type of writer who feels she has to drum up a big hoopla to the masses. However, I don’t have a problem with those authors who do. In fact, I admire them for being able to handle such chaos in their lives. I couldn’t possibly find the mental and physical energy that it would require. I prefer to concentrate on small intimate circles of people with similar interests. Later when I’m hopefully published, the focus will reach out to parents and educational professionals. It’s a familiar stomping ground for me, and there are lots of opportunities to promote manuscripts I’m working on.

I'm looking forward to reading what others have to say on this subject. Speak up, people!!!

Thanks, Robin. You put some serious time into this post!

R.L. LaFevers said...

Liz, I love your goal of being able to capture moments of time on your blog, as other bloggers have done. That is a very real, specific goal that can be given your own personal stamp.

Hey Kimberly Lyn! Sorry I overwhelmed you. Next time I'll break this much information into two posts. :-)

It seems as if you have a really solid handle on what your priorities are and how you hope to maximize them. Excellent!

Alex Beecroft said...

Why do I want to be online?

1. (Non-authorly reason). I move around a lot, having to lose and make new friends all the time. Being online gives me friends who don't go away when I move house.

2. Networking with other writers and talking shop.

3. Talking about my books with people who are interested in them. (This one doesn't seem to happen, but perhaps I don't encourage it enough.)

Questions two and three: I hope people will be interested and inspired to go away and do their own stuff. I hope I'm inspired too and receive a certain amount of emotional support.

Favourite online haunts:, the Macaronis (historical fiction blog), Livejournal, YouTube (for tutorials and music vids). I wish I could spend less time on the internet, however, as it ends up depressing me.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

I started out on the internet with the intent to build a brand. I have a blog where I do indepth query and synopsis critiquing, with the occasional observational post about the publishing world and a bit on my farmlife. I'm attracting other writers, which is nice, but sometime early next year I'll need to start attracting readers outside the writers clique. I'd like to figure out how best to make that transition. Or will it mean a clean start? Have I written myself into a corner by concentrating on building an audience of writers, a trap many of my writer friends seem to have fallen into as well?

Interestingly, I did have an agent who I queried tell me my platform for FICTION wasn't big enough. They may say otherwise, but in this tight market, when agents and editors have so much cream to choose from, it appears many may be looking for writers who can hit the ground running the fastest.

jeannie mobley said...

Here's my responses to the questions:

Question 1(as they occurred to me, and then prioritized by number):

2. Start making people aware of me and my book before it comes out.

Be professional (in this day and age it seems unprofessional to not use these tools of business)

3. Give readers a glimpse at my process and what excites and interests me as I write/research for writing

Provide teachers with resources, as I think my book will have a strong appeal to the school market

1. A combination of the last two--I like the idea of having a place that teachers can send kids to discover a bit of the back-story of the novel and the details of history that I put into it. I want my novel to be entertaining, but also bring history alive for readers, and I want my online presence to be an extension of that.

Question 2:
I want visitors to my website/blog to feel warm, cozy, a little nostalgic. I want them to have a similar emotional response to the website as that which they get from my novels. I would also like to have kids who are daydreamy future writers to feel empowered or inspired to write.

Question 3:Sales, a connection with readers, camaraderie in the "back story"--I want readers to feel they have shared in my process and gotten as intrigued by the human stories in historical events as I am.

Question 4:I am active in a couple of list serves, and check Facebook about once a day. Beyond that, I don't spend that much time online. Mostly, I visit blogs or websites when people point out interesting articles via the list serves, or when they are run by people I know. I know there is tons of good and informative stuff out there, but I'd rather be writing.

R.L. LaFevers said...

Alex, that is interesting that being online depresses you. I was just talking with an author friend this weekend and we were discussing that very thing--how the deluge of writerly and publicaction information online can end up being so overwhelming as to be smothering. Of course, I don't know if that's why it depresses you, but it sure gets to us sometimes! And I love that your internet community is where your close friends are. I have made some of those same types of friendships online and they are SO important to me!

R.L. LaFevers said...

(I'm answering these one at a time because it is less overwhelming for me.)

Phoenix, the problem you're having--the need to switch focus from writing support to attracting readers is one so many of us run into! That's where having an online persona that encompasses both of those aspects of you can be helpful. But there are other ways, and we'll talk about those in a future lesson because I know you're not the only one with that issue.

Interesting that your agent told you your fiction platform wasn't big enough. Platform used to be much more of a non-fiction thing and has kind of leeched into fiction. The truth is though, that it is VERY hard to acquire a fiction platform until you have published fiction. There are a few who have done it, but it is rare and hard and I'm not convinced that the time spent cultivating that platform isn't better spent writing an amazing book. Especially with so many agents who say the writing is the first and foremost consideration.

There are no lack of opinions on this stuff, that's for certain. :-)

R.L. LaFevers said...

Jeannie, thanks so much for these great answers! I think you bring up a really excellent point, that is is simply unprofessional to NOT have these sorts of presences in this day and age.

I also like how so many of your answers revolve around creating a community and/or connection with your readers. I think that is such a strong, genuine place to come from.

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