Based on the responses to part 1 of this series it seems that, for the most part, you guys all think that having a website is an important part of being a writer today. I think that's pretty positive. A web presence of some kind is important if you intend to get published, because it will create opportunities for you further down the road, and you’ll also learn about the industry as you go along.
The one thing I do want to point out--and actually, what my whole series is about--is that having a website isn't always the best solution all the time. I know that sounds just a bit sacrilegious. Let me explain.
I ended my last post by mentioning need. This is one of those annoying economic terms that means a lot when you think about it. Wherever you have goals, you have needs, or ways of making those goals come about. And every writer (or at least every aspiring author) has the basic goal of someday, somehow, getting published. So we all share this common need.
Now, a platform becomes a need when you have a product that you want to offer. I know that “product” sounds like another icky economic term, but it’s not so bad when you remember that books are products. Like there’s one basic “need,” there’s obviously one basic product you have to offer—you’re a writer—you’re the product.
But as a writer, you have different things to offer during the different stages of a career. I’ve been thinking about it, and it seems like there are three or four major stages or levels of need. I'll address two in this post.
One: need for a web presence.
Say you’re a beginner writer just starting out on the nets. You’re a noob. That’s okay. Right now, the product you’re offering is just your personal experiences as a writer and aspiring author. The need is a way for you to be around other writers so you can share and learn from them. How you meet that need is by going on social networks, blogs, yadda yadda.
Do you have a need for a website? No, honestly you don’t. Do you need a blog? Maybe, but only for the product you have to offer—which is what little you know and your personal journey as you come to know more. A group blog would be great because it would help meet your initially minor need.
This is stage one. Basic need. (And not to sound repetitive, but basic product and web presence as well.)
Two: need to share experiences and new knowledge.
This usually happens somewhere after you’ve written a novel or two, done some editing, gotten your toes wet and your fingers smudged with red pen, and you start to observe stuff. About writing. About your own experiences. Suddenly you have a new product—what you know about the craft. Your need is a way to share what you know. Also, you’re starting to get more serious about your craft, and you have another product: yourself, aspiring author. You need a place to let people know you exist and to learn more about you.
Be honest. “Find an agent” is probably not a need for you yet. Some people skip this step; they query their first book, get published, hit bestseller lists, and forever stay published. Yay them. But if you’re like 88% of most aspiring authors, you’ll still hit this stage in some shape way or fashion. (Note: I totally pulled that 88% out of my hat. Nobody get jumpy.)
So anyway. You can meet these needs by, yes, creating a platform. But remember your product is limited to yourself and what you have to share, advice-wise. Again, group blogs are great for this. So are personal blogs. So are podcasts or columns.
How about a website—as in a site with contact pages and “About Me” pages and “My Books” pages. Do you have a need for that yet?
You do need a basic platform, and a website can play that role. Unfortunately, websites aren't stimulating if they’re too small, or if they don’t get updated often with developing information about the product they offer. The keyword here is “developing.” If all you can offer is your advice and information about yourself as a writer, those products don’t develop much. The advice does but the “About Me” portion stays pretty much the same. A fully blown website may not be the best way to meet your need.
What about stuff like MySpace or Facebook profiles set up specifically for your persona as a writer? Again, I don’t think this meets your current need. Profiles like this treat you as the product, not what you have to offer, and they tend to meet the need of advertising/connecting with consumers—a need you don’t have yet.
So far I've focused on those needs and stages where a website is extraneous. That's because I think we often get caught up in self-promotion and get ahead of ourselves, out of a genuine desire to enhance our chances as much as possible. Websites are an expensive way to do this and if not done well, can create more of a bad impression than a good one. I think it's important to recognize the stages we go through where having a website isn't the best option available and what other options are more fitting.
Despite all that, websites can be an amazing resource. In part three I'll talk about some more common needs where websites come in to play.
I'm curious to hear back from you guys. Do you agree; do you think there are stages when a website becomes more appropriate? When are those stages?
Truly and always,