Building a public profile when you are not yet published is a very very wise career move.
Here is the thing; even as an unpublished writer, the very instant you tweet, blog, comment in a forum or on a loop, join a writers group or enter a competition, then you have started to build a public profile.
Yep, that's right, you have already started on your marketing/self-promoting journey.
You might think that because you are unpublished then you don't need social networking- surely your time would be better spent writing the damn book?? Yes, it would, but um, actually how about writing the book AND building the foundation of your future marketing plan, getting your name in front of agents, editors and well known authors, AND having a laugh and connecting with people?
My writing journey, from never-written-a-word to signing my first book contract took nine months. Great! You think at first glance.
But it wasn't, because I had not had the chance to build my network or public profile. I had not been part of the industry, heard other peoples stories, got myself some damn fine writing buddies, learned from others mistakes, supported and encouraged fellow writers in their journey, judged other peoples writings (in comps - gah, you learn so MUCH), asked the dumb questions (and be patiently given the right answer), read a call story and dreamed it could be me, read five call stories in a day and wondered why the hell it wasn't my turn yet, or gave up altogether and got guilted, bribed and blackmailed into sitting down and writing just another 100 words, which turned into 200, then 2000, then 95,000.
And not having the time or knowledge to do that, in hindsight, put me at a HUGE disadvantage when it came to getting my name out there and selling my book. There was me and my book, alone and unknown in cyberspace or in the 'real life' writing industry. It can be very chilly out there.
I have worked hard in the last five years on building myself that network - and hell, I'm not the worlds foremost social networker, not by a long shot (am possibly the crappest twitterer ever), but now I have my support base and value them so incredibly highly. To be honest, if I published my first novel now, the marketing side would be a whole different scenario.
So, even as an unpublished writer, don't think that starting to market yourself and your work is pointless. Quite the contrary. Get onto it now. If you are not published for another ten years, then you will have a huge support network who are just gagging to give you a boost along. Every facebook update, comment, every connection can have some future value and you can get busy on your career right now.
On the Downside - Bad Press.
I have sat in seminars about writing and the web, and when my earnest lecturer gets to the bit about 'being polite in cyberspace,' or the bit where they say that 'one politically incorrect tweet could turn me into the writing equivalent of the Titantic' - I'd roll my eyes and think this is so oooooooooooobvious. Yawn.
But, the other day I read somewhere that in 60% of cases, sarcasm in an email is mis-understood. I am a sarcastic person (it goes with my dry sense of humour) and I admit that I have pretty much eradicated sarcasm from my online existence. It was too easy to sound blatantly offensive when I was trying for humour.
Then there was the author who ripped into a reviewer who commented about the proliferation of typos in her self published manuscript. What was she thinking, he has his right to his opinon, we all thought. But then I think of That reviewer who Extremely Unfairly gave one of my books a less than glowing review, when it was obvious that they hadn't read past the third chapter. Oh how I wanted to fire off an email telling them what I thought. How DARE they. AND they didn't even pay for the book.
But I said nothing and fumed in silence, because I realised it would be an incredibly stupid thing to do. But for a while there, it was a close run thing.
In another incident, there was a brouhaha about an editor wanting to change a story in an anthology from a homosexual plotline, to heterosexual - because the target audience of the book would be more receptive to a girl and a boy. Things went awry, people got offended and the argument spilled out onto the internet.
It happens frequently, and it happens to the nicest people.
So, as you look at building your public profile, its also worthwhile looking at what exactly you want that public profile to look like. How do you want to be perceived online? Have a plan of attack, so that if you have to deal with a troll on your blog or an awful review or just simply being offended (or offending), you react to it in a calm and calculated manner.