A while ago I wrote an article entitled: How To Build A Platform: Why Every Writer Needs A Website, in which I argued that just having a blog wasn't good enough, you need a website too.
These days, I'm not so sure. I think having a blog, even a blog on Blogger.com, might be good enough. Here's the thing: What you need depends on what your goals are.
What is the main thing folks are going to come to your website/blog for? And who are these folks going to be? You might be staring at these words shaking your head, thinking, "And how the heck would I know who's going to come and visit my site?"
That's a fair question. Often in the beginning we don't know who these folks, our visitors and, ultimately, our readers, are going to be.
Come one, come allWhether you decide to go with a static site, a blog or a full-blown website (I talk more about this later) you'll need to keep at it. The key phrase here is: be consistent.
Naturally if all you're going to be putting up is a static site--a webpage with information about who you are, where you can be reached (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)--then being consistent is fairly easy. You just need to update the page every six months or so, or when something changes (you put out a new book, become active in new forms of social media, and so on). Otherwise, there isn't much to do!
If you don't know who your visitors are going to be you can still design a website. I'll go into more detail later, but there are roughly three broad kinds of sites you can put up. I call them the starter package, the starter package plus blog and the full-featured site.
As the name implies, the most basic of these is "the starter package". This is a static website that simply tells visitors how to reach you, where you are on the web (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), what you've written and how to contact you. If this is all you want, blogger.com or wordpress.com would likely meet your needs. Make sure, though, that the service you choose allows you to use your own domain name (blogger.com does and wordpress.com does but you need to pay a fee). That's a must. Why? If you ever decide to move your site from, say, wordpress.com, to another hosting site, your readers will be able to find you at you new home through your domain name.
By the way, I know it might seem like a contradiction in terms to recommend blogging sites for a static site! As it happens, you can set blogger.com up as a static site (I should probably write a blog post about how to do that) and I imagine the same is true for wordpress.com as well. The great thing about starting off with a site like blogger.com is that it does all the search engine optimization (SEO) for you and can list your site with all the major search engines.
If you want to be slightly more ambitious, you could go with a "starter package plus blog" and blog regularly (keep in mind that if you blog once a month you're blogging regularly!). You can blog even if you don't know what sort of audience you're reaching out to, just talk about whatever interests you. Over time you'll see themes emerge. Also, after looking at your viewer statistics, you'll notice your readers are more interested in certain articles, certain themes, than others. After a few months you'll get a feel for what you like to blog about and also what your readers are interested in.
If, in the beginning, you don't have an idea who your audience will be then I wouldn't advise you starting off with what I'm calling a full-featured site. The way I think of it, a full-featured website one that is dynamic and easily customizable, you likely would have a blog and could even have forums or open an online store! (For example, stephenking.com)
But with a full-featured site you'll also have additional concerns. This kind of site can do a lot but, as with everything, there are tradeoffs. For instance, the more cool features you add (e.g., link tracking), the slower the site will run. A few bells and whistles may not make a difference but at some point you'll wonder why your pages are loading slowly. Also, this sort of site is complex and complex things tend to break. If you can fix it yourself, great! Otherwise maintenance can be expensive. Either way, maintaining this kind of a site is time consuming.
You have an idea who your visitors will beWe've just discussed how to go about building a site if you don't know who your target audience is. Now let's talk about how to build a site when you have some idea what kind of a community you want to build.
How do you build community? You reach out to those who share an interest of yours. It could be anything. What are you interested in? Steampunk? Scifi movies of the 80s? Doctor Who? Skiboarding? Cooking? Hiking? Whatever it is, there are people, lots of people, just as passionate about it as you are. The trick is letting them know your site exists.
By the way, when I said you could build your site around any theme/idea that was a bit of an exaggeration. What you write about has to have some connection to the shared interest you've built your community around. For instance, if you write science fiction, by all means, talk about scifi movies, conventions, trivia. Talk about collectibles. Even talk about other scifi writers! Eventually, if you keep at it, a community will form.
Cookbooks are popular. They sell well. Why? The tie-in between a writer's community and how to reach that community is obvious. You write books about food and it is very easy to blog about food, post pictures of food, conventions, good places to eat in your local community and across the country, and so on.
I mean, who doesn't like beautiful close-up pictures of desserts? Especially chocolate ones. (Oh my gosh, if I wrote cookbooks I would gain SO much weight. Anyway, moving on.)
Making the connection between your area of interest and your community
How do you make the connection between what you are interested in--for instance, mystery stories with sleuths who cook--and building a community?
If I could I would have that word, "interaction", blink red and blue and have big yellow dancing arrows pointing to it. But that's not a surprise, is it? That's how me make friends. Interaction forms the basis for any social endeavor. And that really is the other key word: social. I'm talking about building a community, not a list. For that to happen, for a community to form, there has to be interaction.
And that means you need to find a way to interact with the people who you would like in your community.
I think I'm going to leave it there for today. I covered more material than I thought I would. In the next segment I'll talk about interaction and social media but I want to say here that I don't think social media is necessary for you to form and interact with a community.
Other articles in this series:
- What Is A Writer's Platform?
- Does Every Writer Need A Platform?
Other articles you might like:
- Jim Butcher On Writing
- NaNoWriMo: 5 Tips On How To Get Ready
- On The Art Of Creating Believable Characters: No Mr. Nice Guy
- Perfection Is The Death Of Creativity
Photo credit: "KIUKO"