Digital Marketing Ideas for Writers

I originally wrote this post for Emtiaz Zourob, but others may find it useful.

One of the things writers and other artists often need to do is promote their work, so learning some basic marketing skills can be helpful.

One of the simplest things an artist can do is to purchase the rights to a website address (or domain name).  After this is done, consider signing up for this username on a variety of social networking sites, even if you don’t plan on using the social media site immediately.

  1. Get your own domain name.
    • A domain name is a permanent internet address that you can own the rights to
    • Examples:
      1. openpolitics.com (my domain name)
      2. emtiazzourob.com,  or
      3. emtiazalnahhal.com
    • I found Emtiaz’s site on blogspot:
      1. emtiazalnahhal.blogspot.com
      2. Blogspot is good, but it would be better if the Emtiaz owned her own address, independent of blogspot.com.
    • Having your own domain name is sort of like owning your own home rather than renting.  The owner of a domain name can customize the site, add additional features, and switch to a different hosting provider without having to change the site’s address.
    • You can purchase your own domain name for about $10-15/year.
    • There are many different companies through which you can purchase  a domain.
      1. I use namecheap.com.
      2. I would recommend gandi.net if your site might be controversial because I think gandi will be more likely to stand up for you if others are trying to censor you.
  2. Optional: Switch Your Blog to Your Own Domain Name.
    • After you have purchase your own domain name, you no longer need to rely upon a company like blogspot or wordpress.com for hosting and you have the future flexibility to switch providers.  For example, you can switch from emtiazalnahhal.blogspot.com to emtiazalnahhal.com (or whatever name you choose).
    • I can help you with the hosting and transfer if you like.  Talk to me more if you’re interested in this.  This would likely also mean a switch in software from blogspot to the free version of wordpress.
  3. Register for Twitter.
    1. If you don’t already own your username on twitter (@timlangeman in my case), I would sign up, if for no other reason than to reserve your name.  (It’s free to sign up)
    2. Unlike Facebook, Twitter is public by default.  If you want to get a message out to the public, Twitter can be more effective than Facebook, but Facebook is good for restricting shared material to friends.
  4. Get Business Cards to hand out at readings.
    • On your business card, list the domain name that you purchased in step 1, your twitter username, your email address, and any other info you want, such as phone number
    • Your physical address may change if you move to a different apartment, but your gmail address and domain name can always stay the same.
    • There are many places to get business cards.  I don’t have experience ordering my own cards.
      1. I’ve heard advertisements for vistaprint.com and moo.com but I don’t know how good they are.
  5. Get your own Email Lists
    • You can collect email addresses from people at readings and put a signup form on your website.   As you collect email addresses you can categorize them based on language or interest.  You can send some emails to the whole group and others to a subgroup (like English speakers).
    • The advantage of email lists is that you can target different types of people when you have a book to sell, or an event to publicize, even if those people don’t necessarily follow you on Facebook or Twitter.
    • There are many sites that offer group email functionality.
      1. Constant Contact is a popular site for non-profits
      2. I recommend MailChip if you’re starting with a small list because MailChip is free for lists smaller than 2000 people.

What the Creator of the Email Protocol can teach us about Politics and Religion

If you’ve never hear the term “Postel Christian”, that’s not surprising, as I’m coining it here for the first time.  The term is derived from Jon Postel, the technologist who created the email protocol, and described the “robustness principle” in RFC 761,  known as Postel’s Law:

Be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you accept

The basic idea of Postel’s concept is that in certain domains  it is advantageous to design systems to be forgiving (liberal) in what they accept and yet strict (conservative) in what they do.  Postel’s Law allows diverse participants to function together on a network, ensuring that that the system inter-operates, despite the fact that not all participants follow the rules strictly.

Although Postel was describing the technology behind email, the same principle can be applied in other areas.  In writing, for example, it is a good idea to try to follow proper spelling and punctuation, while at the same time also being forgiving of those who don’t.

Beyond Liberal vs Conservative

To extend the analogy to other domains, I consider myself neither entirely liberal or conservative.  I “actconservative in many areas of my personal life — my finances are conservative, I don’t swear, or drink.  I try to respect the rules unless I feel that they are wrongheaded, yet I am freer than many self-described conservatives to associate with people of diverse backgrounds who don’t always follow the rules and I have more in common with many on the left on some social issues.  So where do I fit on the Liberal-Conservative Continuum?

When most people think about liberalism and conservatism, they thing about about the label as applying to one’s self.  What Postel’s framework does is add a second axis to distinguish between the strictness of the standard I hold myself to verses the standard with which I interact with my neighbors.  Most people are familiar with The Golden Rule, which calls for a symmetry between your love of self and your love of others, but Jesus actually asked for more then symmetry, he asked for grace and did not cut off others whom did not meet the standard.

I like to think that Jesus was a “Postel Christian”.  He said he had not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, which I interpret as living according to the spirit of the law (conservative), while at the same time hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes, which would have appeared scandalously liberal to the strictly law-abiding Pharisees.

Postel Christians Matrix” width=

We’re in a time of change, with political realignment taking place in the Republican party.  David Brooks says that Trumpism is an utter repudiation of modern conservatism.  Maybe so, but maybe its also time for a broader  reconsideration of the traditional Liberal and Conservative labels.

I’m an Anabaptist (Mennonite) so I’m used to not fitting within the standard Catholic/Protestant typology.  Third Way.com describes some of this in more detail, but within Anabaptism there are differences in approach.

A friend of mine’s family left the Beachy Amish when he was young and then associated with conservative Mennonites.  When I talked to Phil about the “Postel Christian” concept for this article, he commented that the Amish are in quadrant four.  They have strict expectations for their own community, but they don’t expect others to follow them, and they are able to relate to non-believers.

He said the conservative Mennonites he knew couldn’t develop friendships with  outsiders for fear that they would be corrupted.  I talked this “Postel Christian” idea over with his brother Andrew and described to Andrew about how I choose to be friendly with my neighbor, even as he smokes and sits outside with a beer in his hand.1  I don’t smoke and I recognize that second-hand smoke can be damaging, but I figure in low doses it is more important the be neighborly than to protect myself.  Andrew said that the people at his church would not be able to engage this way with my neighbor because they would feel an obligation to either publicly denounce the neighbor’s drinking and smoking, or shun him.  For some, this response is done out of a fear that they wouldn’t be able to resist the objectionable behavior; and for others they would avoid the neighbor because they don’t want to be seen as condoning bad behavior.

Does Postel’s Law apply to all of life?  Must I be forgiving of everyone?

One misunderstanding about Postel Christianity regards its scope.  Say, for example, that you ran a software company.  Would you as an owner or manager have to let employees do anything they want, applying a strict standard only to yourself?  No, subgroups (companies, churches, civic groups) are free to hold themselves to a stricter standard.

So if I had a software company called Postel Software, I could insist that all of our HTML validates and our Python code follows certain standards.  But the key difference is that, if we are a company making a product which interoperates with web pages created by anyone on the internet, like Google’s Chrome browser, we should design Chrome so that it doesn’t require every web page to be perfectly valid HTML.  This is, in fact, how web browsers work.  I know of no web browser that treats html web pages strictly.

This doesn’t mean that there are not rules that can’t be broken.  If I am at my local electronics shop and I see a customer attempting to steal something, I will alert to store owner.  But if my neighbor is mainly harming himself, or setting a bad example, I am forgiving.

The Benedict Option

Rod Dreher of The American Conservative has written a book called The Benedict Option, advocating that conservatives withdraw from mainstream American society to isolated communities where they can preserve Orthodox Christianity.  From what I’ve read, LGBT issues are an important factor in this decision, with Rod fearing that the government is going to force Christian-affiliated schools and colleges to violate their consciences.

One of the questions I have about Dreher’s proposal is about about exactly where he draws the line and why.  Is he willing to interact with neighbors who may be gay, or who may think differently about LGBT issues, so long has he is able to maintain the freedom to exclude LGBT people from his churches, church-affiliated colleges, etc.  If, as Skye Jethani of the Phil Vischer podcast has said, Christians are given an exception allowing them to opt out of participation in LGBT wedding ceremonies and  wedding cake decorators are free to deny decorating services to LGBT couples on the theory that a cake decorating mandate violates artistic expression, would Dreher be willing to accept a mandate that required him to sell generic uncustomized cakes to anyone?  Or would Dreher want to allow businesses of any kind to deny service to LGBT customers?

The point I’m getting at is — is Dreher willing to coexist with his neighbors, knowing that he will come in contact with people with whom he disagrees, or does his faith require him to shun them?

If Dreher really believes that self-preservation requires him to minimize his exposure to non-believers, I can understand. I live in Lancaster County and grew up in a progressive Mennonite home without a television (although I did go to public school).  My parents shielded me from some things, but they accepted that I would have to go out into a world that is at odds with the Mennonite faith and make my own choices.

Many Mennonites have developed a theology calling for separation from general society based on an interpretation of bible passages that call on believers to be “in the world but not of the world”.  My church is among the more progressive of Mennonites, living a modern life (I”m a computer programmer), engaging with the world, but trying to maintain a different ethic.  Critics of the type of separatism that Dreher advocates, such as Elizabeth Stoker Brunei, question how followers of the Benedict option can follow the second commandment to love their neighbor, while at the same time wanting nothing to do with them.

The Illiberal Left

A lot of the conflict in these scenarios is between quadrant three and quadrant four.  Besides hypocritical conservatives, Quadrant three contains people who identify themselves as “liberal,” yet are unwilling to coexist with quadrant four conservatives.

Recently, Heather Mac Donald, author of “The War On Cops” was invited to speak to students at Claremont-McKenna College in California.  One might debate whether her arguments are persuasive or wrong-headed, but the opposition among students was such that event organizers “were considering changing the venue to a building with fewer glass windows to break.”  The Wall Street Journal quoted the CMC College president as saying that students had blocked people from entering the venue.  Columist William McGurn attributes the conflict to the students a belief “that they should never have to hear an opinion different from their own.”

It is quadrant three and four that pose the greatest challenge to pluralism.  Decreasing tolerance from quadrant three “illiberal liberals” antagonizes conservatives and drives conservatives in quadrent four like Dreher to consider separatist strategies.

Are these groups irreconcilable?  I don’t know.  As I interact with more people, I’m increasingly interested in looking for ways that can strengthen American pluralism, allowing Christians to learn from each other and from the broader society.2


  1. Yes, I realize that the rules about governing alcohol and smoking are not the same in all cultures.  I chose these two behaviors because they are forbidden by many of the conservatives I come into contact with.

  2. I am inspired to read that René Girard became a convert to Christianity after reading literature like Cervantes and Dostoyevsky

Journalists and Technologists Should Collaborate to Build More Trustworthy Media

Most people don’t know that the Web we have today is not its original design, but a simplified (or “dumbed down”) version that Tim Berners-Lee created because it was easier to implement than internet pioneer Ted Nelson‘s original 1965 design.

The compromising design Berners-Lee released on the Internet in 1991 made it easier for programmers to implement, but had Nelson’s original design been fully implemented instead, Web browsers would display the context of each quotation, making the Internet more resistant to certain types of “Fake News”.

My article focuses on one part of the Fake News problem — out of context quotations — and gives two high profile examples of how out-of-context quotations mutated into damaging Fake News stories, even before social media was mainstream:

  1. Al Gore: I invented the Internet (1999), and
  2. Sarah Palin: I can see Russia from my House (2008).

I conclude by describing 3 ways technologists could work with journalists to develop technology that could prevent this type of story mutation from occurring and build greater trust in media.

How Bad Data-Driven Decision-Making Led to the Mistake of “New Coke”

new coke

The Testing Threat

In the 1980s, Coca-Cola executives were shocked to learn that what Pepsi advertisements said was true — in a random taste test, people preferred Pepsi over Coke.  Coca-Cola executives responded with a massive retooling effort, resulting in a product dubbed “New Coke”.

“New Coke” turned out to be a major flop.  What we know in hindsight is that the way taste-tests are done is biased — in small amounts (sips) people prefer the sweeter drink, but in larger amounts (a 12 ounce can), people preferred the original Coca-Cola formula.

The Imperfect Metric

This is a phenomenon that happens all the time — An effort is made to quantify success.  The metric chosen is imperfect; yet people exert a lot of effort to maximize or minimize the metric, even if flaws in the metric are known.  I’ve talked to students who don’t understand the concepts they are studying, but simply memorize the “correct answers” because they know that is how they will be evaluated.  Teachers teach to the test; and students study to the test.

Music: Data Driven by Shazam

In a similar way, the author of an Atlantic article describes a smartphone app called Shazam.  A “Shazam” is equivalent to a google search for music; but the music industry treats search traffic for a song as if it were the same as a Facebook “like”.

So, what meaning does the Shazam metric really convey?  Quality? Novelty?  Attention?

The music industry has made “Shazam” the new “test”, and by “teaching to the test” the direction of the music industry has shifted.  The industry is now more data-driven, but the result is more repetitious music with predictable chord progressions — a sort of “comfort food” (6 min).

So like “New Coke”, does our our crude big-data analysis result in better music, or are we just making it simpler and “sweeter”?