You've no doubt heard the terms 'online presence' and 'author platform' floating around of late. But what do they mean, exactly? And are they really vital concerns for writers? Shouldn't we be focussing solely on the writing itself?
While concentrating on writing and writing alone does sound like a dream scenario, unfortunately, it's just that: a dream. In today's diverse, competitive publishing landscape, writers need to be on top of their online presence almost as much as they need to be on top of their writing.
When we talk about a writer's online presence or platform, we're referring to a whole host of things – from websites to blogs to social media channels. There are a lot of things you need to consider, but they all come down to one thing: ensuring that when a potential reader or client Googles you, they're going to find something.
Conquering the world of the internet can be an overwhelming prospect, so we've put together a complete guide to building your online presence as a writer. Here, you'll find everything you need to know about creating, growing, and maintaining every part of your author platform.
There's a lot to cover, so let's get started!
Table Of Contents
- Before you begin
- Creating a website
- Mastering social media
- Developing a content schedule
Before you begin
Before you dive headfirst into the waters of the world wide web, there are a few things to consider.
First things first: you must know the audience you are trying to reach through your online platform.
If you're an author, this means identifying the target market for your books and understanding how they spend their time online. If you're writing for a young adult audience, spend some time immersing yourself in the densely populated online world of YA readers and writers. What do they like to see from YA authors online? How do they discover new books and new authors?
Alternatively, if you're a freelance writer of non-fiction articles, you need to identify what sort of people or publications you intend to write for. Try to understand what sort of things they want to see in a writer's online presence – links to published work or freelancing rates, for example.
Once you know exactly who your audience is, be sure to remember this at all times: the key to your online presence as a writer is connection. The whole point of having an author platform is to connect with people: readers, both current and potential; publishers and industry figures; other writers.
Once you're firmly embedded in this mindset, it's time to start creating your platform.
Creating a website
First things first: you must – we repeat, must – have an author website. It's the first thing people (and publishers) will look for when investigating an author, especially a new one.
Your website is basically the one-stop shop for yourself as a writer. It will include all the basic details about you and your work, as well as links to all the other aspects of your online presence (social media, blog etc. – we'll get to all those later).
Luckily, creating a website is easier than ever these days. Hosting sites like WordPress, Squarespace, and Weebly make it easy to create a professional-looking site, offering multiple themes and design options so you don't have to worry about coding anything yourself.
Once you've found a host and a theme to suit your site, we recommend you invest in a custom URL. There are plenty of cheap, reliable domain name vendors out there, so do a little research and make that small investment – it's definitely worth it.
Your domain should preferably be something like yourname.com, but if that's unavailable, try a variation such as yournamewriter.com or yournameauthor.com. Note that you can also seek a region-specific domain (e.g. .com.au, .co.uk etc.) if the .com version is unavailable. Whatever you choose, it's best to include your name somehow – this will make your site much easier to find.
When you have all these technical elements set up, it's time to work on the all-important content for your site.
Components of a writer's website
Every writer's website should be made up of some combination of the following pages:
Let's take a look at what each of these components entails.
Your About page is your author bio; it should introduce you as a person and as a writer. It should include brief biographical details, such as where you're from and where you live now (noting whether these factors have had an impact on your writing); details about your work and your accomplishments; and notes about what inspires you as a writer.
Try to keep this page as brief as possible. The harsh truth is that most people won't be interested in a 1500-word description of your childhood, your daily life, and your hobbies. They just want to know the basics of who you are, what you write about, and how you got to where you are today.
Whatever type of writer you are, this page is basically your portfolio and shopfront in one.
If you're an author, it's where you tell people about your books, and where you direct them to purchase. If you're a freelance writer, it's where you list your published pieces, and where you direct people to contact/work with you.
We understand that for emerging writers, this page seems a little daunting to start with. You might not have a whole lot of published works to add to it, but that's OK. Freelance writers should link to whatever pieces they do have published; authors should add a little information about the book/s they're currently working on.
This page is also a good place to include samples of your writing. Whether it's a sample chapter from a book or a short extract from an article, including some of your actual writing here will give potential readers or clients better insight into your skills and style.
Nowadays, the blog is one of the most essential parts of a writer's online presence. It's the easiest way to keep your author platform fresh and engaging, both in technical terms (through SEO, web traffic etc.) and in the eyes of your readers.
However, it's not as easy as just throwing out new posts at random times or on random topics. There are a few important guidelines to follow while maintaining your blog.
First of all, you need to decide what sort of blogging you're going to do. Are you going to provide monthly updates on your life and work? Are you going to review books or talk about the craft of writing? Are you going to publish opinion pieces that weigh in on current events? (Be careful with that last one.)
Whatever the kinds of blog posts you'll be publishing, keep in mind that the blogging component of your online presence is not just another advertising tool. If all your posts are thinly veiled attempts to push readers towards the purchase of your books – well, let's just say you won't have many readers for very long.
By all means, talk about your work and your writing, but do so in a way that allows readers to gain something from it.
For example, many writers or creative types will visit other writers' blogs as a source of inspiration and motivation. Keep this in mind and provide an insight or 'sneak peek' into your own writing process. You can also share the best tips and pieces of writing advice you've received or found useful throughout your process.
Whatever you decide to blog about, try to post on a regular basis. Brainstorm a list of topics and write as many posts as you can so you have a backlog of content to choose from. This way, your blog won't be left abandoned for any long stretches of time.
Bonus blogging tip #1: While we've listed the blog here as a component of your author website, you may want to keep it in a separate location that you link to from your main site. (See author Sarah J. Maas' website for an example – note that the 'Blog' link redirects you to a separate LiveJournal site.)
There are a few reasons why you may wish to do this. You might find a different platform easier for blogging, but don't want to run the rest of your website from this platform. Or you may wish to separate your blog somewhat from your author site, especially if it's more of a 'personal' blog.
Whatever the reason, it's perfectly fine either to blog directly on your site or to link to an external blog. Just make sure you have a blog somewhere, and if it's separate to your site, ensure each links back to the other.
(If you do decide to create a separate blog, take a look at our round-up of seven amazing WordPress themes for writers' blogs to get you started!)
Bonus blogging tip #2: The online world loves cooperation and collaboration. Reading and commenting on other people's blogs will help you establish relationships with other bloggers, encouraging them to return the favour for you and driving traffic to your own blog.
Guest blogging is also something to look into. This involves writing a post (or repurposing/republishing an old post) on another person's blog, usually in return for them doing the same on your blog. It's a great way to build mutually beneficial relationships in which both you and your partnered blogger will reach new audiences through each other's platforms.
This is another absolutely essential page. The easiest way for people to get in touch with you is to fill in a form on the Contact page; this option is easy to create with your chosen website hosting platform.
The contact form should have fields for name, email address, subject, and message, and should be configured to send any messages directly to your own email inbox. You can also include an optional checkbox that says 'Sign me up to the mailing list' (see below for more on this).
The beauty of the contact form is that you don't have to list your personal email address or your phone number online. If you're a freelance writer, you may still wish to include these details, but the form itself will usually suffice.
Another useful component of your writer's website is the option to sign up to a mailing list, usually via a small box on the sidebar of your site that prompts visitors to enter their name and email address. This allows you to build an all-important database of subscribers and connect with them via e-newsletters on a regular basis.
Before you add this feature, though, it's best to look into a program like MailChimp or Campaign Monitor. These programs help you create effective email marketing campaigns, manage your subscriber base, automate the delivery of mass emails, and assess which emails are successful and which aren't.
You should aim to develop a regular schedule for your e-newsletters – but don't overwhelm your subscribers with an email a day! The last thing you want to do is clog up their inboxes and tempt them to hit that 'Unsubscribe' option.
One email a week is more than enough; even once a month can be plenty, depending on the sort of content you're sending out.
'So what sort of content should I be sending out?' You may ask. Well, that's entirely up to you, but remember that one of the primary aims of these e-newsletters is to get subscribers clicking back through to your website, blog, or social media channels.
We recommend including some combination of the following things in your e-newsletters:
- Updates on your work. Have a new book due for release? Let subscribers know, and link to where they can find out more and purchase. You can also include general writing updates – if you've started writing a new book, drop some tantalising hints to get your readers intrigued.
- Links to recent blog posts. Your subscribers probably aren't lurking on your website, pressing 'refresh' every five minutes, so here's your chance to direct them to blog posts they may have missed. Include links and brief descriptions of your newest posts, and perhaps direct readers to one older post in every newsletter as well (using the heading 'Throwback: Post Name' or something along those lines).
- Information about any upcoming events. If you're speaking at a conference, launching a book, or attending any other writerly events, include the details in your newsletter.
- Something fun or useful. Your newsletter's probably going to get a little boring if it's all you, you, you every time. So consider including something fun, like a favourite book quote ('Quote of the Week/Month'), or something useful, like a 'Top Writing Tip'. The best way to include these is in visual form – create a simple graphic with a tool like Canva, and embed it into your newsletter.
Once you've got the basics of your writer's website down, it's time to create your social media presence.
Social media is touted by many as an essential part of the author platform, but if you're not personally a fan of Facebook and the like, you might think you're just jumping through hoops by following this step.
But consider it this way. The key word in social media is 'social'. And remember how we talked about connection being the most important thing about a writer's online presence? Well, what better way to connect with readers and others in the industry than via social networks? That's exactly what they're designed for, after all.
If you approach social media with a positive attitude and a focus on connection, you'll get more out of it than you might have thought possible.
Social media is an especially handy tool for self-published authors, whose entire online presence and marketing plan is in their own hands. It's through channels like Twitter and Facebook that many self-published authors find and grow their audience and connections.
Whatever type of author you are, though, there's one important thing to remember before we go any further: social media is not merely a platform for you to sell books. It should not be used as an advertising space. If you treat it as such, you're more likely to lose more followers and potential readers than you gain.
With this in mind, let's take a look at how writers should use social media platforms to develop their online presence.
It's likely you know all about Facebook already – it's the biggest social media outlet in the world. And sure, these days it might be filled with clickbait articles and viral videos, but that doesn't mean a writer can't make good use of Facebook in creating their author platform.
The following simple steps explain how to set up and utilise a Facebook page to your best advantage.
Creating your page
Your first step should be to create a page that people can 'like'. Name it in a similar way to your website URL – 'Your Name' or 'Your Name – Writer/Author' etc. Upload a profile image and a cover photo, then fill in the details in the About section, ensuring you include links back to your website.
Once your page is set up, it's up to you what type of content you post. You should definitely use Facebook to funnel followers to your website by linking to blog posts etc., but this shouldn't be the only thing you use it for.
Mix up your content so that there's a balanced ratio of 'self-promotional'-style posts and other more 'generic' posts such as images, quotes, and links to other interesting sites and content.
Facebook users in particular are highly visual, with image posts receiving much more engagement than any other type – so in order to maximise your engagement, you'll need to be posting pictures.
Earlier in this post, we mentioned using a graphic design tool such as Canva to create images for your e-newsletter. Such a tool comes in even more handy for social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter (which we'll discuss in more detail below).
We strongly recommend signing up for Canva, Pablo, or another similar site to create graphics for your social media accounts, rather than trying to create your own from scratch. It will save you a lot of time and frustration, especially if you're not so tech-savvy.
Encouraging follower engagement
As well as links to your content and visually appealing posts, try to include posts that encourage engagement from your followers.
Ask a question and invite them to comment with their answers, or even run some sort of giveaway in which followers enter by commenting on or sharing a post. Take it easy with these, though – you don't want to overwhelm your followers with instructions to 'Share this post!' or 'Comment below!'.
Take a look at some of the below pages to get an idea of what makes an author Facebook page successful.
- Joanna Penn
- Allison Tait
- Jane Friedman
- Cynthia Leitich Smith
- Gretchen Rubin
- Kami Garcia
- Susan Dennard
- Paulo Coelho
- Neil Gaiman
- John Green
Ahh, Twitter: the weird and wonderful world of hashtags, GIFs, and 140-character limits. Believe it or not, tweeting is another essential way to establish your writerly presence. Let's look at a few reasons why.
Firstly, the writing and publishing community is one of the most active ones to be found on Twitter. You'll find everyone from agents to editors to bestselling authors in the Twittersphere – and better yet, they're all interacting with one another, forging connections and cross-promoting.
Secondly, Twitter tends to be very popular with readers. Just take a look at the streams for hashtags such as #reading, #amreading, and #books – there are thousands of new tweets appearing every second from readers and reviewers across the globe.
And finally, if you use it effectively, Twitter can become one of the most accommodating, rewarding, and beneficial places on the web for you as a writer. There's a real sense of community to be found there if you get involved and do things right. So let's take a look at the steps you need to take to get tweeting!
Creating your profile
You should go about this in much the same way as you did your website and Facebook page. Try to obtain a Twitter handle using your full name, or at least get as close to it as possible (there are a lot of people on Twitter, and a great many usernames have already been taken). If you're having trouble, try inserting your middle initial, using just your first initial and surname, or adding 'Writer' after your name.
Upload a profile picture and a header photo, then fill out your profile details, including your location (if you wish) and a link to your website. In true Twitter style, there's a limit placed on your About section (160 characters), so do your best to be as succinct and effective as possible with the characters you're given!
Before you start posting, remember that Twitter is different to Facebook. As well as the short, fleeting nature of tweeting itself, Twitter users will likely be following a lot more accounts, meaning things get swept away unnoticed much more easily in the ever-flowing feed. To ensure you maintain visibility, you'll have to tweet more often than you would post on Facebook.
As for what exactly you should be tweeting – this is, again, completely up to you. However, Dana Sitar of The Write Life recommends following an 80/20 rule: that is, spending roughly 20% of your time talking about yourself, and 80% talking about others.
Author Kerri Sackville also gives the following tip: 'Be funny, interesting, opinionated, or, preferably, all three.'
You can tweet about your writing process, your personal life (just don't get too personal), and your work – but don't tweet about these things alone. Your feed will appear very 'me, me, me', and that's just not what Twitter is all about.
Which brings us to our next point...
Retweeting others' tweets and sharing links to other people's content is a big part of being on Twitter. It helps to foster the cooperative, cross-promotional community vibe for which Twitter is so well-known.
As with all other forms of social media, balance is the key here. The above 80/20 recommendation is just a guideline, but it's a good thing to keep in mind. If you're just constantly tweeting at people to buy your books, it can lead to a lot of unfollows – so mix it up and share interesting and useful content from other people as well.
Scroll through your feed and retweet things that might be relevant to your own followers. Make the effort to create custom tweets sharing links to articles and sites you personally found helpful or entertaining.
Here's a handy tip for link sharing: use a link shortener such as Bitly to transform long, ungainly hyperlinks into more Twitter-friendly forms.
Engaging with followers
Twitter is also the perfect place to engage directly with your readers and the people who follow you. If you eventually end up with tens of thousands of followers and tonnes of engagement, you obviously can't be expected to reply to everyone who interacts with you – but until then, that's exactly what you need to do.
Keep on top of your notifications. If someone tweets to or about you using your @ handle, respond to them. If someone retweets or shares a link to your books, thank them. The time and effort it takes to connect with people on Twitter is totally worth it.
This is where the beauty of Twitter's character limit truly shines. With a mere 140 characters to play with, your responses to people can just be a single sentence or two (or even a humorous GIF!). Even this small amount of engagement with fellow tweeters can go a long way in helping you build a dedicated following.
Check out some of the following accounts to further your understanding of what makes a successful author Twitter account.
- Joanna Penn
- Rachel Aaron
- Susan Dennard
- Jenny Bravo
- Allison Tait
- Maria Popova
- J. S. Morin
- Kristin A. Kieffer
- Chuck Wendig
- Jen Lancaster
- Roz Morris
- Harlan Coben
- Debbie Ridpath Ohi
- Margaret Atwood
- Stephen King
- J. K. Rowling
If you immediately cringed at the thought of appearing in an online video, don't worry – you're not alone! Many writers feel the same way, preferring to remain behind the keyboard rather than in front of the camera.
However, YouTube channels and videos are fast becoming a useful part of the writer's online presence. As well as introducing people to the real person behind the words, videos provide a point of difference and an engaging diversion from the usual text- or image-based media on many social channels.
YouTube isn't as essential a part of your online toolkit as Facebook and Twitter, but we encourage you to give video-making a go just the same. Tools like Windows Movie Maker, iMovie for Mac, and the cloud-based WeVideo allow you to create and edit videos easily using your home computer.
To decide what sort of videos you want to make, you need to once again think about your audience and what you can offer them through this medium. To get started, though, you might want to consider something simple like a series of Q&A videos, which are always a popular option.
In this type of video, you simply open up another social media channel to questions from your followers, then answer them in some depth via video response. Questions and topics could range from insights into your writing process all the way to details about your personal interests and hobbies.
There are many other types of video content that are generally very successful, including the 'regular update'-style clip.
You may have noticed that Writer's Edit has recently branched out into video content. In our first ever video, Founding Editor Helen talks about Kindling III, new initiatives and her writer's life – basically waxing lyrical about what we're doing at Writer's Edit, and about what a typical writer's life involves.
Helen's second video is more instructional/advice-based, discussing how authors can use Pinterest for fiction writing and novels. This is another really useful type of video; it gives an insight into the writing process and provides tips and advice for aspiring writers. (Check out our videos archive for the full list of Writer's Edit clips.)
Whatever kind of videos you decide to make, ensure that they're relatively short and well-scripted (or at least edited well to avoid long rambling speeches), and that they offer something of value to the viewer – whether that be information, entertainment, or exclusive insight.
Instagram and Pinterest are two other visual platforms that, as a writer, you may not have considered useful. However, to complete a full social media suite for your online author platform, you may want to consider at least one of these channels. Both Pinterest and Instagram can be used as sources of visual inspiration for yourself and your followers.
On Instagram, you can share more personal images, such as snapshots of your workspace, your pets, the books you're reading, the places you're visiting, and even the food you're eating (but don't go overboard with this one – you might be labelled a 'typical hipster Instagrammer' if you do!).
Instagram is a great place for you to display a little more of your personality and your life. Readers can get to know you a little better through a glimpse at your everyday life that they wouldn't necessarily gain through a platform like Facebook or Twitter.
Pinterest is a bit of a different story. Here, you'll primarily be sharing other people's images, rather than your own. It sounds strange, but it makes sense if you think of Pinterest as a kind of online mood board. It's the digital equivalent of cutting out images from magazines and putting them together to create an inspiring, motivational collage.
A great example of a writerly Pinterest account is She's Novel, run by author Kristen Kieffer. Kristen's entire author platform is dedicated to helping other writers become masters of their craft, and her Pinterest account is no different.
It contains dozens of different boards filled with tips, photos, quotes, and links, all intended to provide advice or inspiration for writers, as well as a visual insight into the writing process.
This kind of account can be invaluable not only for the people who follow it, but for you as a writer. The process of pinning images and links can lead you to some great tips and advice, as well as helping you visualise scenes and characters for your writing.
(For more about how writers can make the most of Pinterest, refer to the Writer's Edit Pinterest video we mentioned above.)
While not a 'social media' platform as such, Goodreads is a great tool to wield when building up your online presence.
You may not have books of your own to put on the site just yet, but in the meantime, you can rate and review others' books. You can also get an idea of the kinds of things readers like and dislike by reading reviews of books in your genre or style.
When you do have books of your own, be sure to sign up to the Goodreads Author Program. Through this program, you can create an author profile and add pages for your books so readers can rate, review, and recommend them.
Goodreads is a great platform for building a word-of-mouth reputations, as it's often the first port of call readers will visit when deciding what they want to read next.
Developing a content schedule
So you now have all your different platforms established! Congratulations – you've completed the first steps in creating your online presence as a writer. However, the work doesn't end here. With your online platforms in place, it's now important to develop a routine or schedule when it comes to posting content.
Regularity is key here. If you're not publishing blog posts and social media updates on a regular basis, your online presence becomes more of an absence! Your name drops out of people's news feeds and Google's search index, and your author platform disappears into the internet abyss.
To avoid getting lost in the aether, you'll need to work out a schedule for your online content.
For your blog, this can be as simple as committing to publishing one post every week, or every fortnight, or every month. Whatever time frame you commit to, be sure to stick to it – people following your blog will appreciate the regularity.
Top blogging tip: If you're struggling to find the time or inspiration to sit down once a week and bash out a blog post, consider scheduling posts in advance. You may recall our suggestion from earlier in this piece about developing a backlog of articles for your blog. Brainstorming and creating a store of content like this can take some of the pressure off you week-to-week if you have scheduled posts to rely on.
Now, speaking of scheduling...
Social media scheduling programs
To help manage and maintain your social media presence, it may be worth looking into a scheduling program such as Hootsuite or Buffer. This type of system allows you to compose and schedule posts in advance across a variety of platforms.
Getting into the scheduling habit will save you a lot of time in the long run. Spending an hour or two on a Sunday or Monday scheduling all the week's social posts will mean you don't have to worry about filling up your feeds throughout the rest of the week.
Top social scheduling tip: Facebook pages have their own in-built method of scheduling posts. Simply create a post, then click the dropdown arrow next to the 'Publish' button. You'll find the option to schedule the post for a specific date and time in the future. You can then view and manage all your scheduled posts within Facebook itself.
Phew. We realise this is all a lot to digest, especially if you're just starting out in creating your online author platform. But if you use the tips and advice we've provided above, we guarantee you'll be well on the way to becoming a modern author in the true sense of the phrase.
Good luck, writers – we wish you all the best in your foray into the online world!