Recently I was asked to talk about my experience with having a blog and my ideas about online connectivity. I thought I would make a better (and more appropriate) job of it by writing here.

For people on the outside looking in, these discussions always seems to boil down to one question: how is social media useful?

Yes, the 'useful' thing. This goes back to the bad old days of the web, where the whole thing seemed a bit like Alice's adventures in Wonderland: illusory and quixotic, this wandering adventure that you couldn't hold in your hands let alone understand what the point was. And then the tech bubble burst, and all those dot-coms went bust, and all the skeptical people on earth said I told you so.

And those same people look at things like Blogger and Twitter and Facebook and say It seems like a waste of time.

And for many people it is. I mean, online landscapes are fun to roam around in but like any tourist (or Alice) you'll eventually just want to go home to the 'real' world.

And creating your own place to go to -- starting your own blog, your own Facebook group, etcetera -- is thrilling until you realize that the ground you've chosen is a wilderness, with no pre-existing roads leading in or out, and you're really just shouting into the wind. From there the story usually goes like this: I made a blog. No one visited it. I got discouraged and gave up.

Chasing visitors and comments is the fastest way to adding yet another abandoned website to the scrapheap of millions already out there.

If you build it, they might not come. So what? I think you need to have something to say or share regardless of its value to anyone else. And you need to look at whatever social media you're using as a reference point for that commitment. Once you've accepted that, *then* the roads to your Rome might start to appear.

My online experience revolves around writing and visual art. Let me talk about my writing first.

Whenever I send a manuscript to an editor, the cover letter always includes my blog address. Aside from whatever qualifications I've chosen to trumpet in that cover letter (and you do have to be selective for brevity's sake), that editor can always go to my website and look up my entire publication history (it's right under my profile badge, just look to the right and click the link called 'writing credits'). In other words, this editor can see what I'm about. Hopefully, that editor will see that I'm a serious writer, someone who's been cracking away at this for a long time.

All of which is good.

What this editor can also see is that I'm an artist and illustrator. And many of these editors have come back to me with a request for artwork for their magazine.

On top of that they just get a general sense of who I am. Suddenly I'm not just another manuscript in some slush pile. I'm a real person who writes and paints and draws and posts little essays about his walk home from work and has a new baby and likes to make fun of his wife. Because she's crazy lovely.

If that editor likes my manuscript (or just feels sorry for me because of my wife) and publishes my work, then suddenly I have something nice to post about (the web is weirdly geared to posting hurrahs, don't ask me why), and hopefully that post will stick in someone's head the next time they're in a bookstore, and they'll actually pick up the magazine with my story. And the magazine (especially a small literary journal) is thrilled to have any help it can get.

But who sees the post?

Well, the dedicated audience would be people who subscribe. As you can see on the right, at the moment I have 33 subscribers. These people will see any new post of mine the next time they log into Blogger. But most people (I'd say 95%) can't be bothered to sign up and subscribe through Blogger. Just like most people can't be bothered to leave comments.

So the much greater part of an online audience is casual and invisible (unless you put in a counter, which I consider tacky). But over time you'll get a better sense of it. People will mention posts in conversations, emails, etc.

One direct extension of my blog posts is the NetworkedBlogs application on Facebook, which feeds posts to anyone who signs up for it. Since it's just another Facebook application -- and therefore much easier to subscribe to -- I have more than twice as many followers through that. Right now I have 76. At least half the people in the list are complete strangers to me.

This is good. These are people who are only coming by for the content.

Many people have re-posted things of mine on their own Facebook pages. In these instances you can't be too uptight about life (read: the kind of person who puts "COPYRIGHT BY ..." on everything). If you wrote/made it, it's yours. Relax. People share things they like. The world is awash with words and images. And so on.

(This subject always brings to mind the kind of people who won't put pictures of their kids online because they're worried about pedophiles, which is a bit like never playing baseball because you're worried about lightning.)

When I do post actual stories on my site, it's almost always ones that have already been published, so there's no worry about copyright anyway.

Conversely, when I do have a story published, I always include my site address as part of the author bio (usually in the back of the magazine). Are you getting the picture here? It's about watering and pollinating and cross-pollinating however you can.

I always reference back to my site. On business cards, in letters, in emails ... even on the back of my handmade Christmas cards. Or the mini fridge calendars I give out for the new year.

And then things come up. Participating in the writers festival in Kingston this summer, my bio on the Writersfest website gave my blog a nice highlight (and hey, my name was just under Margaret Atwood's in the author's roll ... nice). And when I blogged about the festival, I posted a link to that on the Writersfest Facebook group page. Get it? Back and forth.

I'm looking forward to seeing how I well I can use my blog and other social media to promote a short-story collection I have coming out next fall. Authors are in a constant struggle with this kind of thing now, as publishing houses devote fewer and fewer resources to pushing books out into the world. (Any ideas on this subject are welcome, btw.)

Some things I wish I did better? I wish I had more time to visit literary and writing sites, for one. I wish I had more time to leave comments and encouragement on the sites of other writers. I wish I was a better compiler of resources. I wish my writing calendar was more tightly organized.

But all you can do is work on these things. And again: use your site as a starting and reference point.

Okay, that's enough about writing. In the next part I'll talk about visual art and all the connections that come from that.


  1. I am bothering to leave a comment.

  2. I am bothered so am leaving a comment. Good writing! Great cartoon! more baby photos!

  3. Oh, I hate people who wont put pictures of their kids up. My sister went through that phase and after my brother's wedding I had to screen out all the photos with her little princesses. Just in case some creep was going to... I dont know what, exactly.

    Thank you for explaining the internets.

  4. It's as usueful as you want it to be. I'm a total sleeze with twitter and Facebook myself, it does and doesn't feel like a waste of time. I mean I can go climb a mountain any day but I want people to know about it. ;)

    Loving these articles!


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