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How to Build an Author Brand (and why Genre matters)

How to Build an Author Brand (and Why Genre Matters)

In Sell More Books with Less Marketing, Chris Syme talks about different levels of author, divided by genre (fiction or non-fiction), by the number of books and series you have published.

Reading this was a lightbulb moment for me, because it explained why so much of the author brand and author marketing advice I read online felt “off” (yes, that’s a technical term).

It was because the advice was written for authors several levels ahead of me. Take Nick Stephenson’s Your First 10,000 Readers course (which I have bought), or Mark Dawson’s Ads for Authors course (which I haven’t). These authors are both multi-published thriller authors, and both have at least one long series of books available for sale.

I’m not, and I don’t.

Their information is excellent … but their tactics will work best for authors at that level. They are unlikely to work for authors who only have one or two books published, not one or two series. They are especially unlikely to work for pre-published authors, who are trying to learn everything at once. And there’s a lot to learn.

So what’s the pre-published author to do?

Does the pre-published author need to build an author platform?

If they want to be published, yes.

And that’s whether they want to be traditionally published, or if they want to self-publish.

I see authors out there building their platforms. Some are doing a great job. Others … not so much. They don’t know where to go to get good advice, so often it’s the blind leading the blind.

And a lot of authors stall their platform building efforts by concentrating on the wrong things. They focus on tactics, not strategy. They ask questions like:

  • Do I have to have a blog?
  • What social media platform/s should I be on?
  • What will I blog about?
  • Do I have to have an email list?
  • What should I email about?
  • Do I have to have a sign-up gift for my website?
  • What kind of website should I have?
  • How do I build a website?
  • How much does a website cost?
  • Do I need an agent?
  • Should I self-publish?
  • What marketing will my publisher do?
  • Do I need a logo?
  • What should my tagline be?
  • How do I get reviews?
  • How do I use social media to sell books?

These questions are all good questions, but they are all about tactics. Yes, we need to answer these questions, but they aren’t the first questions we should ask or answer. They aren’t the important questions (and for some of the questions, the answer is “no” or “you don’t”).

All the blog posts about how to grow your author platform are useless for someone who doesn’t have a platform to grow.

I did some investigating. I found books and courses on how do set up a website or how to sell books on Twitter or how to use Goodreads as an author. Those are all good things, but most treated Twitter and Goodreads as an add-on to an existing platform. They didn’t take the author-reader back to those early stages of creating that platform in the first place.

I found blog posts on how to use various cool WordPress plugins to add extra functionality to your website. But that’s no good for someone who doesn’t have a website. Or who only has a free Blogger site.

I found posts on how to use RSS feeds and scheduling programmes to curate, collate, and automate social media posting. But that’s no good for someone who doesn’t have social media, or who only has a personal Facebook page to share pictures of cats and children.

I even found courses on how to build an online platform. Expensive courses—a one-off cost of $399 or $499, or a monthly fee of $49 or more. And that doesn’t include website hosting or any other costs.

Most of the writers I know don’t have that kind of money.

Many are solo parents, retirees, stay-at-home moms, homeschooling moms. Cash is tight. Many haven’t decided if they want to do this writing thing, and don’t want to invest big bucks in case they change their mind. Many are apprehensive about putting themselves “out there” . Many are writing as a form of therapy or ministry, and don’t have the money to invest in an expensive programme.

The people I knew needed was a way of getting from absolutely nothing to the stage where the blog posts on how to build or grow a platform were useful.

So I developed the Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge.

Instead of starting with whether you should use MailChimp or MailerLite, WordPress or Wix, we start at the beginning. Strategy, not tactics.

  • What do you write?
  • Who are you writing for?

In other words:

  • What genre do you write?
  • Who is your target reader?

These questions inform our high-level marketing strategy, because:

  • An author who writes fiction is going to have a different strategy to an author who writes non-fiction.
  • An author who writes articles or devotions or short fiction is going to have a different strategy to an author who writes novels or book-length non-fiction.
  • An author who writes picture books is going to have a different strategy to an author who writes adult thrillers.

If we understand what we write—our genre—that will help us identify and understand our target reader.

Our customer. Then we can build a brand that appeals to that reader or buyer. Part of that includes how we look—our visual brand. But it’s also how we act. Our values and beliefs. Who we are behind the pretty visuals.

Author brand isn’t about being everything to everyone. Author brand is about:

  • Understanding your genre.
  • Understanding your target reader.
  • Being true to yourself.
  • Choosing the parts of yourself to show online.
  • Being consistent.
  • Connecting with your target readers.

I’ve developed the Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge to do just that. The objective is to help pre-published and just-published authors develop the bones of their marketing platform. It’s an email Challenge, with one email a day for 40 days.

By the time they’ve completed the Challenge, participants will have:

  • A better understanding of their genre
  • A better understanding of their target reader
  • A branded author website
  • Branded accounts on the major social media platforms
  • An email list with a sign-up freebie
  • A list of topics to blog about, and share about on social media
  • Ideas for finding and connecting with their target readers
  • A network of writers

Interested? Click here to find out more information and sign up.

What is or was your biggest challenge in developing your online author platform?

Building Your Author Platform: Do I Need to be on Social Media?

Building Your Author Platform: Do I Need to be on Social Media?

Yes. And no.

In terms of building an author platform, you need methods of attracting potential new readers. Some people call this outreach. Social media is great for outreach. It’s not so great for selling.

The disadvantage of social media is that you don’t own the platform. If you infringe the rules of the social network, they can delete your account. This leaves you with no way of engaging with or converting potential readers. And that’s why a website and email list—things you own—are the two most important foundations of your author platform.

This happened to me last year: Twitter suspended my account. I got it back, but what if I hadn’t?

As I see it, there are two main functions of social networking for authors:

  1. To help us connect with readers
  2. To help us connect with other writers

This is why social networks are important. Writers often work in isolation, and online social networks provide us with valuable and necessary ways to connect with others. My favourite social network is Facebook, and I think of it as the water cooler in my virtual office, the place I head for a short break to recharge before starting the next item on my to-do list.

Connecting with Readers

I believe connecting with readers is more important to an author’s long-term success, because it is the readers who are going to buy your book (or books). For this reason, my suggestions around social networks are more focused on connecting with readers than with other writers–as this is the weak spot for most writers.

We need readers.

We need readers because they read our books. They talk about our books. They review our books. They buy our books. Sure, writers are also readers (or should be). But there are more readers than writers.

Connecting with Writers

Yes, connecting with writers is important, especially in the early stages of your writing. You need to learn to write, and other writers are going to be the people who help with that. Writers will be your first teachers, your first readers, your first fans. They will give you advice on what do, and what not to do. They will help you find a community, essential if your writing is ever going to be anything more than you and a computer.

But in the long term, connecting with readers is more important. Because while all writers are readers (or should be), not all readers are writers.

So what do you want or need from a social networking site:

  • The ability to connect with other users
  • A market demographic that matches your target reader

This means the social networks which are right for me might not be the same as those which are right for you. For example, I discovered as I was researching this post that there are specific social networks for specific groups (this probably shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did). For example:

  • MyMFB has 1.5+ billion followers, and is touted as the Muslim alternative to Facebook.
  • Twoo is a Belgian site geared to teenagers and twenty-somethings.
  • Renren (everyone’s website) is China’s largest social platform.
  • VK.com is the Russian version of Facebook.

None of these are appropriate social networks for me, as my target reader is a Christian with English as their first language.

But these social networks could be great options for writers targeting non-Christian readers in these countries and people groups.

So, no, you don’t need to be on every social network. But you probably do need to be active on a couple of social networks. And you do need your own author website (discussed in this post), and you almost certainly need an email list (click here if you’d like to join mine!).

Do you …
Know you need to start building your author platform but have no idea where to start?
Have a blog and a couple of social media accounts but don’t know what to do next?
Have a website, but aren’t sure if you’re on the right track?

Then join my March Marketing Challenge: Kick Start Your Author Platform. Click here for more information.

What’s your favourite social network, and why?