You’ve written your novel, published your stories, signed an autograph or two1. And then you get the question: so, what’s your platform like?
What the hell is an author platform? Have you got one? Is it contagious?
Easy there, buckaroo. Help is on the way.
An author, or author’s, platform is all the online presence you’ve got2. It’s your website, Twitter feed, Instagram account, and forum moderator powers put together. And the most basic, and easiest to do, part of your writer platform, is your author website.
What a Author Website is
From a marketing communications standpoint, your author website is a “passive, pull marketing, discovery platform.” Let’s unpack that.
“Passive” means that it keeps going even when you don’t. Active marketing is things like signing sessions where hordes of raving fans climb over your table to grab a selfie3. Passive means that once you set it up, it keeps working even after you go do something else4. It’s like the Duracell bunny.The more passive you can get, the less you need to do for your return-on-investment. Click To Tweet
You want passive. The more passive you can get, the less you need to do for your return-on-investment. This means that you get a higher ROI on your work. It also means that it scales – your author website should be able to handle any amount of fans without you needing to stand there and shake hands all day long5.
“Pull marketing” means that its something that pulls buyers in. The opposite is “push marketing”. That’s like when you go to the department store and some fake chef tries to shove pre-cooked Swedish meatballs down your throat (“They’re great, really Swedeeedis”) at a marketing stand. Ads of any kind are push marketing, as are demonstrations, conventions, signings etc. Think of it as “pushing” your product onto someone.As a writer you're your own brand. Your name is what pulls readers in. Click To Tweet
Pull is like when you watch that Porsche drive by and wonder why you don’t have one6. Pull is what happens when you have built a brand that people want to interact with. And as a writer you’re your own brand. Your name, or pen name, is what pulls readers in. That’s why you want pull, you want people who come to you to ask for more books to buy. Pull rocks.
“Discovery platform” means that someone can discover you, or your products, through it. It’s like a calling card, or a friend giving you an introduction. Discovery also carries with it some requirements: discovery works by associating you with a particular genre, question, search result, series, or franchise. It’s also reliant on links or search results, so if you write fantasy fiction, but don’t actually write the word “fantasy” somewhere on your site, your discoverability has just gone down. So you need to know what your genre is, and what your target audience searches for, and write that on your website7.
The 3 Minimum Requirements of an Author Website
In order to have an author website you need three things: a biography (who you are), a bibliography (what you’ve written), and a way to contact you.
The biography is pretty simple. It’s the About page on your website, the one that describes who you are, where you come from, what you do, and a quirky detail that makes readers remember it all. You can use your regular author bio, the one you use in your novels and alongside your short stories, or you can write an expanded one. You shouldn’t however, have a shorter bio on your website than in your works.
This is because people come to your website to find more information about you. Giving them less is like spitting on their Google-fu. You want to give readers what they expect, and a little bit extra. That’s the way you convert a curious reader to a fan, whether in writing or in serving them information.
Check out my tips on how to Write the Perfect Author Bio.
Your bibliography is even simpler: it’s a list of your publications.
Make sure to link your publications to where someone can read or purchase them8. Bonus points if you link them to Amazon, or other online vendors with an affiliate link. That way you earn a few more percentage points of the sales price if your readers buy books after seeing them on your author website.
Make sure to go through your publications once a year or so, and remove old or inactive ones. Remove links to publications that you don’t want to show, like that poem in your high-school paper you were so proud of once upon a time.
Your Author Contact Page
The contact page is just that: a way to contact you.
Why should you let hordes of spammers have your email address? Because A) you’ve got a world class spam filter already9 and B) when that hot New York publisher reads about your astounding sales, you want them to be able to contact you.
Also, hearing from your fans, and *gasp* writing them once in a while, ensures that you’re not a complete recluse. It’s also good for your Charisma +1 score.
Get an Author’s Email List
So far you’ve got a website that you can set up and forget about. It will lie there like a trap for the unwary, snaring readers and smothering them in type until they buy everything you’ve ever written, including your high-school poem10.
But that’s really all you really need. You are available for readers who search for you, you show them other works by you, and there’s a way for media and interested parties to contact you. And it doesn’t require any more effort on your part. It’s an easy way to keep an author’s website.
But there are stuff that makes your writer’s website worth even more.Everybody who's somebody should have an email list. Click To Tweet
The first one is an email list. Everybody who’s somebody should have an email list. Why? Because your email list is your direct link to people who are interested enough in your writing to give up their cherished privacy to hordes of potential spam-pundits11.
- Easy – it shouldn’t require a Ph.D. to use it.
- Free for small lists – you shouldn’t pay for your email list until you’re making money from it.
- Integrations – you should be able to easily hook it into your website no matter what platform you use (more on that in a later article).
Extras to look for are:
- Dependable – you’ll need to check reviews here to find the rotten apples, but most big email list services are dependable, so no worries here.
- Autoresponders – allowing you to send a series of emails to people who subscribe, when they subscribe.
The downside of having an email list is that you need to do something with it on a regular basis. Email lists go stale. Don’t send out a mail for long enough and you’ll get loads of “sorry this email is no longer in use”-type replies. And if you’re unlucky, your email list provider will decide that you’re a filthy spammer and cut you off12.
And if you want people to actually open your emails you need to let them get used to you providing some kind of value in them, not only spamming them with marketing stuff. Check out Chuck Wendigs (very much Not Safe For Work) email list and blog to see how this works. You’ll have to devote time to creating stuff to send out, time you’re taking away from your writing.
Another downside is that it’s hard to get people to subscribe to your email list. People don’t want a lot of emails, they get enough already. So you may have to bribe them in some way, usually by offering freebies, free chapters/stories, free insights, autographed coffee mugs, what have you. Prepare for more work here.
Your Author’s Press Kit
Having a press kit will save you a lot of time down the line. Because once you get some traction, and you have reviewers and journalists wanting to write about you and your works, they’ll want to have some stuff to spice up their writing with.
You could write something every time, giving them a unique view into your mind. But that isn’t scalable.
Remember, your author website is a “passive, pull marketing, discovery platform”. You want to watch that passive – a writer’s website can become a huge time sink. Having a prepared press kit is a way to avoid that.
Here’s a list of what to include in your press kit.
Signing dates and Excerpts
Two more things that you might want to consider for your author website: a signing/reading calendar and excerpts.
That’s assuming that you do signings or readings. If you do, you definitely want a place where fans can find out that you’re visiting their neighborhood and show up. There’s nothing sadder than an empty line at your book signing table.
Also, you want to have it clearly marked in a menu link, in addition to your news section.
Excerpts are good in that they give your potential buyers a way to sample your writing13. And they’re passive – once you put an excerpt up there it will remain there like a lure hanging before the reader, drawing them in, enticing them to buy your books14.
To Blog or Not to Blog
Everyone who says that you’ve got to blog is full of it. You don’t need to blog. And blogging will take up your time.
I do it because I think it’s fun. And I’m looking forward to publishing my blog posts as a blook someday, so I’m thinking of this as an investment15.Anyone who says that you absolutely must blog as a writer, is full of it. Click To Tweet
If you decide to blog, you’ll need to do it on a regular basis. And I do mean once or twice a month at the very least. It will take time. It will use up your creative energies and your research and your carpal-tunnel prone fingers. And you’ll have to figure out difficult stuff like “who’s my target audience” and “how can I add value to them instead of just filling this space with BS?”
Having said that, Chuck Wendig does great with his blog. As does Joanna Penn and Carol Tice. They’re getting good ROI on their time (and their content rocks!). A lot of other writers (myself included) aren’t (because I don’t sell anything on my blog yet, nor do I get more money from driving traffic to my magazine publications).
If you have a hard time deciding, here’s a great article by Joanna Penn about why to blog, or why not.
Note that selling ficiton with a blog is much harder than selling non-fiction. This is because reading a non-fiction blog will hook you on the non-fiction content. Reading a non-fiction blog about fiction will hook you… on the non-fiction content. Chuck’s blog both great, but he’s Chuck Wendig16.
To sum it up:
- You absolutely need three things: a biography, a bibliography, and a way to contact you.
- Great extras are: an email list, a press kit, signing/reading dates, and excerpts.
- Blogging can be an added value, but can be just a time sink.
- Remember that a website is supposed to support your writing, not be the focus of it.
- Yes, your mother does count.
- In fact it’s all the presence you’ve got, including offline, media and personal, but you don’t want fans trampling your mother’s petunias so we’ll stick to online.
- Or something else…
- Like sleep. Good for creativity, sleep.
- Which proves that being a writer is vastly superior to being a politician…
- In case you do have a Porsche, please give it to me, because I don’t.
- Also in your books.
- Not doing so marks you as a rookie…
- If you don’t: poor you.
- And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge for sale…
- Not that you are one, oh no.
- True story.
- It’s what Amazon does, so it’s got to sell books, right?
- Even though it may never happen – but that’s investments for you.
- Fanboy warning…