Think of a book special to you, and how much bleaker and poorer your life would be if that one writer had not existed—if that one writer had not, a hundred times or a thousand, made the choice to write.
You’re going to be that one writer, one day, for somebody you may never meet. Nobody can write that book you’re going to write—that book that will light up and change up a life—but you.
From Wednesday through Saturday of last week, I taught at the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, Indiana. Did you know Muncie is very big? The place literally sprawls and there is so much blight—abandoned buildings and strip malls and factories, the parking lots cracked and overgrown. This is how cities in the Midwest die. There is something haunting about these abandoned buildings, these crumbling echoes of what once was. And yet, amidst the blight, there is a lot of life in Muncie. There are retail options. I thought, “I could live in Muncie. There’s a Panera here.”
While I was in Muncie, I saw two people with guns holstered on their hips who were not law enforcement officers. One was at a gas station at like 8 in the morning. His holster matched his shorts. He was also wearing a t-shirt advertising a gun store. The shirt really brought his look together.
Meanwhile, I was at the conference to do an intensive technology session, teaching writers how to make a Wordpress website and manage their online presence. I also did manuscript consultations and gave a workshop on flash fiction, and one on what editors look for, and sat on a publishing panel with Jane Friedman, Dan Johnson, and Barbara Stroup. It was a busy week but also a fun week.
I met a bad ass young woman named Sarah Hollowell who is charming and smart and taught me a thing or ten about body positivity. I seriously need to spend more time around her to become a better me. She also convinced me to sign up for OK Cupid, though I am skeptical and rather anxious. I would prefer to just order a nice boyfriend from Amazon.
The intensive would not have been possible without the amazing assistance of the interns who helped me. They were charming, intelligent, and patient so I want to give a big shout out to John Carter (of Mars), Rebekah Hobbs, Madison Jones, Kiley Neal, Sara Rust (aka Target Girl), and Mo Smith (bad ass). In truth, these kids were all bad ass. I was just so impressed and charmed and had so much fun hanging out with them.
What was great is that by the end of the session, all the participants had up and running websites. The future! It’s so great.
Anyway, here are some of my notes from the intensive, and they may or may not be useful:
The main guiding principle is that there is no excuse, in this day and age, for an ugly website, regardless of how much you can afford to invest in your online presence from zero to thousands of dollars.
You will hear a lot of mumbo jumbo about being a writer and maintaining an online presence. Do it if you want, don’t if you don’t. There are successful writers have little to no online presence, though I don’t recommend going that route.
Social networking is great but only do what you want to do. There are lots of options out there (Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, Goodreads, and on and on). You don’t need to use them all. Pick the avenues that suit your interests and personality and available time.
Your online presence is not just about your writing, it should reflect how you act as a literary citizen.
About.me, is a great place to share all your online presence information in one place.
Whatever you do online, keep the content current. Check your links every so often because URLs change, websites go dark, etc.
If you’re going to blog (and that is entirely optional), do so on a reasonably regular schedule. When you blog, make sure you actually have something to say. It doesn’t have to be world-changing and it doesn’t expressly have to be about writing but whatever you choose to blog about, you do want to make it interesting and you don’t only want to talk about yourself.
Some writers create mailing lists they use to occasionally update their audience about what they’re doing. Do this or don’t, but if you do, try not to farm the e-mail addresses of people who e-mail without realizing they will soon be on your mailing list. If you do add people without their knowledge, make sure you use a mailing list service that offers an easy, quiet way for people to remove themselves from the mailing list.
A writer’s website is not for the writer. A writer’s website is for their audience, past, present, and future. The choices you make for your online presence should reflect an understanding of your audience and what they might want from your website. Your website should answer some key questions—who are you, what have you written, where can I see you (if applicable), what’s new with you, and how can I get in touch with you? If you do things like editorial consultations, you may also want to include that information.
The basic pages of a site might include (named as you see fit): About (biographical info), Writing (bibliographic info), Contact (e-mail & social networking info), Appearances (tour & reading info), Press (what critics say about your work), and a blog/news page where you either blog or simply offer brief updates about your writing life.
If you do have a blog and allow comments, you want to install/enable the Akismet spam filter and decide if you are going to moderate your comments and the tone of discourse on your website or not.
Edit your settings to satisfy your needs. In particular, you want to edit your permalinks so that the URLs for the content you create on your site aren’t ugly or inscrutable.
In terms of creating a site, we’re going to primarily discuss Wordpress but there are lots of other options including Square Space, Tumblr, and Flavors.me, as well as traditionally coded HTML sites.
You can choose between self-hosted (Wordpress.org) and Wordpress hosted (Wordpress.com). If you self-host your Wordpress site, you need to set up an account with a hosting provider. Here are the ones Wordpress recommends.
A theme is basically your website’s outfit. Give your website a cute outfit. You generally want a theme with a good, clean design that is compatible with your version of Word Press and that you can customize to best suit your needs.
There are free Word Press themes (just Google and a trove of options will appear). There are fee-based Word Press themes. You can also hire a designer to create a custom design for your Wordpress (or other CMS) based site. In general, fees for such a design range from $500 to $5,000 or more.
Google is, in fact, your best friend when working with Word Press in either format. For likely any question you have, there is an answer or ten out there.
No matter what you do, buy a domain name, one that is comprehensible and easy to remember like, say, your name. Invest this much in yourself. And this is just my opinion, but you want to avoid URLs like www.tomjoneswriter.com or any variation of your name + writer/writes/ creative.muse, etc. Your author website is a professional presence not a personal presence and again, it is not about you, for the most part.
The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar, familiar things new.
That writers “write” is meant to be self-evident. People like to say it. I find it is hardly ever true. Writers drink. Writers rant. Writers phone. Writers sleep. I have met very few writers who write at all.
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