50 Days (Or Something) – A Look at This Site’s Hits & Misses
Bonus: Website Advice
Over the past six or seven weeks, I’ve written a variety of articles related to the publishing industry and the writing process. I’ve posted some funny stuff and some music videos that I’m not sure anyone other than me is actually watching. I have met a ton of great people and fielded scores of interesting and intelligent questions and a few of them were even about things other than the movie “Prometheus”. But I haven’t written anything about the author website experience, so I decided today to comment on what I estimate has been roughly the first 50 days of my website.
When I started this page, I can’t say I had a strategy in mind. I put all my cards and interests on the table. I like movies and I know movies, so I made a page about movies and put that on my website. I’ve been to 25 countries and traveling is probably my greatest passion so I put together a page on that and posted it on my website. Obviously I’m a fan of writing and literature, so I compiled what thoughts and ideas I could and turned those into articles. I also like dancey pop music, so of course I posted links to songs and music videos to break up the tedious monotony of constantly giving people pointers on query letters and first chapters, as if I’m really any kind of expert.
(If I were an expert, agents would be reading my books and publishers would be selling them)
What I’m trying to say is that this website began as an experiment. After observing the techniques of other independent authors in cyberspace, especially John Locke and Melissa Foster, I set out to see what kind of a response I could get from my website by peppering in a healthy dose of humor and snark. I think my sense of humor is my greatest asset and, let’s face it, semi-professional writing can be a hell of a frustrating business, so I wanted to try to add some levity to what, in my opinion, is too often a really self-serious, condescending, and hypocritical industry. My response so far has been that I estimate I will have attracted 10,000 views in my first three months and, to date, I have attracted almost 300 comments from people who seem to think I know way much more than I actually do J
All kidding aside, though, I have worked hard to make this site attractive to people. My goal is to be friendly and encouraging, not critical, while also helping aspiring writers come to terms with the fact that they will have to learn to accept criticism. Criticism and negative feedback has its place, just not on my website. I want people to feel welcome here and I have been floored by the results. When I started this journey, I had no idea how far it would go. I didn’t know if I would keep this up for more than a month. Now I realize that I’ve only just begun this journey; in fact, I’ve barely even left The Shire, and it’s a long, long way to getting published with the agents of Mordor.
So, as I leave you today, I want to pass along to you three observations that I have made about what makes for a strong website:
Don’t Overreach: There is absolutely nothing wrong with having diverse interests. It’s what makes us interesting (wow, that was profound.)! However, my advice would be to fight the impulse to put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to your author homepage. Are you a writer who moonlights on the side with music of indie film-making projects? You’re a rockstar! But don’t put all of that in one place, because it can make your website seem really busy and can make targeted information really difficult to find.
If you have a writer who comes to your page looking for writing advice, don’t make him or her have to wade through your archives to find what they need, because chances are that that person will not take the time to do so. You don’t want to focus on attracting so many readers at first, so much as establishing a base of loyal viewers. As you’re starting out, it is more important to try to get people to come back to your page after a visit than it is to attract more and more viewers. If you can take care of the former, the latter will follow.
I mention this, because a fellow writer contacted me to look at the author homepage that this writer had set up. When I visited the blog, however, there was nothing about writing. The page seemed to be more of a promotion for the person’s musical endeavors, which seemed quite admirable. But I wasn’t even sure I was in the right place, so I kept checking back and forth to make sure that I had entered the URL correctly and, sure enough, I was where I needed to be; there just wasn’t anything about writing unless you ran a search for keywords. I advised the writer to overhaul the website and add emphasis on those literary projects or to set up a whole new blog/site that would exclusively highlight those efforts.
Social Media Integration: Social media integration is just a fancy way of saying, “Tweet what you write and put it on Facebook”. Every time I write an entry on this blog, I throw something about it up on Facebook and Twitter, and that is where about 95% of my visitors come from and about 100% of my comments. On Twitter, you can’t control who will see your tweets but you might be surprised by the feedback. What’s more, you might get some visits from people who wouldn’t otherwise visit your website and, who knows, maybe they’ll stick around.
There is an old saying in journalism—I’m paraphrasing—that the news is a battle for eyeballs. Every network is at war with each other over who can attract the most viewers on a given day. Well, using social media and tying it into your website is also a great way to win that battle for eyeballs, and it puts those eyeballs that visit your webpage in the same place as information about the books you’ve written. Isn’t that great? You should always have something about your books on the homepage of your website. It doesn’t have to be anything too self-serving or obnoxious, but make sure that anyone who stumbles upon your page gets to see your projects.
Be Consistent: The last point is simple enough. Be consistent. Keep a schedule and try to write in that routine. I try to post articles every weekday and just fun odd and ends on the weekends. You never want to go too long without posting something for fear that you might lose those loyal customers that I mentioned earlier. You want people to visit your page regularly with the expectation that you will have posted some new tantalizing morsel of information. You want people anticipating some piece of wisdom, a funny story, or (better yet) a few words about the next project on which you’re working! That’s how you build your platform!
Consistency also means proofreading your posts (I do not do this nearly as much as I should) and making sure that your articles look as professional as possible. Major grammatical mistakes simply will not fly if you’re hoping to attract a sophisticated literary audience on a daily basis. Minor grammatical mistakes might be forgiven, but you’ll probably find a snippy little comment about each one in the space beneath the article (I know I have). I’ve even been called out for ironic grammatical mistakes or misspellings that I made DELIBERATELY. The point is that people notice things and once someone has dismissed you as a hack or an amateur, it can be really hard to win that person back.
Several people have left comments saying that I’m being a little too hard on the movie “Prometheus” (even though far more people have left comments saying they agree with me). I just wanted to make it clear that, while I definitely and emphatically did not enjoy the movie, the arrogance and hyperbole that I demonstrate in my remarks about that film are just to elicit conversation, which has been a tremendous success. I have gotten TONS of replies to those “Prometheus” posts, and that’s kind of what I need right now. So I hope I haven’t offended anyone. I just want everyone to know that my personality is never intended to seem “dickish” and I’m never implying that everyone has to agree with my observations. I’m just thrilled that you all came by and ate my lasagna. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but you’re all welcome to sample it and tell me how I can tweak my recipe.
Sorry, I’m really hungry as I’m writing this. It was only a matter of time before the conversation turned to food. Now I’m going out into the world in search of lasagna.