How to Create an Online Author Presence

May 19, 2014 in On Writing by Irulan Horner

As a new or unpublished author your on-line profile is a subject of much debate. Some publishers and agents say it’s essential, whereas others aren’t that bothered. Either way, if you’re going to do it, do it right.

Here are my suggestions for the most useful social and digital media available to you as the “next-big-thing” in the publishing world and my tips on how to use them to your advantage.

Author Website

The aim is that your site is the first thing that comes up in any search engine when your name is typed in. Make it shine! Make it tell the world who you are, what you do and how wonderfully talented you are. Technically you don’t have to be yourself, you can create an on-line persona, but think about the downfalls of this when, after years of slogging away at getting noticed, your fans finally get to meet you and instead of a 6-foot Amazonian woman you are in fact a shy and retiring engineer from Hemel Hempstead. Use your website to emphasise aspects of your personality by celebrating all that is different and quirky about you. This will make you stand out from the virtual crowd.

WordPress is a simple and effective tool to build your own website but if you lack the IT skills I highly recommend you pay someone to do it for you. However, teaching yourself to maintain your own website is a worthwhile investment. That way you will have total control over it’s content and how you interact with your prospective fans. Don’t let searches for your name or book title bring up defunct or out-of-date information, as you’ll put fans and publishers right off.

Layout is important. It must make sense and be easily navigable. Your front page should have clear links to the various back pages of your website. Include a bio, a blog, a sample of your writing, your books (eventually), a media page and a contact page.

The biography section should include who you are, your background, your relationship with books, how and why you came to writing and how who you are relates to the stories you write. Don’t make it staid and formulaic; add some humour and a glimpse of the individualistic person behind the screen. You should also include a photo of yourself taken by a professional photographer; consider this an investment.

Your pages should be visual – use photographs, videos or illustrations to add colour and always use your own or purchased material to avoid copyright issues.

If you’re writing for teenagers a great way to get their attention is to up-load YouTube videos. For example, clips of yourself reading an extract from your book, a friend interviewing you about your work, or a short film about how you do your research. Video clips are much easier to assimilate than long pages of text and for short-attention-teens this is a great way to grab their attention. By loading this ‘dynamic’ content onto the front page of your website you will increase the popularity of your site in search engines, making it easier to find.

Collect email addresses of the people who visit your site. That way, when your first, second and many more books come out, you have a captive audience of potential buyers ready and waiting. Posting about your new book on Facebook and Twitter is important, but your essential post or Tweet can easily get lost in the chaotic traffic of baby snaps, relationship status up-dates and ‘what I ate for lunch’ posts. Emailing your fans directly with your book-launch news, a progress up-date or an exclusive snippet will make them feel valued and sustain their interest.

Once you’re published be sure to provide plenty of ‘buy’ links on your webpages, linking fans to the many places your book is available to purchase. Don’t forget this is the end product of all your hard work – sales.

Make sure your website has an integrated social media facility such as Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, Tumbler or Flickr. This means a little button on the site that when clicked takes the reader to your social media pages. Creating synergy between all your platforms will attract regular readers of your blog. That’s the next thing…

Blog

As part for your website you should have a regular blog, say at least once a week. Make it interesting and personal. You can post snippets of your own work, a photo of your writer’s desk, a video of you out and about getting inspiration or an update on your book’s progress. Make sure it’s all grammatically correct, spell-checked and suitable for your book’s age range as well as their parents, agents, librarians, publishers, etc. You’re marketing yourself to everyone here, a tricky art to master.

Encourage readers to post remarks and feedback to your blog so they are involved and engaged with your subject matter. Respond to these comments as much as possible, this builds the impression that they know you even though they’ve never met you.

If you can’t face a long blog on your own website you can use Tumbler as a micro-blogging platform. This is a short-form-blog of a few sentences and other media attached such as video links, images or audio files. If you’re in to taking photos, Flickr is an image and video hosting website with a blog option.

You can also include book reviews as part of your blog. Giving praise to authors you admire on your own website, then sending out a link to this review via your social media, is a good way to pick up fans. The golden rule to reviews is be nice! If you have nothing good to say about a book you’ve just read then don’t review it. In the publishing world what goes around comes around and you don’t want to start making enemies by posting bad reviews on-line.

“Regular [blog] posts mean that audiences have something fresh when they visit your site. It’s hard work and requires a lot of time and dedication (when you really just want to be writing) but for those who do this well the rewards can be huge.” Mez Packer, author and Senior Lecturer in Interactive Media at Coventry University.

These big rewards include building an audience, making industry contacts, creating a network and getting exposure via that network and, this is the biggie, getting a publishing deal. If your blog is good and engaging, and you publicise it well on social media, who knows, this could be the way an agent first becomes aware of your work.

Facebook – Author Page

There are lots of reasons to keep your personal Facebook page separate from your author’s page. Firstly, professionalism. Secondly, a dedicated author’s page is set to ‘public’, which means everyone can find and view your page even if they’re not on Facebook. Finally, you have total control over its contents and there will be no tags or links to the more personal side of your life.

Once you’ve set up your dedicated author’s page (there are lots of websites with instructions on how to do this), upload a photo of yourself, write a bit about who you are and what you’re writing about, add your contact details, add a ‘like’ button and then advertise your page on Twitter and/or through your own personal Facebook account. Don’t forget to personalise your Author page’s URL to include your name.

The purpose of the “like” button is that when your Facebook friends “like” a post you’ve written or a photo you’ve uploaded, a link to this will appear in their own Facebook feed. That means all their friends can see it too. They can then click on it and ta-da! they “like” you too and then all their friends can see your link, so on and so forth. All for free. Well, with a bit of effort from you, a pinch of originality and a lot of time staring at your computer screen wondering what interesting snippet about your life as a writer you can share with the world.

Twitter

On channel 4’s ‘How Video Games Changed The World’, Charlie Brooker rated Twitter as the number one game. To be good at it you have to assume an on-line persona, gain the most followers, get the maximum re-tweets and be the first to comment on a trending topic. To a non-Tweeter this all sounds pretty bonkers, and it is. It can be seen as popularity contest for the rich and famous but it’s also a very good and free marketing tool. If you are savvy you can get a lot of exposure and followers, which will hopefully lead to fans, which will eventually lead to sales.

Twitter is not just a great way to connect with potential fans but also to the publishing world. Most publishing houses, fellow writers and agents have a Twitter account. Identify who they are and follow them. Try responding to some of their posts, hopefully soon they will be following you too and if you link your Twitter to your Blog, they might follow your link and start reading your work.

So Why Bother?

All this social media interaction is hard work, so what’s the point? Sales. I’ll say it again shall I? SALES! I know it’s a crass and vulgar word to a lot of people. ‘Oh no, I’m not in sales, I’m in marketing!’ Well what’s the point of marketing a product, shouting about it’s virtues, bigging-up it’s good points and telling people they simply can’t live without it unless they actually buy it. We’re all sales people, as much as you may want to leave that to the experts or kid yourself into thinking it’s beneath you. If you want to become a successful author and actually make a living out of what you do, you have to sell books.

In the current publishing market your books are not your only product – you are too. The sum of your parts, the way you think, how you communicate and the views you share bundled up together make your “author persona” and presented in the right way this will help you to sell books. But only if you get it right. My advice is to not spread yourself too thinly. Pick one or two types of social media that you’re most comfortable with, do them regularly and do them well. If you’re clever you will sync all your various platforms, that way you’ll only have to post something once and it will feed through to all your other social media sites.

But no matter how well you navigate this cyber-landscape, how witty your Tweets are or how interesting your Blog is, none of these things can be a substitute for the essence of a successful author – a really well-written book.