Creating an online presence
I want you to do something for me: google yourself.
Type your pen name into Google and then I want you to post the results in the comments section below. On what page did you appear?
If you're right at the top of Page 1 on Google, give yourself a gold star. If you appear anywhere lower than the third page, you have some work to do. If you have zero online presence, you're in trouble!
At this point, you're probably thinking to yourself: "but I'm just a beginner writer. What does it matter whether or not you can find me online?"
At the ROSA Retreat in the Western Cape in February, we hosted New York literary agent Louise Fury. During her talk, Louise confessed that if she's interested in a submission, she gets her CIA-trained assistant to go online to check out the writer before she decides whether or not to make an offer.
Yes, editors and agents say all the time that they don't discriminate based on an author's social media presence. That it's the writing that counts. And it does - to a point.
The hard truth is that editors and agents don't publish books. Publishers publish books, and publishing companies are run by financial and marketing people who want guaranteed profits. They want safe bets.
Imagine an editor loves your book and wants to publish it. But the publisher only has one spot open in their schedule and two excellent books the editors want to buy. Which author are the financial and marketing people going to vote for: the writer who only appears on page three of Google, or the author who is committed enough to their career to have an effective online presence?
Sure, you could wait until the week before you send out your manuscript to open a Facebook page in your author name and start tweeting. You could even wait until the week your book launches.
But you can't build an online presence overnight. It takes months to build up an online following and to get visible. So if you only give yourself a week, who are you going to tell about your new book?
I can promise you this: as supportive as your friends, family and colleagues are of your writing, they are not going to buy your book. (Trust me. We all learn this the hard way!)
The only readers who count are those who actively read in your genre - and how do you reach those readers when you live at the bottom end of Africa? You find them online!
This situation is even worse if you're writing under a pseudonym, because you don't want your boss or grandmother or nosy neighbour finding out what you write. You'll need to build a completely new network of friends from scratch.
So why make it that much harder for yourself by staying invisible? Get yourself out there while you still have the luxury of time!
Next week, we'll look at Step Two of establishing your online presence: reserving your little corner of the internet.