A True Tale of Cyber Intrigue
by Cara McKenna
Oh lookie, it's my number one fan!
This post is actually about technology, and how we as writers embrace it, exploit it, abhor it, or generally put up with it, all in the name of Being Somebody, out here in the digital wilds of the interwebs. But I'd like to open with the story of me and my stalker.
I built my personal website last winter shortly after I sold my first novella, and I update it at least three or four times a week, adding new releases or covers or just tweaking the design or wording. I also monitor its traffic using Google Analytics each morning. Back in the spring I was bopping along, checking my visitor stats each day, and I began to notice that someone from Saugus, Massachusetts (several towns away from where I live) was visiting my site an awful lot. I imagined at first they were a well-intentioned soul from my New England writers' group, spurred by support or nosiness, or perhaps it was a friend who'd sleuthed out my pen name and was curious about what kind of sex-peddler I'd become. I figured they'd get bored soon enough and my traffic would go back down to normal levels.
But no! They still visited, nearly every day, sometimes five times or more, viewing my handful of pages over and over again. I began to really wonder who this person was… I checked a list of addresses for people in my writers' group and found that no members seemed to live in Saugus. I began to imagine perhaps it was a mildly nutty person, someone who'd developed a weird penchant for checking my site for updates. Whatever the details were, I had a stalker! A boring stalker, but a stalker nonetheless.
Eventually, largely because my stalker did not see fit to mail me blurry pictures of their genitals or boxes of dead animals, I stopped fretting. I'd pop in to check my Analytics and wave a mental hello to my mystery superfan from Saugus, scratch my head and wonder why they kept checking my site so damn much. I wished they would stop, since it was throwing off my stats and making me seem more popular in graph format than I really was. But still, I let it go.
Then I noticed something peculiar while I was visiting my parents in Maine for the July 4th weekend. I checked my Analytics after a few days away, and my stalker had vanished! My stalker didn't reappear until the next week, once I was back from vacation. Do you see where this is going? After a second trip to Maine with the same results, the mallet of realization clonked me on the head. Whenever I'm away, my stalker takes a break from visiting my website. And it's not because they're busily camped out on my parents' porch, leering through the window at me with a hand shoved down the front of their pants.
I was my own stalker. I was the one obsessively checking my own website, making sure updates looked the way I wanted, copying and pasting blurbs and checking for typos after I posted news.
I went to my web developer husband and said, "Why does the internet think I'm in Saugus? I've been thinking I was my own stalker for months now!"
The tech-savvy husband calmly explained to me that there are hubs all over the world, towns where a bunch of different IP addresses all converge en route to the greater internet (or something—he explained it properly, whereas I am surely not).
"But I made an Analytics filter that excluded our home IP address from the tracking!"
[Husband opens my settings and frowns.] "You did, but you didn't apply it to the site after you switched URLs."
I nibbled my lip and assigned the filter to the correct website. My secret admirer from Saugus has not visited me since. Another nebulous, not-quite-HEA ending from Cara McKenna.
Now let me say, accidentally stalking myself aside, I love Analytics. If you have a website and you don't use it, it's a dead-handy piece of software, free from Google Labs. You get your website(s) set up on it and it supplies you with a bit of code that you (or your webmistress) inserts into all the pages whose traffic you want tracked. Then each day you get an updated report (for the day, the week, the month, the past five years) on who's visiting your site. I check the previous day's traffic every morning while I drink my coffee, and it's fun to see where in the world people are and how they found me, what pages are the most popular and how long people linger. Also, if you have any ads or guest blog posts or reviews on the web, you can track how many visits they're bringing in. Analytics tracks a zillion other things too (actually, now that I think about it, I don't recommend Analytics if you're an obsessive type), such as what languages you're being read in, what browsers visitor use, and all the keywords people enter to find you via Google. Some make sense… "Cara McKenna, erotica" is a common Google search for me, as are my book titles. I've also been found via such spurious queries as "Cara dirty talk" and "Cara takes it up the ass". Um, I beg to differ. But that's the internet for you.
During a Twitter Q&A I was following recently, an editor was asked what the most effective self-promotion methods are for writers. She said pick two or three you enjoy and ignore the rest. Sage advice.
For someone of my generation (I'm thirty-one) I've been a bit of a late adopter, technology-wise. I nearly flunked out of design school because I insisted on executing my assignments in gouache and pen even after my classmates had all sensibly moved on to Quark Xpress. It took until I was the sole roommate willing to pay for a pricey landline in my apartment for me to get a cell phone, a good two or three years after most of my peers. It took me until well after I graduated college and had a magazine design job to begin exploring web design on my own time, but as with all those other things, I loved it once I got over the growing pains stage. I'm still a curmudgeon about certain technological crazes, however. I continue to resist Facebook, both personally and professionally, even long after all my sixty-something aunts have climbed on board (I think the aversion may be related to whatever bit of my DNA prevents me from LOLing). I love my stick-shift. I hate microwaves, and not because I fear cancer beams—I just think they're lazy. I don't own a TV but I suspect I'd die without Hulu and Instant Watcher. I pick and chose, basically, and I'm wildly inconsistent and self-contradicting.
Getting back to author self-promo outlets, one thing I did choose to adopt is Twitter. I resisted it for a long time, not understanding the point of it. Let me also admit I did the same thing with blogging—I rolled my eyes for years, thinking it was self-indulgent and egomaniacal, like leaving your diary lying around in the hopes that someone will read it and find you fascinating. Clearly, I was the egomaniacal Luddite, and I eventually got over myself when I began seriously pursuing writing, and needed to get on board with the whole promotions shtick.
In taking the Twitter plunge and watching others do the same behind me, I've discovered that most people require roughly forty-eight hours of psychological adjustment to get in to using it (you need to spend at least a day floundering and screaming "What is the POINT of this stupid thing?!" and cursing the world for not providing you with enough friends or an understanding of what the heck RT means) but once you're acclimated, it's great. It requires very little maintenance—you can post a hundred times a day or once a month, follow six people or six thousand, read each and every tweet that comes in or just the few you happen to catch while the window is open, and no one complains if you disappear for two weeks. No one asks you to visit their farm or comment on their stuff, or disclose your relationship status. It's very laissez-faire. It's also been an amazing tool for me to find like-minded authors. Plus myself and countless others have hooked up with editors and agents on Twitter.
So promo-wise, I maintain a very up-to-date website, I tweet, and blog here every other week, and those are my aforeprescribed 2–3 activities. I enjoy them all, for the most part. As some of you may have noticed (and if you made it even this far, bless you) my blog posts go on forever, and blogging more frequently would simply devour the daily time I reserve for actual fiction writing. I have no interest in doing a personal newsletter or a Yahoo Group, or getting any deeper into Goodreads than I already am. I try to comment regularly on blogs I admire, such as Smart Bitches, Trashy Books…at least if I have something informed to say about the day's topic. I also post an ad with SBTB every few months, as Analytics tells me the visitors it draws spend way more time exploring my site than the average visitor, plus it's the audience I most want to attract. When I have the time I like to make video book trailers for my upcoming stories, but not because I think it generates much in the way of sales, in relation to the time I invest. I just enjoy doing it.
Anyhow, that's my thoroughly unpatented approach to author self-promotion in the digital age. Nothing ground-breaking, I'm sure, but if anyone has questions about Twitter or Analytics or anything my design background might be useful in answering, go ahead. I'm away at RWA National this week so my response times will be slow, but I shall reply as cocktail parties allow. Oh and if you like me, send me some good energy on Saturday night, when I'll be up for a Golden Heart award. If you don't like me, please send that energy along to the other seven finalists in the Contemporary Series category.
Oh again! If anyone's interested, my second website just went live—my recently contracted romances for Harlequin Blaze and Samhain are going to be published under the name Meg Maguire, and so my new identical genre twin needed her own site. You can check it out at www.MegMaguire.com. And if you tweet, she's also on Twitter as @megguire.
Thanks for reading, everyone!