Building an Author Platform Part 1: Setting up the Sites
When I started this article, I was planning to simply document the things I did to setup my website for my fellow Woodlands Writers Guild members. Then as I started getting farther into the process, I discovered it was a bit more interwoven. I’m going to tell you how to do what I did. It will work well enough to get you started and avoid the wrinkles in the plan I ran across.
I’m going to explain the basics of what I’ve learned, and include links to other articles and such to help you with the technical details if you need it. I won’t go into too much technical detail in most cases, I expect you can learn a few things or ask a friend who is technically savvy. I know ninety year olds who can do this, so can you.
PS. This is a 14 page article. It's one of those book-end posts that shares a crapton of knowledge. I will be updating this thing as mistakes get found. or new info comes out to keep it evergreen.
What is an Author Platform
My initial understanding was that author platform is a writer’s social media presence, but as I researched this topic, it became a bit broader than that. In simple terms, it is what you the writer bring to the table right this moment, to help sell your book. It’s your credentials as a professional expert in the subject, your past media exposure (interviews, presentations, etc), and your network. The network part is what today is often comprised of your social media. How many Followers do you have? How many site visits per month to read your blog do you have? Building that up is what helps get you a book deal, it helps sell your book.
Why do you need an Author Platform
The simplest reason is so that when you need to promote something, that people already exist that will help you out. Those people could be potential readers, agents or publishers who are checking you out, to see what you’re about. Agents and publishers want to know you have a following and that you are a likeable personality. Modern readers, want to get to know their favorite authors and have a more personal albeit digital relationship with you.
Let me repeat a point, when you are ready to get an agent or talk to a publisher, they are going to look at your business card and google you up. If they don’t find you that’s not good. If they don’t see a nice likeable person, that’s not good. Publishing no longer includes a marketing budget. This means they expect you to have a marketing plan, in other words, show some sign that you have an audience and a means to promote your book to them. You cannot sell enough books without an online presence in today’s market.
To sum up, as an author, you are a brand and your books are products. You will get more readers, more sales if your brand presents you as you want to be presented. If you want your personal life separate from your public life, that’s part of the planning for this process. It’s not that hard, and you only have to do as much as you want. My goal is to show you the whole scope of things to do, so you avoid some potholes.
My favorite part is getting down to doing things. As with all directions, read the entire thing before going off half-cocked. A lot of the reasons for these steps intertwine, so skipping one may have side effects. Probably not nausea, but you may kick yourself later. I am documenting all the things I did to set myself up, and I’ll try to include links for how to do the various steps. Most of these things are quite easy for somebody comfortable signing up for a social media account.
Choose your Author Name and Domain Name
Believe it or not, my parents did not name me KL. I could have used my full name which would have sounded more somber, but my name is quite the rage in Sweden, which means Google search pulled up people who were not me. That meant I would have to swim upstream to get my name to dominate a search. So, I chose initials and that’s working out reasonably well if you search for KL Forslund.
I also went to Facebook and Twitter (two very popular social media sites in 2017) and searched for variations of my name there. I do not want to be KLForslund29 if I can help it.
This is where a Pen Name can come in handy, it lets you get around having a common name and start fresh with a name you’ve crafted to be clever. You’re a writer, naming characters is what you do.
Based on both searching for my candidate author name, social media and potential domain names, I chose KL Forslund and KLForslund.com for my domain name. If I was especially clever and spendy, I’d buy up the variants of my name as well.
Pseudonyms, pen names and nom de plumes
If you don’t want to use your real name, that’s fine. I was at a panel discussion recently and the subject came up for women whether to use their real name if they write in male dominated genres or not. To add to that, an African American writer asked about whether she should stick to her plan of using a pen name, because she was concerned people wouldn’t take her seriously. That bothered me that some people have to worry about that, and for some those worries are justified.
As a white guy, I don’t have that problem to consider. But I will relay the gist of the advice the panel, largely of women gave which was to use your own name if you can, because that’s the only way things are going to change for the better. They were pretty firm on that. My take on that is to only use a pen name because it solves a problem for you. For me, I wanted google search to find me as an author. For somebody else, they might be protecting their safety.
Optional: Setup a separate bank account
This step may seem way off topic, but trust me. You are going to spend money as a writer, and possibly make money. One of which is tax deductible, the other is taxable. It is much easier to track receipts if you actually use a separate bank account, because all the transactions for the year are inherently for your business as a writer. And yes, being a writer is a business, at least if you’re looking to publish and do all the stuff I tell you here.
Use your real name, you’re not trying to commit fraud. I suggest using a credit union or the kind of bank with zero fees and plopping $100 in the account over the minimum balance. Paper for print outs, web domain registration, hosting fees are all the kinds of thing to use this account for. Make sure it comes with one of those debit/credit cards. Do not use that account for anything but your business as a writer. Pay for writer’s conferences with this account.
A nice benefit of this is that you can see money in and money out. In the beginning, there will definitely be money going out. Treat it like a hobby business. Know your limits for spending on that hobby. You’re a grown-up, you don’t need me to tell you how to manage your money. This step will help if you self publish, as that’s where you can hook up Amazon and PayPal to. Talk to an accountant person for more advice about this and getting a DBA and TaxID.
Choose your Author Photo
This step will seem out of order, but we need to make sure you are recognizable across all instances online. This helps people who’ve met you or are searching online to confirm they found your Twitter and Facebook and website.
Personally, I don’t photograph well. I’m not specifically hideous to gaze upon, but I’ve seldom seen a photo that I didn’t look dopey or disheveled while wearing a tailored suit and smiling. So, take the time to clean up, dress up, wear something that flatters your body shape and have a friend take the picture. Don’t stand perfectly straight. I’m not a fan of forced smiles or super wide open eyes that make you look crazy. So it’s almost better if the photographer is bantering with you, says something funny, and just as you smirk or laugh, they shoot. Or hire a professional photographer.
Get that picture, and plan to use it everywhere. Change it out every couple of years so we’re not looking at 22 year old you when you are forty. Be the best version of you as you currently are, we’re not setting you up for a date.
If you are handy with image manipulation, you can crop the size and such, but it’s not critical to do so. When you upload your personal photo to one of these sites, they help you size it.
Choose your Banner Image
Just about every social media site has a banner image that spreads across the top of the page. Find or make something you like that is much wider than it is tall.
I chose to stage and layout something on my patio for my banner image. Like your author photo, using something consistent across all your social media helps your branding and recognition. The idea is to not have things look different, despite the fact that you need to manage multiple accounts.
As with uploading your personal photo, setting up the banner is also easy on these sites. You can slide it around so your favorite part is showing.
Write your Author Profile
You’re going to need a few blurbs introducing yourself and your genre. I recommend preparing a short 2 sentence one and a longer one. Use these consistently as needed, for instance Twitter only really gives you space for a short one. Get this taken care of ahead of time, so you can let it ferment, edit and make sure it reads well. Look at other authors web sites and social media in your genre to see what they did.
Buy Your Domain Name
This will seem crazy, but you should buy your domain name before you know what it’s going to point to or look like. The cost is about $12 per year, and if you set up that special bank account, use that to pay for it. I paid the extra $4 for to anonymize the contact info. The people who run the internet domains have a rule that each domain must have personal contact info for a person. Paying GoDaddy the extra $4 means they put their address and one of their employees names on it, making it harder for an evil stalker to find me and kill me in the middle of the night.
When I bought mine, GoDaddy gave me discount codes and a bargain if I paid for 3 years, which after taxes cost me about $36 total (remember, I added on). I realize everybody’s wallet is different sized, but it takes money to earn money and this is the part that cost me money, which in my view, wasn’t much.
For the moment, your domain name is now parked, meaning it points to a place holder page. Don’t worry about that. Finish setting up your Facebook author Page in the next step and tell GoDaddy to redirect your domain to that while you finish doing the rest, which takes a bit more time.
Email, the forgotten communication tool
Like most people, I already had an email account or two before I started on the path to becoming an author. My big worry was having to setup a separate account so I could be firstname.lastname@example.org (not my real address). But then, I learned something new. Remember when I shilled for GoDaddy to setup the domain name? Turns out, as part of my domain name purchase, I get free email forwarding. This means that because I own klforslund.com, I can create up to 100 addresses on that domain that forward to my real email account. For instance, email@example.com works, and it send an email to my gmail account. I can even make gmail organize my inbox for emails from that address, so I can keep things straight, and reply as if that was where the email came from.
Get a gmail account because the other providers aren’t as good
I favor gmail because it is free and offers a lot of technically useful features as part of that price. If you have Yahoo, get off of them, as a technical person I assert they are dying as a company and have a bad reputation for getting hacked. If you use your free email from your internet service provider, get off of them as well, because one day you are going to fire them and get a new internet service provider and firstname.lastname@example.org will no longer work.
Enter Gmail to the rescue. Plus, it has features we are going to use. I apologize, but this section gets more technical. I’ll include links on how to do things as I go. Even I learned some things when I was setting this up for myself.
Setup Email Forwarding
I wasn’t kidding when I told you to use GoDaddy to buy your domain. I’m not fond of their sexist commercials, but their product is good and affordable. Use the link below to activate and setup an email forwarding address.
Pause for a second and consider what that address will be. Let’s say your real email address is email@example.com, you’ve had it for years. Gmail has this cool trick that if you add +something after the name, it ignores the +something and still delivers. But you can then auto-filter in gmail and organize it.
Now, nobody on the web will know my real email address, and any email I get via firstname.lastname@example.org can be identified as stuff for as an author.
Create a Label in Gmail and a filter
Now that the email forward is set up, I want that email to land in my Author bucker. So I create a Label (that’s what Gmail calls a folder) and then I go into the settings and configure a filter to automatically move any email sent to email@example.com per the link below.
--LINK GO HERE--
Configure gmail to send email as your domain name address
I won’t lie, this part was the most technical because I had to look up and test things. In Gmail, under Settings, Accounts and Import, there’s a Send Mail As section. Go there, we need to configure it to enable sending email out as firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, when I reply or send new mail out, it will say email@example.com and my disguise will be ruined.
To do this, we need authorize Google to send mail as this firstname.lastname@example.org, and I had to hunt for an article to explain it. Here goes:
It took a few steps, but when I was done I got the effect of different email accounts with only a single actual gmail account to manage for all my mail.
The Email Alternatives
If all that sounds like too much bother, GoDaddy will charge a mere $5/month for a full featured inbox that easily connects to your domain (since they host it, that’s very easy). Or you can go to outlook.com or gmail.com (whichever you don’t already have) and set up a new free account there with your author name (ex. email@example.com). I like to centralize my email management and not have multiple accounts to manage, and worse, forget to check. So the extra tech work now means less work later.
Why email first?
All your the next steps involve signing up for accounts and setting up social media. That ties to an email address. So do the email first so you can use it for the later steps.
Setup your Page and Personal account on Facebook
I’m starting with Facebook because it is the most prevalent social media site as of 2017. That doesn’t mean it is where your audience is, but it is a foundation piece now. It is where 70% of all adults are at in the United States.
Make a Personal Account at Facebook.com
That’s a fancy term for what everybody starts off with on Facebook. You sign up with an email address, and start making friends. You probably already have one. I advise that you keep this for your own personal use. Don’t friend everybody who requests, unless you already do that and you take steps to control who sees what. Facebook policy agrees with me on that, and they don’t generally want personal accounts being used as a brand.
Make your Author Page
A Page is how Facebook separates a company or brand or band or author from the individual. When you Like things like a cola brand or a musician, you usually like a Page, not a Personal Account. This is what lets you keep your personal life separate from your public life as an author. It is also what Facebook wants you to use to promote yourself.
Knowing all this, I made a Page called “KL Forslund”, which doesn’t match my real name, thus making it even easier to differentiate between my personal account and my page when I post.
Setup your Twitter account
Twitter is a bit simpler, you make an account as your author name. In Facebook, you can even reference your Twitter handle in the Page settings. I am @KLForslund on both, and they both have the exact same banner and image of me.
Pause before you get chatty on Social Media
I need to make sure you know that from here on out, you are your brand. What you say in public helps or hinders your brand. You are like Coca Cola(™) without the little ™ at the end. You may already be on social media, and possibly made a total bore of yourself. Let’s hope not , but that’s where a new account or some deleting and a rename might come in order.
On day one of your new account, just be a lurker. Watch, listen, don’t get zealous in friending anybody beyond actual friends or actual specific people you want to follow like Neil Gaiman.
Do not post your views about politics or rant about ‘isms or complaints or negative feelings. I know, that’s a total contradiction for what most people use social media for.
This article is not going to give you a strategy for posting or marketing yourself. I do not want you to build a bad track record for yourself before you’ve even gotten started. Another reason to be timid is that there is a tendency to friend/follow everybody and expect it in return. Which on Twitter can cause your stats to look like 8,123 Following and 7,456 Followers. Contrast that to Jim Butcher, who follows 61 people and has 60,000 followers.
Here’s what that means to an agent. Looking at Jim, we have strong faith that 60,000 people are actually paying attention to what he says. And that with so few followed, his feed is not dominated by random posts, so he can more easily see and respond to replies to his tweets by his followers.
Contrast that to the social butterfly, where everybody knows that trick to build up numbers, but it is implied that they are shallow relationships. That user has low probability that if they say “help support this charity where I’ll read a Denny’s menu live” that anybody will notice it.
So, chill out on posting and replying on social media, while I finish this article and lay forth the grand plan on how to actually manage your brand and build your platform in a not too distant future article. I will even cover the pro’s and cons of getting political on social media.
Making a Web Site
Now it’s time to make a website using Wix. This isn’t as technical as it used to be when I learned how in the early 1990’s when the web was still slimy and new. I’m advocating Wix because of the modularity of their features and pricing. It’s what I used, and it worked out pretty well.
Make a free site first on wix.com
You might have thought it odd that I had you set your new domain name to point o Facebook, but the fact is, this step might take a few sessions. It’s not super hard, but you have to figure out the editing tool and write up content for parts of the site. And you should sleep on it and show it to some friends to help spot problems.
Here’s the rough order of things you’ll do:
Go to the site and create a new free account
When it prompts for a site name, set it to your author name plus author. Ex. KL Forslund - Author
Choose a template. You can use the search word “author” and you’ll get some decent candidates. Guess which one I used for klforslund.com
Set the background image to be the same as your banner image
Modify the main menu to have the following entries leading to pages
Home Page - Should have buttons for your social media and email address. Borrow from another site if you have to. If you have a blog, include that.
About Me - This is where you put your author biography, perhaps written in third person if you like.
Books - This page is where you list out all your books with book cover images and links to Amazon where they can buy it. Be smart, use the magical Amazon link that gives you a cut of the sale.
Contact Me - This is where you repeat all those social media buttons and your email address on a nice clean, easy to read page.
The template I chose had a form wired up so I could put my chosen email address and it would send to me.
Now fill out all those pages, paste your author blurb into the About Me, etc.
If you don’t have any published works out yet, hide the Books menu item for now. This will save you from having to recreate it later
Now go back to the Home page and do the following:
Find the social media bar and set it to visible on all pages. Also edit it to have the sites you use and connect each one to the proper URL
I moved my social bar to the top header area, which I felt was more readily visible
Plug in the Blog app. For me, the wizard created a new menu item called Blog.
I then deleted the original Home tab (good thing you read all of this first)
Then I renamed Blog to be Home and moved it to be the first one in the menu
Add the Facebook Comments app to the Blog (i had to google that, and you benefit from my googling). Remeber, nearly everybody has a facebook
Point the FB comments to your Page URL not your personal account
This means when people reply to a blog posting, you can see it on FB and reply to it there.
Make sure you configured anything for social media (Twitter, FB) to point to your social media accounts. This makes things easier later.
With your website in place, try making your first blog post. I used the Site Manager tool on Wix to navigate to the Blog manager tool, then I bookmarked that. The URL is unique to your site, so I can’t paste the URL here. When you do your post, it gives you the opportunity to also post on your Facebook and Twitter.
When you do the Facebook post, it opens a little pop-up, make sure you change the posting as to be your Page. Adjust the text if you like, then post it.
For Twitter, it’s another pop-up. I noticed that the text for the tweet is really lame, so be sure to alter it to something clever alluding to the title of your blog post.
Author Pages on GoodReads and Amazon, etc
The more places your name is associated with the better. Setup GoodReads and Amazon author pages and if you have anything already published, get those assigned to your author page.
Capture emails for Mailing List
Initially, I didn’t think much of mailing lists, but advice I see all over is that collecting email is actually quite effective. You can use Mailchimp.com to set it up, include a link to it on your website. Mailchimp can tell you who’s opened the newsletters you send through it, and you can use i to send free stories, which are a good motivator to entice people to sign up.
Once you have Mail Chimp setup, go back to your Contact Me page on the website and make that form sign them up for MailChimp (be sure to word the form that it’s a sign up for your mailing list.
Note, the point of a mailing list is so you can send out newsletters, say quarterly or yearly. Craig Johnson sends out a Walt Longmire Christmas short story every year with his. Part of that giving to receive. What I caution is, you can delay a little bit in setting this up, because once you do it, you need to start planning on what goes in that newsletter. It can contain some best of pieces from your blog, but it should also have something new, just for members.
Also, prepare a short story that people get when they sign up. MailChimp can do that. Part of the metrics you’ll gather is who actually opens the attachment, which is how you know how many “real” followers you have.
What Went Wrong
That title sounds ominous, but nobody died during any of this process. What did happen is that I learned stuff, which is jargon for I made some mistakes and sub-optimal choices. The good news is, that all those mis-steps were correctable and this article is arranged to advise you through all the good steps. I thought it would be educational to share where I went wrong initially. Because you were smart enough to read the entire article before starting, that means you’ll know to avoid tripping over these things.
Did not have profile pictures, banner image or author blurb before making social media accounts
About 2 weeks in on Twitter, I learned they have filters in place to ignore users who don’t have a profile photo uploaded. This is because Trolls use these anonymous accounts to hassle people.
I was well behaved and still made friends, but you should hit the ground running with all the basics on day one
Initially planned to use Google Sites for web hosting
Could not do domain masking so my site would appear as klforslund.com after redirecting
Google wouldn’t return the URL to my site when I searched for KL Forslund after a month of it being there, turns out they don’t check their own sites.
Couldn’t have a blog or Widget to a blog
Planned to use GoDaddy for web hosting but switched to Wix
I wanted ease of connecting by using the same company for domain name and web hosting.
However, research showed that GoDaddy’s web site builder had issues and had no blog feature nor way to incorporate a feed from Tumblr or WordPress
Wix offers a free domain name when you buy site hosting, but I’d already bought my domain from GoDaddy
Spent a lot of time researching and trying out sites and wasting time on social media
It’s a valid complaint that all this technical junk distracts from the actual writing projects
As I have no books out or urgent deadlines, I could recoup all that wasted time by summarizing it all in an article to use on my blog. And by giving away something of practical value, I’d be following Chuck Sambuchino’s advice from his book. Give before you receive.
Follow the path I give in this article, and you won’t waste as much time as I did
I tried Tumblr, but found it lacking on technical merit
It was certainly easy to use, but it scores low on SEO compared to WordPress and I couldn’t integrate a Comments system into my web site when I setup the Tumblr Widget.
My goal was to post on Tumblr and have it appear on my website as well, so people there would be able to comment and such.
Now you are online and you have the first Plank in your Author Platform. I advise checking out the books in the references section for more of the marketing tips and philosophy. I am going to follow up with an article on how to build on this platform with your posting and blogging. I may even go back and make an article to explain Author Platform. Or you could just go read those books.
Please check out these links and books, I used them to learn all of this and get setup. They likely include far more information than I do in this article.
Creating your Writer Platform (Chuck Sambuchino)
Building an Author Platform (J. T. Mallory)
2017 Social Media Image Size Reference (by Azure Collier)