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Ginny Stibolt was featured in a USA Today spring gardening story.  Photo by Bob Self.Managing Your Online Presence or How I Ended Up Being Featured on USA Today

by Ginny Stibolt 

As I related to writers attending the Tallahassee Writers' Conference in March 2010, I've branded myself as a Florida garden writer. For every appearance on my self-designed book tour around the state, I wear a flowered shirt, and hand out bookmarks that reflect the look of my book, "Sustainable Gardening for Florida," and that have the link to the book website. More importantly, almost everything I do online contributes to this brand. I stay away from controversial topics like politics or religion. In other words, I avoid topics that do not advance my brand and ones that might alienate some of my potential fans.

Start with a website that reflects you, as a writer, and is appropriate for your target market. Then build your brand or niche around that. I've written several articles on writer's websites that are posted on www.websiteideas4writers.com

When I moved to Florida in 2004, I started writing Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener. Here's what I did:
1) I bought the domain www.transplantedgardener.com. (A domain costs about $15 per year.)
2) Began a garden log posted on a series of pages on my website and I forwarded my domain to the homepage of this log. (It's similar to a blog, but it's not written in a blogging environment like Blogger, TypePad, or WordPress, I haven't added an RSS feed (so that folks could sign up to be notified with every change), it carries no ads, and it does not invite comments. I already had a hosted website, www.sky-bolt.com, so these are pages posted on this site--the url for the transplanted gardener homepage is actually www.sky-bolt.com/garden, even though you can type www.transplantedgardener.com to land there.)
3) I wrote a series of articles or columns that I posted to my website where each article has its own page. Then I posted these same articles to the Jacksonville newspaper's online edition, www.jacksonville.com, as a community columnist and also to www.floridata.com, an online plant encyclopedia. At the bottom of each article is a short blurb about me, as a garden writer, and a link back to the transplanted gardener homepage. I now have more than 80 articles posted. (Jacksonville.com's community columnist program was changed to a blogging format two years ago, so I started posting gardening news items and links to my articles instead of the full articles. Being a true blog, though, my posts there are also posted to my author page on Amazon (www.amazon.com/Ginny-Stibolt/e/B0028OI3D2), which is a good thing and a possible reason to have a blog.)
4) I worked with my personal contacts at jacksonville.com (I made these new friends there, since I had posted so many columns for them and they'd actually used many of my columns in their printed regional supplements.) and have now posted more than 60 podcasts to their website. There are links to the podcasts posted on my transplanted gardener site and on my homepage on www.floridata.com. I have also become a community photographer for jacksonville.com and have posted photos of garden-related events in the area.
5) During this time I have commented on high-traffic* blogs and columns, but only when they relate to gardening, botany, or environmental science and only when I have new information pertaining to the original post. I almost always write the comment in Word first and paste it into the comment box. This way my spelling and grammar are checked, and also I can think my comment through without the pressure of working in a temporary (and usually small) window that may time out if I take too long.
*You can determine if a website or blog has high traffic by using www.quantcast.com. If a site is in the top 500,000 of all the millions of websites, then it may be worthwhile, but you still need to pay attention to see if you want to be associated with this site. Look at the ads (if any), topics covered, and other comments. It pays to be a lurker for a while to listen to the tone and get a feel of the site and its visitors.
I am a frequent commenter on www.gardenrant.com and in the last couple of months I have been a "guest ranter." I made frequent comments on a NY Times blog a couple of years ago called Dream Home Diaries written by a NJ couple who were building a house on Santa Maria Island south of Tampa/St. Petersburg (http://dreamhome.blogs.nytimes.com). I've also made comments on columns by NY Times columnist Olivia Judson, who writes on science and biology. Sometimes my comments have been highlighted by the editors as most interesting--such as this one: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/02/evolution-by-the-grassroots.

So what has happened as a result of all my online gardening activity?
My transplanted gardener website has been named one of the best garden blogs in Florida (even though it's not a blog) by several groups and in the print magazine, Florida Gardener. I've been interviewed by a number of journalists: radio and print. I was asked to be the Florida representative of the Lawn Reform Coalition. My photo of a bee on a sunflower was chosen as the signature photo for the Great Sunflower Project run by the University of San Francisco. They've changed their website this year, but for three years, my name was displayed under my photo on their homepage and on countless other websites and blogs that referred to their activities.
Three years ago, the publisher of Vero Beach Magazine, a big glossy regional magazine with nine issues per year, found one of my articles online that she was interested in publishing. She paid well for that article and that was the beginning of our relationship. Now I send her a list of suggested topics for the upcoming year and she chooses from my list and may suggest some other topics. I write the articles, the photo captions, and help to choose photos, from their normal stock photo site, to accompany the articles. I'm paid more when they use my photos, which happens regularly.
My columns were the starting point for initial discussions when I met the editor-in-chief of University Press of Florida. This chance meeting resulted in my book, "Sustainable Gardening for Florida." Because this is an academic press, I gained "instant" (after three years of writing and rewriting) respect. I bought the domains www.sustainablegardening4florida.com and www.sustainablegardeningforflorida.com. I've included reviews, updated resources, a link to my botany bio, and appearances on this site. (I also posted my appearances on www.booktour.com, which showed up on my Amazon author page, but now it's gone.)
I've been asked to review and/or comment on other University Press books--not only in Florida, but also for the one in Washington State. I'm paid in money or books for the critical reviews and my comment is on the back cover of "The Informed Gardener" by Linda Chalker-Scott.
My latest (and shameless) ego trip was the video that accompanied the garden article published in USA Today on March 29, 2010. The reporter found me on the Garden Rant blog and contacted me for an interview for the article. She'd obviously been to my website, because she knew my background. As she and I talked, she asked if there were any signs of spring here in northern Florida. When I listed the plants that were blooming and the vegetables that we were harvesting, she became excited and she asked if a photographer could come out for a photo shoot. Of course, I said yes. I was not expecting a video, but because I'd been talking to a wide variety of groups on sustainable gardening since September 2009, when the book was published, I was able to come up with something that sounded semi-intelligent on the first take. It's one version of my "elevator speech," which is in the top of my head and ready for prime time at the drop of a raindrop.
Here's the link to the video and here's the link to the article.

After the USA Today article and video were published, I bought several copies of the paper for "show and tell" and I emailed the links to a large number of people. Francine was one of those people, which is why I'm writing this article. It was posted on Garden Rant and on the homepage of Floridata. I looked at my upcoming events and emailed those groups so they can include the USA Today links in their own publicity. My hope is that this gig will increase the attendance at my events and hopefully boost sales of my book, which has already gone into its second printing.

Ginny Stibolt shoveling mulch for her garden.  Photo by StiboltI've found a niche and have worked to maximize my presence, online and otherwise. You may be able to distinguish yourself from other writers by using some of these techniques. This is not rocket science, but it is a consistent, cohesive, and continuing effort to promote your own brand.


Ginny Stibolt (Originally published in April 2010 in The Book Promotion Newsletter.)

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