Friday, November 5, 2010

Junior High for Web Pages- Get it Over With by Randy Tayler

It's my pleasure today to introduce you to a fellow writer, a comedian, and an internet visionary. Here's a man followed on twitter by Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells. He's known across the web for his sense of humor and talent for expression, and he's here to give us some advice on web presence.

Today, we hear from Randy Tayler!



More than six billion people live on this planet. Six BILLION. It sounds like a lot, until you realize that most numbers in the universe are much, much bigger. That’s infinity for you.

The web isn’t infinite, though it might seem like it. There are currently more than 100 million registered domain names, and more than a trillion web pages (and that’s just as of 2008). If you spent 1 second on every page currently in existence, it would take you more than 30,000 years to visit them all. (Better get surfin’.)

Every writer should know the importance of having his or her presence on the web - and I’m not talking about Facebook. But in case you don’t, let me make it clear: if you are planning to have people read your writing, you need to have a website of your own today.

Why today? Why not when you’re finally published, or at least looking for an agent? Your romance about a magic-wielding marine biologist in the industrial age isn’t even done yet, so why build the site now?

Because the sooner you plant a tree, the sooner it can grow.

Brand-new sites don’t have the same sway as older sites. You’ve experienced this -- you come to a site that looks nice, but find it only has three pages. You feel like you’ve been duped.

All sites have to go through that awkward phase. It’s like junior high for web pages. GET IT OVER WITH NOW. Get your writing up, even if it’s just blog posts to start. Create content - real thoughts, even if it’s just your own mini-dramas at home - and build a site that’s ready for your big efforts when you need it.

And remember, the bigger your presence on the web, the greater number of people who will see you. People with similar interests. You’ll form writing groups and give and receive invaluable feedback. You’ll get a small audience of people who want to read what you write.

Or, bigger things may happen. An agent may stumble across a synopsis on your blog, check out your other writing and like it, and ask to read your story. A film producer may see a short story you put up on a whim, and think it’d be a fantastic TV movie. Why not? They’re humans; they surf the web just like the rest of us.

None of that can happen if people can’t find your writing. It needs to be someplace other than your notebook or hard drive.

Oh, what, it’s not ready? Not polished enough? That’s a reasonable thought. But let the knowledge that people are going to see it motivate you to polish it now. I, personally, tend to let my projects wither if I’m not getting them before some eyeballs.

Say you’re rebuilding a classic car. Do you wait until the whole thing is done to show it off, or do you let people see which piece you’ve refinished? If you’re like me, you need some feedback, some pats on the back, to keep you going; otherwise, you end up with a rusting pile of junk sitting in your yard for forty years.

Afraid of putting your steampunk-marine-biologist-romance on the web where somebody could steal it? Don’t be. It’s actually easier to establish something is yours when you put it out where everybody can see it.

(And in case you’re wondering, no, you won’t cannibalize book sales if you make it free for the world to see. If it’s worth buying, people will purchase it. Consider:
  • New York Times bestselling authors Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, and Brandon Sanderson have all successfully released books online for free, then gone on to sell them in ridiculous quantities. Those are just the few I know about.
  • Many web cartoonists have translated publishing their comics for free on the web into a steady living by releasing them in book form. My brother Howard has been feeding his family from his self-published comic Schlock Mercenary for years now.
  • I’ve purchased books that were available for free online myself, and I almost never buy books in the first place. I’m real big on borrowing. Sometimes returning, too.

My point: the value of getting your work seen vastly outweighs the peril of letting your work be seen.)

So, you need to have a website now. It’ll help you hone your craft, and help you garner an audience.

Is “website” too intimidating? Maybe you’re not as nerdy as me, and don’t know how to register a domain, purchase hosting, redirect nameservers, code, upload, etc. Good for you! It’s probably sign that you have a real life offline. But that’s no excuse for not also having an online presence, a place in cyberspace that belongs to you.

Well, you don’t need a full-blown website. A blog is sufficient, because most blog-hosting sites give you a subdomain of your own. You go to blogspot.com or livejournal.com or wordpress.com and you’re registered and up in minutes. You can have your foothold in cyberspace ten minutes from now. And it’s free - everybody’s favorite price. I’ve never paid a dime for my livejournal, wordpress, or blogspot accounts.

You may not want to, or be ready to, put your entire novel online. That’s fine. But you need to be online. And no, Facebook doesn’t count.

Randy Tayler is a published author and columnist, an improvisational comedian, a web programmer, and an incredibly huge nerd. His most active home on the web is currently his twitter feed. You can also reach him via email.

P.S. If you’re ready for the commitment, and can spare the cash, I suggest you get your own domain name. You can always migrate your blog over to your new site later, but all the links you’ve garnered will still point at the old place. You can nab a domain for $7.49 for the first year at GoDaddy.com, which is where I buy all of mine. (I think you can enter the code “RON” at checkout and get another 10% off. If you try it, lemme know.)

6 comments:

  1. Sweeeeeetttt!!! Great info here.

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  2. I love the comparison to junior high. That's actually how my personal writing blog feels sometimes, like some pimply, voice-cracking tween who can't quite keep up with the cool kids. But as Elana Johnson says, we all start at zero. Making friends and gaining an audience take time and effort.

    Thanks for breaking it down for us, Randy! And good luck finding the perfect $7 birthday gift for your wife. ;) (not an inside joke, really; just check twitter, my friends)

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  3. I got an email the other day from a lady who had two books published by a small publisher. She was letting all of us at this particular writing group know. Then she went on to say that she didn't have a web page. I wondered why she bothered getting published at all. I stalk my favorite authors online, waiting for their next book to come out or to see if they'll be in my area. Nice to hear more people with the same opinion.

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  4. excellent post! I was terrified when I first started my blog but it's amazing how easy it really is. I even jumped into the world of "real" websites...though hardly anyone goes there LOL I do have quite a few wonderful people on my blog though and love hat I can list an established site or two with my contact info :)

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  5. This is great info. It reassures me that I'm on the right track.

    I bought my domain names (.com,.org, & .net) last year and set up a simple site with links to info on my completed novel, along with a couple excerpts. I set up a blog about that time and have slowly been getting established online.

    Last month I revamped my website (it's a fancy flashsite now) and added a section for my YA works.

    And no, I'm not published - yet. But I will be.

    What I'm doing now is building a readership and laying the groundwork to show agents and publisher that I'm up to the marketing challenge.

    As Randy says, I've planted my tree. I'm now adding water and fertilizer in the hopes that it will grow.

    Great topic! Thanks for having Randy guest post!

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