The idea of the ‘online author platform’ is an interesting one. On one hand, as an author you should focus your energy on writing your book (or next book) and making it the best it can be. And yet if you neglect the opportunity to connect with your readers (and potential readers), you may be missing out on valuable book sales.
Those who self publish rely heavily on the online buzz and the community they create to help them sell their books.
Hugh Howey is one of the classic examples of this done well.
Check out our podcast interview with Hugh Howey here.
Hugh is a huge fan of having an online platform, but he definitely thinks it should be about quality first:
“If you have the ability to write, to hold someone for an entire novel, you should be able to hold them for a blog post or a tweet or a Facebook update or something. Don’t just throw a tweet out there, or a Facebook post, or a blog post – put the same care and passion into everything that you write online that you put into your works. If you’re not able to woo someone with 120 characters, 120,000 words probably isn’t going to go over very well.”
With traditional publishing, you may be lucky enough to have a publisher actively promote your book on its release. However, new books are released every week and simply leaving everything up to your publisher while you lock yourself away in your literary tower is a risky proposition.
Having an online author platform can be especially important for a first time author – because readers don’t have previous works to judge you by.
This is what debut novelist Jack Ellis had to say about the role social media can play:
“Start having conversations with readers before the book is even published. Start now. I don’t think there’s such a thing as too early. I think that if you are looking to promote a book, then the more engaged and big your online networks are, then the better.
“There’s nothing more gratifying when you get someone writing to you and say they love the book and they were crying at the end, and all of that sort of thing. So, it really has its rewards. I’m not a real online person by nature – I’m trying to work out what the right balance is between promotion and engagement.
“I’ve tried to just separate those two things so that I’m just engaging with people on a human level and on an intellectual and emotional level, and then if they want to find out more about me it’s very easy for them to discover I’ve got a book out, rather than sort of shoving it down their throats the whole time.”
And even if you’ve had a number of books published, is being online essential?
Author Kim Wilkins thinks so, but with some reservations:
“We are encouraged to be on as many sorts of social media as we can, and have as much digital author platforms as we can. When I say ‘encouraged’, it’s not really voluntary. It’s pretty much mandatory.
“It’s been wonderful to connect with my readers and everything on Facebook, but it does represent a huge potential time sink and energy sink too, I might add. We really do have to balance … what you need to do to be creative against your need for constant shallow affirmation, which is what social media gives you.”
Meanwhile, fellow established author Fiona McFarlane prefers her contact to be more ‘in real life'.
“I think that, for me, writing is enough work. It’s all-consuming to not think too much about … branding and social platforms and things. It’s possibly naïve of me.
“I know other people who are really good at it, who love it, who are excellent at engaging with their readers and with the literary world at large. I’m all for that because I think great conversations get opened up. For me, personally, it’s just not really my style.
“I’ve done quite a few festivals. I’ve done book groups. I’ve done a lot of interviews. It’s great to meet people who have read the book and have fantastic questions about it. It’s great to meet other writers and make those connections with people who are doing the same preposterous thing you are!”
What do YOU think about having an active online presence as an author?
And if you’d like to hear five more author’s opinions, check out podcast co-host Allison Tait’s blog to read more on the subject right here.