Setting up an author platform: what I’ve learned so far

Happy new year 2014! New year design template Vector illustrationHappy New Year to all!

It’s time for me to evaluate my baby steps toward building an author platform, and I realize that probably the best decision I made in 2013 was to stop querying agents. “Sour grapes,” you’ll say, but that’s not the case as my query letter wasn’t a failure—it got me two partial requests out of the ten agents I sought out. No, I didn’t manage to get representation, but I found out in the process that I wasn’t very keen to take the back seat and hand over full control of my work to an agent and then a publisher. To be more specific, I didn’t want to see a headless man with a six-pack on the cover of my romance novel (not that I have anything against men with six-packs or covers with naked torsos) or my hearty epilogue chopped because of some imprint’s word-count limitations. But the real reason I don’t regret stopping the pursuit of traditional publishing is the brave new world indie publishing has opened to me.

I have a mere two-month online presence as an aspiring author, but I’m astounded by the possibilities not only for professional but for personal growth as well. I’ve already met wonderful, creative and inspiring people online, and most are truly willing to help a newcomer. I’ve gathered a wealth of valuable information,and now I feel more empowered to face the challenges that putting my work out there entails. I’ve also realized that without a solid platform, the odds of eventually being picked up by an agent are slim (I thought that applied only to non-fiction writers).

So here I am with a brand new blog, about three hundred followers on Twitter and ready to share what I’ve learned so far. 

Motto: Give, give, give then ask. I can’t stress enough the importance of “branding” yourself as a giver. I won’t elaborate, as the entire post reflects this philosophy.

Twitting: An invaluable platform-building tool. I hadn’t appreciated what Twitter can do for you, and I’d never bothered creating an account. But if you want to get noticed and enhance your online presence, being pro-active on Twitter is a must.

What I did: I paid attention to my feed and noticed who’s really there, retweeting, replying and not just auto-tweeting self-promo links.  I joined discussions initiated by tweeps with thousands of followers, where I thought I could contribute in a positive way and instantly saw results. For example, after a quick but interesting exchange with Rayne Hall (@RayneHall), an experienced writer with a solid Twitter presence and followership, I got twenty new followers who apparently appreciated my direct engagement. So it was a case of two birds with one stone: excellent pro advice plus increased followership. (Word of caution: Rayne Hall offers free advice but be nice, on-topic, and avoid any form of self-promo—it just won’t fly with her).

I’ve also chosen to send a personalized thank-you tweet to each new follower—because I can. By that, I mean that my flow of new followers is still manageable. If, at some point, I have dozens each day, I won’t be able to check each and every one’s sites to send personal messages. But as long as I’m able to do it I will because it shows that I actively care, and the result is a lot of “favorited” tweets and more followers.

Initially, I wondered how I could get noticed by bloggers or writers with dedicated followers. I may not have experience or insight in a related field, but I do have a well-honed skill: my “typo-cop” abilities. Teaching translation for fifteen years means proofreading tons of translated documents, so whenever I read any kind of text my typo-scanner is always on—unless the text is written by me, so feel free to do the same here! Tweeps with links that didn’t work or led me to profiles, book blurbs or blog posts containing errors got a private, discreet message pointing out the error (no bragging). What I got back was lots of love, instant follows and subscriptions to my blog.

What I should have done: Added lists. My next blog post will be “How new writers can chase readers away” and I’d like to point all the new writers among my followers to it, but how can I do that when I don’t have a “New Writers” list? I also realized I need a “Book Blogger”, an “Author” and a “Writer’s Resources” list among others. Having three hundred followers means spending a lot of time revisiting their sites and profiles to add them in the right category when I could have easily done this as they were coming in.

What I shouldn’t have done: Auto-DM new followers with a link to my blog. That brands you as a “taker” not a giver and, at best, you’ll be ignored. Thankfully, I only did it for a week until Rayne Hall told me to drop it and concentrate in active engagement.

Depositphotos_28610255_xsBlogging: This blog is very young and needs a lot of original content to gain some authority. However, I needed a “home” way before I found my footing in the indie-publishing realm.  But I don’t have a packaged product, I’m not a random muser, so how would people get to know me? An easy start was to import some of my Goodreads’ reviews. I like to write organized reviews that reflect my writing style, and the pictures of some good covers that came along gave the blog some good visuals.

What I did (and paid for—no, literally paid for): I got rid of .wordpress from my domain name. I think it’s a good investment. It makes the writer’s name stand out more. I also paid for a “Custom Design” upgrade which allowed me to play around with colors and fonts, adding a personal touch to my blog’s appearance. Total cost: $45.00. However, some tweaking is needed. There are a couple of visible problems (not pointing them out) that I need to sort out.

What I should have done: Write this and a couple of other blog posts earlier. Nursing my three-year-old daughter and then myself as we exchanged flu bugs for the best part of December did not help.

Branding: When I started the blog, I chose a dark charcoal grey theme with a black and white header, featuring a vast room with opulent chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. I thought it was a metaphor for… the road to success? I may write romance, but aesthetically, I’m not a hearts-and-cupids kind of person, and I do enjoy rock music, so maybe I tried to channel a bit of myself through that, but soon I came to my senses. Actually, Rachel Thompson and her Branding 101 for Authors blog post helped me, so I recently revamped this site, focusing on my genre’s keywords (romance, Greek islands, summer). Fate Accomplis, my upcoming contemporary romance, has a Greek island setting, so I used my own photography for the header both here and on my About page to set the tone. I intend to write a full article on Alonissos, the North Aegean island where my protagonists find their HEA, and then, I’ll add more beautiful pictures from my collection. I have a lot, as that’s where I fell in love with my husband, and we visit it every summer—there’s some more romance branding for you!

Goodreads: I feel comfortable there. I’ve dubbed myself “The Romance Nitpicker” as I’m a tough sell in spite of the fact that romance is my genre (or, maybe, because of it). My Goodreads friends increased spectacularly when I connected this platform to my Twitter account, and all in all, it’s a good place to connect and be yourelf. I slightly alter the phrasing of my reviews there to reflect the target audience of each book (meaning I’m allowed to use more “spicy” language depending on the book’s sub-genre).

FaceBook author page: Not yet. As an unpublished writer, I can’t see how I could attract Likes unless I link my blog articles. That’s something I will definitely look into, though, because right now I can only support writers or bloggers with a Like or connect with them on this platform through my personal FB account where, inevitably, Greek is the dominant language.

Pinterest: It’s gaining momentum. I’m not really clear as to how it can help writers, but it’s such a beautiful place to be! I’ve created three boards: Writers’ Resources, Covers and Books.  I can instantly tweet your pins, and I read that tweets with interesting visuals get more retweets, so there you have it. I love art, and I’m big on aesthetics, so I’ll definitely build on my Pinterest use. Useful tip: a blog post without an image attached to it cannot be pinned.

Google+: I’m there, but not really active yet. I’ve been reading conflicting opinions as to whether it works or not. As I create more content, I’ll try that platform out as well.

Writing my second Aegean Lovers novel: two thousand words in two months (a total of 14,000 words), in other words, nada. And that’s my biggest challenge for 2014: to organize my time in such a way that building on my author platform and writing won’t be mutually exclusive.

Wishful thinking: If a fairy were to come unto me and told me I got to pick one super power, that would be the ability to freeze time. I just want to be able to write between 12 a.m. and 4 a.m., glance at the clock and see both hands pointing vertically upward. Then, I’d go to bed, get my seven-hour sleep and wake up refreshed with the draft of a new chapter there, waiting to be edited. *sighs*

New writers: what’s your social media presence? What do you feel works or doesn’t for you? Authors: am I on the right track?

Thanks for reading!

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17 thoughts on “Setting up an author platform: what I’ve learned so far

    1. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Rayne! It means a lot. My aim is to catalog my steps but also connect with other writers and learn through their experience while offering my own.

  1. Thank you for this article. Although none of my manuscripts is yet in a state that would allow me to send queries, I came to the same conclusion: I don’t think I would like that, much less have someone else decide about the publishing, cover etc.
    But this means, I will have not only to finish, edit, reedit etc., but also do all the other stuff that SP demands. I am researching right and left, especially for the German market where SP is still much less common.
    As to internet-presence: my blogs are not very good yet, but at least old enough that they do not look just like self-marketing once I have a book to offer. Same goes for my twitter- account: I am into a lot of topics and I think some people at least started to know me, so if I offer my book eventually, my account will not look like just “buy me”.
    I like twitter – but I boycott Facebook completely, I do not like their standards. I will see what else I will be able to do.
    First, there is some writing waiting to be done.

    1. Thanks for commenting! Are you writing in German? That would complicate things I guess especially if SP is not widespread there. Here in Greece it is in an infant state, and the fact that we’re going through a difficult recession phase doesn’t help new initiatives. I also don’t like FB but mainly because it’s become too cluttered and “noisy”. However, I will create an author page as I find I often want to share a thought that’s too wordy for a tweet yet too short for a blog post–perfect for Facebook. You could continue boycotting FB by not having a personal page, but maybe you should reconsider creating a “product” page once your work is ready to be published. I’ve seen other authors’ pages and how readers personally connect with them there.

      Herzliche Grüße aus Griechenland (I used to speak German, but sadly I”ve forgotten it)

      1. Yes, I am – still – writing in German. I don’t trust my English for longer texts yet.
        I know, Greece is having a bad time actually. In Germany, SP is coming on, but still too many people think it is mostly authors who cannot sell their manuscript to a publishing house. It will need some time, I think.
        I will be happy to drop in here from time to time, lets see what will happen this year.

        1. Regarding SP, Greeks are also highbrow and think it’s work not accepted by traditional publishers or too niche. As for writing in English, I know my limitations, that’s why I chose to write romance which I can handle and not a different more demanding genre. All the best!

  2. A very helpful post. You seem to be far ahead of where I am in terms of building a platform as an author. I totally agree with your advice in terms of Twitter, which I am slowly adapting to and trying to learn how to helpfully and positively interact with people. I am not using Pinterest as yet but like the idea of how visual it is as I have been advised to make things like blog posts and tweets more visual to make them stand out. I am just getting started on Goodreads, and hoping to become more active.

    Much like you, I struggle with time. The sequel to my novella only has 10,000 words up to now and I desperately need to get on with it but seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter at the moment. Time is, in fact, my biggest problem at present, and the ability to freeze time would be appreciated here too!

    Thanks again for sharing your journey so far! Good luck with the upcoming novel.

    1. I have the same problem with Twitter. I write personalized messages, I want to meet people better so I visit their sites and read some posts, I try to read links with tips for authors…it never ends! I need better time management. As for the visuals, I agree. There are many sites with copyright free stock photos you could use. Thanks for commenting! I used Depositphotos for the two images on this post.

  3. A very interresting post that is likely to help fellow authors. In my short experience of 3.5 months as an indie author with a book sold on line, I can vouch for the tremendous power of Twitter. I give top priority to it and make sure to reply to everyone who mentions me. I also use begware.biz that retweets the messages of my own retweeters so that I can remain fair and curteous even when I don’t have the time. I also automate some promotional tweets for myself and some author friends with Begware which basically advertizes for me 24/7 free of charge. Also very important to me is my blog in my efforts to gain new followers and one of my new year’s resolutions is to make it look more professional (I agree, the link is also important!) and to blog more often. I have an association with the blog tour organizer @Fabulosityreads and I host authors for them which adds traffic to my blog. I recommend this to you highly! I also have an association with @TravelTerrain who is always thirsty for writers to submit travel articles – I have increased my blog followers and traffic to my blog because of this site and highly recommend it to authors who are interested to have a go at travel writing. My last comment to you is that you are underestimating the importance of a Facebook author page as well as a separate book page! Have a look at mine to see what stuff you could be posting right now: https://www.facebook.com/Necklaceathena If you tweet endlessly your FB links like I do, you will get a multitude of Twitter users liking your page and then you like theirs back – increasing painlessly the size of your followers on FB and of course, the language must be English. Some of them even request to be friends on your personal page but you can choose to ignore those at will. Although Facebook is far less effective than Twitter for promotion (and other authors have agreed with me), it is important to have promotional pages there even long before you launch a new book!!! When someone googles you, it is important that you seem to be all over the place – FB is a must and the rest are less important. Pinterest, Google+, Linkedin have been for me as good as a waste of time so far but I may press on regardless. I hope this helps. It is in my plans to publish my experiences in a similar type of post in my own blog so hope to talk again about it there! Have a great day and best of luck 🙂

    1. Effrosyni, thanks for your detailed response! Creating a FB page is a top priority and I will do it asap. I will check out Begware because I do need a service retweeting my own stuff at regular intervals. I have already Liked your FB page and I think it’s beautifully made. Your blog posts are also well written and very interesting. Keep up the good work, and I’m sure this year it’ll bear sweet fruit 🙂

  4. Wonderful blog, MM!

    It sounds as if you came to the same conclusion I did: I no longer think a traditional publisher is going to bring much to the table. I once held the belief (firmly) that I should submit to agents for a while, and only if I didn’t succeed there would I self-publish. I no longer feel that way. I want to be in control of the process. If I fail or succeed it will be because of something I did or did not do, not because a room full of faceless men decided I would fail.

    Rayne is awesome! Her advice on dropping your auto-DM was spot on. Auto-DMs, even when sent with good intentions, add to all of the spam. My Twitter inbox is all but unusable because of auto-DMs.

    Your points on branding are excellent. Many authors forget this crucial step. I see authors using completely different profile pics and color schemes/images from one social network to the next. Not good.

    Facebook can be a great tool, but it is harder to build a following there. I concentrated on sharing items of interest to other writers (and it’s yet to be seen if this will translate into sales conversions). The key thing to remember is that not all social networks are created equally. Facebook users expect different types of content than Twitter users. Facebook is about media that is easily consumed and shared (think “memes”). Links always lag behind media in the “total reach” metric, and plain text status updates are worst of all.

    As far as Pinterest is concerned, whenever I share an image on Facebook, I immediately post it to Pinterest and link it to my Facebook page (you can do this by editing your pins and adding a link).

    Keep up the awesome work!

    Nat

    1. Nat, thanks for the enlightening comment! I’m glad we’re sharing the same journey. You were the first writer I followed on Twitter and will always have a soft spot for you 🙂 Your insight on FaceBook is valuable! I don’t know how to gather Likes without DMing people and asking them point blank to Like my author’s page though. Another concern is that my Twitter followers are writers (most of them fantasy or sci-fi) and lots of artists; hardly my target audience. I still don’t know how Likes can translate into sales. I guess it will be easier once I have a published book and readers will want to connect with me personally. Another observation on blogging as a means to build an author platform is that there are amazing bloggers with a strong following who seem to struggle to get reviews of their books on Amazon. I would have thought that having thousands of Twitter followers would guarantee dozens of reviews, but apparently people stand by the work of bloggers but not writers (at least not as much). Anyway, it’s an interesting journey and I’m glad we’ve connected and we’ll swap info. Thanks again for visiting my blog!

  5. Great post! I, too, am a brand new author, having just published my first cookbook on Kindle at New Year’s. I have been working almost exclusiviely on marketing and building a platform over the last week to 10 days. So far, it’s going well, but I agree about the time factor. I hope that once I have all the pieces in place, it will get a little easier.

    I definitely recommend a FB page. (I have been a Realtor and used a lot of social media doing that, so some of this isn’t new to me.) Because I already had quite a few friends on my personal page, it wasn’t too difficult to get “likes” pretty quickly — 141 in the first week. (And not all of those are people from my personal page!) It doesn’t cost anything to ask people to share your page and most of your friends don’t mind, since it only takes a second.

    Twitter has been a bit more difficult, since it is unfamiliar to me. Like you, I never saw the point, but I’m beginning to! (That’s how I found this article! 🙂 Having a blog is also helpful. i’ve been trying to post everyday to build up some content, but probably won’t do that once it is established. I’ll probably cut back to 3 or 4 times a week in a couple of weeks.

    Thanks for all the tips you’ve shared. I’m trying to soak up everything I can right now!

    1. Thanks you so much for commenting! It’s an interesting journey we share, and one of the best aspects is connecting. I’m sure you’ll do great on Twitter. Good luck with your cookbook! I’ll connect with you on other platforms as well.

  6. Thank you for a great post, for connecting with me, for drawing me in, for all your wonderful advice that I have known but not followed…Just a big THANK you!
    My book, Siling to Ithaca, is almost ready to be published. I will have it back from the editor by tomorrow. I do belong in the TribeWriters group which Jeff Goins put together. Uou can be a part of it if you take the course…$100 or something…I have taken the course and learned just about everything about platforms. I have a great support group within the Tribe.
    Life, however, has been making demands on me and my family for over a year, and I don’t have the energy or the time to fix and make better my blog and my relationships. I am blessed by the close connections I have made in the Tribe, but I am also blessed with the connections from the Greek Dinner event. It has been amazing how receptive and enthousiastic and supporting the participants have been, one of which is you, Maria. Wonderful connecting with you! I see that you can offer a lot.
    However, I am not sure how much I can give back, so that the relationship can be equal. My technical skills …just barely making it. I am older, taking care of a 93 year old mom, a 82 year old husband, children and grandchildren, two of which…my daughters…live in Greece and have been a source of pain and worries for us as the economic situation in Greece worsens.
    I love to be in a group where we support each other. Maybe, we all can do a Greek blog hop, each one posting something about Greece. From my experience, Americans love Greece and the Greek culture, so we may draw them in. I invite you to visit my site at http://journeyswithkatina.com/ Feel free to explore and get a feeling of who I am and what I write about. I do not have an author’s page yet. Hopefully soon. You can find my e-mail at my site. Please email me any time with your ideas.
    Again, thank you for everything!

    1. Katina mou, I have read, followed and commented on your blog. I apologize if you’ve posted the comment some time ago and you didn’t see it, but I just got notified! You’re a treasure, and I’m thankful I met you (through Effrosyni, let’s not forget!). You’re a source of inspiration to all of us handling so much and still having the energy to learn about social media and author platform building! Don’t think about offering anything else! Just your writing and your presence. We are richer having you around.

      All the best to you and your family (we all face difficulties here)

    2. Dear Katina, you’re an angel! Just your presence and your admirable efforts are inspiring! You don’t need to offer anything more. As for joining your tribe, it sounds wonderful, but I’m kind of swarmed at the moment. My three-year-old daughter needs much of my time, I work, run the house and try to set up an author platform in between. I barely have time to write my second book, and that should be a priority. Thanks for the thoughtful suggestion, though. I wish you and your family all the best!

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