How Essential is an Online Presence to a Writer's Career?

We live in rapidly changing times. What worked for writers ten, five, even one year ago, has changed—and continues to change, especially in the areas of marketing and publicity.

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in an author Media Training Webinar by Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists. It was packed full of great information on how to prepare for and polish radio, print, and television interviews, as well as online publicity. I came away from the webinar, asking myself what’s really going to help my marketing the most and where should I focus my limited time and energy?

Then last week I read Erik Qualman’s post, Social Media Revolution May 5, 2010. He likens the Social Media Revolution to the Industrial Revolution in its scope in changing the world. Here are a few of his statistics:

• “Over 50% of the world’s population is under 30-years-old. 96% of them have joined a social network.”

• “If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s 3rd largest ahead of the United States and only behind China and India.”

• “The fastest growing segment on Facebook is 55-65 year-old females.”

• “Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears (combined) have more Twitter followers than the populations of Sweden, Israel, Switzerland, Ireland, Norway, and Panama.”

• “Years to Reach 50 million Users: Radio (38 Years), TV (13 Years), Internet (4 Years), iPod (3 Years)…”

After reading such statistics (his post lists more), it’s obvious traditional methods of marketing cannot keep up with the online explosion. Qualman summarizes the trend in this statement: “Social Media isn’t a fad, it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.” And he says this, “Because of the speed in which social media enables communication, word of mouth now becomes world of mouth.”

There are times when we writers look at the social media sites negatively—especially when they distract from quality writing time. But we can no longer stick our heads in the sand and hope Facebook, Twitter, and other social media go away.

If we hope to succeed in marketing, then we MUST go to where people are congregating. And that happens to be online—in a really big way. And it’s only getting bigger.

If an online presence is essential, what can writers do to keep up with the changing times? Here are a few of my ideas:

1. Familiarize ourselves with the online writing industry. There are more writing and publishing related blogs than one person can keep up with. I recommend finding a handful of favorites to read on a weekly basis. In doing so, we can keep ourselves up-to-date on industry standards and happenings. Here are a few places to start:

Top Five Agent Blogs for 2010 according to Writer’s Digest Chuck Sambuchino
Best of Twitter according to Writer’s Digest JaneFriedman (even if you’re not on twitter, this list helps narrow down the most helpful writing-related blog posts each week)
Writer’s Digest Online Magazine contains an incredible amount of helpful writing advice with links to all of the editor’s blogs

2. Don’t be afraid to try out new social media sites. I often hear writers who say they can’t join sites (like Facebook or Twitter) because they don’t have time. My question for those of us serious about publication is this: Can we afford NOT to make the time? If online marketing is truly the way of the future, then why wouldn’t we want to do whatever we can to join in and meet people where they’re at?

3. Know when to jump in. I previously outlined how to set priorities at different stages of the writing career including how much effort we should give marketing in each one. To summarize, I believe newer writers need to spend the majority of time focused on writing. However, I don’t think it’s ever too early to join online communities, meet other writers, and learn about the industry.

4. Don't jump in too fast and furiously. I’ve seen so many writers start blogging, twittering, or facebooking at top speed. They’re excited and spend an incredible amount of time at it. And then they fizzle out. I don’t see them much, and then eventually not at all. They try to do too much too soon and get burned out. Start slow and steady, and be consistent.

5. Most importantly, use social media to build relationships. It’s not a popularity contest or a race to see who can get the most followers. It’s also not a place where we pop in only to share our good news, contest wins, book sales, etc. In other words, it's not all about us. Rather, social media sites are largely about socializing—communicating and building relationships with others.

If you have time, Qualman's video is worth watching:

In light of the video and statistics, how important do you think social media is to a writer’s career? What other ideas do you have for how writers can keep up with the changing times?

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