Online presence – is it necessary?

The question comes up periodically as to whether it’s absolutely necessary to have an online presence, so I thought I’d break this question down into bite-sized pieces  because, let’s face it, “online” is an oversized beast. You have the usual suspects; Twitter, Facebook, a blog, a website, LinkedIn…and it all begins to overwhelm, right?

So what’s necessary? Or mandatory?

For starters, nothing is mandatory, and no one is putting a stapler to your head and forcing you to make merry with the Internet. However, the question becomes academic when editors are looking at a book contract. The first thing the sales guys ask for is the promo plan. If I come out and say that the writer lives under a rock and barely has running water, they will laugh me out of the zip code.

No Islanders, Please

Not everyone is in touch with their inner hambone, so what do you do if you’re just plain shy? Well, it makes things a lot more challenging for your editor. Gone are the days where one can pull a Hemingway by writing from exotic locales while drinking with the natives, and sell bajillions of books. It’s all about promotion and publicity – and sitting on an island (no matter how intoxicating) won’t let readers know that you and your book exist.

Of course, your editor and promo teams do their bit by blasting your book out to the national accounts, local bookstores, libraries, media, and reviewers. But be aware that no matter how far and wide your publisher blasts your book, sales depend on one thing; the reader who will buy the book, love it, and talk about it. And this is where social media can be a big help because they reach millions of potential readers with a single keystroke.

Connecting with a large audience vs. Hit ‘n Run

It’s not enough to simply start a blog or sign up for a Twitter or Facebook account, blab about your book, and boOm, instant sales. Those of us who have been involved with social media will attest to rolling our eyes at the “Hit ‘n Run” author. These guys do nothing but talk about themselves and their wonderful book, and always include a link to Amazon. They don’t cultivate online relationships and treat those friends like, well, friends. Instead, they barge into TwitterLand or comment on blog posts with the link to their book and a thinly-disguised suggestion to rush to Amazon and buy their book.

They only take; they never give. This isn’t effective social media. Just because people aren’t sitting across the table from you doesn’t mean a departure from social niceties. If you want people to engage with you, you have to give them something to engage with. The more you give of yourself (and I’m not talking about handing out your locker combination), the more people will be attracted to you. Give and Take is much better for your literary career than Hit ‘n Run.

Natural Curiosity

Having an online presence is two-fold; not only are you meeting new people who have the same interests as you, but it’s the main chance for your readers to learn more about you. Now, that may squick you out because you’re a private person, but many readers who love a book have a natural curiosity about the author. A blog, FB, or Twitter account satisfies a reader’s author fix.

You don’t have to reveal your shoe size or true color of your hair (personally, I have no clue about mine, other than I’m sure it involves lots of gray). I know a few very private, shy people who have a lovely online presence because they deflect away from their personal lives. They’re great about interacting with others by asking how they’re doing, did they finally get over the flu, or how’s that broken toe.

It Takes Time

One thing that bothers me when looking at submissions is when the author says they “plan” on getting involved with social media. For starters, this shows me they are true neophytes. You don’t sign up with FB, Twitter, or start a blog and expect instant attention. It takes time…LOTS of time to gain a readership. If you aren’t established now, then the social media promotion doesn’t flip up my Vickie Secrets.

Who Is Reading Me?

Your potential readers, for one. It’s just like what Ma Bell used to sing on their commercials; “Reach out and touch someone.” Only you’re reaching out and touching lotsa peeps. And you never know who may stumble across your blog or Twitter feed. I’ve received many emails from reviewers or journalists who read a blog post or saw my Tweet about a particular book of ours and wanted a review copy.

While at the ALA last Sunday, a librarian told me that she read my tweet about Ann Meyers Drysdale signing copies of her book, YOU LET SOME GIRL BEAT YOU? at the Consortium booth, and wanted to be sure she got her copy because they were planning on ordering for their library. We’ve also received interview requests because of a tweet Annie did. Huzzah to social media.

People of like minds will follow your blog, Twitter feed, or FB page, so it’s important to pander to that crowd. If you wrote a book about inverted belly buttons, then it’s a good idea to focus to the inverted belly button crowd with tweets or blog posts.

Networking is the most valuable friend in the publishing business (well, any business, for that matter), and social media allows you to network on a much larger scale – provided you’re doing it right.

What do I write about?

This is a big ticket item that plagues lots of blogs. The author has no real idea what to write about, so there’s no cohesion…which means, no steady readers. Too many fall into the trap of writing about being writers, which won’t necessarily appeal to those who will buy your book. I’ve noticed many popular author blogs focus on appealing to their readers by writing about their genre and how it mixes with their lives.

Tawna Fensky’s blog is a prime example of this. She’s extremely clever and always manages to incorporate the romance genre and how she views the world through that prism. The result is hysterical because she taps into the most common denominators that many can relate to. I don’t even read romance, but I did buy her book. Multiply that times a whole lotta other people, and you have an author who is going to sell a lotta books…and I can attest to that because I’ve seen her sales on Bookscan.

But Tawna began her blog two years before her book came out. That’s what I mean by planning ahead, knowing what to write about, understanding that lots of influential people could stumble across your blog, and appreciating the natural curiosity of blog readers.

Maintenance: Once Involved, Stay Involved

Is there anything worse than going to someone’s blog and seeing their last post was in June 2011? You can see the cyber cobwebs in the corners. It’s depressing.

If you’re gonna do it, you hafta maintain it…which is laborious, especially blogs. You need to come up with new blog posts all the time, and there are times when the creativity just ain’t working, and the well runs dry. The easy move is to just abandon it. Problem is, it’s easy to stay away, especially if you’ve been blogging for a long time. You need to come up with fun stuff that keeps it entertaining for you, too.

Maintaining your presence, whether it’s through writing a blog or hanging out in Twitter or FB, is about balance between your real life and your online life, so you need to consider how often you’ll blog. Every day or three times a week? You want to avoid losing readers, so it has to be often enough to keep them coming back.

Interaction Schminteraction

Lots of this stuff gets lost in the ether, so it’s a lot of time spent with possibly little rewards. Interaction can be overrated, and if you’re just not into that, then put up a website. This gives your readers someplace to go to find out more about you and your book. It’s a great place for reviews and links to upcoming events, or news articles.

End All, Be All

There are plenty of readers who don’t follow social media and buy books from talking to friends, trolling the bookstore, or reading the newspaper. That’s why it’s important to have a well-rounded promo plan.

In the end, whether you involve yourself in social media is a personal decision. Your editor can’t make you do it (though you’d be insane not to at least have a website), but I’ll wager my margarita budget that they consider your social media involvement (or lack, thereof).

When I’m considering offering a contract, I check the author’s online presence because I know readers will check. It’s great if they already have an active blog with lots of commenters. Personally, I don’t care if they’re on twitter or FB because I’m not wholly convinced those two mediums sell a ton of books.

Conversely, I get a case of butterflies if an author intends to rely solely on social media as their promotion plan because promotion is a multi-pronged attack. It can be a huge benefit (provided it’s done right), but it’s not meant to serve as a replacement from all other promotion.

The end game is this: If you’re going to do social media, do it right. Is it necessary? Depends on your personality, the kind of book you’ve written, and your ability to appeal to your potential readership. It can be a lot of fun or akin to giving the beagle a bath. Tread carefully and mindfully.

8 Responses to Online presence – is it necessary?

  1. catherinegracehughes says:

    Hi Lynn! Hope you will remember me (Catrin) from a site we both used to frequent!

    I was really interested to read this today because my own blogging sometimes makes me slightly uneasy. I do write about writing (occasionally) but mostly about life with a long term illness and the battle I have had, and am still facing, to get a proper diagnosis. I know that there are a lot of people out there like me – and not just with the same disease as I have – who are facing similar experiences and, in all honesty, I blog with the intention of reaching out to them, rather than to maximise my selling potential if and when I achieve my dream of publication. I guess you could say simply write about my life!

    What worries me is that such a blog might have a negative impact. I doubt very much that an agent or publisher would hold my illness against me – especially as my productivity in spite of it is self-evident. But does this kind of ‘honest blog’ risk putting off potential readers? Is it too self-absorbed? Too (as some have said to me) harrowing?

    At present, the blog looks quite new, with my archived posts from previous years at a separate wordpress location. I am also wondering if I should combine the two blogs into one, so as to show that I have been blogging a lot longer than it currently seems, although I did take a break for a while during the most intense and difficult part of the diagnostic process.

    I’d be very interested in your thoughts.

  2. Hi Catherine, of course I remember you! It’s lovely to hear from you.

    Is your blog about your book’s content? If so, it’s a lead-in for your potential readers.

    If your blog differs from your book, then an editor won’t consider it a promotional benefit.

    Will an editor hold that against you? Tough to say. Personally, I would be frustrated because your blog followers won’t necessarily be interested in your book. If you begin changing the theme of your blog, you’re going to lose your old readers and there will be a transition time in attracting new readers, which takes time.

    The length of time you’ve been blogging is immaterial to me, but rather, I look at the amount of traffic you generate and the comments you have on your posts. And, of course, does your blog support the theme of your book.

    Does that help?

  3. Always great advice, Lynn. I’ll have to share on FB with my writer friends.

  4. littletash says:

    Dear Lynn,
    Thank you – some of these points are really interesting and useful. Apart from anything, it’s nice to hear someone say it’s still a choice. I love blogging and reading other blogs, but trying to get my head around Twitter and Facebook as promotional platforms makes me want to hide under a rock.

  5. Kathy Meis says:

    Hi Lynn. Excellent post. I’m going to post it to our FB page. I don’t want to be spammy here, but I did want to make you aware of our new social book discovery platform Bublish, which we just launched at BEA. Bublish is free for writers and readers, and offers a way to enrich social conversations with great storytelling. It gives readers and writers a way to connect socially around content. I am a writer as is my partner Charles. We understand the demands on writers’ time, and have created a way for them to create fresh, engaging content by telling stories around excerpts from their books. The response has been tremendous with 12,000 page views in 22 days. We hope you’ll give us a look. And again, fantastic post. Thanks for taking time to share your expertise with others.

  6. catherinegracehughes says:

    Hi Lynn and thanks.

    That does help. As I suspected, my current blog is probably not helping from a ‘getting published’ point of view, although it is very valuable to me in other ways. I therefore gave the whole ‘platform’ question some thought and came up with an idea which I plan to implement as soon as I can.

    Thanks for the help!

  7. louise wise says:

    I love to read posts like this because sometimes I feel if I’m the only one who feels like this! Glad I’m not.

    “It takes time” is the one thing that most can’t grasp, and the one I’m always shouting about. Glad you’ve mentioned it here.

  8. Thanks – truly. I love your references: ‘inner hambone’ and Hemingway drinking on an island. I am making an internet presence, spending perhaps too much time on Facebook, a bit less on my blog, and much less on my website and twitter. Seems I’m doing it in reverse from what I’ve read here and elsewhere.

    That may explain the low sales numbers on all of my books. I have a small group of enthusiastic fans on Facebook, but they can only buy my books once, it seems, and to ask them to spread the word via their own social media is received by some others as being pushy, or ‘tooting my own horn.’

    It’s a tough call. It’s why some authors use pen names for their books. I haven’t done that. That is like the reference to those ‘living under a rock.’

    Here’s my self-promo … you’re welcome to visit:


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