Publishing for the Internet
So you have taken the time to sit down and carefully write out your thoughts on dogs, training, behaviour, management, or some combination thereof. Now what? Publishing your writing on the Internet seems like a simple problem to solve. There are just so many options. In fact, there are perhaps too many options. Like any writer, I want people to read what I have to say and consider my message. Choosing the right platform to post my writing can mean the difference between connecting with my intended audience and watching my writing fade off into obscurity in the vast sea of words that the Internet contains. Making a good choice about how to publish your work on the internet can make all the difference.
I’ve been publishing my writing online for the past six years. The bulk of that writing has been published on a commercial website run by someone else. I’ve reached a decent audience and publishing that way has had some important advantages for me. But there are downsides: deadlines, limits on word count, rules about formatting content, even specifics about how to title my work to optimize its visibility on popular search engines. I’ve looked at some alternatives; I’ve even dabbled in a few to see how they might better serve what I was trying to do. I thought I would share my experiences and provide some pros and cons of various forms of publishing your writing on the Internet.
Considering your audience
There are several things to consider when deciding how to publish work on the Internet. For me, the most important is to decide who you want to read your work. My own writing falls into an unusual niche as it combines elements of human psychology, philosophy, science, and dogs. It was tricky for me to find the right outlet for that kind of writing. I produce medium length essays that look at modern science-based dog training while mixing in elements of how people often live with and think about their dogs. The audience that I’m writing for is thoughtful dog owners who want to move beyond traditional relationships with their dogs and the dog training professionals that work with that kind of dog owner.
As I discussed last time in Writing for the Internet, my choice of topics, format, and the depth to which I went into each subject was dictated by the audience I was trying to reach. When it came time to publish my work, I made a similar choice based on my intended audience. I wanted to reach thoughtful readers, people who were willing to consider a topic in some depth and be willing to accept essays that would not always provide clear-cut answers or instructions to solve their problems. So I chose to publish with an online magazine, Life as a Human, a website that regularly published articles and essays on a variety of topics but all written to provoke thought and encourage readers to explore new perspectives. It was a good fit for my work, but there were other ways to publish that I have explored over the years.
Someone else’s garden
Perhaps the biggest advantage to publishing on a site run by someone else is that, well, it’s run by someone else! All of the details of domain names, website management, search engines, and so on are already taken care of by someone else. That allows me to focus on my writing. The downside of this kind of arrangement is that I am dependent on the people running the website for my outlet. If they want to change the format or content of the website, there is little I can do to influence that. How and where my writing will be featured on their website is out of my hands. But there are other advantages. The publishing deadlines they set have kept me on track and productive. The editorial staff has been great for helping me sharpen my writing skills and producing more effective articles. And the website publishers provide promotion to a wide variety of readers, so I am reaching some people I might not have considered.
Depending on the outlet you choose to write for, there can be a lot of flexibility. The nature of the Internet means that I can promote my own articles directly, using links to guide my readers directly to my articles. The publishers are grateful for my help with promotion in that my readers are likely to explore other articles on the site once they have read the link I provided them. You can arrange to publish regularly or sporadically, depending on your schedule and the publisher’s desire for your content. The best news is that there are lots of existing websites out there on animals and behaviour that are hungry for good content. Have a few writing samples available and contact some publishers to see where your work might be a good fit.
Growing your own
Setting up your own website can be another great option. Hosting your own website has become relatively simple, and the costs have come way down in the past decade. Many training professionals already have a website to promote their services and these sites can provide a great platform for hosting articles. Using your own site means that you have total control. There are no deadlines, no editors, and no limits on the topics, format, and content you want to publish. But that kind of freedom has a few pitfalls. Again, it comes down to audience. If you host a website to promote your training services, perhaps your main audience is your clients. But if you are trying to build a larger audience and spread your ideas, then the additional maintenance and management of a full-blown website might not be for you.
If you do choose to host your own site for your writing, there are lots of tools available to help get you going. They range from more simple tools that provide pre-made graphics and formatting to more complex tools that allow for near limitless content and formatting options. You can post your writing exactly the way you want, when you want, in the place you want. Website services like Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly do a lot of the design and formatting work for you. They do charge a fee for some services, but they can provide professional-looking platforms while taking a lot of the hassle out of setting up and running a website. On the more open end of the scale, platforms like WordPress and Blogger allow for nearly unlimited design and format choices including online stores, videos, discussion forums and more. If you want to create your own online brand for your writing, there are more options today than ever before.
Short forms and social media
If you are writing shorter works (i.e., 600 words or less), you might consider using social media as your publishing platform of choice. Facebook, Google+, and Linkedin all offer various options to establish individual accounts, business pages, or even create “groups” where you can post and discuss shorter works. All of these platforms offer options to set your posts to visible to the general public or just select groups that you can choose. In addition to providing a place to publish shorter works, these sites also provide promotion value as many people already visit these sites regularly.
There are some downsides to social media platforms. The terms of service of these platforms usually grant the site the rights to host and use your writing as they see fit. There can also be controls in place, as in the case of Facebook, where the site can control how many of your followers will see your content without you paying for additional views. Social media also provides for feedback from your readers, which can be a good and bad thing for you as a writer. All of that said, I have seen many writers make great use of social media platforms to provide short form inspirational or “tips & tricks” type posts on a regular basis. These writers usually provide regular content (e.g., daily or several times each week) to keep their audience engaged.
Reaching your audience
Regardless of which platform you choose to publish your writing, all that work can be in vain if no one can find it. As I’ve mentioned above, promoting your work can be as important as the words themselves. The way you choose to publish will have a great deal to do with how you go about promoting your work. Short form versus long form, self-published versus published on a larger site—these things will require more or less care and coordination in where and how you promote your writing.
In any case, the Internet and social media will offer many options and we will explore using these tools in the next installment in this series. Thanks for reading and happy publishing!
Eric Brad is dog lover, dog trainer, and writer living and working in Victoria, British Columbia Canada. Eric advocates science based training and a modern approach to working with dogs based on rewarding behaviours by working with clients and through his Canine Nation articles and podcasts.