Monday, July 26, 2010

Musings about Social Networking, Author Platform ... and When Do I Write?

I just came back from an inspiring SRW meeting on the weekend in which topics ranged from how we can support members who have reached an impasse in their writing life to an enthusiastic discussion about all the ways that published and unpublished writers can become known to the world by creating an online presence. Known as a "platform", this can include having a website and/or a blog, being on Facebook or My Space (which seems to be less used nowadays), and last but apparently not least, joining the world of Twitter.

I was away from the connectivity of the Internet for about a day and a half, and returned home to read the post by our guest blogger who talked on Saturday about the valuable contacts she has made at such gatherings as the RWA conferences. Mimi Barbour definitely made a case for the value of face-to-face encounters with other writers, imploring us, it seemed to me, not to ignore this type of networking, as we launch ourselves into the various resources available in the cyber world.

However, it was a lively session at our meeting as our members shared their experiences. Those of us who have not yet taken the leap asked many questions and learned a lot. It was strongly recommended by the members presenting the information on creating our Author Platform that we spend adequate planning time up front to get it right. This translated for me that I should consider very carefully how I want to present myself and my work to readers, other writers, and the world of editors, agents, and publishers. I need to decide whether I want a website, a blog of my own, a Facebook presence, and if I want to start tweeting. Choosing the right time to add these elements to my writing life will also take some thought. One of our members has decided to begin her own blog about the time that she begins to send out queries to agents. She feels this will help her to establish herself as a serious writer.

It has been not much more than twenty-four hours since we had that discussion and my mind is still a-buzz with all the possibilities. I am also feeling a bit overwhelmed as I consider this aspect of my writing life. It is not that long ago that I began to feel comfortable about calling myself a writer. As Mimi Barbour said, it's no longer a secret! But to have the audacity to promote myself on the web ... surely that's not me. Or is it? Apparently, in the current world of publishing, it is expected that writers will do all of this. Publishers no longer promote their authors in the way they used to, with extensive book tours and such.

What are the steps I need to take? My first step should be a checklist of things to do which I will try to sort into priorities. On the list will be such things as registering a domain which will reflect the name I choose as author of my work. Some writers write under different names for the various genres they write, yet they want to have links that will connect these. Choosing a host for a website should not be done without careful consideration of cost and quality of the product. There are many resources to help me do this. I just have to get busy and do some research, and also develop a clear idea of what image I want to project of myself and my work.

A huge concern for me is the amount of time it will take, not just to get set up, but also to maintain and stay current with whatever it is I choose to do. We were told it can become almost addictive, though tremendously rewarding, and even fun, to be in contact with so many people with similar interests (once the contacts have been established through Facebook and Twitter, for example, or the followers on a blog). That told me that there would have to be a checklist item for deciding how much time to allot to this particular aspect of my writing life.

I want to acknowledge that the following articles about writing were recommended by Hayley. I include them here because I feel it is especially important not to get caught up in the promotion activities to such an extent (or perhaps prematurely for those of us with little to promote yet) that we neglect to focus enough time, energy, and thought on the act of writing.

The first is Writing or Talking about Writing. I have to be careful that I don't get the feeling that I am doing a lot of writing simply because I talk about it a lot!

Next is an article that Janet also linked for readers of Janet's Journal last week. Well worth reading this one.

Final item on my checklist may well have to be: Find a way to balance all these elements of my writing life. And enjoy!

What have you chosen from the various options for establishing an online presence for yourself? And how do you make your platform work, considering that you must also produce that which you wish to promote? I would love to hear your perspective on this.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
Creating a social platform is something I have been thinking about, but not doing much about, for some time. I do have a website and I have a MySpace page (which I have woefully neglected for some time). The thought of setting up a Facebook page and Twitter account is daunting. And frankly, I don't know how to set them up, or what they should look like. What I really need is someone to take me by the hand and tell me what to do!


Janet said...

Sounds like the meeting was a good one, Helena - wish I could have been there.

As you know, I started my blog back in Oct/Nov. with the thought of creating/having a platform. I'm very happy with my blogging experience - but it is time consuming and challenging! I have a Facebook page, both personal and professional and I'm not sure if that's something that should be separated. No website, yet, but Blogger's "Pages" make my blog look and feel like a website. And I've just signed up to Twitter - but haven't done anything with it (ie: go looking for followees and followers) just because of time constraints. Networking takes a lot of time!

I think the biggest bonus to having my blog is that I'm coming into my own as a writer - voice, if it must be called something. And the online serielized story I'm working on forces me to write every week - whether I want to or not!

Of course, there's more to my 'plan' than just blogging and a serielized story. You said it perfectly in your title "When do I write?". I need more hours in the day!

Good luck with your check list and your decisions, Helena. Keep us posted :)

Liz Fichera said...

I think developing the online presence is important but I see each of the social networking tools accomplishing different things.

First, I think the web site should be used as a promotional tool about your book(s), a place where people can go and get the total snapshot of you. I like to use my blog to talk about a variety of things, including books, writing, hobbies, and personal stuff. Facebook (which can be linked to your Twitter and Blogs) is more of a forum for a variety of discussions, especially since the people you follow (and who follow you) are writers, friends, fans, neighbors, your hairdresser, many of whom you've never met in person. (I haven't warmed up to the whole Facebook Fan Page thing and doubt I will.) While my web site and blog focus mostly on writerly and bookish things, I like to use Twitter and Facebook as more of a social outlet too. I think when a writer is constantly promoting her books/work, it's a turn-off--at least it is for me.

Last, I try to do my social networking in the morning and set a time limit. Otherwise, you could be blogging, facebooking, tweeting, all day long!

I don't have a MySpace page and don't plan to.

Great post! This is a very timely topic. :-)

connie said...

WOW! What a blog Helena!

Hopefully, we will get to network about this more when we see each other next.

Your blog is a pattern for thinking through the creation of an author platform. Clip and save as.

I am in Jana's boat, admiring Janet's successes already and grateful for Liz Fichera's advice.

Step right up ladies and gentlemen. Step right up to the platform.

Helena said...

Wow, nobody was here a while ago. I blinked and now you have a good discussion going. Thanks to all for being here.

I can't begin to answer questions, since as you will have noticed, my mind is full of same. Thank you, Liz, for dropping in today with your excellent summary of purpose and function. I should make it clear that the members who do know about all these platform issues covered some of the points you mention. You have given us a coherent overview which is a nice counterpoint to my uncertainty.

And lucky SRW members -- our presenters are also willing to share more of the technical how-to aspects -- so Jana, you can look at the minutes and partake of the assistance that was so generously offered to members!

Helena said...

Janet, I still miss you at meetings!!

I am aware of the way you have used the new features of Blogger, and I'm thinking that might be a good way to go. Certainly, it seems logical to find everything in the same place or at least to have prominent links to every aspect of your "presence."

It was mentioned that it is perfectly possible to have a very private Facebook for personal contacts, and to have a public side for the professional contacts that you want to make.

As for Twitter, tho my post did not use specific names, I will mention here that I was impressed with the way Lesley Ann McLeod is using the feature. She tweets little tidbits of Regency research items. In lieu of the common practice of keeping followers up-to-date with what she herself is doing, she tells what certain well-known members of the period were doing on a given date. She has made contact with many Regency devotees this way, and loves doing it.

You really did conceive of a devious plan to make yourself write every week for Friday! You are also right about developing your voice. Blogging is an excellent way to do that. First, I must decide what I will blog about and how often.

Time to write is still the biggest bugbear with me, but we were issued a challenge on that score at the meeting, too. Coming up ... some goals for completion of manuscript by October in time for the pitch at Surrey.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

The most important thing is definitely ensuring a person doesn't lose time to write. You're right Helena, those two articles really do tie into all of this. There's something about blogging and chatting about writing, and reading other people's progress, that can be very energizing and satisfying...and then we just start to live off that instead of actually accomplishing what we claim to be.

That's why we stressed so much at the meeting doing things you enjoy and have a passion for. Keep it fun, something you'll enjoy doing in a bit of free time, and it won't take away from writing time. It just may mean more reason to disconnect when you sit down to write ;)

I think Liz's breakdown is very good. I use my website as a very career oriented platform, a place to serve as a hub for writing and publications. The blog sticks mostly to writing and related issues (I love talking folklore, and it ties so much into what I write). Twitter is a lot more social, about distributing interesting articles, sharing a bit of the day to day writing process, and a bit more of a personal side.

Twitter is actually the easiest to maintain, because once you get in the habit of tweeting, you can just post a comment every now and then, or pass along an article or a blog you're reading. Catching up on other people's messages only take a few minutes too, as opposed to reading multiple blogs and trying to write long, meaningful comments on them.

I think the biggest thing about developing a platform, though, is realizing that there is no One Right Way, and it's all about what's fun. Janet and I have taken very different approaches, but we're both enthusiastic about them, and they both work. It's all part of the unique way we choose to approach things :)

Helena said...

Connie, thank you for seeing the bare bones of my 'plan', and I do mean bare. There is so much to think about, but I do want to start the process. I'm sorry you were not at the meeting to hear the info firsthand, but there will be other opportunities. I have a feeeling that this will be an ongoing discussion.

Joanne Brothwell said...

I'm reading this post at a funny time, Helena. I've just returned from two weeks away from Internet, and I got so much work done it isn't even funny! Once back home, I immediately began to deal with email, blog, etc., taking up several hours. Would I have been writing during that time if I hadn't had access to the internet? Maybe.

I think I'm going to set firm limits with myself about blogging to prevent it from eclipsing writing time. That way I can maintain an author platform without taking away from the work that will make me an "author".

Karyn Good said...

What a wonderful recap of our meeting, Helena. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot! Enough that I'm going to try my hand at Twitter! Too fun.

I will be going live with my own blog on September 1. I spent a good six months thinking it over and deciding on how I could manage it and maintain it while keeping up with my current writing schedule. I have a plan, so we'll see if it works. More on that in the future!

I think you're on the right track by following the advice given at the meeting and carefully deciding what works for you.

Helena said...

Thanks for weighing in today, Hayley. I really hoped I wouldn't mess up the tremendous amount (and quality) of info from the meeting. As you can tell, it's sure got me thinking about the possibilities. And I think I have a much better sense of the reasons for doing it at all.

I have really taken the advice to know in advance what I think will be best for me, so no doubt I will be proceeding slowly. I'm grateful that there are such good examples in our membership!

Helena said...

You make good points, Joanne. It would be self-defeating to let the balance tip on the side of all the networking, and let the writing slip, wouldn't it?

Glad to hear you had a productive vacation break. Sounds similar to a retreat, except I'm finding that since St. Peter's has wireless in the rooms I really have to work to avoid my normal habits at my keyboard when I'm there!

Helena said...

I'm really looking forward to your very own blog, Karyn. You have obviously given it a lot of thought, so I hope it goes well.

I have a partially constructed blog sitting in a private world waiting for me to decide to launch, but now I want to consider the entire context before I move ahead on it. I want to be sure I can handle all the assignments I give myself before I get too ambitious!

Christina Katz said...

As the author of a book on platform development that offers solid advice, not hype, I think you are asking some smart, solid questions here. Best of luck on your platform-development journey! :)

Helena said...

Thank you for your comment, Christine.

I'm sure you know that there are many of us asking these questions, and I am pleased to know that you have written a book that will assist us in our search for the solution that will be best for each of us.