BUILDING AN AUTHOR PLATFORM
If you have no author platform whatsoever but want to write a book, you face two big challenges. The first is that you will have no feedback from actual fans of your work and ideas as you start to create a book to serve their needs. A book is as much about your audience as you. Get to know who they are by beginning to build an author platform from scratch. And your second challenge? Gathering email addresses of people who are interested in what you have to say and who are likely to buy your book, and even likely to promote it to others online using social media, email, and other means, without you having to pay them. Yes, your fans can help you sell your book. So meet challenge number one and challenge number two and start building an author platform and following now.
Many authors begin to set up their public presence with a website and a social media page based on their name. If your name is a common one, this might require some creativity. You have to search the Internet and Amazon.com or BN.com to see if another author or expert has a similar name.
You might brand yourself as Dr. Myfirstname (if you actually hold a doctorate), use a middle initial, or use your full name with Author after it—such as www.SallySmithAuthor.com Reserve the URL (website address) and basic hosting services, and work with a website design software you find easy to use or a website designer.
Designing Your Site
What design platform should you use for your site? Many designers seem to like WordPress because you can customize it easily, but I find it cumbersome as someone who doesn’t want to build a career in website design. Weebly and Squarespace are other options. Personally, I like Wix, which is very user friendly, but some say it has some issues that affect search engine optimization—that is, how easy it is to find your site using a search engine such as Google.
Whatever design platform you use, you will want to set up a website with a homepage, an About page, a blog, and probably at least one more page (Services if you do coaching or speaking engagements, Books for the books you’ll be writing).
Let’s say you go with Sharon McCorcoran dot com and you aren’t yet sure what your book’s title will be. You can always buy the domain name for your book title and have it redirect to your website. In fact, your hosting service might throw in a second URL for free and redirect it to your main site for you. Since you don’t have a firm book title yet, on your Books page you can note that your book is forthcoming and that anyone signing up for email announcements will be informed of its publication (more on email subscribers in a minute). You can do a mock-up jacket if you like, try out a title, or simply say you will be writing a book on your work. Or you can skip the book page for now.
If you provide services or do speaking engagements, put some information about all of that on your Services or Speaking page. Many templates allow you to add some endorsements from people who have something positive to say about your coaching, consulting, or workshops, and this social proof can be extremely helpful for building credibility and gaining new clients. If you have no book or service page, then your website is simply an enhanced blog which is okay if you’re just beginning to build your author platform.
Your Website Pages
Next, on your About page, put up a good headshot photograph of yourself, and maybe some other photos that help people understand more about your work, along with the story of who you are and why you do the work you do.
On your Blog, write up at least two blog pieces that show how you write and what you want to write about. Make them 600 to 1000 words and give them interesting titles that nevertheless give readers a clear idea of what’s in your blog piece. Use tags and categories: Tags are like keywords and categories are bigger concepts. For instance, on my site, you will find more than one article on Author Platform, so clicking on that category can help the visitor find lots of valuable information on this topic.
A blog is very important because if you want to convey to people who you are and what your work and writing is about, visitors will check your biography on your About page, but then they will want to see what valuable information you have to offer them. Your blog could be inspirational, funny, insightful, informative, or all of those things. But if you want to sell a book to people who do not know you, you must convey what you’re all about with a website that has some basic pages and a blog. Consider having your blog allow for comments. If you do this, respond to people who post messages and comments to you. By talking to you, they are giving you valuable feedback on your work that can help you conceptualize and shape your book. Set up your blog so you can monitor your comments before they post. You’ll want to disapprove/trash any that are clearly just created by digital programs designed to embed backlinks to a junk site selling fake Gucci watches and the like.
Your Website’s Look
What should your website look like? Find websites for authors in your genre that appeal to you. How are they set up? How do they use the real estate?
When you scroll down to view them on your phone (the most common way to look at websites), what’s that experience like? Is there a sense of movement, through how the background pictures and the text interact as you scroll, or through videos in the background?
Do you see a book jacket and if so, is it flat or angled? Where do you find a short summary of what their work is all about?
Look at websites on a desktop or tablet, too. How is the experience different? What’s the first message you get? What impression does the site make? Now, using your website design software, work with both types of layouts—desktop and vertically held mobile phone—to make the website showcase what you most want to say.
Where does your message and brand meet your visitor’s needs? If I go to Sue’s website, do I immediately see her in casual, natural color clothing hugging a dog, some nature images (such as clouds or water), and the message “Natural Healing for Fur Babies”? Really take your time with this process and ask visually gifted friends to help you, and verbally gifted friends, too. (I would tend to see problems with wording, and typos, because I’m more verbal than visual. My visually gifted friends would more quickly notice that the background color doesn’t work very well with the colors of the images.)
Social Media Links
Next, you’re going to want to put on your website icons (symbols) for any social media accounts you have that tie in to your work. These would not necessarily be the accounts you use to share photos of your kids with Grandpa or your in-laws, but social media accounts where you know you’ll want to focus on getting strangers to appreciate your work and message. I like Facebook and YouTube for building community, and Facebook is very easy to set up right away if you want to just post photos and words and some rough videos made on your phone.
You can start building a following with the ideas in my eBook 25 Powerful Ways to Get Engagement on Facebook.
Social media followers who give you feedback can help you conceptualize and shape your work just like your blog followers can, so treat them like gold and always respond to them.
Also, consider adding social media icons to your blog make it super easy for visitors to share your blog pieces on social media.
Email Subscription Box for a Newsletter and Announcements
Finally, you will want to set up an email subscription option so you can begin capturing emails of your followers. You’ll want to do a newsletter to them that will help them know about new content from you, such as blog pieces, and learn about your services, your book (when it becomes available), any other books or services or online courses you recommend, and more.
Newsletters should be a mix of quality content and advertising for what you are selling or giving away (such as a free teleseminar or free eBook or audio). It is easy to set up an email subscription option with services like Constant Contact or Mailchimp. I know Wix makes it very easy and can answer all your questions for free. Typically, you can get up to 2,000 subscribers you can send newsletters to more than once a month, without paying for each newsletter blast. Be sure that when you connect your website to an email service, you set up an autoresponder email that says, “Thank you for subscribing.”
I personally like having an email subscriber box on the right-hand side on a desktop view because it catches the eye. Also, I generally favor red or orange boxes, which research shows can be much more effective at getting people to click on them. And if you use a pop up box, you should set it up to only show after people have been on your site for several minutes, or are about to leave your site. Otherwise, they’ll just close it right away so they can read what they want to read, and leave, having forgotten all about that pop up.
Want to know more about building an author platform and conceptualizing and writing your book? I have many useful articles on my website and blog at www.NancyPeske.com. Or, just contact me at email@example.com and let me know how I can help you with your vision for your book.
Nancy Peske is a ghostwriter, developmental editor, and book publishing consultant who has done editorial work on books including bestsellers and award-winners for over 30 years.