Why You Should Google Yourself: It's Not Vain—It's Good Business

First: Many thanks to Writers Digest editor Robert Lee Brewer, who put this blog in his list of "Blogs that Rock" in his BEST BLOGS FOR WRITERS TO READ IN 2013 this week.

Yes, you should do frequent Internet searches of your own name. 

I have to laugh when I see writers apologizing on their blogs for Googling themselves.

They say stuff like "I'll bet you do it too" as if they were teen boys searching for MILFs and crush fetish pix.

It’s more like apologizing for balancing your checkbook.

As social media guru Kristen Lamb says “Your name is your brand.” How could it be “vain” to find out how your brand is doing?

Publishing is a business. Businesses need to take care of their brand's image. It’s why they hire public relations people. And advertisers.

I'm going to repeat Kristen's words again: YOUR NAME IS YOUR BRAND. New writers should make that their mantra. It's why you need to put your own name (or the name you write under) prominently on your blog. Preferably in the blog's header. It's why you need an "about me" page—with contact information. YOU are your product. Not a book. Not a setting. Not a genre. You.

NOTE: If you have a really common name like Anne Allen, use your middle name or initial on everything. Otherwise you disappear onto page 57 of a Google search.

When you think of bestselling writers, what pops into your head first: "Stephen King" or "that writer from Maine"? When you think of bestselling romance, do you think of  "The Last Boyfriend" or "The Perfect Hope" or do you think "Nora Roberts"?

Stephen King, Nora Roberts, James Patterson, and Dan Brown are BRANDS. Not their genre, setting or titles. This doesn't mean "they're so vain." It means they're good business people.

You want to be a brand too. (Which means you have to use a pen name if your name actually is Stephen King or Nora Roberts.) You don't want to blog or tweet as @RomanceMomma or @PeoriaDude. Don't use a picture of a landmark, baby or the Tardis as your Twitter avatar. Don't name your blog, "Sweet Savage Surrender" or "The Rubens Code" (You can't copyright a title and chances are somebody's used it before. anyway.)

What you want to present to the world is YOU, the author.

Industry insider Porter Anderson is especially unfond of those baby-avatars. He didn't mince words when speaking of them on this week's Writing on the Ether. "When people use their (or someone else’s) childhood pictures as their avatars, it’s not cute, entertaining, funny, endearing, authentic, nor—and this is most important—informative. It’s just tedious. Would you walk around town with a picture of yourself at age five stuck on your face? No? Then why are you walking around the biggest city in history with a picture of yourself at age five stuck on your face?"

I love his description of the Interwebz as "the biggest city in history." We really are in the middle of a huge virtual city—and everything we do here is "in public." That means it's super-important to know exactly what image we're presenting—and make sure we don't have any virtual spinach stuck to our teeth.

So Google frequently to see how your image is faring. Don't count on Google alerts to keep you informed. They're pretty useless. I think I get an alert for maybe one in every 1000 mentions I get.

Here are some reasons why:

1) People may be saying nice things about you. They may like you, really like you. You want to get to know those people.

People may reference your blog, discuss something you said on Facebook, or retweet something you Tweeted.

When somebody compliments your blog or gives you a shout-out, go over and comment on their blog. I've made a lot of Internet friends by approaching bloggers who have mentioned me. It's really nice to know that somebody out there appreciates your work. Those are the people you want to connect with. It's why you're on social media in the first place: to socialize.

2) A reviewer may have reviewed your book.

They don’t always notify you. Even when it’s a rave. I just found a fantastic review of No Place Like Home I didn’t know I had. I found it doing a routine check on Topsy.com this week (more on Topsy below)

I also found somebody had left three stars on the book on Goodreads without a review. (So I asked some of my reviewers who liked it to go over to Goodreads and weigh in.)

If your review is three star or lower, do NOT comment or respond to the reviewer, except maybe a quick, polite thank-you. If they reviewed an earlier version that had glitches, it's okay to say there's another version with better formatting and you'll be happy to gift it to them. But otherwise, SAY NOTHING.

But you can learn a whole lot from reading your reviews, good or bad. I know there are "art for art's" sake writers out there who don't think writers should read their own reviews. They'd prefer to sit in an ivory tower and create art and not worry if anybody is buying it. That's fine if you have somebody else to manage your career.

But if you're your own career manager, it's important to see what people like and don't like, what works and what doesn't, and who your audience is or isn't. A bad review can tell you if you need a new editor or if your grammar skills need a refresher course. And they're valuable for choosing what to put in your next book and targeting your promotions .

3) Somebody may be dissing you or misquoting you.

This happened when I got all the negative comments about my post telling grandmas how to write reviews. In those days I didn't search for my name much. I got a heads-up from a nice Tweep who had been defending me. That prompted me to do a search of my name. I found out immediately that a few people had been whipping readers into frenzies with complete fabrications about me on Absolute Write and several blogs.

I stopped in to politely correct the mis-statements. I don't recommend doing this in every case. I did it there because 1) It was a moderated forum 2) Some lovely people were defending me and I wanted to support them.

But: big warning here—don’t say anything until you’ve calmed down and are able to do it with grace. I gave myself a couple of days and then tried to be a little humorous. One guy even thanked me for being a “good sport” after he’d lambasted me for something I didn’t say.

Sometimes it's best to say nothing. Just take names and bide your time. It's important to know your enemies but you don't always have to engage with them. It's wise to pick your battles.

A recent search turned up a forum where some students were saying idiotic things about me—that I'm an uneducated, self-published author (I'm trad-pubbed and went to Bryn Mawr and Harvard.) One claimed to have read one of my books and said it was terrible, but the title wasn't remotely like any of mine. Another took the first part of a humorous sentence from this blog and cut the punch line to show I was "arrogant."

But that time, I didn't respond. 1) Nobody was defending me. It was a dogpile perpetrated by an obvious bully and his sycophants. 2) They were caught up in a frenzy and seemed too irrational to enlighten. Some people only want something to be angry about. They'll get even more enraged if you take that away from them.

But I'm glad I found the discussion. Now I know who they are and I can be on guard and make sure the misinformation doesn't spread.

4) Piracy: Unauthorized sites may be selling your books.

Book pirates not only steal money from you, but they can get you in big trouble with Amazon.

I realized I hadn't been Googling my name enough when Amazon suddenly reduced one of my titles to 99 cents. I asked my publisher why, and he didn't have a clue. We finally found a pirate site was offering it for 99 cents, and somebody had reported it to Amazon, so the Zon price-matched.

In fact, a pirate can get you kicked off Amazon completely if you're in KDP Select, because of the non-compete agreement. Nobody else is allowed to sell your book—and it's YOUR job to find out if anybody else is selling it, legally or illegally.

Even if you're not in Select, you may get your book taken down because of piracy.  Romance author Elaine Raco Chase discovered this when updating one of her book covers. She uploaded it, then got an email from Amazon saying someone else had written the book and it was on sale in a number of places. She was told to prove it was hers or it would be taken off Amazon. Luckily it was a title previously published by Harlequin and she had the reversion of rights letter. But if you have a 100% self-pubbed title, and you haven't officially copyrighted the book (which most of us don't bother to do) you're in deep do-do.

Some pirates will take your book down if you ask. They don't want a hassle. And if somebody else is selling your book on Amazon, the Zon will take it down quickly once you prove it's yours. But you can't do that if you don't know the pirated books exist.

Google your name and your titles. Often. 

I also recommend using Topsy.com, which will tell you what impact you’re having right now. You can search your name for the last hour, couple of days, or month. Google is oddly anarchic when it comes to chronology, so Topsy is a must for me.

An occasional stop to Bing and Yahoo is good too. They can bring up a few things that may get lost in Google overload.

Also, a quick check at Klout.com  and PeerIndex will give you an idea of your social media reach. It’s important to see how effectively you’re using your social media time.

I'm not pretending there aren't lots of annoying things about Klout, and it can feel like a Jr. High popularity contest, but it helps you see how to use social media better. By looking at my Klout stats, I discovered that sharing images is a better use of my Facebook time than posting the useful links to publishing blogs that people like on Twitter. Facebook people seem to prefer LOL Cats and cartoons and my Tweeple like links to breaking news stories about the industry.

I think it’s because Facebook is more of an entertaining, take-a-break place, and Twitter is more of an information center.

Another great resource for finding out the state of your brand is your blog stats. I don't recommend obsessing about them, because when you start out they can seem really dismal. (I got between 0-5 hits per post for most of the first year of this blog.)

But once you start getting hits, check where they're coming from. Look on your dashboard for "Overview, then "more stats" then "traffic sources."

When you suddenly get 55 hits from one blog address, that means a blogger has probably given you a shout-out. Go visit.

And check "audience" too. It can be fascinating. You can see what kind of device people are using to read your blog. And where they come from. Although the vast majority of our readers are from the US, last week we had a couple thousand from the UK, Russia, Canada, France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Sweden, and Australia.

Hey there, non-Yanks, speak up! We want to hear from you. I'd love to hear in the comments where all of you are from.

Then run off and Google yourselves...

What about you, scriveners? Have you done a search on your name recently? Have you found any useful information? Have you run into any pirates? Argh. And where are you from?


The 2013 version of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE...AND KEEP YOUR E-SANITY is NOW LIVE.  You can read an excerpt from the book on Catherine Ryan Hyde's blog this week. She points out that many people have got the wrong idea about the book. It's NOT another manual telling you how to self-publish. It's about how to prepare to be a published writer no matter what road you choose. Lots of info on how to research agents, deal with critiques, whether you should rewrite without a contract...and much more.

If you subscribed to get updates and haven't received them, just email Mark Williams international Digital Publishing and put "SUBSCRIBE TO HOW TO BE" in the header. Send it to markwilliamsauthor at gmail dot com.  Let them know if you need mobi-Kindle, epub, PDF or some other format. If you bought the book but didn't subscribe--or you bought the paper book--state that and you can still get an updated ebook.

You can read an in-depth interview with Catherine Ryan Hyde and me about the new updates of How to Be a Writer in the E-Age...And Keep Your E-Sanity. It's over at You Read it Here First. Our wonderful interviewer is Joanna Celeste.

RUTH HARRIS'S BLOG will now have Thursday posts. Boomers, check out her hilarious "Boomer's Lament" this week. We'll both be posting over there, with more personal stuff and fun things about the stories behind our books. Next Thursday, February 7, I'll be talking about the cult of thinness and how the body size-acceptance movement sparked my novel Food of Love.

ANNE will be talking to Aussie romance writer Monique McDonell on February 5th at her blog. Plus I give the Secret Recipe for Leona's Chocolate Angel Pie from Food of Love.

NEXT WEEK: Mark Edwards, who is half of the superstar team that rode indie success to a major deal with HarperCollins with Killing Cupid, will be here. He's going to tell us HOW TO WRITE A KILLER PRODUCT DESCRIPTION—perhaps your most important sales tool in the digital age.

Opportunity Alerts:

#1 if & When--Literary Lines: Have you written brilliant lines you've never found the right novel or poem to put them in? Now you might be able get them published! A new literary magazine if & When, (pays in copies) is looking for your short fiction & creative nonfic (1500 words or less), poetry (50 lines or less, up to 5) and something I found intriguing: "Literary Lines": 1-2 original sentences that "you've been aching to use somewhere but never found the right project" (up to 5) Send your submissions to submissions@ifwhen.us in a word document, attached to an email with a subject line of “Genre, Last name.” Include first and last name, phone number and mailing address in the body of your email.

#2 Tech-Savvy Author Workshop: If you live on the Central Coast of California and you’re interested in learning about blogging, building platform and everything a 21st Century author needs to know, Anne will be teaching at a seminar called THE TECH SAVVY AUTHOR with Catherine Ryan Hyde, screenwriter and radio personality Dave Congalton and a whole crew of smart techie folks on March 2nd.

#3 Interested in having your short fiction recorded for a weekly podcast?There’s no pay, but it’s fantastic publicity if your story is accepted by SMOKE AND MIRRORS. They broadcast about three stories a week. Spooky, dark tales preferred. No previous publication necessary. They judge on the story alone.

#4 Cash prizes for flash fiction. The San Luis Obispo NIGHTWRITERSare holding their annual 500-word story contest. Anybody from anywhere in the world is welcome to enter. Prizes are $200, $150 and $75. This is a fantastic organization that boasts a number of bestselling authors among their members, including Jay Asher, Jeff Carlson, and moi. (Well, some sell better than others :-) ) Deadline is March 31st.

#5 $2000 Grand Prize. NO entry fee. Call for Entries—The Flying Elephants Short Story Prize, sponsored by "Ashes & Snow" artist Gregory Colbert. AndWeWereHungry, a new online literary magazine, seeks literary short stories for its debut issue fiction contest. THEME: "And We Were Hungry....," or "Hunger." For isn't it, to quote Ray Bradbury, hunger or "lack that gives us inspiration?"  Prize: One grand prize ($2000) + three finalists (each $1,000) + eight runner-ups. Deadline: March 31, 2013.

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