Sunday, August 25, 2013

Do You Need a Website?

As a newbie writer, I resisted the pull of social media for as long as I possibly could. I avoided Facebook, had no clue what Twitter was used for, and shunned the internet altogether. For me, the internet was a necessary evil, a large-scale phone book I referred to when I needed to look up directions or a phone number. I was utterly un-Google-able. You couldn’t find me anywhere in cyberspace.

Eventually, I branched out, signing up for different online writers’ groups. At the urging of one of my local writers’ groups, I even set up a blog. Facebook and Twitter came later–much later. Maybe too late.

When I began querying my first novel, I had no author platform, no beta readers, and no clue what I was supposed to be doing. I’ve since discovered an author platform is essential. Some experts advise new writers to set up their blog, Facebook author page, and Twitter account BEFORE they finish their first book. By the time you’re ready to query, your author platform should already be in place. Agents will Google you. They will check out your author platform. What will agents find when they search for you?

If you don’t have an author platform, it isn’t too late. But, where do you start? How much is too much? What does a new author really need? I think most social media gurus would agree a Facebook presence and Twitter account are musts. Do you have to set up an Author Page on Facebook right away? No. But, it’s something to consider. Here’s something else to consider–if you’re going to set up a social media platform, commit to it.

Don’t start an Author Page and then abandon it after one post and ten likes. Your Twitter account will look a bit silly if you only have seventeen followers and your only Tweet says, “I don’t know how to work this Twitter thing.” Yeah, some of you might be laughing, but that’s what my Twitter account looked like for six months. It takes a while to expand your audience on Facebook or to attract lots of Twitter followers, but keep at it.

What about a website or a blog?

A blog is a stream of separate posts. It’s articles, random thoughts, poetry, short stories… whatever you want. A website is for static content. For some authors, a blog is part of their website. They have pages with static content and one blog page where they post updates and articles. Many authors use a simple WordPress or Blogger blog in place of a website. Other authors don’t blog at all. They set up a website and only update information when necessary.

Personally, I think a website or blog is important. Is it necessary for you to spend hundreds of dollars to set up a fancy website with all the bells and whistles? Absolutely not. WordPress, Weebly, and Wix have free templates you can use to set up your own website or blog. For a fee, you can register your own domain name (example: http://www.awesomeauthor.com).  Or, you can stick with a free set-up (example: awesomeauthor.wordpress.com) Either way, I think you need a place readers (or agents) can go to find out about you and your amazing talent.

Wondering what you should put on your website or blog?

You’ll need an “About the Author” page where you’ll list your bio. For the published author, you’ll want a page (or pages) to display your book (or books). Published and unpublished authors can list works-in-progress. You can also add pages for short stories, poetry, helpful links, or anything else that adds to your image as a professional, serious writer. Of course, you’ll also want to prominently display your social media links–Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, etc.

What about your blog?

If you choose to blog, you can link this to your website. Or, you can set up a separate blog. I have a website and a blog. My static content lives on Weebly. My blog is here on WordPress. Why? Because Weebly has lots of pretty templates I can use to best display my static content. But, it’s much easier to foster a sense of community on WordPress. Other bloggers can find you on WordPress. On Weebly, it’s much less likely readers will accidentally stumble across your content. I’ve made friends on WordPress I never would have met if it wasn’t for our blogs.

Still not sure if you need a blog or website? Or both?

It all comes down to personal preference. If you’re just starting out as a writer, a simple blog with a couple of pages is probably enough. You can always set up a website later. Once you’ve published a book or two, it’s nice to have a website to organize your content and showcase your accomplishments. A website can be simple or dynamic. That’s entirely up to you.

You don’t have to have a blog. Or a website. Or anything at all. But, if an agent wants to research you, what do you want them to find? Setting up a website or blog allows you to control some of the content available on the internet. And, it tells agents, publishers, and readers that you are a serious, professional writer.

If you need help, let me know. I’m slightly obsessed with websites and blogs. (Okay, more than slightly obsessed.) As a writer, what have you done to establish an author platform?

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