Nowadays authors aren’t only creating the tome you purchase in a bookstore, online, or via your e-reader. Writers are also publicists, web content editors, marketers, and geniuses of social media. Authors have full websites, many have blogs consistently updating them with new content. Some writers are also illustrators or composers or music aficionados who post music lists they write to, tweet regularly with fans, and host giveaways. Emerging writers have it even harder these days as it seems we have to build a base before the work itself is complete. A former co-worker and fellow writer has a blog, a big Twitter presence, an agent, and a few books under her belt to revise before being sent out to publishers. She writes during her commute to/from work, during her lunch hour, and when she goes home as well as on weekends. She eats, sleeps, and drinks writing, yet also attends networking events, SCBWI conferences, and reads voraciously in her genre. When I asked her about her online presence, as I saw her follower count on Twitter steadily rise past the 1,000 mark, she admitted to me that she enjoys being on Twitter to an extent but she hated writing her blog. She felt she had to write the blog because having an online presence is important, especially for those in the young adult (YA) genre. Word of mouth has helped many books climb the bestseller lists and it is seen as necessary, as she was told, that she garner many followers and gain a web presence to add to the overall luster of her work when submitting to publishing houses.
Another writer friend has spent over 10 years working on her novel and has started to send it out to agents and enter it in contests. She created a website for herself because she felt she had to. There’s no blog connected just basic information about her and her work that she felt was necessary to advertise herself and have a place where one could go and get to know her creative activity. Another fellow writer from grad school, non-fiction, has redeveloped his website to have a cleaner look and updates it with short articles, celebrity obituaries, and such so that his name is constantly out there in terms of content and the freelance work he does on the arts.
When I started my blog five years ago there was no focus. It was a year or two ago that I realized I needed to change that. To have a blog is to have a brand. As artists in the 21st century we need to expose ourselves to be accessible and recognizable. So, I decided to focus on my two loves: baking and writing. From there I hired a designer & coder and voila, the new site you see before you has branded me. :-)
The same founder of a writing group I was in encouraged members to consider creating a character blog to attract interest in our books. Yet another project of developing more content. I initiated this for my short story collection, making the character blog a new goal. I established the URL, sketched out a design, outlined characters to be featured, and even looked into having the designer of my site do icons for each character. But, in time this fell by the wayside as more ideas filled my head and required scribing, residency & conference application due dates creeped up, personal things impeded upon development. Every moment I spend blogging, though it is writing, I am not writing towards my collection or my flash fiction or my YA novel(s). And so the laundry list grows: I have to write short fiction and refine it in hopes of publications to add to my resume. I have to focus on my current website and place that everywhere for people to be able to identify me. I have to increase my proficiency in Photoshop so I can modify photos on my website and add a watermark so as not to worry about copyright infringement. I have to learn HTML5! I have to network at Book Expo. I have to attend a reading in Brooklyn to meet an author I admire. I have to read work from my writing group and critique partners and submit something for them to review. Mind you, this is only the creative items, not the full-time job or the freelance work or the housework and cooking and having been the sole financial earner for a couple as one-half dealt with being unemployed, and other personal issues that may arise.
I’m not saying I don’t enjoy interacting with writers, foodies, friends, commiserates, book bloggers and so forth via the interwebs or maintaining my site. I love it! It’s a great break from the rigmarole, especially when you’re just not feeling it creatively or when you need some sort of cheering on when it comes to the process. But it must be said that now that we rely heavily on the internet to provide our entertainment and information--and some validation in the case of the artist--that it becomes daunting to know that the work itself may not be enough. With publishers having smaller staffs working longer hours, I can attest to this personally, and companies publishing thousands of books a year they may not have time to focus on your book to give it the marketing/publicity campaign and TLC you feel your work deserves. This is where you The Writer come in because no one will be as big an advocate for your work (well, perhaps your mom and dad) as you.
Yet, there are always exceptions. There are many artists, popular and critically acclaimed, who do not have a strong online presence but perhaps more of one when it comes to live events (readings, conferences, courses). Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz has a website but he does not blog. He’s someone you can find via quotes online and at VONA Voices or other writer events in NYC and around the country. Jennifer Egan, another Pulitzer Prize winner, also has a website and a Twitter account but she does not log on to both regularly. She’s on Facebook but even then she keeps her time limited. She’s a mom and a wife and a writer and a reader and so many other things. But she’s maintained her own popularity via her work and her cool, humble, and kind demeanor. These are artists who when they meet you are very supportive and encouraging of your process. It’s in that way that they can serve as a reminder that the work will speak for itself and readers will find it whether or not you tweet about what you’re having for dinner or whether today is a good or bad writing day.
Conversely, YA writers like Maggie Stiefvater and Laini Taylor are regularly in contact with their fans via Facebook and Twitter as well as in live appearances. They blog regularly, host giveaways, and offer chances for other writers to learn their process and realize it’s not exactly easy when you’re published either. Established writers like Colson Whitehead, Tayari Jones, and Margaret Atwood are often visible on Twitter noting appearances, quips, and other information they find interesting as well as asking for advice from followers (Colson had inquired if anyone knew of any good driving schools in NYC).
So much of our correspondence is done online that the inability to see people is often accepted as natural. So when it comes to this additional work of getting to know people (your potential audience) virtually, to know what and who you need to contact to get the word out the artist’s job is so much more than creative, it’s social as well.