Do Writers Need a Website?
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Let’s get the hard part out of the way first. No writer coming up can survive on story alone today and even writing talent doesn’t guarantee you a spot on the stage. No one will pay you to write poetry, and it’s difficult to even give your fiction away for free and get anyone to pay attention to it. There are too many people out there looking for their quarter hour of fame and demanding to be heard which makes it extremely difficult to find the ones who do deserve the attention, the fame and the money that comes from excellent talent well applied.
So assuming that you’re not Stephen King’s son or daughter and that you don’t have inside biographical knowledge on the latest former teen idol train wreck; you’re going to have to start where all good writers do—in the streets begging for attention. The only difference between today and the past is that the boulevard has turned into the information superhighway, and if you don’t have your own website, you’ve lost the race before you even started.
Step 1: Going Past the Blog
I hate the word blog. It sounds so pretentious to me to say, “Read my blog;” It’s a website, end of story. But the fact is that the word blog has become a major part of our cultural lexicon, and you do yourself damage by refusing to embrace the format. That’s just what a blog is—a format of presenting content to your readers. For those that don’t know, a weblog (or blog for short) is a piece of software which coordinates and catalogues the publishing of your content into a nifty chronological listing which you can categorize by post and even tag so the search engines make it easier for information seekers to find your writing.
While the landing page of your weblog features your posts in a list format, each post is a page unto itself and allows for much easier referencing by search engines. What this means is that if you have a decent design for your site then publishing content becomes a no-brainer and in a short period of time, you can build a site with hundreds of pages of quality content that each becomes indexed and searchable by anyone with sense enough to type keywords into Google.
You can hire someone to do all the fancy stuff for you but only if you have what it takes to get people to sit down for 75 consecutive seconds to read what you’ve written. That’s the trick because today we want more information faster and without effort. People are reading less in one sitting because they don’t have to anymore. You as a writer must deal with this reality and either write in snippets digestible and interesting enough to keep people coming back, or you have to give them something worth sticking around for a few minutes when their fingers are screaming at them to click the mouse button and move on already.
Step 2: Get It Together
Now that you’ve made the decision to get a website, where should you start? Typepad or Blogger would be my suggestions unless you’ve got several hundred bones to lay down on a custom-made site design with preferred hosting. If so, I recommend using WordPress, but do some research and find out which option is best for you in the long run. I have changed blogging platforms three times now and each time has been a headache that was well worth it in the end (I use WordPress now on an independent server).
If you’re a web designer, I’d recommend holding off on your custom site design and pick one of the standard templates just so you can get yourself up and running. Start writing immediately because you’ve got a lot of catching up to do; there have been millions of blogs started and abandoned since I started using blogger over two years ago and millions more are coming. That’s a lot of bullcheet for people to wade through until they get to your stuff.
Step 3: Write Interesting and Write Right
Many writers online are all about the stream of consciousness diary style expression without edit or filter, but I am not. I believe that good writing may start there but that great writing comes from great editing and multiple revisions. If you care about your work and are passionate about getting others to read and respect your writing, meticulous editing will show proper grammar, sentence structure and capitalization. This attention to detail will show agents and publishers that you mean business and actually care about the product you’re putting out into the world. Your readers will appreciate you treating them like adults and putting capitals on proper nouns and the beginning of your sentences.
Step 4: Network with Your Blogroll, RSS and Your Time and Attention on Other Writers
A Blogroll is a section in the sidebar of your site where you list other sites that you read and provide links to those sites so your readers can click through. Whenever you mention or quote something that other writers have written, you can link to them using a trackback ping which is basically a shout out from your server to their server saying, “Hey, I mentioned what you wrote over here—come check out what I said.”
Also, get hip to Really Simple Syndication (RSS) which is a feed you subscribe to using an RSS Aggregator like Newsgator (which I use) or Bloglines—kind of like Tivo for your Internet. Subscribe to all your favorite blogs, news, link dumps (sites like Digg which link to multiple news stories or other content rich sites which will provide you with endless fodder to write about and give your interesting opinion on).
Leave intelligent comments on other sites, adding to the conversation and always giving props in a respectful manner (trust me, it’s not worth it to get into vicious arguments online—you always lose even when you win) and people will click onto your site and some of them will even keep coming back. If you’re lucky, the bloggers (who should always be readers first) will link to you, put you on their blogroll and send others your way.
Step 5: Let Go of the Old Model of Publishing but Don’t Forget It Completely
I can remember senior year in my BFA Creative Writing program—everything was all about prepping and shipping out short stories and poems to obscure literary magazines in the hopes that some pretentious highbrow would descend from their hermetically sealed academic podium to bestow the grandest of honors upon us newbies—publishing us in a magazine that only a handful of people might read.
I am still amazed when I hear from good and intelligent writers that they are reticent to create a website and publish their work on it because many magazines refuse to publish something which has been published prior in any medium, especially online where anyone can access it for free. BS, I say! If your writing is good enough and hundreds or thousands of people come to your site to read your work, any magazine worth its sticker price should be happy to republish your work on their pages. If what you say is interesting enough to enough people, someone will be willing to pay you to polish it up, revise it and put it out there for their readers who will in turn become your readers. Writing is fast-becoming a meritocracy and we the writers of the new millennium will be the ones to profit from the evolution.
Step 6: Give Everything Away
There are so many benefits I could give you to writing online but I’ll mention one outright. Your writing will get better because your readers will tell you what they want to read. The ability for them to leave comments and have their comments read and commented on by other readers allows for a one-to-many conversation about your ideas and your writing that will shape the way you write to them and polish your work so that the act of writing engaging content will become easier and easier to you as time and talent aggregate.
So don’t hold anything back online—give it away and it will come back to you ten fold. If you provide an aesthetically pleasing online environment along with creative, interesting and original content; slowly but surely you will build up your reputation (not to mention your portfolio) online and you will gain the respect and attention of the right people. Keep hammering away and your tipping point will come and you’ll be able to look back and say that you built your writing career from nothing to an audience that you earned through raw talent honed laser sharp and perseverance as thick as the yearly reject pile at Simon and Schuster.
Joshua Minton is the author of Flipping the Temple: Win the Information War Using the Internet to Achieve Fantastic Success as an Artist. You can keep up with him on award winning website, Boys Wear Pants, Men Wear Trousers where he is currently reposting his serial novel …And the Third Floor Magistrates Took the Rape