Thursday, March 11, 2010

DEVELOPING AN AUTHOR'S ONLINE PRESENCE

Today, publishers and agents are telling aspiring authors that they must develop reader recognition before manuscript submission as part of their platform. On the face of it, this sounds a bit of a catch 22 -- how will my name get recognized without a book?

There are ways and writers should be scrambling to take advantage of them. Sure, they take planning, time, and work, but can be undertaken in parallel with writing your manuscript.
  • Pump out articles on your subject or short stories in your genre and get them published in the periodicals your readers read, in print and online.
  • Novelists - start entering and placing in contests.
  • Secure a domain name for a website if you haven't already got one. It should be www.yourname.com or .ca. Mine is www.julieferguson.ca. This is part of an author's "branding."
  • Buy the domain names of your title(s) and point them to your website.
  • Learn how to set up a website that speaks to the new reality and doesn't just sit there doing nothing - more in next post. 
  • Start a blog. Blogger (www.blogger.com) is one site that makes it easy and free; Wordpress (www.wordpress.org) is another. Learn how to make it work; make your blog interesting to visit for those who don't know you. Make it interactive as well as visual. Use your expertise to attract and help readers. Update it often. Once you have a book published, start a new blog using the title.
  • Connect your blogs to www.digg.com and other aggregators like www.stumbleupon.com. If you've never heard of them, go take a look.
  • Get your name out to your book's future readership using social media - Twitter and Facebook, are only two examples. (I also use LinkedIn and ThoughtLeaders.) Be active on the sites you select - they only work if you work them. Here are some ways of doing it: I tweet tips for aspiring authors and ads for my books; many writer colleagues and I are "friends" on Facebook and exchange news and sometimes questions; I run several groups on FB that connect with likely readers of two of my books, i.e. history buffs and writers. 
  • Discover how to manage all these interconnected sites with ease using content management tools like www.twitterfeed.com and www.drupal.org. There is no need to spend much more than 20 minutes/day reaching your readers once you're set-up.
  • Offer an e-newsletter of value to those who will read your book, especially if you write nonfiction. Demonstrate your knowledge of your subject and keep smack up-to-date. Keep current by reading blogs of leaders in your field - make it easy by using Google Reader to collect them all in one place. Make sure there is a way to sign-up for the newsletter on both your blog and website.
  • Get out there and offer yourself for interviews on other's blogs in the same field, radio, and TV. 
  • Offer to be a guest blogger, either once or regularly. I blog for www.knowbc.blogspot.com, the blog of the Encyclopedia of BC because history is one of my brands.
  • Consider recording podcasts on your subject and posting them on your  website and blog(s), as well as iTunes.
  • If you have self-pubbed or out-of-print titles, convert them to e-books and sell them on your website.
  • Don't forget the value of book trailers (videos) to help your marketing on YouTube. (Click for two of mine here.)
  • Begin giving away some of your articles, stories, or chapters on your website and blog. Yes, free, if only for a limited period. Run a contest for a book, then offer something for sale. Watch what happens. Then repeat the recipe.
 The Writers' Union of Canada gave some examples of local mid-list authors and how they had increased their visibility using some or all of the above tools. All needed some help with the online work they did to increase reader recognition. Was it worth it - you bet!  One even got an offer from a publisher before she had pitched her ms on the strength of her name recognition and online platform, so it can be done. She is now an award-winning novelist.

Questions: Are you prepared to develop your online presence? What steps are you going to take? Do let us know.