The concept of an 'Author Platform' varies from one writer to the next. Whichever way you choose to look at it, the core goal of an Author Platform is to make sure the author reaches their target audience. When it comes to creating a website, there are two main options: a static profile page, with links to the author’s books and online networks/social media pages; and a blog platform, which displays posts (updated regularly) and articles relating to their writing experiences and journeys. Many authors decide to include both.
There are mixed opinions on whether writers should spend time establishing their own Author Platform. Some consider it to be futile and irrelevant, especially with the abundance of social media websites on offer in today's society, why not just develop a community via these platforms? It's faster, broader and gaining a following through social media is a lot more straight forward than gaining traffic to a newly created website. A lot of publishers share the opinion that personal blogs are becoming unwanted hassles. It's the idea that blogging just takes up too much of the author’s personal time, when you could be doing something much more valuable, like writing. Jane Friedman, a well-established publisher, editor and professor, as well as co-founder and editor of Scratch Magazine says;
I don’t believe in author sites for a lot of authors. I’d rather them spend time on social.”
Click here to read more on her tips in creating an Author Platform.
Twitter and Facebook, they say, are much easier, more reliable ways of communicating with readers and furthermore, are controlled by professional organisations who are paid to help you connect and share. While we can see this argument holds some key points of debate, you shouldn't hold all of your eggs in one basket. Facebook, Twitter and even Google, are constantly changing their algorithms to achieve and maintain intrigue. Your best bet is to gain exposure from various platforms, putting a similar amount of effort into each of these. Having your own personal blog isn’t going to affect your various mediums of social networking, and whilst it may be subject to its own changes, (i.e. search engine algorithm changes, search engine indexing etc.) at the end of the day, not only are you in charge of running and managing it, you own it. It’s always going to be there, trend or no trend. Its reliability is controlled by you, and you only.
Essentially for an author, your name is your brand; and for any brand, a website is an integral element in valuable promotion. It is often considered to be the resume for the writer, but unlike a double-sided piece of paper, the explorations on a website are endless. Providing links to articles you’ve published, behind the scenes blogs for your current books, a 'previous works' page, and of course, an about page. It's never too late to promote a new book (or flashback to a previous one); as new fans stumble upon your site, they'll find past publications which will intrigue them, and hopefully make them purchase your products. As Joanna Penn, fiction writer and two-time nominated Top 10 Blogs for Writers for her blog, TheCreativePenn.com says:
The author platform is you are currently reaching an audience of book-buying people, or how you plan to do so. It's your influence, your ability to sell to your market. It is your multi-faceted book marketing machine."
According to Penn, unless you're Paris Hilton, an author platform is crucial in becoming a successful writer. It isn't unheard of for publishers to dismiss potentially great writers because of their lack of a personal platform. Rachelle Gardner, literary agent of Books and Such Literary Agency in California says that:
You really need to show that you are willing and able to put the time and effort into marketing yourself and building a readership online."
If you're a self-published author, this sort of platform is absolutely essential. If we look at the results of the 2013 eBook Self-Publishing Survey, we can see that regular blogging is often cited as one of the best ways to attract and engage a fan base. Further still, it’s a proven tool for achieving high search engine rankings on Google - assuming of course that the frequency and quality of your blog posts are sufficient to attract the right visitors.
Here’s a test for you; type your name into google.com/ncr (no current region) and see what comes up. Are you on the first page? If so, what for? If it comes up with not so lovely photographs of you and your friends at the Pub last Saturday night, it’s probably time to put some effort into a more effective marketing scheme.
If you’re simply looking for a home where people can find you and share news and events, then networks such as Facebook, Amazon’s AuthorCentral and Goodreads will suffice. However, do note that many well-established authors have chosen to utilise their own domain as a static webpage with basic info, and links to these aforementioned social media platforms/platforms where their books are sold. It doesn't have to be constantly updated; you do have the option of keeping it low-maintenance.
The benefit of social media networks of course, is the access to large target audience communities. Everyone who surfs Goodreads, for example, is an established reader – exactly the kind of person you want to target when looking to connect with potential followers online. Building your mailing list is also a primary benefit to having your own Author Platform. Working on your mailing or subscriber list provides you with a group of people to who you can instantly market your books or services to.
Having your own domain name is one of the simplest ways to ensure your fans can keep track of you. Once initial purchases are made, it can cost you as little as $3 a month. Thomas Umstattd refers to the success of an author website, as ‘providing value’. Umstattd compares an author website to the extras you get when you buy a DVD; the bonus features. For fiction writers, this means deleted scenes and alternate endings. What your characters are currently up to and how you came about certain ideas. Share your ideas in creative formats; John Green has a very successful Vodcast following. Many writers share tour updates and behind-the-scenes of their writing process (where and how they write). For non-fiction writers, this means providing sources of material you used when researching for your book; fact sheets, tips and guides. You also need to be ‘remarkable’, original and authentic. The only way to grow your fan base is to produce something worth talking about.
At the end of the day, despite some tangled debate, visiting an author's website remains one of the leading ways readers can find and get to know the authors of their favourite books. Having an online portfolio and presence is something that can greatly impact your online marketing opportunities as well as interaction with your readers.
We’ve put together some tips for establishing a successful website:
- Try to use your name as the domain name for your website. This makes it easy for fans trying to seek you out through search engines.
- Make sure the design is appropriate to your subject matter. Have a look at your site and see if you can answer these questions; will people know what you write straight away? Is the tone, attitude and mood of the site relevant to your ideal reader?
- You may want to think about including a sample book chapter. Viewers who haven’t yet read your books can then get an understanding of your writing and (hopefully) will be enticed to see what happens next. However, if you’re a traditionally published author, you may want to check with your publisher before doing this.
- Include an email sign up/subscribers page. New and old fans can then receive updates and news about upcoming events on your site.
- Check out our article 5 Essential Elements Every Writer's Website Should Have for more tips.