You’ve heard it before: Fake it ’til you make it. In a larger sense this means that if we want to be viewed as professionals, we need to act like professionals. In this particular instance, we can use it as a guide toward how to comport ourselves online. Eventually we are going to make that first sale, and a proud editor is going to google our names. What is she going to find?
First of all, most importantly, please, authors, HAVE an online presence. This really isn’t even optional anymore, with free Blogger accounts, website hosting costs of $4/month and scores of free WordPress themes. It is really frustrating to Google a writer and find absolutely nothing. (This happens more often than you might think. Just last night I had cause to look up a number of aspiring writers, six of whom there wasn’t a trace of on the internet.)
Your website is your resume. It is an editor’s first impression of you, the person behind the story they’re about to buy. It will be your fans’ first impression, too, so let’s make it a good one. So, what does a professional author’s website look like? What should we include? Possible even more importantly, what should we exclude?
Have an “about the author” bio on your site—something short and to the point, the kind of thing that you might expect to find in the back of a book. The editor who buys your story may look this up. Yes, she’ll also ask you to provide one as well, but we’re curious about our authors. Having a more personal bio is great, too—something that talks about where you came from as a writer, and your background growing up—but it should not replace the “about the author” bio. If you’d like to have the personal bio on your site, include both.
If you’ve got it, flaunt it! Have your list of your publications prominently placed on your site. Let editors and readers know where they can find your work. If they’ve looked you up, it’s probably because they liked something of yours they read. Make it easy for them to find more.
One of the most exciting editorial moments I’ve witnessed was an editor discovering that the author he’d just bought a story from had never submitted to a genre magazine before. Editors love to discover new talent. You become Our Authors, and that starts with us learning a little more about you than what your signature looks like on a contract.
If you don’t have any publications yet, are there any other ways in which you’ve been active in the community? Have you done any volunteer work, or joined any organizations? It’s always great to see what people are involved in, and that can lead to new connections.
If you’re going to be attending conventions or doing any readings, this is another great piece of information to have available. Editors love meeting writers at conventions, and if we know to look for you, all the better.
Have a page where readers can find out how to contact you: via email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Email is especially important–what if you miss out on an anthology invite or an interview opportunity because you didn’t put your email address on your website? (Only list services you actually use; it’s of no use to anyone if you link people to a Twitter account that you never use.)
Blogs are awesome things. They’re a wonderful way to let people know who we are, to share our journey toward publication and through life, with all of its ups and downs. Hell, they’re a great place to post pictures of your cat. There are many great and noble uses of the blog–chronicling your every rejection is not one of them.
I don’t mean that you shouldn’t ever mention rejections on your blog. They’re a fact of the writing life, and we can gain strength from each other when we share the low moments of the journey. It’s an issue of tact and moderation, key components of professionalism.
I know of a case in which an editor bought a story from a new writer. After the contract was signed, the editor looked up the author’s blog. It was a monument to rejection–the author had a running rejection count posted, and included the text of rejection letters and the author’s outraged reaction to each. The author gave a detailed account of which stories had been rejected by which markets, and the story in question had been rejected several times already. There was no mention of the sale that the author had made.
What goes through an editor’s mind at that moment is something like “Maybe I’d better read it again, if none of those markets thought it was worth publishing,” and “Why were we the tenth market to see it, after Unknown Publications Quarterly?” These are not the thoughts you want to inspire in the mind of your new editor.
In fact, I’d suggest leaving the names of editors and markets out of your posts entirely (unless they are triumphant Victory Posts about the awesome sale you just made and how much you love working with the editor, or about how great it was to meet them at a convention.) You won’t do yourself any favors by posting your outrage at how unhelpful their form rejection letter are, and wailing “What do I have to do?!” Editors do see those posts. You will come off sounding like an amateur, and someone they won’t want to work with. I’m not saying you should suck up–that’s pretty transparent, so I wouldn’t bother trying–I’m saying don’t alienate the people who have your professional future in their hands.
And let’s not forget the established authors we’ve seen go down in flames after posting impassioned opinion pieces on their blogs. We can take a lesson there in what not to do. Restraint of pen and tongue (and keyboard) can go a long, long way toward not blowing our reputations and alienating future publishers and readers.
So what should you post on your blog?
Just about everything else is fair game. I personally read the blogs of 41 different authors, both established and new. (Yay, RSS feeds!) They each have a different view of the world, and I love getting in on whatever part of their lives they want to share. I love seeing that they’ve finished a new story, and totally sympathize during the low points of their journey. (Let me know in the comments if I should I add yours!)
John has written about using Twitter before, and I’ll add my voice to the pro-Twitter chorus. I love finding our authors on Twitter. I’ve even followed several authors whose stories the Overlord ultimately didn’t publish, but whose submissions I really liked. I enjoy getting to know them, so that when we meet at a con it’s more like running into an acquaintance than being introduced to a stranger.
Twitter can be tricky, though, because it’s so immediate. It’s designed for us to post our thoughts immediately, and that can sometimes get us into trouble. Easy ways to get unfollowed are use of excessive snark, general negativity, twittering disrespectfully about other people, over-promotion of your work, and frequent political rants. (But that’s just me. I like to keep my Twitter stream positive.) Oh, and please, again, don’t call out specific markets in angry rejection tweets. (I hope Twitter some day adds a Beer Goggles feature like Gmail Labs has–where you have to do a math problem before you can post–in order to give ourselves a moment to cool off before we click “Send!”)
Imagine your place on Twitter as being seated at the biggest Thanksgiving dinner ever. You don’t want to insult someone a few chairs away, and sometimes you just have to keep your mouth shut so you don’t piss off your crazy uncle and create a scene. Doing so can cost you your seat at the table (the other person’s Twitter stream.)
Personally I haven’t found Facebook particularly useful in my writing and editing life (though I did use it once to contact a notable author about a narration I was doing of his story.) It’s typically where I keep in touch with my extended family and local friends. Your mileage may vary, however, and I’d love to hear about it in the comments if that’s your online home. How has it worked for you?
So, let’s review.
- Have at least a rudimentary website
- Let people know a little bit about you
- Give people a way to contact you
- Blog about your life and interests
- Alienate your future editors and fans
- Create a digital monument to failure
- Be an unwelcome dinner guest on Twitter
What are some other “dos” and “don’ts” of the internet? Let us know in the comments.
Many thanks to editor John Joseph Adams for his input on this subject!