Building Your Author Platform - A Beginners Guide
What is an Author Platform?
In marketing speak it would probably be described as a controlled collection of connected customer digital touchpoints. But we’re not going to put up with any of that marketing gibberish here. Your author platform is the central hub of all your writing information online and all of the interconnected methods that readers can interact with you. If you consider your author website to be the central hub of all information related to your professional writing career the platform is every extension of that hub including all of your social media accounts, basically any way that you can communicate with readers online including email. There are wider and varying definitions of “the author platform” but for the purposes of this article we’ll confine it to the realm of the online world.
THE NAME GAME
The first step is to secure a domain. For authors this should be your real name or your published author name. There are hundreds of TLD’s (top level domain names) now available so don’t fret if the dot com version of your name is gone. If you find that your firstnamelastname.com is not available you can look at other options such as firstnamelastname.net or .site .online or any of the other variants that can now be registered.
Obviously you should use common sense when choosing a TLD as there’s no point in registering something misleading like firstnamelastname.accountant if that’s not what you do.
The key thing to remember is consistency, the domain you choose is one you want to last your entire writing career. Domains can be purchased from any number of registrars and it must be pointed out that it is not necessary to buy hosting as well as your domain name, many registrars will try to upsell you on hosting or even offer free domains with their hosting packages. My advice would be just to buy the domain name on it’s own, the decision on hosting can be made at a later date and if you engage the services of a web designer they can point you in the right direction or offer hosting themselves.
It’s important to actually have your blog running off your own domain as early as possible (www.yourname.com) as further down the line it will help your search engine rankings. Search for “domain age” in reference to Google rankings and you will get the idea. Essentially Google takes into account how long a domain has been in existence as part of it’s ranking algorithm, with domains that have been around a few years getting more “respect” than those that have just sprung up overnight.
Have a chat with your agent and/or publisher about when they intend to start the pre-release publicity. Many publishers will announce their new authors and titles in the trade press well in advance of publication. As soon as your name enters the public domain you need to have some sort of internet presence to deal with searches. Also make sure to discuss with your publisher about their plans for an online presence, will they just list you on their site, will they create a mini-site just for the book or will you have a dedicated author site. If they have no plans for online promotion then you have the opportunity to ask that they put your website address on all of the printed copies. If this is the case then you need to get moving on your website well in advance of publication.
A BUILDING SITE
The next major decision to be made is whether to go the DIY route or to engage a designer to build your site. There are pros and cons to both routes and for most people the primary issue will be cost. I have an obvious bias here towards having your site designed and built professionally. And while cost is not something to be taken lightly I think many people miss the point that the real cost of going the DIY route is TIME. Every good piece of advice about improving your writing is simply to write, write and then write some more. This takes time.
For example I had my house exterior painted a few weeks ago. I could have done it myself but I hired a professional painter decorator to do the work it wasn’t hugely expensive but the results were a whole lot better than my efforts would have been because the painter is a professional with lots of experience. I decided that my time was better spent looking after my clients and doing what I do best. For authors time is also precious, why spend hours, days and weeks struggling with databases and hosting when you could (should) be refining your craft.
The time element for learning web design from scratch is going to be considerable. Even for professional web designers it’s difficult to keep on top of all the latest developments and there is a learning element to every project.
So if a web designer quotes 30 hours of design time to create your site you can multiply that by at least 5 for a newbie to even grasp the basics. Beyond the visual design which is a challenge in itself there is a huge amount of technical knowledge required to get the best from your investment whether it’s time or money. That’s fine if you have the time but it may be better spent writing or researching your next book. I think the bottomline is that if you want a professional looking site to represent you as a professional writer you should hire a professional designer.
Many DIY sites look poorly designed and the consequences are a lot more serious than potential disapproving looks from my neighbours for my shoddy paintwork, an amateurish looking site will make you look unprofessional. Remember you are selling yourself as a creator of original ideas and nothing tarnishes that image more than using a mass-produced generic website template that can be seen on a thousand other sites.
Another hidden problem is that a lot of cheap or free templates are badly coded and can negatively affect how your site appears in search engines.
If you DO decide to go the DIY route don’t leap into Wordpress straight away without considering if it’s the right option. Yes it is relatively simple to setup and use but for that reason there are thousands if not millions of cheap and nasty looking Wordpress sites out there. The choice of CMS is another point at which you really should spend some time doing your due diligence and research the options thoroughly. As mentioned above a lot of people will just automatically go with Wordpress as it’s well known and very popular. At one time it seemed Wordpress was the “only game in town” when it came to managing website content but in reality it was neither the only option or the best option. The CMS landscape now has hundreds of options with varying feature lists and ease of use. My personal recommendations for anybody serious about building their own site would be Craft, Expression Engine, Bolt and Grav.
For more in-depth information on the various options take a look at CMS Critic - https://www.cmscritic.com/
CONTENT - THIS SHOULD BE THE EASY PART
If you’ve made it this far you should now have a functioning website, the core of your author platform. Now you just need to put stuff on it, words and things, you know…content.
We’ll assume that your site has all of the “standard” components an author website should have - an author bio, pages for each of your books and options to purchase them online as well as a simple contact form.
Beyond that you’ll need regularly updated content published more than likely via your blog.
You would think writing would be easy for ehm…writers but it seem to be the part that people struggle with the most. There’s no shortcuts here, both for connecting with humans and keeping the search engines happy you will need to create engaging content. But “what do I write about?” I hear you say? Well anything that interests you, to be honest, because your target audience will probably have much the same interests as you do. If you write historical fiction then there’s a wealth of discussion topics that can form the basis of a blog. And of course your book will probably have entailed lots of research so your personal tales of visiting battle sites and historical landmarks will be eagerly lapped up by your prospective fans.
If you’re writing science fiction then there’s a whole load off stuff to “geek out” about, the next season of Westworld or the new Star Trek series.
If your website does not have a dedicated reviews section then you can use your blog to gather and publish all of the kind words about your work. For short reviews it’s best to gather a number of them into a single blog post. Although Google is reluctant to share what it considers optimal post length it’s now apparent that medium to long content is performing better in terms of SEO.
Most CMS systems will have a comment function so this is one of the main points at which you can really engage with your audience. Lively debate will attract more readers and enhance your profile as an erudite wordsmith and all-round wonderful person. Exercise caution when discussing sensitive topics as this is where the internet can bite back and where comment moderation is essential.
SPREADING THE WORD(S)
So you’ve written an absolute gem that will bring tears, laughter and inner harmony to millions. How will people find it? This is where social media comes in. It should be at the endpoint of the process not the start. Remember the best use of social media is as a driver of traffic to your website not as a repository of content in itself. So once you have your blog polished and published on your own site you can now use those nifty little share buttons to broadcast it to social media. If your site is properly setup then each social media post will be correctly formatted with an image, headline and snippet of content.
You will need to setup accounts on all of the main social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and optionally Pinterest. Goodreads is also a must-have as an author. It’s a good idea to have visual consistency across all of your social media accounts so make sure to take graphic elements from your site such as logos, colour schemes and images and use those as your profile photos and header images.
Another key part of your strategy should be gathering email addresses for newsletters and off-site marketing. Email is still hugely important in any communications strategy and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon despite the huge growth of social media. In terms of email marketing Mailchimp leads the way and was one of the first to offer a very generous free tier of their services. They have made it every easy to create email subscription lists and automatically send email messages populated using RSS feeds from your site. This allows you to create a fully automated workflow where you simply publish blogs on your site as normal and Mailchimp will then send an update to all of your subscribers.
Beyond Mailchimp there are a number of other providers that you should consider, all have varying levels of free or limited-feature accounts and prices. Sendinblue, Campaign Monitor, Constant Contact and Emma. And don’t be put of by the fact that many of these services have a strong focus on business as the principles of email communication are the same for business and authors alike.
I’ve attempted to be brief here and failed quite a bit on that front - and yet there’s so much else to be said about the concept of the author platform - topics that we will be exploring in future posts.
So what are you waiting for….get building..