Advice for Writers: How to be found on the Internet

Last week I posted a huge list of Asian speculative fiction writers, and yesterday I updated it to over 100 authors. It’s been linked to from several places, including Angry Asian Man (don’t read that blog? You should!) and SF Signal. From what everyone is saying, there isn’t another list like this out there, that so comprehensively includes links to websites, social media, and sample stories.

Having spent all of those hours, I understand why: most of you writers are making that information damn hard to find.

Some of the authors listed don’t have a web presence at all, and the most I could find was a wikipedia entry. Others had only a Twitter feed, or a livejournal account. Why would you do that? You want people to read your work, right? Want others to share the stories they enjoyed, gain new readers, maybe be contacted for interviews? Writing, in 2013, is no longer a career built on in-store signings and print book/magazine sales. With the ease of reading online or in ebooks, plus the power of Google, most readers aren’t going to bother tracking you down. If it’s all there in front of them, they’ll happily devour your latest work. If it’s a struggle to find you, they won’t do it.

These days, you need a website. It doesn’t have to be called “yourname.com”, though that certainly helps. It can even be a free WordPress site, “yourname.wordpress.com”, if you don’t want to spend $15 a year on building your readership. As long as there is a single, dedicated, place that pops up on search engines when someone types in “Your Name writer”. Create it, add the items I list below, and start using it. Include it in your bio when you get published online, link to it when you promote your work, and generally get used to the idea that you have a central depository to collect the artifacts of your writing career.

Make sure your website has the following sections:

  1. Contact. This can be a real form, with data fields for name, email, and comment, or it can be a page listing the ways that someone can contact you. Either way, you need a obvious spot that someone can click on to get ahold of you. So often I see editors and bloggers lamenting that they couldn’t reach a certain author in time to include them in some project. You don’t want to miss out on those opportunities–even if you chose not to take one, let it be your choice, instead of letting your lack of contact info keep you from getting a choice.
  2. List of publications. WITH LINKS. Even authors with websites forget to do this. You think that because you have a Twitter or blog on LJ you’re covered, since you can post when you make a new sale, and your current followers will all know. Sure, do that too, but make a separate page listing your past publications, and any time one is available online, link to it. New readers will appreciate seeing all of your work, and if they can immediately click on a story and read it, that’s even better. On my site, I have three different pages for this information, because I do three kinds of work: editing, writing (fiction), and writing (non-fiction). You don’t have to do that, as long as you have at least one place with this information. Remember, though, that unless you only publish one kind of writing, once your bibliography starts to be longer than two screen’s worth, it will be easier to read if you break it up.
  3. About Me. This can be your two sentence bio, it can be several paragraphs, doesn’t matter. Something about who you are, in case people go looking for it. Mine is on a separate page, and long, because it includes both a short intro and a longer section about my history, interests, and education–even a disclaimer. You can include your contact information or social media links here, though it’s better to have that on the front page.
  4. Other Things. If you plan to be at conventions, make a page listing those events. If you’ve been interviewed or appeared on podcasts, make a page for that. Free fiction on your website? Make sure we can find it!

Once you have a website set up, you can choose from two main ways of generating content. Some people use a website like a blog, but with more functionality. That’s what I do–my posts are sometimes writing-related essays, sometimes updates, and sometimes self-promotion. You can also use the website strictly for promotion–list upcoming book signings, new sales, and so on.

Personally, I prefer the website with a blog on the main page, because it’s frequently generating new content that your readers will want to see. That brings them back to you often enough they’ll also see the content which furthers your career (sales, events, etc). When you only post the strictly business news, readers often get bored, and that doesn’t help you.

Now that you’re ready to be seen, how do you draw new readers to your website? Twitter. Sure, Facebook works too, though it’s used more by older authors and readers, and of course, your friends and family, but you can’t use it as your sole source of online interaction because it just isn’t popular enough. G+ has the same problem. If you use those platforms, absolutely link to your website, and mention when you have updates. However, I’ve gotten the most new readers, referrals, and potential markets, from Twitter. It’s simple, easy to use, and as long as you’re not constantly spamming your audience (please don’t do that) it’s very effective. Make sure to include your website in your Twitter bio, and include a link back to your Twitter from your website.

Click through for samples of sites that work: 

EC Myers has a simple blog style for his website, but it includes all of the important things I mention above. His address is “ecmyers.net”, the front page is his blog, but links across the top of the page (very easy to find) are to his Bio, Novels, Short Fiction, Other Work, Events, and Contact. He uses the top right side section for his social media links and short bio:

click to see a bigger version

click to see a bigger version

Don Pizarro uses a similar setup, and though his website is at “warmfuzzyfreudianslippers.com” he also owns “donpizarro.com” which automatically redirects to his main site. That way he can have the fun site name, and also the professional site name, in case anyone looks him up that way. His top-of-the-page links are About Me, Publications, Interviews, Events, and “Dialogue, Part 1” (his contact form). Other information runs down the side of the page, including a short bio, archives, and “Dialogue, Part 2” (his Tumblr). His About Me page also links to his Twitter. The Publications page looks like this:

click for bigger version

click for bigger version

Sorted by type of publication, there are links to each story online, or where to buy the collection. Want to read his work? It’s all right there in front of you.

Fran Wilde uses the free WordPress version I mentioned about, so her page is at “franwilde.wordpress.com”. That’s fine because when you Google her, that’s the first item which pops up (by making sure your site is regularly updated, and linked to from other places, it’s more likely it will appear first in a search). Her links across the top go to About, Bibliography, Interviews, Projects, and Contact pages, (plus social media) and like EC and Don, her publications page has links to find her work. I like her Projects page:

click for a bigger version

click for a bigger version

It shows her current word count and status on her novels-in-progress, great for novelists who want their readers to know what’s in the pipeline.

I chose writers who are using clean, simplified, templates, so you don’t feel overwhelmed, but you can certainly do fancier things with your website. Go for more visual/less content if your focus is on selling a novel/series/brand instead of shorts or other work, as long as all of the important pieces are easy to find. (Check out Wesley Chu’s site, chuforthought.com, for an example.)

Lastly, when you set up your Twitter bio, remember to say something about who you are (writer, editor, novelist, podcaster, whatever) and link to your main website, not a LJ or Tumblr (those things are fine to have, but don’t take the place of a website as a focal point for your information).

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One evening spent setting all of this up will more than make up for itself in new readers, and less frustration on the part of anyone trying to find your work.

#SFWApro

One thought on “Advice for Writers: How to be found on the Internet

  1. My name is so common that my About Me page includes a list of people I’m not. (I got the idea from someone else–Scott Woods, maybe?) It helps stave off misguided fan letters, and gets me some of their traffic to boot. 😛

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