Friday, March 12, 2010

Writing for Feedburner

Aside from writing the manuscript, the hardest thing a writer ever does is build and maintain an audience.  Now, in the Digital Age, your fans can instantly download your latest wisdom automatically.  And this is a great new feature for writers - it allows us to keep our readers coming back for more. 
This should be great news for us.  It allows a kind a freedom which writers have not known until now: we can reach the masses without waiting for the acceptance of a publisher.  In fact, it's likely that I have more friends on Facebook than Emily Dickinson had readers.

Yet in this freedom, we face a greater challenge: holding the audience in an age where everyone has the same opportunity.  We aren't talking about a level playing field here - we're talking about a churning shark-feed of writers thrashing against each other to be heard over the roar of gnashing teeth.  (And in this economy?  Yeah, verily, there has been a great gnashing of teeth as of late...)

In this new (and still relatively unexplored) atmosphere of digital publishing, it's essential that we stay up-to-date on the latest trends and practices.  Forget the debate of "Books will survive!" versus "iPads will crush your puny literature!" - the digital debate now transcends the issue of weather paper copies are sold in physical bookstores.  The debate now isn't about which medium we will read from - the debate now revolves around how we choose that medium.  And every year, more and more readers make these decisions based on interactions they've had online.  Younger readers, in particular, have come to know their favorite writers digitally, often as fans on Facebook.  Many simply post to the user groups on writer homepages.  Blogs, too, are extremely popular.

Something to bear in mind is that the younger audience is not the only audience.  When I consider the internet habits of three different age groups - my parents, myself, and the undergraduate students I teach - I find an interesting disparity in internet approaches.  For myself, e-mail is natural.  My parents, too, treat e-mail as a natural thing - they use it all the time.  They e-mail me even though I often don't reply back.  And my students?  Of course e-mail is natural.  They'd never known lives without it.

E-mail, though, is where the similarities end.  Dropping down, the undergraduates are far more accustomed to chat rooms and user groups.  Yes, adults of my parents' generation do use these features, but not as regularly.  Often not at all.  And me?  I'm in this hybrid zone.  Chat rooms - along with much of the "new internet economy" we see today - began to become popular when I was in high school and college.  And I remember them becoming popular not through personal experience, but rather through the descriptions my friends gave.  And not all my friends - just certain ones.  And each year, more and more of my friends switched from "anti-MySpace" or "non-Facebook" to "yeah, you should look me up."
 
As a thirty-year-old, I'm certainly a late-comer to many of these online services, but I'm not alone.  Many of my friends now use Facebook and they keep blogs, but they're very little focus on social networking for profit.  Not like what I'm doing.  And that will change.  As the next generation of Faulkner's and Hemingway's starts to emerge from the undergraduates of today, we'll find that they unleash a new storm of internet marketing - the kind of directed, personal marketing which is only possible online and which many of us over thirty simply aren't aware of.  And I'm not saying this is bad.  Quite the contrary.  I think it's great for freedom of expression.  It will, I believe, revolutionize the literary world.  Bestselling authors will be chosen less by how many interviews the publisher can get with Oprah and more by how many Diggs! one can get while Buzzed Up!  And the younger generation will inherently know how to use these tools best.  And that should be no surprise - they've known no other world.  To them, this new internet world more "new" than Wendy's or Burger King.

With this in mind, I recommend everyone set up a blog and go over to Feedburner...when the storm hits, you'll want to be ready...

No comments: