I have read a lot about building a following of readers, having online presence, working the social networks, and so on. And while a lot of it seems reasonably useful, there are also slews of articles that rub me the wrong way or that I’m not willing to do. Also, while I don’t claim to be the most successful network builder out there, I have gotten a lot more attention and a greater presence than I thought I would in just a couple of years. Yes, years. There is no such thing as an overnight sensation. Or if there is such a thing, one ought not plan to be that. I might as well develop a 5-year plan for flying myself to Mars.
So here is my list of ways not to grow one’s online network (tomorrow I’ll post the list of things I prefer doing instead):
1. Willy-nilly following people on social networks. Do this too quickly and you’ll run the risk of looking like a spammer, first of all. You’ll also diffuse what content you’re receiving on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and the like, with off-message feeds that obscure the things that may be more helpful for you to read. So any advice you hear about adding 50 people a day should be tempered by adding more carefully. I for one am willing to grow more slowly in order to stay on message.
2. Setting up a site before its time. I know that a lot of bloggers promote book blogs, and I made one of those for my memoir. But every extra signpost you hang out on the side of the information highway needs maintenance; so think about your daily and weekly schedule. Are you already blogging about writing and your current projects? Set up your blog to mirror what you’re already writing about before you extend a new branch and create a site for one project. And if you’re only on chapter 2 of a new novel, it is too soon to give it a blog, in all likelihood. My memoir blog languishes because I have nothing else to say about it beyond what I said initially; so I have to go back and redesign it to hide the fact that my latest post over there was in August. This blog is really where my attention is focused, in terms of my self-promotion, and I have the readers now to show for it.
3. Blasting your links 3 and 4 times to make sure every last person you know is exposed to them. Honestly, this is just annoying. Sure, there is more link clickage if links are presented more than once. But don’t wear people out—sending out the same link 4 tweets in a row will make some folks walk away, rather than click through to your post. Consider your audience; if it’s working mothers, schedule a link before they’re likely to head off for work, and then later in the evening. And post on a regular schedule, so they have an idea of when they can catch new content.
4. Posting any content whatsoever. Writers need to limit themselves to a few areas for their networking, maybe something like writing about their projects, current state of their chosen genre(s), whatever interest they have, etc. Broad-based is the key, right? We want to pick up as many people as possible. Since I write speculative fiction, memoir, and about the intersection of popular culture and politics, I try to stick to those areas on this blog and others. I avoid writing about whatever just to keep content coming, but I have an advantage at this point: I’ve got more than 350 posts here now. So on a day when I’m overstretched, I can go back in my archives and post a link from 6 months ago that I think would still have interest for people. And as I’m adding folks to my network all the time, it will be new content for many of them. But I don’t bang out an off-target piece on fluid dynamics; I’d feel pressure to keep up a new content track, and I’d confuse loyal readers.
5. Being so self-promoting I forget about all the other humans on the planet. Writers need community, honestly. It’s a lonely process, and there is a lot of waiting that works against people with masterful imaginations. Nobody wants to support the writer who never supports other writers. And while we may be prioritizing readers in our blogs, we need to be good citizens with our colleagues and other publishing professionals. So go read other writers’ blogs and comment there. Ask for guest bloggers on your site, and offer to write for folks in your network. Spread the love, people. Build a reputation for being serious, sympathetic, and energetic.