Miss Write's Advice: Creating an online presence

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Category: Writing

Our resident Agony Aunt is back with some advice on creating an online presence. If you've got a writing dilemma, don’t suffer in silence! Send your problems over to Miss Write.

The Question

Help! I'm a writer for children with four unpublished manuscripts to my name. I've had good feedback and now have some useful contacts and competition placements. So here's the issue... having nothing published yet makes me feel a bit silly and pretentious about creating a writerly online presence. I've also been told that some publishers and agents will look at the writer's online presence even before reading the submission, and not bother if there's nothing there. I'm no dinosaur, but I don't love social media and feel that my time should probably be spent writing. What do you think? Barbara

The Answer

Sometimes, it feels like everyone is busy sharing their thoughts and advice online… ahem. However, you’d be surprised at the number of writers who are still resistant to the idea. On the surface, most writers appreciate the value of a strong online presence. Quite simply, it can make your audience bigger, regardless of whether you are published or not. But the important word there is ‘strong’; a bad online presence can actually do a harmful disservice to your work and career.

Here are my thoughts on creating an online presence:

1.    Make peace with an online presence

Regardless of your publication status, it is perfectly okay for you to be active online.

Firstly, you need to be at peace with the very idea of having an online presence. Regardless of your publication status, it is perfectly okay for you to be active online. This activity gives you a platform to engage with the writing and publishing industry and moreover it will help boost your own personal sense of validation. If you accept this, you’ll feel much more relaxed and capable of approaching your computer.

2.    Focus on your writing

Your writing should still come first, no matter what. A publisher or agent may glance at your online presence, but they won’t publish you purely because you have a huge number of Twitter followers. See your online presence as an added bonus, giving you the chance to engage with audiences, increase your knowledge of the industry and make friendly connections. Plus, it’s a nice ‘virtual water cooler’ or ‘putting the kettle on’ moment in what can otherwise be a pretty lonely pursuit.

3.    Develop a basic website

Think of a basic website as the equivalent of a business card.

Unless you want to be a J.D Salinger on the scale of literary hermits, it’s fairly essential for you to have some kind of online presence, but it doesn’t have to be on social media. A very simple website or reference page with your work and contact information would be enough. Think of this basic website as the equivalent of a business card. It’s a great way for you to develop the contacts you’re making and keep a formal record of your successes. If you’ve won or been shortlisted for a writing competition, been published in a journal or read your work at an event, make sure you list that too. Traditional publishing isn’t the only marker of success and all published writers will have been on a similar journey.

4.    Make it comfortable and manageable

For some people, social media comes naturally, but for others it can strike ice cold fear into their heart. The important thing is to do what makes you comfortable. Not all social media platforms suit everyone, so if you’d rather stick to Twitter, then do so. It’s far better to develop one decent online profile than have several badly managed ones. Ease yourself in by researching successful profiles, commit to a post a day, or get involved with fun initiatives such as #bookadayuk to give you something concrete to post about. Work it into your existing writing routine and it’ll soon feel natural and manageable. It’s also important to keep your online presence up to date. Again, working it into your routine will stop your profile or website looking like a tumbleweed should be blowing across it.  

5.    Know your boundaries

Once you’ve taken the plunge with social media, think carefully about what you post and how you want your audience to see you. Watch who you friend or follow, add a disclaimer line to your profile and think about how many personal details you want to share (eg. where you live or your marital status). It’s important to give a sense of your personality but reveal too much and you will run the risk of offending or putting people off entirely. I always abide by the rule of ‘think before you tweet’. And no-one needs to know what you had for breakfast, unless that happened to be cake. People always like to hear about cake.

Above all, don’t lose too much sleep over social media. It’s a useful and prominent tool and you’re bound to see a benefit from a well-managed online presence. The key is to get stuck in and have fun, but don’t be tempted to lose hours on Twitter when you should be writing!

Have you got a question for Miss Write? Add it as a comment at the bottom of this blog or ask away on our Facebook page or @ScottishBkTrust on Twitter, using the hashtag #askmisswrite.

Get more useful tips from our new all-singing, all-dancing Advice and Resources for Writers pages or rummage around in Miss Write's archives here.

Miss Write

Miss Write is Scottish Book Trust's resident writing Agony Aunt. When she's not busy drinking tea, making to-do lists or alphabetising her book collection, she likes to get some writing done.