This post starts a new series: “Clever Internetizens” — it will be a series of interviews with people on the web who have a great web presence. They utilize their websites and social media effectively across a variety of disciplines. Today I’m talking with author & librarian, Sara Ryan (http://sararyan.com). Sara has written two novels, Empress of the World and The Rules for Hearts, and a bunch of comics including the series Flytrap. She’s currently working on a graphic novel for DC Vertigo called Bad Houses.
Did you have a website before you published your first novel? If so, what made you have one?
I was in grad school at the dawn of graphical web browsing. As soon as I learned how to ftp and change file permissions, I set up what was then known as a Personal Home Page. (Old. School.)
I used it mainly to recommend things I liked.
• How long have you had the website that you have now?
I’ve had sararyan.com since 2001 (here’s a snapshot via the Wayback Machine: http://web.archive.org/web/20010219040125/http://www.sararyan.com/). The design has evolved considerably since then.
• How did you decide what it should look like?
I knew I wanted a sort of collage/bricolage appearance, because I wanted to be able to add images relating to new projects without necessarily changing the whole design. And I think the site’s retro/antique look is paradoxically less likely to feel dated over time.
I also asked my readers; the Flickr and LibraryThing widgets and the prominence of the blog on my frontpage came as a result of their feedback.
And finally, I worked with highly skilled code monkey Space Ninja (spaceninja.com) to develop the details of the look-and-feel and make sure the site worked on different platforms.
• How often do you update it?
It varies wildly — sometimes I post several times a week, sometimes I take a hiatus for as long as a month. Probably the average is about once a week.
• How do you use it to publicize the work that you do?
Like most folks, I announce events and link to interviews. I also make a lot of work available on the site. I have several short comics that you can read online (you can also buy them as chapbooks), and I’ve recorded myself reading my first novel, Empress of the World, in its entirety as a series of podcasts. I’m working my way through my second novel, The Rules for Hearts, too.
• How else do you publicize your work?
I like Twitter.
I’m on Facebook as well, in a low-key way. I respond to comments on my wall, but I’ve never set up fan pages for my books or used it to send event invitations. I can’t quite bring myself to cross that particular self-promotional Rubicon.
And I crosspost my blog entries to LiveJournal. It’s not as popular as it once was, but a fair number of folks still hang out there, especially genre writers, so there’s a certain sense of community.
My overall approach: I don’t force myself to participate in spaces that, for whatever reason, don’t feel right. Lots of writers are on GoodReads; I’m not. Lots of writers have Google alerts set up for their names and book titles; I don’t. And sure, I might miss out on seeing some nice reviews, but I also don’t have the stress of wondering whether a particular mention will turn out to be depressing or delightful.
• How do you balance and prioritize the tasks of writing and self-promotion?
In a sense, the balance is easier for me to maintain than for some of my friends who write full-time on a book-a-year schedule. They always need to simultaneously promote the current book and write the new one.
I have longer stretches between books, so the level of self-promotion ebbs and flows fairly organically. And sometimes I’ll take a hiatus from the blog (as I did in August) to devote more time to writing.
• I love that you’ve posted individual podcasts of you reading your work – what prompted you to do that?
I noticed that my computer had GarageBand!
Seriously, I like reading out loud, and podcasting seemed like it would be easy and fun — which it has been, in part because I, um, don’t worry too much about sophisticated audio production values, e.g. I just record and post.
I started the Empress podcasts as a way to build up to the publication of Rules, and continued because people seemed to enjoy them.
• You regularly blog about other authors and books you recommend – what prompted you to do that?
I read a lot; I like talking about what I read with friends; I like treating blog readers as friends.
• How much do you share about projects you’re working on before they’re published? Does it help your process at all?
I share much less than I once did. I’m less likely to report on word or page count, more likely to discuss process in a broader sense. I wrote a while back on the differences I’ve observed in revising a graphic novel script vs. a prose novel, and I have a post in the works about unexpectedly useful reading.
I think the danger of talking too much about a project-in-progress is that readers may wonder what’s taking you so long (!) and/or get tired of it before it even appears. And publishers often move a book’s release date, so if you’ve said Hey, it’s totally coming out on September 1st!, and then you find out it’ll actually be February 27th of the following year, well, that is no fun for you or your readers.
• What’s your advice to authors when it comes to their online presence?
Have one. At minimum, basic information about your books, a bio, upcoming events. Make it easy to contact you if you want to be contacted. In terms of social media, do what interests you. Don’t blog if it feels like homework, don’t tweet if it feels like a waste of time.
That said, don’t be afraid to try something new, either. It took me a while to get the point of Twitter, now I find it nigh-indispensable.
Thank you, Sara, for your thoughts and advice to those looking to create or optimize their web presence!