Friday, July 25, 2014

Writing for Web Sites

The Internet, the World Wide Web, commonly known as the Web, has changed over the last decade. Originally, a collection of sites that were mostly one way portals, it has grown into a sophisticated communication medium in which writers and readers can interact with each other. And if you think you can take previously printed articles and sell them to online markets, you better think again.

Writing for online publications is a lot different from writing for print. First, they’re mostly written in the second person. That’s because you’re speaking directly to readers—one at a time. So when you use the pronoun “you,” the reader thinks you’re speaking to him or her.

Second, online articles tend to have links. They’re interconnected to other pages on a site or other sites on the Web. But you can’t include too many or your reader will drift off to other sites and not finish reading your article.

Before you begin writing for any sites, you should set out to learn as much as you can about Web writing. Just as you studied magazines to learn about their style, length, and approach, so you should study Web sites to learn their style, length, and approach to the subject.

The first rule of Web writing is to write tight—yep, that’s right, put the girdle around that article. Online readers, unlike print readers, aren’t there for the duration. They’re busy people who have a little time to see what’s happening. So they surf fast, and read as little as they can. You’ve got to say what you mean and mean what you say in as few words as possible. Cut right to the chase. (Whew! The clichés are certainly flying here.) Web articles tend to be shorter and more to the point than print pieces. The majority of online blog posts and articles fall in the 500-800 word range. If you write pieces longer than that, you’re asking for trouble.

And since online readers don’t linger over a page or an article for too long, you should use subheads, bullets, and numbered lists to help them find what they want fast. Today’s readers use various devices to access Web content—cell phones, tablets, laptops—so you also need to be aware of how your article will look on the page. Break the content into shorter sections with clear headings to make it easy for Web readers to browse.

Although all articles demand compelling leads, online article leads need to be especially so. If you’re going to hook online readers, you need to do it quickly because their attention span is 10 seconds, so it’s even more important to make that first sentence and first paragraph really engaging.

It used to be that just about anything could be posted on a site and readers would consider it. Not anymore. The competition among sites is fierce, so today’s Web developers insist that their sites have a style all their own—and that’s not just for the layout and graphics, but for the content, too. Good Web content has a strong voice and direction tailored to appeal to a specific  reader. Note the style of the text on the site for which you wish to write and imitate it as nearly as possible in your own piece. Learn the site’s voice and tone. And note the topics that it covers regularly. Some sites offer style guidelines the way magazines do.

In order to successfully write for the Web, you need to know something about search engine optimization, or SEO. SEO makes websites more “visible” for search engines by including specific keywords in articles. You can’t guess at these. In fact, most Web site editors will give you a list of keywords that they want you to work into your article. It’s important to include them subtly so they don’t stand out. Sometimes, it may be difficult to figure out how to include them, but get creative. Site editors like it when you do.

Writing for Web sites usually means you’ll be given tight deadlines. That’s because everyone wants everything yesterday. With the immediacy of the Web, you may be expected to write a piece in less than 24 hours. Deadlines for print are much longer and more forgiving. Web sites need lots of content—and everyone wants it to be original. Realistically, that’s a tall order. It means you have to begin from scratch every time you write an article. All sites want exclusivity. Again, let’s get real. That’s no way to run a business. And while Web developers may get rich from advertising income, they’re mighty stingy when parting with that money to pay you for your time and effort. In fact, many site owners want everything for free. And that’s the downside of the Web.

You as a writer can only make a profit from Web writing if you’re able to sell pieces again and again, just as in print. Unfortunately, the Web hasn’t gotten there yet. Even though there are millions of online users, every site thinks they should have them all.

So pay will be pretty paltry in most cases. Web developers expect the world for a penny, so to speak. But because the volume is so great, you can make a decent amount of income if you’re efficient. That means getting your writing routine down—no lingering over a draft, no extensive re-writing, no over-editing. Learn to write each piece with a 1,2,3 attitude—(1) think out your piece and plan it, (2) write the draft, (3) edit the piece. With all your information at hand, you could even do all of that in an hour. But that’s cutting it pretty close.

To make things easier, consider using information from articles you’ve already written. Recast topics from research you have on hand. Save the heavy duty pieces for sites that are willing to pay you for your time and expertise. Don’t waste your energy for $10-30. And if a Web developer balks when you say no. Tell him, “You get what you pay for.”

Saturday, July 19, 2014

How Good a Promotional Tool is Facebook?

Social media is all the rage today. It seems everyone—or almost everyone—is on Facebook, the leading social media platform. There’s a lot of buzz about how social media, especially Facebook, is a prime promotional medium for small businesses. But as a writer, is Facebook for you? And if so, how?

First, it may be good to begin by dividing writers into two groups—those who write books, either fiction or non-fiction, and those who write shorter pieces like short stories and articles. You may ask what’s the difference. There definitely is one.

If you’re a book writer, commonly referred to as an author although a writer nonetheless, you produce a product that you can sell directly to readers. With the ever-increasing proliferation of ebooks available from such online distributors as Amazon and Barnes and Noble, among others, you can write, publish, and sell your books directly. But that also means you have to do your own promotion. And that’s where social media networks like Facebook come in.

Create an Author Page
By creating a Facebook author page, you can promote your books and stay in touch with your growing list of reader fans. Through your author page, you can alert fans to book signings, new or upcoming books, reprints of older editions, updates of non-fiction books, and special book sales. Author pages also allow you to offer teasers for upcoming books in order to build reader anticipation.

Unfortunately, the range of options isn’t as great on Facebook if you write short stories or articles. This is mainly because you normally don’t sell directly to readers but instead sell your work to magazine editors. Editors are busy people and don’t have time to actively seek out writers on Facebook, so unless you know an editor personally, chances are they won’t be following you on Facebook. Of course, you could sell your short stories and articles either individually or in collections as ebooks for Kindle or Nook. This is especially good for pieces that are too long for magazines.

In the above case, a Facebook author page probably isn’t the best option. Instead, consider setting up a business or professional page on Facebook. It works much the same way as an author page but allows you to also promote other writing projects, courses, and other communication services. For this you might want to create an umbrella title, such as “Your Name Communications,” substituting your name in the title. That’s broad enough to encompass a variety of projects and services. Check out my page for Bob Brooke Communications.

Remember, both author pages and professional pages have “likes” not “friends.” The people who follow them are essentially fans of your work and want to know more about you and what you write about.

Facebook’s Downside
Unfortunately, there’s a downside to Facebook. Many users, perhaps yourself included, have become frustrated that no one “likes” or comments or shares their posts. With the shear volume of messages on Facebook each day, that’s only natural. At best, it’s an indirect communication medium. Most of the time only those Facebook users who are actual real-life family members, friends, and acquaintances take the time to “like” or comment on a post. So you can see that could seriously interfere with promoting yourself as a writer or promoting your writing products.

However, if you have either an author or professional page, you have control of the content you post there. You decide just what you want your fans to know. And because they like you as a writer, they’ll interact to what you tell them. And it’s only on author or professional pages that you can see how many people have seen your posts. Personal Facebook pages don’t offer that. In this way, you can see which posts receive more attention and can then post accordingly. Think of your author or professional page as being the online headquarters of your fan club.

Getting the Most Out of Facebook
So how can you get the most promotional mileage out of Facebook? First, Facebook isn’t the place to post your writing for feedback or criticism. Facebook users generally don’t read more than they have to. Everyone is too busy to linger over long messages. If you want your fans to read your work, create a Web site or post to someone else’s site and then post a link on Facebook back to either.

Another way to get people on Facebook to read and share what you have to say is to write a blog, then link your blog to your Facebook page, either directly or through Networked Blogs. While you may not notice too many Facebook users accessing your blog on Facebook, itself, they may do so through any number of other outlets through Networked Blogs. You can even set up a special Blog App tab on your Facebook Page that enables fans to go directly to all your past blog posts right on your Facebook page.

Remember, the main purpose of your Facebook page is to keep your fans in the loop. Keep them informed as to what’s going on in your professional life. Don’t just hawk your books or other writing. They’re bombarded with sales pitches all day long on the Internet. Try to be a bit more subtle. Take them behind the scenes when creating a book or perhaps give them actual information on where your books are set. Offer contests, trivia about your book’s subjects, reviews, writing tips, whatever. Facebook users love to look at photos, cartoons, and infographics (photos with text overlay). Post these regularly on your favorite subjects on your Facebook page and you’ll definitely see results.

For some good examples, check out the author page for mystery writer Elena Santangelo. And the professional page for Bowers Watch and Clock Repair, even though this isn’t a writing page. Both have been extremely successful in their Facebook efforts. 

And one more thing: You need to have patience, lots of it. A successful Facebook Page doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a lot of effort and a bit of time to maintain it. If you don’t have enough of either of those, don’t bother.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Two P’s to Success

Success as a writer depends on two things—patience and perseverance. Do you have enough of both to succeed? Many writers don’t.

Recently, Dagda Publishing posted a message on Facebook, stating that best-selling novelist Joanne Harris said that J.K. Rowling’s “little story about wizards” distorts the truth about author’s pay. Essentially, it misleads beginning writers into thinking that they, too, will make lots of money at writing.

But what that statement leaves out is how long it took for her to achieve that kind of success. And what did she have to endure to get there?

The first thing you need to succeed is patience—lots of it. Writing success doesn’t happen overnight. It can take up to 10 years for things to begin happening for you. Somewhere along the way you may get a lucky break. But that’s a big maybe. Are you prepared to wait that long?

Om today’s fast-paced world, many people expect everything to happen quickly. They believe because they created a Web site or Facebook page, for instance, that people will flock to it. They also often believe that their writing is so good that everyone wants to read it. Sorry, but the answer is no on both counts.

Part of the problem is the shear volume of writers out there. They produce thousands of articles, short stories, and book each year. And with more newspapers and magazines folding, there’s a growing tide of out-of-work editors and reporters that have been thrust onto the freelance market. They believe that all their experience must count for something. But what most find out all too quickly, is that they have to start nearly at the bottom like everyone else. But they can’t afford to be patient because of their sudden loss of steady income.

So what do you do while you’re being patient? You persevere. Perseverance, or the act of continuing to plug away at what you believe you’re meant to do, is as important as patience.

Persevering means continuing to write even when other pieces you’ve created don’t seem to be going anywhere. It also means searching out new contacts and markets for your writing. If you don’t constantly search, you won’t be open to opportunities that may come along.

Perseverance also means following through on your ideas and finishing writing projects that you’ve started. If you’re trying to write a novel and get stuck halfway through, take a step back and analyze what you have done so far. It’s possible you didn’t plan it out well enough. Too many beginning writers make the mistake of just starting to write without giving any thought to the direction in which they’re headed.

By making patience and perseverance part of your daily life—not just your writing routine—you’ll have a very good chance of succeeding in your dream of becoming a writer.