There has always been this Great Debate about whether or not a writer should start building their online presence before they have a book deal, before they have an agent (if they're going that route), or even before they've finished their book. And while there is no real right or wrong answer, I'd like to relay why I think establishing my online presence years ago (and consistently building since then) has been extremely helpful to me now, when I have a book about to release.
1. Most of the people who have added my book on Goodreads are people who follow this blog, or follow me on Twitter, or who follow/friended me on Goodreads. They did it automatically because they already "knew" me and wanted to show their support (and I do the same for them). All I had to do was make my official announcement, and then after that initial burst, word-of-mouth took over from there. I still have to do promotional work, but it's nice to have a foundation of would-be readers already started.
2. When I was informed by my publisher that I would have to put together my own blog tour (which is pretty common with small e-pubs like this), I didn't freak out.... Okay, I did freak out, but only for about a minute. Once I sat down and put together my options, I actually had more resources than I needed. This made it easier and less stressful than trying to scramble around, researching blogs and hoping they would work, hoping the blog owners would like me enough to host a tour date.
Because I'd been developing a blog reputation for over 3 years, I had more "blog buddies" than I could ever fit into a single blog tour. So I had to be extremely selective in who I chose to include. And that decision wasn't really that difficult, either, because I knew these blogs so well that I could select the ones that would best fit my needs for this particular book's promotions.
3. Being friendly in the social networking world is the gift that keeps on giving. I will never regret my decision, long ago, to be as nice as I possibly can to others while still being honest and true to myself. After selecting the blogs to include on a tour and contacting the blog owners, I have yet to receive a no. Most everyone replied with something akin to, "Of course! I'd love to help! Can't wait to read your book!" I've also had some people approach me about wanting to be on the blog tour, or asking if they could review the book on their blog, without any prompting from me.
I can't even express how refreshing that is. I may seem calm and collected online, but in real life I tend to stress a lot.
4. When you have a book coming out--your first book--you're bombarded with new things, ideas, procedures. After editing your book for weeks or months before subbing it to anyone, you now have more, new edits. The last thing you need is something else that's new, something you have to start from scratch.
Building a solid online presence isn't easy. It takes time. It takes years. Even if you have the standard 12-18 months from book deal to book release, you can't possibly expect to have as big of an online presence as if you'd started 3 or 4 or 5 years prior.
This is even more important if you go the epub route, which usually gives you less time from book deal to release day. I signed my contract in early July. My book comes out in late November. That's about five months. Which may seem like a long time, but it really, really isn't.
Building your online presence is like building a campfire. It's slow at first and requires a lot of work, but once you get a hot coal bed set it's easy. Just throw on another log and it is immediately consumed by flames.
If you do it right (and how to "do it right" is a whole other post by itself), your followers and friends are like that hot coal bed, just waiting for you to throw them a log (your book) so they can eat it right up.
But that's just me. What do YOU think of all this?