Marcelle Liemant asked: "You are a marvelous blogger and you have a very distinctive presence in everything you do online. I was just wondering how you inject so much of your personality into your blog posts/tweets etc. It's actually not such an easy thing to achieve!"
I am? Really? REALLY?? Thank you, darling, thank you! Now, what a wonderful question, and what an easy answer I have for you. You will be tittering with silly laughter. Notice one thing we're talking about here.
Writer's online presence.
There you go. This is the magic word.
I actually get asked this quite a lot and I can't remember the last time I answered it or blogged about it, so you're lucky to get a fresh perspective (I expect freshly baked cookies for that). People assume there is a magic pill for everything, or they can get a magic wand and wave it and... KABAM! ...glittery shit will start flying in all directions and suddenly everyone will be loving them and buying all their books and writing them 5-star reviews and sending them life-size chocolate ponies (not that I have anything against that, I don't want to hold you back if you have a pony for me). Well, sadly, it doesn't work like that at all. What people see as glittery and shiny and alluring and seductive hasn't become that overnight. It was years in the making, and those years were riddled with cloying empty efforts and mistakes and episodes of guile and guilt and blood welling out of the writer's eyes and ears and every single pore. Only...nobody's got to see it. Well, a few people did, the very first ones who stumbled upon said writer, looked down upon her misery, and sauntered on.
I've done it. This bleeding and failing. I've done it for over 10 years now, 8 while being an entrepreneur in my past life, running my start-up, branding it, marketing it, making sales, surviving, and 2 years as a writer full time. Yeah, I only started writing 2 years ago SO I DON'T KNOW WHY YOU THINK I'M KNOW SHIT BECAUSE I DON'T. (Still learning.)
What you're seeing me do online now hasn't happened overnight, and I'm very sorry (and you can totally drown me in a tub of liquefied cockroaches for this), but I don't have the magic pill for you, or the magic secret, except one.
To cultivate your online presence and to inject your personality into it all you have to do is to be present.
That is all.
Simple, isn't it? No, it isn't. I often (well, not anymore, because lately I don't go anywhere) hear this talk from writers about automating things. Writers sharing secrets on how to automate their tweets, batch together their posts on Facebook, use tools and apps and tricks and everything under the sun. Why? Because they want to do it all, be everywhere (online, that is), but life continues, and we all need to eat and poop and sleep, and, well, most importantly, write books. Right? Right.
There simply isn't enough time.
Well then, what do you do? This is what you do.
You spend time online. Don't have it? MAKE TIME. Especially if you're an indie writer, if you have no time to be online, when ebooks are as easy to download and read and as they are now, you will suffer. You have to be present.
I spend from 4 to 6 hours online on any given day. The other 12 hours I write and read. And in between I eat and poop, and I sleep about 6 hours a night. And on the weeks I have my son (we swap 50/50 with my ex) I spend time with my son. This is it. I don't do anything else. I don't go anywhere. Well, I started doing it a little more now, like I've been to a book fair twice, but I try to limit it. Because my goal is to keep writing as much as I can to get better and better and better and let people know about it, namely, to be present online.
And while I'm being present online (injecting my crazy Russian personality into unsuspecting victims), I do 3 things. Maybe these things are in a way a sort of a magic pill, or maybe you will call me a tolling bore and hurl a rock at this blog and never come back again. We shall see.
1. Be yourself.
There couldn't be anything easier, and yet it's the hardest thing to do. Why? Because of your fear. When you are starting out, you are intimidated by all those other writers already online, some very famous and with huge following, so you start copying them, hoping it will work. It never does. The only thing it will do to you, it will frustrate you and people will sense you're faking it. But you sort of have to do it, to experience it on your own skin and to learn from it. I can tell you, I still have that fear. My online presence it really nothing in the big scheme of things. It's miniscule. Every day I doubt myself, and every day I have to remind myself that I can only be me. And when I am, people feel it. Slowly, every day, I'm getting bolder and bolder, and so will you. I promise. You just have to show up every day online, that is all.
2. Be consistent.
By this I don't mean talking about the same things all the time or being yourself all the time. I mean, consistently show up. If you blog, blog once every week, or twice every week, or every day, or once a month. But create a schedule and stick to it, and show up consistently, and with time people will start expecting it, and that's exactly what you want. Experiment with rhythms. It will take you a while to find them, but never give up. With time you will find your perfect balance. The problem is, by then you will change and you will have to change again (happens to me all the time), but so is life, right? The fleeting ardent mistress. So annoying.
3. Be human.
Please, do not be a robot. I see these "robot" messages all the time and they turn me off. The automated tweets that are sent at peak times on Twitter (I know how this works because I used to do this work for clients, still do sometimes, for businesses), automated posts on Facebook and Google+ and LinkedIn and wherever else of articles that somebody else wrote, or about the book that writer wrote, or some other boring shit like that. It's always a turn-off for me because i can't break through this barrage of formality to get to know the real person. I keep hearing some writers talking about the perfect combination of business and personal mix online. Like, do 2/3 of personal tweets, and only 1/3 of promotion. Bla-bla-bla. It puts me to sleep or makes my face boil, depends on how much vigor the writer is using when talking about it, because there is no such thing. There is no balance. The barriers between readers and writers are erasing with lightning speed and there is no other way for writers but to be human to gain any kind of trust and following.
I'll give you an example.
I was one of those people who made one of those mistakes in my early days of Twitter by seeking out people to follow so they would follow me back and I even blogged about my techniques. Well, there are sometimes writers you see with this huge number of people following them, like, 100K people, and they follow 100K people too, or maybe a little less or a little more. These numbers are a deception. And I have fallen for it too and I'm fixing it now. How? I'm unfollowing inactive accounts almost every day, sometimes I do it on the weekends. What does this mean? It means that from 69.2K followers you see on my Twitter account, about 20K are inactive. It's people who opened accounts, tweeted, and then stopped and haven't tweeted in months. When I have started dropping them, I was following 55K people or so. Now it's down to 37.4K. Scary, right? My actual active audience is probably only around 20K right now. So instead of seeing 69.2K people following me and me following 37.4K people, it should be more like 22K people following me and me following 2K people. These would be the honest numbers.
When you see someone on Twitter with 100K followers who follows 90K people, do the math. It's probably an audience of only 10K or so. Feeling better? Good.
Why do I unfollow accounts now? I want to really interact with those whom I do follow. It is humanly impossible to do so with more than 1-2K people. What do all these writers do, who follow huge numbers of followers? They have lists. I have lists too, so when I look at my actual Twitter feed, most of the time I see writers promoting their books non-stop (I followed them way back when I started), so I've started dropping them. No offense, but sorry, I want to see you as a person, I don't want to see hashtags upon hashtags praising your book.
See? I'm listing this example for you to show you that I'm still learning all of this too, this online presence with injecting my personality into it thing, and I make mistakes too. Maybe you can learn on my mistakes and won't repeat them.
I strive to be human online. I share everything, my highs, my lows, as they are. If you are uncomfortable doing this, let me ask you. Why did you become a writer? Your very soul (and your grey coils of viscera too) will be scrutinized by strangers when you publish your first book. You're out there by definition. Then be there. Or choose to do something else.
Wow. I went on a rant. Look at all these words! Are you still with me?
Here is the good news.
It's not all that bad. I'll give you a beacon of hope. The more you are online, the more of a presence you build for yourself, the less you have to be there. You will be known more and more, so you won't have to shout standing on the chair in the middle of the street in hopes of attracting attention anymore. There will be people now waiting by the empty chair and all you will have to do is show up for a few minutes a day. Or maybe not even every day anymore. So there is hope. There is. And I know you will get there.
Until then, onward. Remember again:
1. Be yourself.
2. Be consistent.
3. Be human.