Last week I gave you the reasons WHY you should start thinking about establishing your presence online, even if you haven't yet finished writing your first draft. This week, I'm going to look at the very first baby steps you should take.
Baby Step 1: Check your name is really yours
Believe you're unique? Google your own name and you could have a rather rude awakening!
Check first that (a) your name isn't already being used by another author / artist / musician (b) check that someone with your name hasn't completely trashed their reputation - because that trash is going to cling to you!
If you think that's far-fetched, listen to this: very fortunately I Googled the name of my heroine while writing a recent novel - and I discovered someone with the same name was sitting in an Indian jail following a high profile court case! Not something I want any heroine of mine associated with, so I very quickly changed her name. But imagine if that was you? And imagine you only discovered that link when your name was already emblazoned across the front of a beautiful book cover - and some nasty reviewer dug up the lurid story and believed it was you?
Baby Step 2: Reserve your domain
Check that your name is available as a website domain. For example, if your name is Jane Doe, search for www.janedoe.com. Is it still available, or has someone else already reserved it?
If the domain is still available, grab it now before anyone else does! (See Step 1: are you really that unique?) This may involve a small cost, but it will be well worth it in the long term. Even if you're not planning to set up that website (or blog) any time soon, you need to take ownership of your name online.
How do you register a domain? There are different ways, all at varying costs. Personally, I opted to register the domain for this website through my web host, Hetzner, a company with a strong presence in South Africa. Afrihost is also a highly reputable South African company. Alternatively, you could register a .com address though the online web design site Wix.com or a site like RegisterDomain.co.za.
#WriterTip 1: Even if you are based in South Africa, I would recommend that you go for a .com domain rather than a .co.za. Yes, in the short term the ZA address might be cheaper, but remember that one day you could be marketing yourself to a big international audience, and they will assume you have a .com address. If a reader can't type in 'your name plus .com' they most likely won't be able to find you. And the whole point of being online is so that people can find you as easily as possible!
#WriterTip2: If you find that your name has already been taken by another individual, do not try to be cute and register a domain in the name of your book / pet cat / online gaming nickname. You will want to be taken seriously as an author, and no one is going to take www.writerchick.net seriously.
And do you really want to be going to the expense (both in time and money) of creating a new website for every single book you write - quite apart from the fact that you'll be making it very, very difficult for readers to find you?
If your name (or desired pen name) is already taken, you might seriously want to consider altering your name so that you can own your little piece of the internet. Consider a different spelling, or changing your first name or surname.
Baby Step 3: Social Media
In the Western world, everyone and their mother is on social media. You don't need to open accounts on every single platform out there, but my recommendation is to pick the one that you're most comfortable with and be consistent with it.
If you're new to social media, or starting from scratch under a pen name, I would recommend Facebook. It's used a LOT by both readers and authors.
If you are using a pen name, but are happy for all your family and friends to know the name you write under, consider creating a Page in your author name, rather than an entirely separate profile. Pages are different than Profiles in that they do not have a 'friends' limit, and it means you can get the benefit of promoting to people who already know you without bombarding them, while at the same time keeping your content separate so your old school friends aren't constantly seeing book-ish posts they have no interest in.
Baby Step 4: Curate your online reputation
This is particularly relevant for those of you who intend to write under your own names.
Last week I asked you to Google yourself. So by now you should know what an agent or editor is going to learn about you online if they go searching. Are those drunken pictures from the company Christmas party three years ago going to come back to bite you?
Untag yourself in any unflattering pictures. Change the privacy settings on your social media profiles to protect pictures of your home and your loved ones from public view. Hide (or preferably delete) any rants or controversial posts that might show you in an unflattering light. Look at your social media profiles objectively, as a potential agent / reader / employer might look at it, and curate what they see.
It is important to remember that everything on the internet is forever. The moment someone else shares, comments, likes or screen grabs your post, you may not be able to eradicate it completely. So from now, ensure that everything you do online fits the way you want people to see you.
Over the coming months we will cover the dos and donts of online behaviour, and how to start building your brand and finding a potential readership, so keep watching this space!