I used to be hip to the groove on anything having to do with computers. You’re looking at one of the earlier members of CompuServe. (Everyone’s looking around, going, “What’s CompuServe?”)
I spent a lot of time in my early 20’s around so-called computer geeks, and probably way too many weekends at Ye Olde Computer Show looking for geeky things at rock-bottom prices. I managed all my files in DOS (“What’s DOS?”), and I always kept my root directory spotless. I still remember most of my DOS commands.
(Ugh. I’m having the same feeling now as I did when my friend’s daughters — one of them a full-fledged member of my writing group — saw an old rotary phone in our junk room and asked what it was. Yep, true story. It was sitting right next to my dinosaur skin shoes.)
Anyway, despite that relative peak in computer literacy 10 years ago, my skills have fallen away. Or more accurately, I got left. See, once I got my court reporting software finally working, I didn’t want to mess with it. (The early CAT softwares were delicate, fussy, bastardly little things.) Beyond court reporting, I only needed a word processing program and internet access for research.
Between then and now, I got married; opened a business with my family, ran it, and sold it; and we started a family. All good things. All great excuses for why I don’t feel my computer skills are quite up to par for this day and age.
Although I’m hesitant to say at this point in time that great computer skills are crucial to an author’s career, I think it’s obvious that’s where we’re heading. I understand the feeling of fear and discomfort this may cause some writers, but my attitude is to embrace it. This is simply the way the world is going.
I personally don’t buy products unless the company at least has a professional-looking website which bespeaks of legitimacy to me (I realize this can be faked). And like many people, I can consume music, movies, television shows, and books through my wireless cell phone, and I tend to make my choices based on reviews and word of mouth.
Frankly, I tend to be less interested in authors who are new to me if I can’t find out anything about them, or if their websites look outdated or abandoned or unprofessional in any way. I admit it. I think in many ways, a writer’s online presence is the new “book cover,” and it’s foolish not to think they’re judged.
As readers, we’re not just looking to discover a great story, we want a great writer. If we can find that person, then chances are there’s a whole list of stories and books from that person that we can reasonably rely on to be enjoyable.
Besides that, I think readers have always been interested in the wizard behind the curtains, especially if they enjoyed a story. That’s why the behind-the-scenes extras often included in DVDs are so popular. People love to be amazed by the final result, whether it be a movie, a book, or a music video, and they love to be let in on the secrets of how it all came together. It’s like somehow being included in the creative process, even if it is of the fly-on-the-wall variety.
I also know that when I’m looking up a new author, I’m looking to find if I have anything in common with this person in terms of how they see the world, their tastes, how they express themselves as real people, not just as an author.
I know this is a scary thing for a lot of folks because if you’ve ever been last to be picked for a gym team, then this really smacks of the same set-up, and it’s fair to ask, “Can’t my work just be judged on its own merits?”
Don’t worry. It will. No matter how great your online presence is, if your books don’t appeal to someone, they won’t continue with future stories.
And, yes, it may feel like you’re standing around in ill-fitting gym shorts being judged for competency, but there’s a happier way to look at it. We’ve got technology on our side! In gym class, there was no chance to Photoshop that zit off your nose or point your boobs in a different direction. Online, your teeth are whiter, your quips are spot on and polished (you do proofread your comments, don’t you?), and you can control how public or private you wish to be.
In other words, there’s a nice buffer of time between the real you and the online you, one that allows you to contemplate each online interaction before committing to them…you know, have yourself a good think before calling a reviewer a moronic asshole. Ya know.
Anyway, after a good year of reading lots of blogs and author websites and paying close attention to what they’re doing and their results, it seems I’ve got a lot of opinions and ideas and even more questions about the whole platform thing.
Currently, I do not have a FaceBook page, or a MySpace page, or a Twitter account. I’m new on Skype (I like it!), and I’m also the newly anointed owner of an iPhone 4. I don’t consume a lot of media, and I find it difficult to make time to read for pleasure at this point in my life.
As a result, I feel horribly behind in everything. But I’m determined to catch up this year, at least in terms of my understanding of how online things work. I’d like to find out what the hell “the cloud” is, for one thing, and I’ll be revamping the look of the blog next week and sharing that process. And, of course, as I discover new things about all this platform business, I will pass it along forthwith.
One thing I will mention is that I have recently reserved my domain name, http://www.angelamcconnell.com, for some future use in time. A few years ago it belonged to a real estate agent back East, so I was glad to see it available. Right now I have no immediate plans for it; however, once I have a byline forthcoming, I’m sure that will change.
The point is, there’s this whole other cyber dimension that modern writers have to pay attention to, and the possibilities are overwhelming for sure. But I’d be foolish as a writer trying to start up a career not to pay close attention to this aspect of modern writerhood.
I feel like I’m warming up to the task now. Seems like there’s lots of fun to be had. And I swear, when I’m famous, I won’t change the direction my boobies point in (though I can’t promise about the zit). 🙂