Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Online Survival Guide - For Authors and Artists

aka Thanks for all the fish.

*** DISCLAIMER. I'm an author of fiction. I'm not an English Professor. I've tried my best to keep this article as cohesive and simple as possible. If there's anything that needs clarification or any additions that should be in this guide, please kindly leave a comment.


All authors and artists, regardless of the nature of their work, will encounter animosity on the internet. Many participate in their own idea of popularity contests and can be rather vicious. The purpose of this guide is to bypass all the hype and get straight to the point.

For those who have read anything about internet marketing, I'm sure you've seen the notion that you must have a strong online presence to be successful. However, considering the sheer amount of harassment, libel, stalking and garden-variety flame wars which can occur on the internet, there are several things wrong with this statement.

First, let's look at what it means to have a strong online presence. I have personally witnessed a number of people (and I do mean a lot) who seem to confuse the words 'strong presence' with outright maliciousness. They simply aren't the same thing. Some of the nicest, most successful authors who have a very strong online presence, are also the nicest people. The fact remains, being an asshole does not equal sales. Having a strong online presence means having a strong connection with your online audience.

Those who behave like spammers across message boards are only perceived as an inconvenience. Yes, being hated will garner a fair amount of attention, but it still doesn't equal sales nor any measure of success. Web hits are meaningless, only sale numbers will have any real meaning. The bottom line with this one is you can't force anyone to play your popularity game. It can also be highly illegal, if a person isn't careful and their efforts are less than sincere.


1 – Know your audience.

This is the number one rule with any form of media, whether online or not. For example, posting multiple messages on a variety of forums claiming to be a venue for independent authors of horror novels, when it's actually all for the purpose of promoting a romance novel website, is not appealing to the appropriate audience. It's also dishonest and can be defined as false advertising.

By the same token, if an audience for a different genre is generating ill will towards your work, chances are, they're not your audience. Ignore the naysayers and connect with your real audience. Don't waste valuable time and energy on a group or a person who is not your audience.

On a personal note, I know how difficult it is to not say anything, or rather, keep the fingers off the keyboard. It's something I have struggled with numerous of times but I have learned to walk away. In some ways I'm still learning that lesson, it's not the easiest thing in the world if you're naturally strong-minded. But I've long since learned it's far better to spend most of my energy on connecting with my audience. I will only say something if there is any obvious dishonest behavior and usually it will take a lot of time and investigation before I reach such a conclusion.

2 – Research.

Never, ever going into anything blindly. Always read the fine print. Always read every agreement or contract, word for word. Get the opinions of trusted friends and colleagues. Thoroughly investigate every website before signing up for anything. Never give your work to anyone without at least having some understanding of who you're dealing with.

Let's take the example of falsely advertising a venue for horror books. Let's say the website is advertising reviews of any submitted horror novels. Look through the website. If two out of the three reviewers listed clearly state they won't even touch horror, that's enough to raise an eyebrow. If the contact email is the same one for the romance website the webmaster also runs, well, that's rather suspicious. Check out the history of the website and if you're still unsure, proceed to step three.

3 – Ask questions.

As an independent author or artist, you have every right to ask questions in order to learn more about anything on the internet, including websites and message forums. Those who have sincere intentions, who are professionals, will answer questions honestly, to the best of their ability. Those who don't, will refuse to answer questions, assume everything is a personal attack and generally will not co-operate with an open discussion.

I have personally observed people who have unintentionally behaved in offensive ways, so naturally the other party will feel a tad defensive. So be careful with anything that's perceived as a defensive attitude and keep asking questions. There's just as much of a chance that you might have said something wrong or phrased things improperly. We're only human, we all make mistakes.

If, however, after asking questions, there seems to be no resolution or anything to learn, sometimes you have to just walk away. Agree to disagree. For those with insincere intentions, nine out of ten times they're the type who just have to have the final word. In those cases, it will never end so walking away is best.

If their behavior is strongly suspicious, possibly even criminal, there's always someone to contact. This is the responsibility of site owners, administrators, moderators, etc. Yes I know no one wants to look like a whistle-blower, but sometimes it needs to be done, especially if it's criminal.

Most moderators are aware of the fact they can be held accountable in a court of law if they failed to apply administration. In my experience, most moderators apply administration immediately and fairly. Some don't, but that's where step 2 can come in handy. Investigate the website, forum, etc, and find out their track record before getting involved. There are higher authorities and litigation, of course, but that's only for extreme cases. No need to swing that pendulum to the other side. Just ask questions.

4 – Maintain communication with online contacts.

You just never know. The person you chatted with on a message forum yesterday just might be a professional reviewer and could help with promoting your work. The author you exchanged ideas with last week, might be an English teacher and would be willing to do a critique of your work which ends up benefiting you greatly. That artist who is a friend of a friend on Facebook might be interested in exchanging website links. You just never know. If it seems you've made a positive connection with someone in the media industries, maintain communication.

I know things move very fast online and it can be overwhelming to keep up with it all. That's mainly why online social networks have become so popular. They can be a great way to keep in touch with everyone at once.

But, lack of communication never equals good things. See step 5.

5 – Professionalism.

Being a professional does not mean bombarding others with the story of your personal life and refusing to have open discussions with anyone. Everyone is a real person and this is a given. Those who maintain an online persona will come across as insincere and unprofessional. It's rather difficult to maintain a strong connection with your audience if there isn't any sincerity. In other words, it's fake.

Keep your personal life separate from your professional life. For authors and artists trying to gain some measure of success online, it's important to consider the internet like a work place. You don't insult your boss, co-workers and clients. You don't try to bully anyone into doing or thinking whatever you want. If you behaved like that at a job, you would be fired before you could collect your first paycheck.

Just because there's a lack of regulations online, doesn't justify unprofessional behavior. And above all else, will never equal sales.

Unfortunately, there are many who will make everything a personal issue and they tend to give everyone else a bad name. I have personally seen a number of people assume the worse of others based on nothing, many times.

But, the more authors and artists out there who are sincere in their efforts, the more e-companies and audiences will recognize them and the less they will assume every single online self-promoter is an egotistical asshole by default. Because, really, most of us aren't. There will always be a few bad apples in the bunch, don't let them drag you down to their level and make you think you need to act that way, too. You don't. Be a professional.

6 – Always be willing to learn.

The learning never ends. Ever. Especially on the internet. It moves fast and there are constantly new things to learn on the horizon. From web coding to recognizing errors in your work, new things all the time. And even without the internet, it's always there. That's life. The learning never stops.

One thing that personally annoys me is the phrase “not above mistakes.” It's a silly phase, really. Think about it, to err is human so no human being on the face of the planet is above mistakes. That's understood. What needs to be clarified is the question of are you above admitting your mistakes and learning from them?

On another personal note, I do strive to learn from any mistakes I might have made. I find it frustrating, especially on any message forum, when people participate in flame wars rather than honestly and sincerely merely pointing out a potential error. Mistakes are not an excuse to bash a real human being and sometimes what seems like a mistake is actually a misinterpretation. Always be willing to learn and maintain open communication.


We all live on a planet of over 7 billion people. The idea if someone is annoying or loud enough they'll win a popularity contest online, is false. It's physically impossible to compete against 7 billion people and this is the world wide web. I'm aware not everyone in the world is online, but it's still billions of net users. The popularity contests online some people might promote are fictional and can be entertaining, fill up your spare time, but that's it. They're not real. It's just hype.

The internet can be a powerful and valuable tool. It can also be a dangerous playground. This doesn't mean everyone needs to be paranoid and treat every individual like a suspect, far from it. This comes down to three very simple things – common sense, personal responsibility and playing safe. You wouldn't leave your car unlocked in a dangerous area known for high car theft rates, would you? Then don't do it to your work, your art, your life.

*** END DISCLAIMER. Man, oh man, I really hope no one thinks I'm an egotistical asshole based on this article... geez...

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