You might remember a hullabaloo in August on Twitter called Pitch Wars. It’s a contest where writers submit queries to agented and published writers in the hopes of being taken on as a mentee. The contest is a terrific opportunity to get detailed, one-on-one coaching from an experienced writer, but the sheer number of people who enter and talk about it also provide an excellent opportunity for something entirely different: learning about how to present yourself online.
Christopher Keelty, an active writer in the #PitchWars feed, began to notice a few things about potential mentees based on the flurry of mentee bios going around: the way writers presented themselves online varied greatly.
And it really shouldn’t. Not when it comes to the basics. And that’s what I’ll tell you about today.
First, know that Keelty did a little data gathering after looking at a hundred or so Pitch War mentees in one of the many blog hops going around, and posted about what he found. He noticed that:
- Only about a third of writers had their own name as the URL.
- About a third of sites he looked at didn’t feature the author’s name anywhere.
- Many sites were missing an email address or contact form.
Some of these things are obvious to me, but it’s my business to pay attention to the way things are presented on websites. Your website is your calling card, brochure, brand—and it works 24/7 for you.
Here are a few tips on keeping things clear, whether your site is a custom-designed affair or a WordPress/Blogger/Tumblr site:
Keelty said, “Another third or so owned “TheirName.[Something].com,” as in Tumblr, WordPress, or Blogger. The remaining third use a URL that is basically unrelated to their name–in almost all cases, because the URL matches the title of the web site.”
Domain names are cheap, but I know that’s not what’s holding a lot of you back from getting your own domain name. It’s that sense of permanence – of holy shmoly-ola, I’m really doing this. Yes, you are! Look. It’s just you and me here, so lean close: You’re here to stay. Domain names are a relatively cheap investment. It shouldn’t cost you more than $15 or so per year. Get one.
Additionally, having yourname.com increases your Google ranking. You can get a domain name no matter what type of site you have—Blogger, etc. You can also simply purchase a domain name from webhosting sites like GoDaddy and forward it to your free blog. (Note that whatever site you buy your domain name from, they’re going to offer the domain at a low intro rate, but they almost all go up to the $15 at the end of the promotional period.)
If you just can’t be convinced to buy your own domain name no matter how many chocolate cakes I offer you, then please get your name in your blog, so it’s “yourname.blogger.com” or wordpress or whatever. If one of your objections is that your domain name is already taken, add books, author, or writer in there, so it’s “yournamewriter.com.”
Consider this fact: websites are like billboards. Your visitors are flying by at 85 65 (really, Officer) miles an hour and they spend about five seconds looking at your site before deciding to move on or engage. There’s a whole industry around the effort of getting people to simply click on something--anything! Just please don’t leeeeave!
Keelty wrote: “In some cases, their name might be in a sidebar somewhere, but several writers didn’t have their name anywhere on their site. In some cases the only clue to the author’s identity was their embedded Twitter widget.”
Get your name up there on every page. Try to avoid putting it in an image (Google searches like it better when your name is in text), and make it large. Don’t hide it as a teeny, tiny little monkey peeking out from behind something else. And don’t be afraid to be big! Yes, it will feel weird to put your name in large letters. Sit with it for at least two weeks.
Keelty noted that Blogger and Tumblr users “were particularly likely to omit their name from their page.” It’s not clear why this is, but a lot of bloggers like to name their blog. That’s fine. Look at the lovely Jenny Hansen’s* blog. Her blog is called More Cowbell and that blog name is large, but her name is also easy to see, consistent, and clear at the top.
*Jenny is lovely on her own, but especially lovely because she is my editor here at WITS today. And also, she knows Weekends in Las Vegas Things about me.
Oh, I know. You don’t actually want anyone contacting you. But yes you do, because you have no idea who is looking at your website or blog. Agents! Editors! Employers! They’re all looking. (Stay tuned for a super duper secret bonus trick for learning how to see if they’re looking.) So give them a way to reach out to you. You might find yourself with an award, or money, or a package of fresh cookies, and we all know you don’t want to miss that.
If you’re worried about putting your personal email address on the web, you’re right to be worried. It’s going to be picked up by the Evil Spam World Order and then you’ll be getting emails about resurfacing your garage floor and promises of anti-wrinkle secrets. A contact form solves this problem nicely, as does setting up an email address for this express purpose through Yahoo or Gmail. (Just remember to check it now and then.)
Super duper secret bonus tip: Confirm Everything.
So how do you know people are looking at your site? If you have a WordPress site, you may be able to install Google Analytics or the Jetpack plugin depending on your theme, both of which give you site statistics in a handy toolbar format. Blogger also offers some basic site statistics in their settings area.
Statcounter.com is my most favorite site statistic tool, even better than Google Analytics. It works with most types of sites (although I have only used it with WordPress), and it’s free. My goodness—it tells you who came to your site, what they’re looking at, and when they left. That means if I have a page about Real Madrid on my website that I put all my time and effort into, but I can see from my stats that no one is looking at it, and instead they're all looking at my page about Atletico Madrid (because they’re a more fabulous team, obvs), then it’s time for me to switch focus.
And, gratuitous soccer reference aside, I’m just saying that if you happen to know where in the world someone is located, someone like an agent in New York for extremely random example, and then you see someone in New York is looking at your website right after you happened to send her a query… well. You might feel prett-tty, rootin-tootin’ pleased with yourself, is all.
So what’s your experience with getting your name, URL, and contact info on your website? You DO have a website, right? Leave your URL in the comments—I’d love to see it.
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Sierra Godfrey writes fiction with international settings and always a mention of football (soccer) or two. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and a quarterly contributor to the Writers in the Storm. She writes weekly about Spanish football for various sports sites, and is also a freelance graphic designer. She lives in the foggy wastelands of the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.
Come visit her at www.sierragodfrey.com or talk with her on Twitter @sierragodfrey.