The fundamental you (online)

shadowed portrait
Photo courtesy of Roberto Tumini

You can’t escape the fact that you don’t know what you don’t know. And one of the things you don’t really know is what you look like to other people, even though your self-esteem is affected by what others tell you they think of you. Much of the time, they’re not being completely honest. You know that, right?

You might be focused on your physical appearance, because you know that people typically base their first impressions on how you dress and groom yourself. But suppose you’re a writer. Online and in print, predominantly with words, what first impressions do you make on readers?

To imagine how you as a writer appear to readers who’ve never met you in person, you need to figure out how they discovered you and your writing. Did they find your book in a bookstore? Did they read your story in a literary magazine? Did they check out your essay when it was recommended by someone on Facebook? Did they find a link to your blog in someone else’s blogroll? Did they notice when LinkedIn displayed your name and photo under the heading “People You May Know”? Did they receive email from you?

Think about the many different ways people can connect with you and your writing online. Are you making a good first impression every time? All the control you possess, the ability to self-publish, the means of branding yourself—are you using it well?

Some aspects of your online presence might require a little spit shine, fashion consultation, copyediting, or—let’s face it—charm school. If you’re guilty of any of the following, you might be repelling instead of attracting readers:

  1. Your “About” page or “Bio” section is a big blank.
  2. Your headshot makes you look gloomy, topless, or fifteen years younger.
  3. You just copied and pasted onto your blog an entire article from the online publication you most want to write for, because you’re shaky on the concept of copyrights.
  4. Your articles, promotional materials, and blogposts are overrun with typos and grammatical errors.
  5. You’re confident that red text on a blue background will make readers take notice.
  6. You’ve been blogging consistently for three years with an intense focus on a single topic: yourself.
  7. You’ve been blogging consistently for three years but haven’t revealed anything about yourself.
  8. Self-publishing and vengeance are intertwined in your experience.
  9. You’re relying on anonymity or pseudonymity or any sort of artifice.
  10. You’re convinced you can live a better life without ever taking a stand for something you believe in.

It’s not good to obsess over site statistics or a shortage of comments or the slick image you’re trying to achieve. I hope I’m not implying any of that. Rather, there are fundamental, even technical, considerations about your online presence that shouldn’t be overlooked.

To learn how others will perceive you through your writing and your online presence, read what these thoughtful writers have to say about first impressions:

Jane Friedman: Being Human at Electric Speed

James W. Pennebaker: The Secret Life of Pronouns

Seth Godin

Chris Brogan


Great. I didn’t know that fundament had a comical alternate meaning. Too late now; the post is already written. How’s that for coming full circle?

Go here for more laughs.

2 Replies to “The fundamental you (online)”

  1. Thank you for the unintended chuckle. Unintended because there’s no way you could have known your “look topless” quip would have taken me back to high school. Back then, most of the girls’ senior photos made them look topless. :/

  2. I’m sure it’s an age-old custom. Come to think of it, there were many more scantily clothed avatars on Facebook just a few years ago, before old people crashed the party.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s