ACTION CALL TO AUTHORS: Get Visible, Get Known, And Get Sales! Eight tips for building an author platform with online tools
by Elizabeth H Cottrell
Congratulations on getting that book written and published! Now “all” you have to do is get it out in front of people so they’ll buy it. Of course, many consider this the hardest part, but there’s no place to start except from where you are, and one step at a time will move you in the right direction towards your goal of increasing your visibility as an author and selling your book.
Marketing in general—and book marketing in particular—is changing daily, and while that can feel overwhelming, I want you to remember people are still people, and they still prefer to buy things from people they “know, like, and trust.” In some ways, that’s no different than it was in our grandparents’ generation, but now we have some fantastic new tools to get the job done. Your mindset should not be on selling your book, but rather on building an army of true fans who’ll be ready to buy your next book before it’s even out. (See Kevin Kelly’s seminal article entitled “1000 True Fans.”) This is the essence of relationship marketing.
It’s important to spend some time reflecting on your audience or target market. Who are they, and where do they “hang out”? The answers to these questions will help you prioritize your marketing activities. A friend who served on a bank board with me used to say, “If you want to hunt ducks, you’ve got to go where the ducks are.” So true! If you already have a blog, Google Analytics can help you identify where your followers are coming from. Facebook Page Insights is becoming very useful for telling you where your page visitors have come from.
While there are many offline ways to promote your book, this article will focus on ways to harness the power of the Internet to gain visibility and book sales.
What’s an author platform and why do I need to build one?
An author platform is one thing your grandparents would envision differently, and of course we’re not talking about a stage built of wood. Your author platform can be thought of as a rocket launch pad from which you’ll send your books out into the world. But mostly, it’s your brand—a brand built with readers and potential fans one relationship at a time, using many different techniques:
1. Creating a web presence with a website and blog
2. Building your email list of true fans so you can stay in touch with them
3. Responsive and regular activity on your favorite social media platform
4. Posting your biographical profile wherever you can
5. Activity in relevant forums and groups and commenting on appropriate blogs
6. Regular cultivation of reviewers, bloggers, and journalists
7. Learning from your peers
8. Turning your readers into ambassadors
We’ll talk about each of these in more detail shortly. Some will appeal to you more than others and could be considered optional. Some are pretty essential. All can make a difference, and I’d suggest you do all of them at one time or another.
But I’m an author, not a marketer!
Sorry, but unless you’re a blockbuster best-selling author, you’d better be both. Don’t let the idea scare you. Just think of every present or future reader as a present or future friend, and you’ll grasp the right mindset for relationship marketing: making authentic connections and nurturing them until they become true fans.
Isn’t my publisher supposed to market my book for me?
If you’re one of the relatively few published authors who actually have a publisher, they may promote your book through ads and media. But more and more, they rely on authors to work their own connections and relationships to promote their books. In fact, many publishers will only sign on new authors who bring an existing author platform with them.
Start marketing your book before it’s finished.
Whenever possible, build buzz before your book is even available. Start talking about your book on your social media channels. You can even create a Facebook page for the book to get conversations started early. Some authors are brilliant at getting their fans involved in contributing ideas or even direction and content for their book. When John Maxwell wrote Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, he used his blog to ask for stories and input from his readers for months before the book was published. He didn’t include everyone’s comment, but he did list every person’s name insider the cover. He even included a thumbnail photo of them.
Action steps to build a robust author platform:
1. Create a professional website/blog and keep it up to date.
If you don’t have a website already, I highly recommend you consider a WordPress.org website. While you still have to purchase hosting and a domain name, WordPress itself is free, and it offers a very robust content management system that makes it easy to create pages and blog posts and even sell things from the site. You simply must have your own “digital real estate” that you control yourself. More importantly, with just a bit of WordPress experience, you can add and change content yourself without having to hire a webmaster to do it for you. It’s usually worth getting some professional help with the set-up so it doesn’t look homespun, but why be at a webmaster’s mercy for ongoing changes if you don’t have to?
Your website and the content you put on it will allow the search engines to find you and become more visible online. Use keywords in your headlines, pages and posts that match what your target market is looking for.
Make sure your website content “sounds” like you. I’m a fan of Craig Johnson’s Longmire books, and his website http://www.craigallenjohnson.com/ has several features that help the visitor get to know him. There are lots of pictures and an “Interrogation” page that consists of an interview with the author that is very revealing of his quirks and personality.
Here are some other website features than can help with the site’s “stickiness” and increase your visibility:
· Blog: If you think you can post regularly to a blog (minimum monthly but better weekly), it can be become a very effective way to increase your visibility. This is a great place to answer reader questions (or imagined questions). You can also use it to provide your back-story for your book. Don’t forget to list your blog on Kindle so Kindle users can subscribe to it there: https://kindlepublishing.amazon.com.
· Email opt-in box: See #1 below for more on this. In addition to an opt-in box in your sidebar, you might also want to create a whole landing page that incorporates an opt-in box along with an invitation to your readers to get free updates or a special offer. You can use a link to this page in your Facebook or other advertising.
· Video: Video is a powerful way to get people to build that “know, like, and trust” factor more quickly. Think about it. When you go to a website and there is a short welcome video from the author, especially when it’s sincere and warm, you start feeling good about them and more interested in what they’ve written. You begin to feel as though you know them personally. Virtually every cell phone, camera, and computer now has video capability, so you no longer have to spend lots of money to create a simple, effective video. Lou Bortone is my go-to guy for video marketing information and training.
· Media Page: Make it easy for an interested person to get information about you, especially journalists or bloggers. This might be on your Contact Page or it might be a separate “Media” tab of your menu that takes a journalist or media representative to lots of information they might need to write about you. This could include biographical facts, recognitions, high-resolution photos, quotes, and excerpts.
· Extra value content: Some authors use their website to enhance the value of their book by adding more content just for readers. For fiction, this might be an author interview about the book. A short prequel or sequel can be enticing, as can some additional background information about your characters. For nonfiction, your website could include additional information, charts, and graphs that further elaborate on the topic of your book. Give readers a URL for this information right at the end of your book.
Here’s a useful article called “Ten Author Websites That Really Do The Business” by Simon Appleby. It spotlights ten effective author websites. Besides looking at the sites, read the comments for each one to see what the article author considers pros and cons.
2. Build an Email list
This should be a high priority for anyone with an online presence. Denise Wakeman, co-founder of The Future of Ink website, considers it among the top five essential elements for selling more books. As she stated in a recent article,
“Without an email list of qualified prospects and customers, you will always struggle to sell your book. The people who give you their email address are telling you they value what you offer and want to hear from you.”
Here’s her complete article: http://thefutureofink.com/sell-more-books/.
A reputable email service provider will not only save you time and headaches, but it will also ensure you don’t run afoul of spam regulations. You can create customized lists if your wish (e.g. a separate list for each book you write), and the tools offered by your provider will make it easy to send messages, newsletters, or updates to your followers. I started with MailChimp for free. Since I also do affiliate marketing, I have since moved to Aweber. Other reputable email service providers include Constant Contact, KickStartCart, and InsfusionSoft.
The email sign-up form (a.k.a. opt-in box) usually appears in your website/blog sidebar. WordPress makes this very easy with its sidebar widget functionality. Sign-ups increase if you offer a free digital download in return for your prospect giving you their first name and email. This could be an excerpt from your latest book or a short report on the topic of your book. This is sometimes referred to as “ethical bait.”
3. Get active on at least two or three social media platforms.
As I write this article, the “big four” social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn, but Pinterest and Google+ are not far behind. YouTube goes hand-in-hand with the others, because it is the best place to upload your videos and then get YouTube’s embed code to place them on your website or talk about them on your other social media platforms.
Don’t get involved in more social media platforms than you can handle, because it’s very important for you to monitor them and respond to comments and questions from fans and readers. Learn how to “listen” to what’s being said about you, your book, or the topic of your book. This article “4 Steps to Create a Social Listening Strategy” by Sandy Carter on SocialMediaExaminer.com can help you get started.
Never underestimate how thrilled your readers will be when they can actually have a conversation directly with the book’s author. I write a lot of book reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Often an author will leave me a message thanking me for my review. I’m always impressed and appreciative when they make this kind of effort. They’re paying attention and they’re hustling. You should be too.
Consider creating a Facebook Page for each one of your books. This is the perfect place for fans to come and ask questions about the plot or the characters, and this is where you can start conversations with your fans that make them feel you are accessible and likable. I’ve listed an article by Wes Locher in the Resources section below on other ways to use Facebook to promote your book.
4. Post your biographical profile wherever you can
Every social media platform offers the ability to create a detailed personal profile. Here’s your chance to shine! Be real and don’t be afraid to be authentically quirky. If drinking a glass of red wine puts you in the mood to write, tell your readers. It helps them know you and like you.
Don’t forget these important places for establishing your presence with a profile.
Author Central on Amazon: Besides a place to put biographical information, there is a great deal of functionality here too, including the ability to add RSS feeds for your blog or other sites.
Goodreads Author Program: There is a great deal of interaction between authors and readers on this site. Read the instructions about it on Goodreads to learn how to take advantage of it.
Google – if you use Gmail, you already have a Google account, but if not, create one. Make sure you’ve filled out all the profile information. When your Google name appears, it is clickable and goes to this information.
Even places like TripAdvisor and many other commercial sites offer you a personal profiles when you register with them. Whenever you get a chance, let people know you’re an author and how they can learn more about you. You may also find some directories in which to add a listing by searching for “directories for book authors” in your search engine’s search box.
5. Find forums and groups in your field and comment on relevant blogs
This may be more useful for nonfiction books, but if you can find a forum where people are discussing topics related to your book, you may have an opportunity to add value to their community and become known for your expertise by the forum members. Use Google or another search engine to search for “forum+your topic or niche.”
It’s extremely important to abide by forum rules. While most will prohibit direct promotion, many do allow you to create a signature that shows up every time you write a post. Here’s an example:
Contributing author, Book Title
Facebook and LinkedIn both have hundreds of groups you may ask to join. In both cases, log in first, and then use the platform search box to enter keywords such as “book marketing” or “book promotion.” In LinkedIn, you can select “Groups” from the drop down box to the left of the search box. Most groups will require you to request to join.
Commenting on other blogs can be a surprisingly effective strategy, especially if it’s done thoughtfully and respectfully, without pushing your book. Be sure you have a Gravatar.com account that links your thumbnail photo with any emails you might use when you register at a blog. When you leave a comment, not only will your picture show up, but your user name will be a live link to whatever website URL you have entered in your registration. If your comments are interesting and thought provoking, readers may become interested enough to click on the link and learn more about you.
6. Cultivate reviewers, bloggers, and journalists
Every time you are mentioned in an article, a blog post, a Facebook post, or a tweet—either positively or negatively—it increases your visibility to an entirely new group of people. It makes sense to cultivate relationships with those who have their own large audience and who can help you spread the word. Reviewers, bloggers, and journalists are at the top of this list.
In #5 above, I mentioned the importance of leaving comments on other blogs, including blogs that review books. Bloggers love to get substantive comments that add value to the conversation about their post. If you become a regular commenter, believe me, most bloggers will notice.
In #4 above, I included links for getting on listed on Amazon, Goodreads, and Shelfari. These links also include information about how to leverage those sites and their easy access to readers and reviewers to get more visibility.
Here’s an outstanding article by Penny Sansevieri called “How to Get Reviews by the Truckload on Amazon.” She gives quite a few very clever and different strategies for approaching those who write book reviews on Amazon.
Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound, has several blog posts about what to do—and what not to do—when pitching to journalists and bloggers: http://publicityhound.com/?s=journalists.
HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is a great way to learn about journalists who are looking for information or people to interview for an article they’re writing. It’s free to sign up, and you can select getting notices in specific categories. These are usually quite time-sensitive, so check them regularly.
7. Learn from your peers
This overlaps with other items on this list, but it bears repeating. Don’t reinvent the wheel when you can learn what has worked for others trying to do the same thing you are. Interact with peers in groups, forums, and online webinars. I’ve listed some terrific resources below that will get you started.
8. Turn your readers into ambassadors
Many authors forget to do one simple thing that can make a big difference in sales: ask the reader who has just finished your book to tell their friends via social media or word-of-mouth. Right then…while they’re thinking about it.
Virtually all the strategies I’ve discussed in this article can contribute to building relationships with your readers and turning them into true fans. Then they become an invisible sales team, telling others about you while you sleep!
Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed!
This may all feel like more than you can do, but don’t let it discourage you. Not all of these things will be relevant to your particular situation or suit your particular personality or modus operandi. Just do something—take baby steps—on a regular basis to build your author platform, and a year from now, you’ll be amazed at the results. Of course, if you decide to take massive action, you’ll get results even more quickly.
And remember, whatever effort you make to build your author platform will help position you to get much faster results when you publish your next book!
What tips for building an author platform can you share with readers of this blog? Please comment below.
Resources for book marketing
Book Marketing Made Easy website: D’vorah Lansky is both an author and a book marketing wizard. She brings in experts to contribute to her blog and does terrific industry expert interviews that are informative and helpful for authors trying to increase their visibility.
The Future of Ink website: Founded by Denise Wakeman and Ellen Britt, this site offers a wealth of information from industry experts on all aspects of digital publishing, book marketing, book production, and much more. Use the categories or search box to find exactly what you want.
Robley, Chris. “The 6 Best Book Marketing Blogs.” September 12, 2013: http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs/
Sanderson, Karen R., The Word Shark. Karen’s blog includes some excellent advice on branding and platform: http://karenrsanderson.wordpress.com/category/branding-platform/.
Social Media Examiner website: http://socialmediaexaminer.com: “Your guide to the social media jungle.” Founded by Michael Stelzner, this searchable site has everything you ever wanted to know about how to use social media properly and effectively. Guest bloggers include industry experts, and their training events are always value-packed.
Author’s Note: Some links are the author’s affiliate links, but she only recommends people or products she has used herself, and in no instance would your purchase cost more than if you used a regular link.
Elizabeth is a writer, author, and master connector and encourager. She is founder of Heartspoken.com and SmallBizSpoken.com, where she spotlights the power of Connection in both personal and professional life. Her freelance writing and services are featured at RiverwoodWriter.com. She is a former leprosy researcher, a bank board member, a community activist, an Extra Class amateur radio operator, and a note-writing evangelist. Become a better Connector and opt in to receive her future Connection updates by using the easy sidebar opt-in boxes on any or all of her sites.
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