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Why Writers are Amazingly Stupid

I am putting together a creative commons anthology of fiction, and recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of writers out there are amazingly stupid. What I mean:

  1. Many writers/authors still don’t have websites or weblogs. Ok, maybe you don’t want to blog 3x a day or maybe you don’t want to publish things on the web so the entire world can steal it. I get it. That does not imply that you can’t set up an account on blogger.com or wordpress.com and periodically add updates about what you’ve doing. You were interested in developing a reputation, weren’t you? Weren’t you?
  2. Many writers still don’t bother to make a page of links to their best publications. Yes, we can google it; we know google is our friend. But readers want assistance; they want to know what writings of yours should be read first. (Note: I am gleefully tolerant of writers who take forever to accomplish these sorts of organization tasks. I’m talking mainly about writers who never do it).
  3. Many writers don’t bother to provide up-to-date contact information. That is vital. Opportunities are only an email away, and so is editorial feedback. Are you simply not interested? Contact information should be easy to find. Yes, I realize that older publications or websites with your material may contain out of date contact information. But it still should be easy to find a webpage with the most current contact information. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a glowing email to a writer only to learn after I send it that the email is no longer functioning. Doublecheck that your contact information is up-to-date. Hopefully, a clearly visible bio page will allow you to mention (and update) this information in only one place.
  4. Many writers who publish primarily online don’t include methods for readers to reward them/praise them. Yes, I realize that donations are a debateable topic; many think they don’t work (I think they do). But that’s not a reason to put a tipjar on your website or your Amazon wishlist. What does it hurt to try?
  5. Writers don’t package their best writing adequately. I’m actually tolerant of this shortcoming because I’m not good at this either. Or rather, I’m always behind on doing this. Organizing/collecting/formatting takes time, and frankly, writers are always busy with more creative things. But occasionally writers should stop their creativizing and organize, organize, organize.
  6. Writers don’t publish widely enough. Ten years ago getting published was a bitch. It involved stamps and envelopes and cover letters and rejection form letters. In comparison, now everything is easy. No more stamps; no more notebooks to keep track of where you’ve been sending things. No papers to throw away. Everything is email, and that is great. Now ezines are eager to feature writers. Group blogs are eager to sign new members up to contribute articles. Okay, these publications might not be first tier, but second tier ezines are still extremely receptive to nobodies of modest talents. If you’re not regularly posting on some group blog or blogging network, really you aren’t trying.
  7. Comment on other people’s blogs/including your URL on your comments. I realize there is a thin line between annoying self-promotion and simple identification. But the web is all about hyperlinking. Making a comment on a blog or forum with a URL under your name increases the possibility that people will stumble upon your site. Or maybe not.
  8. Republish things on your blog which you published elsewhere. Even prolific bloggers forget to repost things on their blog they published elsewhere. Most of the time this is allowed; why not do it? On other publications you may not always have the chance to edit something after it goes live (due to our primitive content management systems). On the other hand, you have full ability to control/edit things on your own website/weblog. Yes, it’s complicated to manage two or three different versions of the same article. But really it’s not that hard. Make the version on your personal website the canonical version.
  9. Make sure your website is listed on Alexa.com. You may be vaguely aware that the wayback machine is archiving old content for archive.org. Archive.org is fed through the alexa search engine. Alexa is not great, but it is (right now) the only surefire way to get listed on Alexa/archive.org. You can manually add individual URL’s, but the easiest way is to surf with the Alexa browser toolbar . You don’t have to use this toolbar often, only enough to make sure your main domains are being indexed. Also, you should go to www.waybackmachine.org and double check that your site is being successfully archived. Wayback machine generally shows archives that are 6-12 months old, but you need to make sure it is generally catching your site. I can’t tell you how many times wayback machine has saved my butt when I misplaced or lost content. Being listed on wayback machine lets you retrace your steps.
  10. Re-edit their old stuff. Poor Chekhov. He published something once and never had the chance to revise it. Tools and technology simply didn’t make this easy. Now it is. If you have content that is 10 years old, you can edit it today, republish it, and the reader will never knew you didn’t know how to spell “drawer”. (Of course, that means making sure that one version of your article/essay is the canonical one and not getting versions mixed up).
  11. Make backups. Okay, I’m behind on my backups, but tools are improving all the time. And DVD burners let you make snapshot backups (hint: burn 3 copies of your snapshots, and try to put one copy at another location). Now USB external hard drives are so cheap that they can serve as great manual backup devices. Use them.
  12. Make reasonable plans for after your death. Quick, go to next of kin or spouse/significant other. Tell them what the first thing they should do when the writer dies: 1)make sure the webhosting fees are paid! (do they even know how to find out this information?) and 2)making sure they can renew personal domains. Ok, step 2 is not as crucial (especially if your sites are listed on alexa!), but it makes things a lot easier. While you’re thinking about death, you might also want to get that power of attorney document signed. Relatives and next of kin won’t be able to access any of your web acccounts without a Power of Attorney (or having to go through an arduous court process to obtain that ability). Free Power of Attorney forms for your state are available. Download them, get them notarized, and you’re done. (Total time taken: approximately 3 hours).
  13. Forgetting to put “By (Your Name) ” on web articles. Don’t laugh. It’s easy to do this, especially when using web templates that aren’t customized. Some weblogs don’t provide any clue who is posting; is it a group blog or only one person writing the content? On my personal weblog, it says, “Posted by rjnagle” for every post, and that is good (although actually I might want to change that to Robert Nagle). Most writers use crazy nicknames that are impossible to associate with names of actual people. Maybe that is your intent. But if it’s not, you should make it easy for readers to figure out that you were the one who wrote this.
  14. Providing a (modest) biography. Writers are both egomaniacs and modest creatures. They live with themselves all day and think they are amazing; at the same time, they like hiding behind personas and monikers and even anonymity. Fine, that’s their choice. You may not wish to disclose much information about yourself on your bio page. But some people don’t even have that. I’m not asking for a bio page that covers everything. But some basic details might be helpful. Like: Do you live in the USA? Are you a working adult or still a student? Do you have other publications that might be of interest? Are you retired? Are you looking for employment? Is this your pseudonym or real name? (When there is no byline:) Is the content produced by only one person or several people? Do you have other websites? Do you have another personal/professional website? Do you have any special expertise that might be relevant to the subject you are writing about? These are basic questions, and writers differ about how they might answer them. But some just happily leave readers guessing.
  15. Doing a little ego-surfing. Ok, it’s easy either to do that to excess. Writers like to think that everyone is talking about their latest prose piece, and google is there to disabuse them of that fantasy. But googling and checking technorati can give you an idea of what people see when they look for your writings. For me, my weblog is the number one search result. That’s good, but the number two search result is an outdated webpage collecting my literary essays. That’s a page which has wrong contact information, lots of stale links and really not my best stuff at all. You should know in a general way how you are showing up on search engines.
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