In January, I undertook one of those tasks that makes me question my sanity: I checked and updated the links on all 600+ articles on Writing-World.com. I make it a practice to update the links section every year (Dawn, bless her, is handling it this year), but the articles had never been checked.
What surprised me was not the number of dead or changed links -- but the number of author website links that had vanished. At least half the author bios had dead links. In some cases, it was a matter of switching from some outdated generic site like Homestead to the author's own domain. But in other cases, the author already had a domain--and it was gone.
At the same time, I needed to track down some authors who had worked for me in the past, and I ran into the same problem: I could not find them. Some had vanished completely; I have no idea if they've stopped writing, emigrated to a desert island with no Internet connection, or died. Others, I could find through only one mechanism: Social networking sites, such as are described in our feature article below.
Now, I find it rather amusing to see how my own "Internet" career has evolved from "cutting edge" (I wrote one of the first books on how writers could benefit from the Internet) to "dinosaur." I don't have a Facebook page, I don't do Twitter, I don't blog, and though I do have a LinkedIn account, I never check it. However, I'm not knocking social networking sites; as our author Penny Leisch points out, they have many benefits for writers.
Chief amongst those benefits, however, is "self-promotion." Leisch recommends social networking sites as an extension of a writer's promotional efforts -- as an additional place to connect with editors and readers. The disturbing trend that I'm seeing, however, is writers who are relying on social networking sites as their only means of self-promotion. This is akin to telling both readers and potential employers (including editors like me, Madame le Dinosaur), "if you want to contact me, you have to join my club."
For example, when I went hunting for authors who had contributed to an earlier edition of one of my books, the only place I could locate several of them was on LinkedIn. This meant establishing a LinkedIn account of my own, simply so that I could make contact.
And even then there were challenges: I found four people with the same name, and no means of determining which might be the author I was looking for. I had to turn amateur detective here, checking the author's bio in my file to find the school he'd gone to (he'd already changed jobs so that info was no help) and then matching it with the LinkedIn profile.
I suspect that part of the appeal of social networking sites is, of course, that they are free. You don't have to pay for a domain name, web hosting, and possibly for someone to design and maintain your site. There's also the sense (merited or not) of security:
Yes, the Web is becoming a perilous frontier, with hackers, spammers and worse. And perhaps part of the appeal is that it's simply so much easier to set up a Facebook page than create your own website.
However, I can't help but believe that if you're a writer and your goal is to connect with readers and/or potential employers, part of your task is to make it as easy as possible for those readers and employers connect with you. Cloistering oneself inside the web's equivalent of a gated community (members only) does not make you accessible. This doesn't mean that you have to post your e-mail far and wide, if you don't want readers to engage you in conversation. But it does mean making it possible for readers to visit your site, see what new books or stories you have to offer, perhaps read your thoughts on writing or any other subject you care to cover, find out where you might be giving a talk or chat, and so forth -- all without having to jump through extra hoops.
Similarly, if you're a writer looking for work, keep in mind that quite a lot of editors out there are, in fact, dinosaurs like me. We're dinosaurs because we've been doing this for a great many years, and we get set in our ways. We also don't like extra hassles, and will go out of our way to avoid them. Thus, given a choice between a writer who has an accessible website and an e-mail address where we can make contact right now, and one who can only be found on a site where we have to set up an account, verify it, and then use that site's internal communication system to make contact, guess which we'll pick? (By the way, I put this in action myself on that same book, Googling for a site on a particular topic and then hiring the author of that site to write a book chapter.)
Are you a vanishing author? One way to find out is to Google yourself. If the only place your name turns up is on a social networking site, or in the bylines of a few articles sprinkled across the web, take another look at your online presence. Think of social networking sites as "the mall" and a personal website as "office space." You may make some connections and have some great chats at the mall -- but a lot of people (and especially employers) are still going to expect to find you in the office. Don't let them down!
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