eaders are the most important people in your writing life. Not the agents, not the editors, not the publishers. Somewhere back in your deadline-riddled, dangling participled, plot-driven mind you know that all the gymnastics you go through as a writer are for an audience of readers.
Most writers forget that. Youíve forgotten it. Iíve forgotten it. We get so wrapped up in making the protagonist sound realistic and the dialogue sing, that we forget that we are actually performing on a stage, with all sorts of students, professionals, stay-at-home moms, even writer-wannabes sitting in the audience, waiting to be amused, educated or brought to tears by our stories.
In other words, itís not about us. Itís about them. And most of them are online. The percentage of U.S. citizens with access to the Internet has grown to 212,708,864 as of August 2007 or 70.4%.
"...we forget that we are actually performing on a stage..."
The phenomenal thing about writers is that they donít fathom where the readership is until the book is written, contracted and almost published. We type THE END, ship it off then scratch our heads about how in the heck weíll put this thing in the actual hands of someone whoíll take minutes to hours out of his life to see if we know what weíre doing.
So letís say youíve accepted the challenge and feel you can improve the quality of life for gobs of people. Where are they? How do you reach them? How do you rock their world? How can you reach them with the neatest, cheapest, most successful tool in the world Ė the Internet?
You want a sharp web site, tastefully designed, with an address that isnít halfway borrowed from some freebie site. You do not want "www.freebiewebsiteservice.com/hopeclark." Readers look at that and think, "Geez, she doesnít think enough of me to go all out with a decent first impression." You donít want anything to stand between you and the reader. When your potential fan gets to that web site, the only thing you want him to see is your book, your writing, your wonderful environment designed just for him to find pleasure and information. Anything less means you didnít care, regardless of what you can or cannot afford. Web sites are too cheap these days not to have a neat effective one.
Look at this web site. Simple, professional. Stephanie Barronís site is easy to navigate. http://www.stephaniebarron.com/. Take a moment to carefully design your opening page. Whatís in the window when the page opens? Thatís where you snare the reader. Donít make them scroll if you donít have to. Donít make them hunt.
These days, some writers use a blog in lieu of the web site. However, youíll have difficulty selling from a blog. Also, a blog gives the impression the author wants to cozy up to the reader, share experiences and be friends. A web site is a selling and advertising tool. A blog gives readers a taste of the real you. J.A. Konrath is a favorite blog of many. This mystery author uses his blog to reach fellow writers, advising them of his travesties and successes in his efforts to sell his books. http://jakonrath.blogspot.com. As a result, writers purchase his work.
A word of advice, though. Keep the darn thing updated! The minute it looks stale, you send readers scattering. If you ignore keeping entries current, you give the impression you ignore the reader. Also, put an RSS feed or email notification service on your blog. People are too busy to just remember to go there. Have a reminder sent to them when you add new thoughts, inform about your next appearance or announce your latest contract.
"...youíll have difficulty selling from a blog."
What? A simple e-mail? Howís that going to intrigue readers? First, youíre going to answer the e-mails you receive, not delete them. Taking a moment to answer even the silliest question of an interested reader can mean a dozen sales thanks to word-of-mouth. Even answer the naysayers who thought Celeste should not have slept with Jack in Chapter Fourteen or felt your feature story on high school dress codes was ridiculously insensitive. Responding, attempting to understand that reader has the great possibility of retaining her as a supportive fan. Instead of a knee-jerk response to protect your stance, smile (yes, physically smile to change your outlook) and politely reply without alienating the individual. Itís trying, but itís so worth it.
Second, have a short, informative and intriguing e-mail signature, and Iím not talking just your name. Limit it to four lines to include your web site, book title or writing service and short motto, quote or blurb. Put it on everything Ė even the jokes you send your sister-in-law. Youíve seen how those mindless funnies get forwarded. Piece-of-cake distribution.
Those list groups you lurk in also should contain your signature. Some of those services have several thousand people. Good gracious, how can you pass up advertising like that? Iíve read authors and contacted people for writing gigs based on well-designed e-mail signatures. Even if you know everyone on the list, include your signature, because theyíll forward it on to someone you donít.
"...send something out and hug people."
Newsletters often morph into blogs and vice versa, but whatís important is contacting that public via e-mail notices before they forget you. Whether your blog is embedded in an e-mail or you send an entirely different newsletter to your eager readers or you have a feeder attached to your blog, create a method to send something out and hug people. Per the web site gurus, your sign-up box should be at the top of your page and blatantly obvious. But regardless of how good you think you are, people wonít remember you without assistance. Even if your name is Stephen King, necessities like the dentist, flat tires and bringing home the bacon will take precedent.
They donít have to be lengthy. Itís better they are not. Donít write fluff. That insults a readerís intelligence and wastes his time. Humor is always good. A theme is marvelous. For instance, a childrenís writer could write about educational issues or a chik-lit author about online sales for clothing and accessories. Donít get lazy and arrogant about your newsletter or blog, either. Readers can tell. You can too when youíre sitting in the readerís seat.
Free lists contain advertising like those with Topica, Yahoogroups and Zinester. Spend a buck or two and go for the upgrades without ads. Like the web site addresses that connect you to some free service, they dilute your professionalism. Services abound online. FundsforWriters uses Aweber.com. Many writers swear by Constantcontact.com. A simple search for newsletter hosting services or autoresponders will give you all the research material you need to find the perfect fit.
Polish your press release skills and capitalize on free press release distribution services like PR Web (http://www.prweb.com), Press Release Writing (http://www.press-release-writing.com) or Market Wire (http://www.marketwire.com). Donít spit these releases out like a grocery list. Make them exciting, eye-popping, ridiculously keen and sharp Ė something you canít help but read. Most press releases stink; they read false, donít ring true and seem like something thrown together or copied from a template.
Online talk radio limps a bit in terms of reaching readers, and not every show is worthy of your limited time. Few writers make much of an impact in their sales with Internet radio. The Writing Show (http://writingshow.com/) is the exception to the rule. With its podcasts, reality shows, newsletters, news and articles, it demonstrates more than a simple radio effort. One cool thing about this show, and a few others like it, is you may be able to include a copy of the recording on your web site or blog, and archives are maintained on the radio showís web site. Just be selective in the radio show. Many are unable to exist on advertising income and want to charge the guests for appearances.
"If youíre an author making sales, everyone on the planet wants to be in your shoes."
You can contact sites like The Writing Show that provide podcasts or you can start your own. Podcasting can become quite addictive! Start with a microphone. Even the one built into your computer can suffice but separate ones give better quality. Find recording software like Audacity (http://audacity.net). Itís like using a tape player with buttons for stop, record, play. Export the file as an MP3 and youíre done.
To deliver the podcast, you need a hosting company just like you would for your web site or newsletter delivery. Something like Libsyn (http://www.libsyn.com). A search of podcast hosting services will give you many choices.
"The cool aspect of articles is that they have sticking power online... Articles I wrote six years ago still appear online."
Youíre a writer. Writers want to be like you if youíre published. If youíre an author making sales, everyone on the planet wants to be in your shoes. So why not give advice? Cast your articles across the web. Spread the word about you and your abilities in articles while receiving payment for the submissions. Talk about a win-win situation! It sure beats paying for advertising. Many authors make as much money writing shorter pieces as they do selling their books.
Writing articles for sites, newsletters and blogs can do two things. One, they show how bright you are, what an expert youíve become and how generous you are at giving back. Second, they direct the reader via your byline or bio back to where sales are made: your web site, Amazon and/or your publisher.
The cool aspect of articles is that they have sticking power online. When someone Googles your name, or your book or the title of something you wrote, up comes everything about you. The more articles you have, the more hits take place. And whatís cooler is that those numbers just keep adding up, because we all know nothing disappears on the Internet. Articles I wrote six years ago still appear online.
Editors perpetually seek material. Land a column. Not only can you develop regular income from a weekly, monthly or bimonthly gig, but you develop an aura of expertise. After all, how many people can create a column time after time for a long period? However, your diligence in maintaining a rigid schedule pays in the long run. The more regular you become at a known site, the easier it is for readers to find you. Donít make them Google for you. Become so common they know where you are.
Donít take readers for granted! Entrepreneur Magazine states you have three seconds to make that good first impression. Advertising online is no different than anywhere else. You have to work it, massage it, study the results and market yourself in a remarkable manner. Itís not a sideline. Itís half or more of your job.
The Internet is instant access to millions of customers, but millions of opportunities abound for readers on the Web. Break a sweat learning how to sweep them in your direction. Understand all that the Web has to offer. Become savvy at selling yourself online as well as being a writer.
Oh, and donít forget your picture!
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C. Hope Clark is editor and founder of FundsforWriters.com and author of The Shy Writer: The Introvert's Guide to Writing Success. Sheís published in national publications like Writerís Digest and The Writer Magazine and trade magazines like TURF, Next Step, College Bound Teen, American Careers and Landscape Management. Writerís Digest selected her web site in its 101 Best Web Sites for Writers, for the last seven years in a row.