Will texted me a message this morning. “I think there’s something wrong with me. I’ve been wanting a salad lately.”
This is a radical change in tastes for the man who avoids all vegetables like the plague (please note tired cliche and don’t do this when you write) and especially leafy vegetables, which are fit only for rabbits and other furry mammals. However, it’s not really unusual. People change their tastes in food, music, clothes and various other things. Although some people get stuck in a time warp, most of us evolve over time.
As writers, it’s extremely important for us to keep abreast of the times. Yes, I know, there are some very successful authors who still write longhand or use an old typewriter. There are even some people who combine modern computers with old typewriters, but some of us fall in the middle of those extremes.
In the previous post, I touched briefly on social media. At one time it was seen as something cutting edge for successful authors. Now, it’s evolved into something we can’t really afford to ignore if we want to maximize our presence as writers.
Here are a few tips, starting with the very basics and working up.
Email. Set up a professional email. This is the account you will use for business. I suggest you use your name. Agents, editors and readers might not be as impressed with Ihasgiantboobs@somethingmail.com as your boyfriend is.
Don’t put creative signatures on your emails such as Pookie Bear’s mommy. Leave those signatures for personal emails. It’s really best not to put any automatic signatures in your emails as they slow down the load and some of them show up as attachments.
Don’t set up a spam guard that requires an agent to register to reply. They won’t. They don’t have time.
When you submit a query, add that agent’s name to your contact list so your spam filter doesn’t trap them. It would be horrible to have an excited agent’s response stuck in spam and deleted.
Make sure your email works correctly. Email some friends and have them email you back.
Test everything you’re going to submit on friends and to yourself to make sure you don’t have formatting problems.
I set up a Facebook account, but I don’t use it much. At least my name is reserved and I get to show off the horse butts.
If you’re going to carry on with unprofessional diatribes, do it under a handle that can’t be tracked to you. Actually, it’s just best not to. It’s easier to track things down than any of us realize even though most agents, publishers and authors don’t have time or desire to crack the mystery. That said, there are a lot of people who live for these challenges.
MySpace, LiveJournal and several others are social media options you may want to explore.
I love Twitter. It gives me a chance to interact with interesting people and I learn things. I have two distinct areas, which shouldn’t be surprising. I love my writer’s circle, but I also have my political side. No, I normally don’t go off on deep politics, but I do follow a lot of plain spoken people and a LOT of military people. My main account is @Julie_Weathers. I use my name so people can find me.
Twitter is valuable because you can get a feel for people and learn about them in ways you might not otherwise.
For instance. Two agents have expressed very strong preferences for the statistics line in a query at the very top. They want to read immediately what genre it is and word count. Others want it at the bottom of the query because they want you to get right into the story. Most don’t care as long as you include it somewhere.
One agent definitely wants you to tell them right away why you are contacting them. Others don’t care because they assume you think they fit your desires in an agent.
A few nights ago, an agent some of us were chatting with told us s/he was getting ready to start accepting email queries even though the agency wasn’t officially accepting them. S/he invited some of us to submit and gave a code word to use in the subject line.
Other things you pick up on are new agents, new needs, writing help, new fans and myriad other useful things. I think the most important thing about Twitter is just to treat others with respect. Don’t be antagonistic, but you aren’t expected to fawn either. Well, some people expect that, but I block them pretty quickly. Just have fun.
Blogs can make you successful beyond your wildest dreams or destroy you. Look at Pioneer Woman and Bent Objects. Both of these entertaining blogs led to book deals. Pioneer Woman may have started out as a site, but I think she blogged first and then expanded.
There are a few things to remember with blogs.
Be entertaining. Let your style show through. This is your own little showcase, but it isn’t always the best place to display your work. Some writers, like Diana Gabaldon and Beth Shope post excerpts of their writing that make your mouth water. If you’re this quality, then I think it just leaves you wanting more. (Um, yes, I’m going to talk to Beth about her posting schedule.)
If you’re posting rough drafts of your work, then it can backfire on you. Is this what you want an agent to read?
Kari Dell posts some fascinating glimpses into modern ranching life. Kari is funny, genuine and talented. Her blog does nothing but showcase her talent and personality.
Gary Corby has a fascinating blog where he often takes the reader back in time to where his books take place. I highly recommend him also.
It’s all right to post some personal things, but do it in a way that is interesting and don’t do it often. If you constantly post how sick you are of your neighbors, agents, your husband, your mother-in-law or your cat, people will stop coming by. No one wants to listen to a non-stop stream of venom from a bitter person. Besides that, this is the impression you’re giving to professionals who may be deciding if they want to work with you.
If you’re someone like Tawna Fenske, you can post things about fake sex in a car and get by with it. Just make it interesting and fun. Your mileage on fake sex may vary.
Blogs help to establish you as a web presence. Reserving your name also paves the day when you’ll be published and you don’t really want PornStarJudy to be the first thing people see when they look up your name. Well, unless you’re Tawna, but that’s another story.
I would also suggest you post regularly. If that means once a month, once a week or three times a week, be consistent. People will stop coming if you disappear for months at a time.
Even if you don’t plan on doing anything with your site right now, reserve the name. Work on it when you can. Go to every writer’s site you can find and jot down what you do and don’t like about their sites.
Decide what colors you like.
What kind of image do you want to project?
How comfortable are you with modifying things? If you aren’t very techy, you may want to keep your site simpler so you don’t have to hire someone to fix or change something.
Use this information to figure out what kind of site you want. Then, unless you are really good with web design, hire someone to build you a site. A poorly designed one does you more harm than good.
My dear friend Lisa Norman designed my site at Julieweathers.com. I don’t advertise it because I need to do some work on it and it’s work only I can do. For instance, against my advice, I have excerpts of my work there. I need to put up the latest versions of this work and in some cases delete things.
Lisa knows me so she picked out things I love. I showed her Barbara Rogan’s site and asked her if we could do something like that. I think Lisa did a great job with my ideas and tailored the site to me. We may have to do some changes later, but I’m happy with the design.
Here are a few of my pet peeves and a few suggestions.
Don’t have winking, twinkling, flying things. Too much of that stuff gives me a raging headache and it’s distracting. Aside from that, the more movement you have, the slower it is on some computers. For some, it will crash the computer and those potential readers won’t come back.
No music. If you like music, link to it on a sidebar. Clicking on a site and having music that sets your teeth on edge and slows down your computer isn’t fun.
Colors. One site I went to had a black background with safety yellow lettering. Worse are the sites with black backgrounds and red or neon pink lettering. If your reader has to struggle to read, they won’t.
Make sure the font is large enough to read easily. Not all of us are eighteen years old with perfect vision. I keep a magnifying glass in my pencil holder, but I don’t want to use it to read on a computer screen. It’s for those bloody phone books that are in 3 pt. Fonts.
Less is more. You can have a lot of information, but when a site is too busy and hard to navigate, people won’t come back.
One thing Lisa pointed out to me was how important it is to make sure your site is accessible to various search engines and make it handicapped friendly. I had no idea there was a difference, but many sites she worked on were not available to all people.
Evolve. If you have a lot of people comment on the same thing, be prepared to change. It’s like getting your work critiqued. If many people notice the same thing, then that’s either something you’re doing right and you need to keep that or it’s something you’re doing wrong and you need to change.
Finally, Jessica Faust with Bookends Literary had an interesting post a while back people should keep in mind. Once you put something out on the internet, assume it will be there forever. Even if you delete it, someone has probably captured it and it will live on and on and on. Do you really want that post you wrote when you were upset over a rejection and how much you hate agents to be what you are remembered for? Probably not.
I know it seems daunting, but it isn’t. You can establish a web presence without selling your soul and your first born to do it.
Have fun, but don’t replace your writing with Twitter or blog hopping.As Donald Maass says, don’t let the blog scratch your itch to write.