Being a Better Writer: Having an Online Presence

Good afternoon, readers! Welcome back on to another installment of Being a Better Writer! We’ve got an interesting topic to discuss today, which will probably go by pretty quick (that’s okay, it’s a holiday) but before we do, it’s time for a little news. Emphasis on little, so you can read through it without getting too bogged down.

First up, Shadow of an Empire‘s print proof will be in my hands this week. Yes, you read that right. I am excited to be holding it at last. I don’t anticipate many issues between the proof and the final copy either, since Shadow of an Empire, unlike Axtara, has been out digitally for a few years already and seen a few cleanings already. With the paperback release it’s going to be checking it to make sure that the formatting is good and nothing unexpected happened. After which paperback sales can be approved!

Speaking of which, based on the poll I put up last week (Side note: the WordPress base poll tool isn’t very good, as I have to vote to see the results) has been overwhelmingly in favor of the option I wanted to go with: Expanded distribution. Which means that yes, Shadow of an Empire will be available to libraries, bookstores, and the like. However, since most of those places want their cut, it does mean the book is going to cost a bit more.

$21.99 in total, to be precise. Before some of you blanch, this is for a 600+ page trade-sized paperback (same size, in height, as Axtara). By comparison, the non-trade paperback for Dune (releasing because the movie is coming out) which is a smaller, cheaper to manufacture paperback, is 500 pages and sells for $17.99. The math does work out: This is just a big book.

Which amuses me personally, because a few friends who’ve heard about this have already dropped the comment of “But isn’t Shadow of an Empire one of your shorter books?” To which I have to say “Well, yes?” It’s more in the middle, really. But Colony and Jungle are certainly larger, plus Starforge

Anyway, that’s the update on Shadow of an Empire: The print proof will be in my hands this week, with paperback sales opening shortly thereafter.

One final question before we dive into today’s topic, though: Axtara does well as a paperback, but how would you readers feel about a hardcover release?

Right, I promised short news, so that’s it. Instead let us turn our minds to the act of writing. Well, sort of. Today’s topic is one of the rare BaBW topics that’s less on the “nuts-and-bolts” side of things and more on the side of authorial things that don’t quite involve sitting down at a keyboard to work out your latest story. That said however, today’s topic is incredibly valuable. Quite simply put, if you ignore today’s topic, you’re unlikely to ever see more than a few book sales without someone else doing it for you. It’s that critical.

So, where does today’s post come from? Well, believe it or not, this topic was asked of me recently. I was speaking with someone who had recently published their first book and was hard at work on a second (very cool, and the book in question is in my reading queue), but the question came up as we chatted shop of “Should I have a website? How important is having a website?”

My answer was swift and to the point: Yes. Every author who is publishing something? You should have an online presence. It doesn’t need to be massive. It doesn’t need to be nearly so involved as something like Unusual Things with its weekly Being a Better Writer posts and constant updates. But it needs to exist.

I know that some find that disconcerting. Some are probably voicing concerns akin to “but I wrote the book, and it is up for sale. Isn’t that enough.”

Unfortunately, the answer is a very clear and resounding no. It is not enough. We live in a world that is connected on every level by a digital network. Call it whatever you want, the internet, the datawebs, whatever odd internet generation slang name you have, the truth of the matter is that one of the first and foremost objectives of the internet is to be an accessible repository of information.

A repository that everyone uses. Research bases in the Antarctic have internet connections. The International Space Station has access, and they are in orbit. The internet is everywhere. It’s how most people interact with the world. That’s less weird then it sounds when you consider it’s simply a communication medium. But it also happens to be the dominant one.

Let me tell you a story that was directly from personal experience. Most of you regulars are familiar with A Dragon and Her Girl, the LTUE charity short story collection that I had the opening story for. Well, when I got my copy, I gleefully devoured the other stories in that set. And there were a lot of fun ones in there, including a few that I enjoyed so much, I wanted to see what else the authors had written. You know, maybe find a book or two?

You know what I found punching their names into Google? Nothing.

Okay, that’s not exactly true. Digging through the search results, I did finally manage to find one of them. Or rather, a mention of one of them. On the site page for A Dragon and Her Girl from the publishers website. Their bio in the book said they’d written other things … but I could not find them.

This is not the first time I’ve run across such an experience. Multiple times before in my life, I’ve read a good book or short story, tried to track down the author to find more of their work, and run up against a brick wall in that despite the internet being the modern repository of information … they were nowhere on it.

How many book or short story sales has each of those authors lost because they chose not to have an online presence?

This is why it’s so important to have some sort of online presence. It can simple, almost barren, really. Something as basic as a blog page, not even an official site. An entry on a preferred social media platform, such as Facebook or Twitter (obvious warnings about the insanity that both those places are is implied). But it has to be something that potential readers can find you on!

Because readers will look. They almost assuredly already are if you’ve released so much as a single short story or a novel. One of the first things anyone curious is going to do when they encounter your work in the wild is punch it and/or your name into a search bar. If your name comes up, then they nod, maybe read what’s associated with it, and move on. If it does not, or they just get a book page … Well, then you’re at the mercy of them finding no more information than they were able to find on the book cover. And they might just set your book back down and move on.

Like I said, that is why having an online presence of some kind is so vitally important. I was saddened when I couldn’t find author pages of any kind for those names I searched after reading A Dragon and Her Girl. As a reader, I wanted to find either more works by those writers, or at the very least, a central location I could bookmark and keep an eye on for when more works released. Instead, I got nothing. And now, if one of them does release something, their relative invisibility on the internet means I’m very likely to miss it. There’s simply not a good means to keep track of what they’re doing.

Again, a few of you might be wondering “But what about just having the book out there? Isn’t that enough?”

Sadly, no. I hate to say it, but the truth of the publishing world is that just having a book out there, for people to buy, isn’t enough anymore. It may have been a few centuries ago, when there were only so many books to go around, but now? Now, just having a book on a shelf is great, but still not enough when there are thousands upon thousands of other authors with their own books on the shelf.

“Well, what about word of mouth? What about sales?” These are common questions that come in response to this, but the best answer to them is that word of mouth and sales will be far more impactful if you have an online presence. A name that people can latch onto, or for that matter, find.

It’s not enough to just have a book “out there” and call it good. In a way, having an online presence is a form of marketing. Your work will be much more likely to succeed if you have something out there reinforcing it.

But an online presence is more than just an advertisement. It’s a location. It’s a port in the giant storm of information that is the internet that is solely dedicated to you. Nothing else. Readers, or potential fans, who are interested in that topic? If you don’t have an online presence of some kind, they will be at the mercy of that storm.

But if you do have one, then when someone searches your name, that location will be one of the first things that comes up. A small space that’s just about you, your books, what you’re writing, and whatever else you decide you want your presence to include.

That’s really all there is to today’s topic. I know it’s a bit unconventional, but it’s one of those things that doesn’t get discussed in the same way something like “crafting three dimensional characters” does. For many, the internet is still new, still untested, and so they don’t think about the simple effect of having or not having an online presence.

But the simple truth of it is found in that analogy above: The internet is a storm of information, and if you don’t offer your potential readers and fans a port to learn about you from … then who you are will forever be at the mercy of that storm, and those who go looking for you will have about as much chance of finding you as snatching something from to grasp of a tornado. To say nothing of those that will never know you exist in the first place.

So keep writing, but don’t forget: without an online presence, it’ll be very hard for your works to get far. It doesn’t have to be large. It doesn’t have to be extensive.

But it does have to exist.

Good luck. Now get writing.

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Thoughts? Comments? Post them below!

One thought on “Being a Better Writer: Having an Online Presence

  1. This is at least one part of why I want to have my own independent review blog. I’m currently building up a collection of stories and reviews for those stories so that, in time, I can have a site that not only serves as an advertisement for my own writings but also provides a critic service. That way I’m not a one-horse show.

    Liked by 1 person

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