The Compulsive Reader: How to Take Your Online Presence Offline

Monday, July 1, 2013

How to Take Your Online Presence Offline

I've had a few readers ask me about what I talked about during the panel I spoke on at BEA Bloggers Conference a few weeks. The topic was Taking Your Online Presence Offline, and we had a nice diversity of speakers. I won't go into what each of them spoke about, but here is what I led with, and a few points that I thought to add after the open Q&A session. You can read a recap of the entire panel here.

I started this blog in 2007 as a way to communicate and connect with other readers, but I was a pretty shy person. Not many people in my offline life knew about my blogging, and I felt uncomfortable talking about it because I didn't think anyone would find it all that interesting. It wasn't until I was in college and I was speaking with a professor and she said to me, "You know, this is pretty amazing. You write almost every day, you read a lot, and you communicate with professionals in the field you want to break into. That's huge!"

I realized then that perhaps the blog could be more than just a hobby I wrote for fun, and I began looking for ways to take my knowledge offline. I think that in order to do this, each blogger needs to ask three questions of themselves.

First, what is it that I can do?

One of my first book events!
I met fellow blogger Sara from
The Hiding Spot!
For many of us, this is an easy one to answer. Read. Write about books. Communicate with commenters, subscribers, and readers. Utilize social media. Keep in contact with publicists and authors. Create unique content. Contribute to the conversations about issues in YA. This is all what we do as bloggers, and most of it comes naturally to us because it is fun.

But let's think critically for a moment about what this really means. If you read more than the average person, it's likely that you are on your way to becoming somewhat of an expert in whatever you like to read about. If you are updating your blog on a daily (or even weekly) basis, you are probably already writing more than the average person, and writing skills are vitally important. Like most skills, the more you practice, the better you become. If you know how to use social media beyond updating your Facebook status, that could become an important skill as well. Networking can have unexpected benefits. All of the sudden, what is your hobby can actually help you be a better communicator and professional.

This is me with Suzanne Collins in 2009, two years after
I started blogging. I never would have met
her if not for the blog!
The second question you need to ask is, what is it that I especially like to do? Or, what are you especially good at?

This may be a bit harder to pin down, and may take some time to discover. For me, creative writing is a passion. I like to think that this passion shows in the types of interview questions I ask, my reviews, and my features. I like to know how other writers write, how they approach the process, and what they've learned throughout writing. I write my blog because it's a way for me to be involved in the YA community and publishing world that's fun and engaging, but also because I want to learn as much about writing as possible so one day I can publish novels of my own.

So, with this skill or passion or area of interest in mind, the third question that needs to be answered is: Where is there a need in my community that can be filled?

This is going to be harder for me to direct you because my skills are unique and my community it unique. But here is what I've done that has (hopefully) benefited my community:

I've been able to donate books to my local library and talk with librarians about books and authors in the YA category that they might consider including in their collection. (My community library is very small, and does not have a dedicated YA librarian.)

I've taught summer creative writing classes for elementary and middle school kids for three summers at my local arts center. I would not have gotten that job if not for the fact that the director knew I was interested in creative writing and that I wrote blog on YA lit. It was an excellent, enlightening experience (and one I got to put on my resume).

I've spoken at four elementary and middle schools about reading and writing. This sounds so general and broad, but talking with kids about books in a context that wasn't necessarily school-related (i.e. I was a person who wasn't their teacher, and I just wanted to talk with them about books they loved), was probably one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had. I love the passion that kids (and teens) have for the books they love, and I believe that connecting with others through books is what builds a love of reading.

My wonderful bookstore family!
I got my job at my local indie in part because of my blog, and all that blogging has taught me regarding publishing, books, and the book world in general.

Writing my blog had provided me with the opportunities to attend various conferences and book events across the country and meet so many excellent, smart, and kind people. I likely would not have found my graduate school if not for blogging, and I believe that my experiences with my blog were a large part of why I was accepted.

Your experiences are all going to be different, but there are a few things I'd recommend doing if you want to take your online presence offline. Attend conferences (local, regional, national), frequent your local indie (if you have one) and your local library, and support authors and stores by attending author events--perhaps you'll meet fellow bloggers and book enthusiasts. One of the coolest things that bloggers have done in Michigan is create a Facebook group with YA lovers and authors all over the state (and some out of state) who want to attend YA books events. Because there are so many different stores and venues, this is a great way for us to let each other know about events and encourage attendance. I think I can speak for the group when I say that the connection online has boosted attendance at offline events.

I started blogging because I couldn't talk to people I knew in my offline life about YA books and writing, and now I can't wait to go to conferences and book events to meet up with all of the fantastic friends I've made. I've discovered a community of "real life" friends all over the country that don't just exist as thumbnail pictures on my Twitter feed. The people I've met have been wonderful--smart and funny and supportive and endlessly entertaining, and I am so thankful for them all. The YA community is always so kind and ready to include newcomers with enthusiasm and excitement, and I am proud to be a part of it.

Do you have any ideas for taking your online presence offline? I'd love to hear them! Let me know in the comments or email me at thecompulsivereader@gmail.com!


Uomo di Speranza said...

This post is so true! Another perk I've discovered in book blogging is that it helps my analytical writing skills SO much--by writing so much about the books I love, my ability to write about any books my English classes give me has increased a ridiculous amount. What a great hobby, I must say!

The Compulsive Reader said...

Definitely true! The act of writing, no matter the subject or tone or setting, is really what helps your own writing improve in every aspect. I shudder to think of my readers going back to the early years on my blog, but those posts were all a part of my learning process. That being said, please don't judge, okay?