Updated: Sep 26, 2020
One thing I often receive comments on is how I’ve managed to build an online community around my writing.
To be honest, part of my success at doing that is because I just simply LOVE interacting with readers and other writers, and so it happened somewhat organically as I began to put my work out there and form relationships with others online. However, there was a plan in place, a certain method to the madness, and I think that is what enabled me to truly grow something solid and unified, something that gives me both a steady, supportive readership base as well as a network of fellow writers with whom I can discuss ideas and ways to improve my craft.
I’m not 100% where I want to be with this, by any means — my community is still relatively small, and I am always striving to grow and improve! But the community I do have is an amazing, motivating, loyal one, and so I consider myself incredibly blessed.
And it is NOT lost on me that just over a year ago, I had ZERO online presence for my writing and no community at all! Now I have a base of readers who cheer me on, get excited when I release new things, beta-read for me, participate in online chats with me, and more. What has happened in just a little more than a year is truly breathtaking, and something for which I’m deeply grateful.
Experts in this type of growth say that you really only need 1000 “true fans” to be successful… just 1000 people who truly love your work, follow you, support you, buy your books/products, and share your work with their friends. I’m not quite at 1000 yet, but I’m so much farther than I was a year ago, and it’s growing more every week. (I love getting “someone just subscribed to your site” notifications!)
I’m a teacher at heart (I can’t turn it off!), and so whenever someone asks me, “How did you do this? How can I build an online community around MY writing?” I do my best to provide some pointers. But truly, what growth I’ve made was made intentionally, and it was a process.
Today, I am sharing (most of) that process.
If you’re one of those who have been asking — or just found this post by chance — I hope that you find this helpful as a starting point for beginning to grow your own online writing platform/community that can support your future goals as a writer.
So, I am announcing my “SUPERCHARGE YOUR ONLINE WRITING PRESENCE” Challenge!
There is a chart below showing each month’s “challenge task,” followed by an explanation of each item.
The idea is to begin with just one small task or element at a time, do it consistently for a month, and then add the next one. In this way, the task doesn’t feel so overwhelming, but becomes the accumulation of 12 smaller habits that you add in one per month over the year. If you do this, you might just be astonished at how much growth can happen by the year’s end.
I know everyone’s goals differ, but the monthly habits below should apply to most any writer looking to start or enhance their online presence. Of course, I cannot guarantee that everyone will have the exact results I’ve had… but if you’re truly consistent with the below items, it would shock me if you didn’t experience at least some level of growth. Growth is growth! And truly, it would thrill me to know that this helped someone grow their writing career, even a little… and even more if you end up with some kind of super-amazing success that even surpasses mine!
A detailed explanation of each month’s “habit” follows beneath the chart.
If you have questions about anything, please feel free to comment or message me! I would love to help!
1. Commit To Writing Daily (Even Just a Paragraph!)
The best way to grow as a writer is to write. Commit to producing at least one paragraph of original writing a day. Not only will the habit of writing daily make writing come more smoothly, improve your writing skills, and help to prevent writer’s block, it will also ensure that you are producing some kind of content — as awesome as you may be, you can’t build a community around your writing if you aren’t actually writing anything. And even if you drop out of this challenge and don’t complete any other months, DO THIS ONE. You’ll thank me.
2. Brand Yourself
This might be the most complicated of the tasks, but stick with me, because it is soooo worth it. This month, the task is to figure out who you are as a writer, and what your writing “brand” is. Think of this as your promise to your readers, that whenever they open one of your books or blogs, they will receive X. This can be tied to your own personality, to what topic area or genre you focus on, or broader, more of a tone or thematic element that underpins all your work. I suggest coming up with a mantra, a short phrase that encapsulates a common thread that readers could expect to find in any work from you.
Mine, for example, is “meticulous creativity.” I chose this based on some personality/skill assessments I took, but essentially, it explains how I approach writing and what my readers can expect me to deliver. My stories (and blogs, if I can help it) are usually carefully planned and organized with multiple layers (that’s the meticulous part of my mantra), but there is also a bit of unconventionality in how I tend to approach things, and an element of creativity in what I write (especially my fiction, of course). I tend to bend genre rules, include layers of things (like email addresses for characters that will actually respond if a curious reader emails them) and the like. I do this because I find this amusing and stimulating, but it’s the element of the “creative” in my tagline and also what has earned me (on more than one occasion) being called “quirky” by visitors to my site (they meant it in the best way, they say 😉 ). Once you have your general brand concept and a mantra, then everything bends around that.
If you already have somewhat of an online presence, now’s the time to revamp — all your usernames/email addresses/everything on any existing social media or other sites should be changed to match your brand (I use CCrawfordWriting as my username on virtually everything, a name I chose because it is to-the-point, versatile, and fits my brand). You can create a logo for free on Canva.com or a similar site with a look that complements your brand and overall tone/image you’ve decided to present, and use this as your profile picture. Create cover images, as needed, that also represent your brand and mantra.
The key is to make sure you have a clear, specific persona/image you’re presenting as a writer, and that everything matches on anything you publicly present, across the board. The consistency in all these small things is what gives your online presence a unified feel, and makes people recognize you as something distinct, your very own “brand” as a writer. (If you don’t yet have any social media sites, blogs, etc., don’t worry — that will come in a later challenge. But be sure to go ahead and create all your branding this month so that you’re ready to go!)
3. Set & Implement Specific Daily/Weekly Writing Goals
The specifics of your goals will vary based on your end-game, of course, but the important thing is that you have them. Sit down and figure out what you want to accomplish as a writer this year, specifically, what you want to produce. This challenge is all about growing your online presence, but so many of the monthly tasks depend on you already having some works-in-progress as a writer. It’s hard to promote yourself as a writer if your actual writing is non-existent.
SO, what do you want to achieve this year? A short-story collection? A novel? 12 novels? Whatever it is, figure out this year’s goal, and then work backward to determine what you need to do each week and then each day to make that happen between this month and the end of the year. Set yourself a schedule, and then get going! You’ll continue this schedule throughout all the rest of the months, adding future monthly challenge tasks on top of it, so be sure to set yourself up for success by making your daily goals realistic, specific, and achievable.
I also recommend allowing some leeway for off-days, holidays, sick days, unexpected events, etc. Setting too rigorous a schedule can become overwhelming and demotivating, but the right balance of a daily schedule/daily habit with some flexibility/freedom can keep you on-track and motivated.
4. Read At Least 1 Craft/Industry Book By a Successful Author & Implement 1-2 Elements
Part of growing your career is growing yourself. This month, read at least 1 book on either the craft of writing, or on growing a writing career, and then select 1-2 elements of their advice to implement in your own routine. Because these monthly tasks are cumulative, you’ll continue to read 1 book/month (and implement 1-2 growth elements from each) from now on. You can find some of my favorites that have truly helped me grow here.
5. Begin Sharing Some of Your Writing on a Public Platform At Least Once/Week
This month’s challenge is all about building an online readership. You can’t have readers if you aren’t posting anything to read, of course! And if you’ve been posting already, then this month’s challenge is about ensuring that your posting is consistent. Set up a public way to share your writing if you don’t already have one. This could be a blog, Wattpad, some kind of writing forum, or simply an email list of people who are willing to read your writing and provide feedback.
Again, the point is to build a readership, so the more public, the better. You don’t have to share your most intimate writing or your prized work-in-progress that you’re planning to publish and become famous with — you just need to share something. Start a collection of daily musings, or an episodic short story, or a one-chapter-per-week novel… choose what works for you, but commit to posting something weekly. Then, announce your posting schedule (include it in your profile on whatever public forum you’ve chosen and/or announce it to any followers), such as “Updates every Friday” and then stick to it. Be consistent. Deliver what you’ve agreed to deliver. If you want a loyal readership clamoring for each week’s new post, this part is vital.
Bonus: you can use this as your “write at least one paragraph daily” continued task from January, so you’re achieving multiple goals at once!
6. Network Online with Other Writers (& Any Readers) At Least Twice/Week
Now that you’re putting your writing out there, it’s time to start networking and creating a community around it. The key to this step is to view it as relationships, not self-promoting. If you have readers, take time to thank them for reading, respond to their comments, start conversations with them, get their input, and generally be an actual, real human rather than just an anonymous user.
If you don’t have many readers yet, then focus on being a reader. Read other writers’ content and leave comments. Be supportive and kind, but also give polite feedback where relevant. Check out what’s working on the popular writers’ pages and what readers are responding to, and see if you can learn from it. Maybe even message a writer you admire and compliment them, and then ask them to give you one or two pointers to help you grow.
Again, build relationships. Please don’t be obnoxious. Don’t ask for them to promote your work when they don’t even know you, or to read your whole book and give feedback, and do not post a comment advertising your own work on their posts or page. These things come across as self-centered and will irritate most writers. But you can begin to build yourself a network of fellow writers and show that you support them by reading, commenting, and sharing their work in a genuine way… more times than not, they will support you in return. But even if they don’t, you are getting your name out there on some level simply by interacting, and you also have the opportunity to learn from those who are succeeding in your field and to get to know some amazing people. That’s a win of its own!
7. Set Up At Least 1 Social Media Account and an Email List Unified to Your Branding. Post At Least Once/Week
This one is pretty self-explanatory. You can choose one social media platform to focus on, or do many, but I suggest sticking with the ones you truly plan to keep up with. I primarily focus on Facebook & Twitter. I have other accounts, but I simply don’t have time to keep up with all of them. Instagram, Pinterest, and other platforms can also be used with great success. Be sure as you set them up that all your usernames and profile pictures are unified — you want to be representing a consistent brand across all platforms.
Then set up an email list following… you can create an email subscriber list to join pretty easily for free with something like Mail Chimp, if you don’t already have one. This email list can be used for newsletters/updates, and to blast out info to your followers whenever you’re releasing a new work, enabling you to communicate with readers/followers who may not use social media.
If you already have social media accounts and an email list, then use this month to ensure that everything is optimized to your branding and that there are links to all your social media accounts on all your other social media accounts and in any emails you send out…. and that there is an accessible way for followers of social media to join your email list and vice-versa.
8. Launch a Website to Represent Your Brand (Include a Blog If You Like)
Before you freak out, I promise it is easier to set up a basic website than you might think. While I recommend paying a professional if you can afford it (my husband does this for a living so he built mine), quality, professional-looking websites can be created for free from templates using WordPress, Wix, and similar sites as well.
Personally, I use WordPress for my blog, and I started out just using my blog as my website. You can certainly do this! But I found that eventually I wanted increased options with what I could do on my site, so now I have a WordPress blog (you’re reading it now!), and a website hosted through Wix. (2020 update: I've actually moved my blog over to Wix now, and host them all in the same place.)
I also love that Wix has its own subscriber/email list functionality, eliminating the need for a third-party app for that. Wix also has its own blog platform, but I already had WordPress and I’m happy with it, so I simply linked this blog to my website. You can choose whatever website hosting platform you like, but be sure it’s something that looks polished and professional, and that enables you to communicate your “brand” that you’ve already begun to establish.
Choose a URL that ties in to your brand (I recommend spending a few bucks to purchase a unique domain name, so that you don’t have .wordpress or whatever in your URL, if you can) — mine is ccrawfordwriting.com. Again, be sure everything matches — your color scheme, your logos, your usernames, your content and style of the site… all of it should be unified under the consistent “brand” you created in previous months.
9. Begin Posting At Least One Blog/Week (Set Up Blog If You Haven’t Already)
If you went with a non-blog website last month (or simply set up a blog but haven’t begun posting yet), this month is when you start one, and then link it to your website. (I recommend WordPress!) If you already have one, then this month is all about consistency and branding, making sure to unify your branding on your blog in both style and content of what you’re posting, post at least once per week, and announce your posting schedule and stick to it. This will provide another avenue for readers to find you, and will begin to increase your online footprint. Be sure to use the Featured Image, tags, etc., and to share your blog posts to your social media accounts, as well. Reference your website or other accounts in blog posts when relevant (but don’t be too pushy) — again, it’s all about expanding your visibility and helping the ideal readers find you.
10. Set Up Funnels on Your Website, Social Media, Etc.
Funnels are somewhat of a complicated concept, but here’s the basic idea: whenever someone lands on one of your things — whether it be a published e-book, an online post, a Facebook page, etc. — you want to provide that person an easy way to slide onward to your next post/content or buy your next book, and then the next, and the next. The most effective funnels begin by offering something free (a free e-book, for example) in exchange for someone signing up for your email list or subscribing to your blog or whatever.
Once they’ve subscribed, then they are on the notification list for the other things you release, increasing the chances they will follow you to your next big thing. If you’re self-publishing like me, this also means including links in the back of each book that funnel people to social media, email lists, and the next books in that series (or a pre-order link, if the book isn’t out yet), as well as offering some e-books or online content for free in order to get readers interested so they’ll then subscribe and/or continue on to the next. The point is to take someone who is already invested in your work, and capture their moment of excitement to propel them through to the next phase, before they have a chance for that excitement to turn cold (essentially, before they move on to something else and forget about you).
If you’re wanting to offer some free content in exchange for subscribing, you can use auto-emails to welcome new subscribers that will provide the download links to the free content automatically, so that you don’t have to manually email each new subscriber with their free content. BookFunnel is a great site for hosting the content itself, and generates download links you can then include in those auto-emails. (One reason I love the Wix platform for website hosting is that it streamlines the email list and auto-emails so that I don’t have to use an outside party for this part, only Wix and BookFunnel.)
Funnels are tedious to set up at first, but once you get templates made, you can easily reproduce your end-matter with all the links for any future posts/books/emails. Setting up funnels is covered in some great books on building a career as a writer, as well, including Iterate and Optimize by Platt & Truant (I highly recommend it as one of your “read a book a month” books!).
11. Submit Some of Your Writing to Contests, Local Publications, Query Agents, Etc.
This month’s challenge is all about pushing yourself to the next level. Not only will entering contests or querying your work encourage you to finish something worth submitting, it also edges you out of the comfort zone in offering your work up for possible (unfortunately likely) rejection. I studied Fiction Writing in college, and they told us to basically expect dozens, hundreds, of rejections when you’re starting out. But every rejection is a learning process. If you receive feedback, you can implement it, and even if you don’t, you’ve practiced the process of submitting your work so that it’s easier the next time (emotionally and logistically). It also gives you a chance to get your name out there, so to speak, and — if you keep at it long enough — to possibly win a contest or get something published. And even if you don’t, any time spent practicing the craft and business is time invested in your own growth — you can learn from everything; nothing is wasted.
12. Join a Writers’ Workshop or Find a Group of Beta Readers & Implement Feedback
Feedback is so important if you’re wanting to grow as a writer. It’s been said that “the art of writing is rewriting,” and the heart of good rewriting is objective feedback. I have written some incredible first-drafts, drafts I deemed were “good enough”… and many of them actually were very well-received by readers. But not a one of them didn’t improve with some focused rewriting. Your writing might be good, but is it the best it can be? Is it truly fulfilling its potential? Feedback from others helps to balance out the myopia we can experience as writers, so that we can ensure our stories truly are reaching their best.
My preferred feedback method is sort of a tiered-system of beta reading. Some things I post publicly for mass feedback on places like Wattpad. Others, works that I want to keep more contained during my drafting process for whatever reason, I pass to a small group of trusted beta readers. Sometimes I write the thing in its entirety and send it (usually I do this), but other times — like my current work-in-progress — I send it to my beta readers in sections as I’m writing. Then I use their feedback to inform any changes I need to make moving forward… and when it’s done, it will go to my editor for additional feedback. Whatever method you choose, get feedback. And then listen to it.
You don’t have to agree with all of it, but don’t automatically dismiss something just because you disagree. Mull over it, try to see from a reader’s perspective, and decide whether maybe their feedback is hitting on an issue that really might deserve some attention in your revision process. Some readers aren’t your target audience, and not everyone will love your work — you aren’t going for unanimous approval. You’re just looking for those nuggets that show you a glimpse of where your story might still be a little muddy, waiting for that polish to make it shine. Or maybe it’s still coal that needs to be set aflame so it can rise as a phoenix from the ashes, or a hunk of dirt that needs to be slowly processed with time and pressure to turn it into a diamond… I’m mixing my metaphors, but hopefully you get the point.
Don’t let their feedback crush you — it’s your story, in the end, and you have to write it as you would write it, in a way that syncs with your writer “brand” — but also don’t be afraid to re-envision the story if doing so helps you transform it into what it was always meant to be. Don’t take criticisms personally and give up on your whole story; view them as signals that something in your story just may not be functioning at its fullest yet… and then commit to keeping at it until it does. Taking feedback gracefully is hard, and implementing it can be even harder. But it’s worth it.
Well, that’s it… all 12 months of the challenge!
Are you ready to supercharge your writing career and rock that online writing presence?
Join the challenge and let’s all make this our best (writing) year yet!
(2020 Update... I now have several more things to add to this list, but these are the foundational ones that I'd suggest doing first. If there's enough interest, I may eventually do a follow-up post to this with the next-level steps... just let me know if you want that!)