Today's guest post is by Christy McFerren. Follow her on Twitter, @ChristyMcFerren.
Life as a writer in these social-tech-maze times can have your mind pinging like a frenetic tennis match, shifting back and forth from your next creative piece to wondering whether you are marketing it, your work or yourself properly. Should you hide in your hole and write your next chapter, or should you be spending the time that others are awake (and the conversation is happening) posting to your blog, Tweeting, Facebooking, Google Plussing, Pinteresting, reading others blogs and commenting, etc., etc., etc., to build your brand and awareness? Or maybe you need to write your next eBook to make some money for now, or pitch a magazine or newspaper or… Wow… when's the time to research? And, it's only getting more chaotic with the invention of even newer social toys like Cowbird, Spotus, Storify, and Bookshout, which are all social layers built on top of the core networks and targeted specifically to writers and authors.
To sort through the mire, you almost need prophetic vision to know what it is thou shouldest be doing at any given moment of any given day.
What you need is a friend to help you through. I'm here to help, at least just for today. Your real, long-term friend is going to be a strategy you develop, and then faithfully execute until that strategy plateaus, and then you revise.
The strategy you need will accomplish the following objectives that nearly everyone in the writing space should share:
1. Write. Write, write, write. WRITE. WRITE A LOT.
2. Build a community, tribe, following, whatever you want to call it, which basically translates to situating yourself as a friend among equals in the marketplace who share interest in your areas of writing.
3. Have short term income strategies.
4. Have long term income strategies, so you can do what you came to earth to do, which is write. (WRITE.)Notice how the end goal is the same as the first goal? Right, that's right, it's to write. You don't wind up as a writer without writing. From the start. Social media, websites, all the buzz is all fuzz, next to writing, which is the point. With those goals in mind, here are some guidelines to help you establish your writer's strategy.
1. Since writing is the foundation, write when you're at your best. This is the always-sacred-cow that never moves. Set aside all the time that you *realistically* can be productive, no more, no less. It's different for everyone, some people 2 hours, some people 7 or 8. Whatever it is for you, this is the core of your universe and all else revolves around it, the sun around which all your social media planets rotate. Don't set aside too much time or you will feel void and like a failure when you have nothing left to say. Don't set aside too little time or you will shoot yourself in the foot, wasting time doing things that don't get you to your goal as quickly. In short, always, if you CAN be writing, DO be writing. No new-fangled technology should rob you away from this, and if it has, take back that ground.
2. Build a community. There are so many ways to say and do this. Here are a few must-haves (and where my 13 years in web technology background is to your advantage):
a. Have a website that doesn't suck. Spending all your time on social media when you don't have a good website that communicates your message is like inviting people to a dinner party and not having a home to host it in. There are volumes that could be written on having a good website presence, but in short, it needs to clearly communicate your message (why you write), well-designed (pretty and easy to navigate), connected to social media (don't make me work to share things from your site), and search engine optimized so it can be found. If this is not your reality, fix that, and fix it first, after you write, but before you social medialize. Realize this - that the more you write, as you're faithful to step 1, the more you're going to need to place this writing in front of people, and your blog/website is where that needs to happen. So be sure to do it well.
b. Once you have a website, find your voice with social media. If you don't know where to start, start with Twitter. Facebook is mainly for friends and family, and if you do have a fan page, it's much harder to start conversation there than it is on Twitter. Basically, they already love you on Facebook. Twitter is where you make new friends, grow your audience. Learn to run Twitter searches and start speaking into streams of conversation. Don't market yourself. Just chat. Ask questions. Social media. Not sales media. Don't confuse the two. Every now and then, just invite someone over for a read at your website, but don't push yourself. It's gross.
When you've got Twitter down, take a day off, or a weekend, and spend all the time you need wrapping your head around the next social network. Maybe Pinterest, or Cowbird. Just take your time, don't hurry through it, and don't get overwhelmed. Slow and steady wins the race, as you work your way through engaging the social media world.
Plan your year around methodically building your community. Set a goal of building/refining your website for the first two-four months of the year. Then set a goal of working on your Twitter presence for a month until you've got a manageable routine over there. Then learn what Pinterest, Cowbird, Storify can do for you. Set monthly goals and knock these platforms out. It's a huge key to building your platform but it's not more important than writing. Don't forget that part. So space it out, and take your time.
3. A little less talk, a little more action, you say? Or so says your bank account. Develop some short term income strategies. Write for papers, for magazines, for other blogs who pay for your work, and/or write eBooks that you can sell as downloadable PDF's on your website, Facebook page, or Amazon. Short and quick sales, $5, $4, $.99 sales, repeating, over time, do wonders for that electric bill. It's also nice to get slightly off topic in your writing now and then. Like a palate cleanser, writing about something fresh is a nice creative reset and adds to your perspective. Also, if you've done step 2, step 3 finds you with an audience, and more sales.
4. Alas, you've kept the golden rule, point number 1, and you've been writing when you're supposed to be writing. Turns out that step 1 is your step 4. Writing faithfully until you make something of it is your long term income strategy. Here's the part where the community building and all that writing begin to pay off, as you launch your first, second, third books. This four-point strategy can be wrapped around your day and implemented in any form you choose. The important key here is to integrate into your writing a cycle of learning new technologies, social networks, and getting your hands on devices that change the game for authors (like the iPad). Don't do it the other way around. Don't integrate your writing into a crazed cycle of embracing new technologies and networks, or you'll never get the important stuff done. The other thing to remember in the fast changing world of author-relevant technology and ideas: No one knows it all, or has all the answers. Trust your instincts. If it seems of interest to you, you should probably pursue it. If you want a teacher, hire any given college kid to spend three hours with you teaching you how Twitter works. You have to, need to, MUST… get integrated with these technologies, but don't get in a hurry and don't get overwhelmed, and never let it be more important to you than writing.