Let’s just say you have a burgeoning career as an artist and a blogger and you get sick. Or your kids get sick. Or you and your kids get sick right before an intense vacation. We all know that one of the cardinal rules for successful blogging and successful book sales is to remain engaged and be faithful. Over the past year, I have maintained a once-a-week blog for The Starving Artist, as well as a pretty-much-daily Tweet and a more-than-weekly update on Facebook and anywhere else it is needed (like LinkedIn or Goodreads or Amazon Author Central). I have this expert-induced fear that if I miss a regular blog or update or Tweet, my followers will fall precipitously.
This fear is not without basis.
My advice, first, is to take advantage of scheduling every time you know you will be gone. WordPress lets you schedule blogs in the future (or the past; we’ll get to that in a bit), which is a huge help, and HootSuite can schedule other things, such as Twitter and Facebook. If you know you are going to be away from the computer and from work, make it look to everyone else like you are still there, jaundiced and smelling of coffee, tapping away. Ideally, keep up your usual, loyal posts.
But what if–as happened to me two weeks ago–you get the flu, your kids both get the flu, and you are about to embark on a six day, six parks tour-de-Orlando? You have no time or energy to tackle future posts or wrangle with HootSuite? Here is my advice, then:
Relax. It is true that absence can hurt your web presence and turn regular followers (and new followers) away. But probably not in droves. Life happens. Unless you have an amazing counterpart who can log on and write you a blog, clever Tweets, and smile through a Facebook status, you need to accept that life happens to you, too. You might as well get a nap out of it.
Assess your present career circumstances. Are you in the middle of a Kickstarter bid? An e-book giveaway? Did you just release a new book? I was at a crucial juncture in my own writing, a bid for funds, a couple years ago, and someone in my family passed away. I lost that bid, miserably, because I completely walked away from it. There are times in your career when staying glued to the internet will be of great importance. When a trip to Hawaii beckons, or you get the sniffles, you’re just going to have to decide (for the millionth time that year) how important a successful career is to you. Schedule vacations and holidays for times when your commitment to the laptop is less demanding.
Then, try harder. I know I told you to relax. I was assuming the situation was dire, in which case I repeat: relax. But in the event that you have a head cold and a blog tour clashing, you are going to have to gird up those loins and get behind the computer screen. Know what your followers and readers expect of you, and do just that. Being a writer (or pretty much anything else) never comes at the ideal time. I used to say about having babies that if we waited to have them until the perfect time, we would never have them. The life and career of the author is riddled with choices and with temptations to go astray. Make another pot of coffee or get those ten pages in? Go grocery shopping or get another ten pages in? Suck up my snot, take a Tylenol chased with an Airborne and connect with my readers? Yes.
When all else fails, fudge it. Part of the brilliance of scheduling is being able to schedule into the past. You can’t do it on Hootsuite (or Facebook or Twitter), but you can do it on WordPress. It’s too late to fool those regular followers, but it’s not too late to fool new people who are checking out your site or your blog for the first time. My rule of thumb is this: when you return from an unexpected absence, make sure your blog looks like you never left. Besides ugliness and cheapness, there is nothing that is going to turn a potential follower off more than you last blog entry being a month ago or gaps of a month in your blogroll. (Except unprofessionalism. That’s next.)
And above all else, stay professional. My mantra as an indie press, self publish author and publisher is Always Be Professional. From the way I dress to curl up at the library with my book notes, to buying a web domain, I make sure that I am as professional as I can possibly be. That means no cheesy, hasty posts letting everyone know that you are down with a stomach bug and you’ll rejoin them later. If you can turn your absence into a clever blog about blog absence (oh, I am so witty), then make that happen. Otherwise, pretend you have a boss. And ask yourself what Stephen King would do. Take a look at your favorite big-time author’s website. Is there a toothache play-by-play? Doubt it. Is there consistent and current build up to their next big thing? Highly suspect it.
So that’s what you want to do. Life happens. Relax. Then assess and try harder. If needed, fudge it. And make sure you stay professional. Eventually, oh eventually, all those hard choices may pay out. But hey, they can’t if you don’t.