A Step Behind
A short guide (and memoir) to beginning your author journey.
Being a new writer is hard work. And I’m not even talking about the writing part—that’s a whole different kind of hard. I’m talking about being a new player in an old game.
The world is overflowing with stories. Books, movies, plays, games, you name it. Writers are the fuel to the passion; they seem to create sweeping worlds and relatable characters in their sleep. Becoming an author can be a daunting task to some, and a walk in the park for others. Regardless of skill or experience, we’re all on the same journey. We all start somewhere and we’re all reaching for the bookshelves.
When you’re just starting out, it seems like everything has been done before. It’s a fun challenge, actually, trying to find something new and exciting to write about. Never give up, though; every single writer has their own voice. No two tales will be exactly the same, even when given the same parameters (it’s part of why I love writing prompts, you get to see this firsthand).
However, overcoming my insecurities of whether or not my stories will be unique has been the least of my worries. What I struggle with most as an author is the feeling of always being a step behind everyone else.
I tell myself I’m innovative. I remind myself that it’s all at my own pace anyways. Until I have a novel on the shelves, it doesn’t matter how fast or slow I write, as long as I’m doing it. I can look at the other writers out there and take notes on what I’ll need to do eventually, but none of them are requirements and without a ‘product’ to sell, all I have to offer is a promise.
I promise that if you follow me on my journey, I will invite you into the world I’ve created.
The notes are extensive. It’s beginning to feel as if every step I take to further myself as an author is at half the stride of the ones before me. Luckily, I’ve learned to use the forerunners as examples of what I should be aiming to do (or not do, depending on the situation). Here are a few things to consider when first putting yourself out there in the world:
Have a professional email address.
It’s fun to show off that unique email address from high school (happypeoplekill is already taken, by the way) but is it really how you want to introduce yourself to prospective publishers? I know from experience that it can be a great icebreaker and conversation starter, but you’re not going to have the opportunity to explain it with that funny backstory every time someone sees it. Play it safe. Starting an email account is simple; Yahoo and Gmail both have quick sign-ups and will get you started within minutes.
Some suggestions for an author email address: Use your pen name (as I did). CrystalMMBurton. Use a variation of initials and names. CMMBurton, CrystalMMB, CMMB. If all the combinations are taken, add ‘author’ to the username. CMMBauthor, AuthorCMMBurton, CMMBurtonAuthor. The possibilities (while staying professional) are endless.
Have an author page on Facebook.
This is for establishing yourself in social media and having one main place that the world can come together to keep up with your progress. You can use it to share status updates on your stories, witty jokes, quick writing tips you find useful, inspirational photos, etc. Do not be discouraged if it takes a while to get likes. I’ve come to terms with the knowledge that most of my likes will probably come about after I have a book and readers. But having the page ahead of time can be very helpful. Let the world know you exist.
This part here may be personal preference, but if you already have books out, I’d advise against creating a different page for each book. It sounds fun and exciting to see how many people are loving your story on its own, but as you move on to the next story, your first page will begin to lose traction. You won’t post as much as you think you will, and each new page for each new book will be one more place to keep track of, one more page to share around, one more page your fans need to find to follow. Don’t confuse your potential followers. Keep it simple.
Have a website or a blog.
Authors have different reasons for keeping websites and blogs. Some people use them to promote their books, offer up an author biography page, and have a contact form if readers wish to get in touch with the author. Some people use them, as I do, to showcase their writing style. My website is my portfolio. I post short stories and poems I write so readers can get a glimpse into how my mind works and the style I favor. Some people even use it to reach deeper into the writing community by posting helpful writing tips, useful information, or reviews they’ve written of other books. There are a number of websites you can use to kick-start your own—WordPress, Blogger, Weebly, Tumblr, Wix, just to name a few. You don’t have to have anything fancy or awe-inspiring. You don’t have to overload it with detailed images and links. Again, keep it simple.
Just like with a Facebook page, don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to get followers and returning readers. If you do start a blog, here are a few things you can do to help encourage people to follow you: like and comment on other blogs, share your posts across your social media accounts, and most importantly, keep it active. Post new content on a consistent basis. It doesn’t have to be every day, or even every week, but show potential followers that you are present on your site.
Also similar to Facebook, I’d advise against creating a separate blog or website for each book. If you had a blog and released two books which each had their own blogs…would you rather write one post for each blog, or line up three posts for one? Would you rather offer content sparingly across three blogs or consistently on one? You can easily create pages within your site to showcase your books without overwhelming your readers with a new website for each one.
There are multiple other social media sites that an author can join to help build their fan base. Absolutely none of them are essential or required. Helpful, yes. Fun, maybe. But never required. Such sites include Twitter, Instagram, Smashwords, Goodreads, Google+, YouTube, and Amazon (as an author), among others. The options can seem overwhelming, so here’s my advice: only do what you are comfortable with or what you enjoy doing. Your readers would rather see you active on one account than rarely on four.
I recommend having the email, Facebook, and website for any writers who want to begin building their author platform—if you want to make yourself known in the world and want to be an active part of it. Even if you feel like you’re a step behind, it’s a step in the right direction. Before you know it, you’ll be front and center with the best of them.
And now, for my most contradictory statement:
Do what makes you happy.
We don’t write because it’ll make us rich. We don’t write because we have a gun to our heads forcing us to do it. We write because it makes us happy. Because the characters in our heads tell us to. Because it’s who we are as writers. At the end of the day, who cares if you have this stuff, as long as you have your words? The world of social media isn’t going anywhere, but no matter how hard you try to catch up, the truth is, you’ll always be a step behind. There’s no getting around it. So don’t stress about whether or not you have a Facebook page yet. You’ll get there. If there’s one step in this makeshift guide that you do follow, let it be this one…
Do what makes you happy.