It’s hard to be a human on the internet these days, let alone a professional. Our author platform engages readers on a personal level to support our business: selling books. We’re supposed to be personable without oversharing, interesting without being too judge-y or controversial. We need to respect people’s inboxes, yet communicate with them often enough that they won’t forget about us. In other words, we need to create the perfect online persona. The best and most marketable version of ourselves.
It may sound like an impossible balance to strike. Follow these simple do’s and don’ts and you’ll be on the right track.
DO diversify your author platform with channels you control.
If you don’t have a website and an email newsletter, start working on them today. Social media apps can change overnight. When Instagram removed their chronological timeline, small businesses had to rely on algorithms for their content to be seen. The post-Cambridge-Analytica #deletefacebook trend hasn’t critically injured the social media behemoth yet, but don’t bank on Facebook being in the lead forever. Take control of your platform by including some elements owned and controlled by you.
DO learn by example.
Join other writers’ email lists. Find the important people in your genre and follow them on social media. Learn from their successes — and their mistakes. Comment on their content and tag them in posts where you mention them (tastefully, of course). Participate in your community and learn the social norms and expectations there.
DON’T lead with an ask when introducing yourself.
Connections with influencers can help you, but only if you build them organically. I got a huge boost when I reviewed another author’s book on my blog. She appreciated my thorough and honest review so much she sent me a free copy of the book. We’ve stayed in touch for years, and she’s given me a huge signal boost by sharing and talking up my content.
On the flip side, I got no response when I cold-messaged a popular YouTuber and asked her to share a link to my Kickstarter campaign.
DO work ahead and post consistently.
You don’t want to spend all your time on social media, nor do you want everything to go dark when you go on vacation or get busy before a deadline. Schedule posts ahead of time to give yourself a break when you need it.
I use an app called Buffer to schedule my social media posts. Facebook has a built-in post scheduler. Third-party apps like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck allow you to schedule tweets.
Don’t try to make your work easier by allowing websites to post automatic updates to your social media feeds. Posts should be written in your own words, not a computer-generated announcement that you just reviewed The Lovely Bones on Goodreads.
DON’T get into political flame wars.
Suggesting that anyone tone down their political posts can feel like asking them to silence their voice in the face of injustice. At the same time, I’ve heard a writer say they decided not to query an agent because of the agent’s incessant political tweets. I’ve heard about agents terminating representation of writers for the same reason. And these are people who all, for the most part, agree with each other.
You don’t need to scrub politics from your social media feed. You do need to remember that your followers, just like your friends and family, likely fall along a spectrum. Your author platform is a professional space, just like a physical office. There are certain things you’d say among your friends that you wouldn’t say at the office. Don’t make politics seem like the only thing you think or care about. Include posts about other stuff, too. And be respectful. Most people don’t mind talking politics as long as you avoid generalizations, insults, and name-calling.
DO keep it positive.
Never, ever trash talk another writer or their work online. Don’t put down lit mags, editors, agents, or anyone else in the publishing community, either. Words spoken in anger or frustration can haunt your career forever.
You can post the occasional critique or dissent. But you should be courteous and respectful in doing so. Before you post a tweet, Goodreads review, or any other public commentary about someone else in the writing community, ask yourself: how would I feel if someone said this about me?
Also, oversharing your personal issues will turn off followers. We’ve all had that coworker, friend, or family member who seems to have a new drama every day. Don’t make that your professional persona.
DO track results and know your audience.
Get to know your followers. Google Analytics offers a wealth of information about who’s visiting your website and how they found you. Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook all offer their own analytics for business users. Email services like MailChimp will tell you how many people open your emails and click on the links inside. Use this information to guide your future efforts.
If you produce a podcast, YouTube channel, blog, weekly e-newsletter, or some other form of regular content, consider asking your readers directly for feedback. This spring, I offered a chance to win a free copy of my book to anyone who completed my reader survey for The ADHD Homestead.
However you build your online platform, treat the Internet like you would any professional networking space. Learn from the best. Listen more than you talk. Be courteous and respectful, and try to give at least as much as you take. Over time, you’ll build a loyal and supportive follower base.