Posted on January 4th, 2018 by Dayna Anderson
As aspiring authors, we’ve all heard the advice. “Build an author platform before you get published, even before you land representation by a literary agency. Become active on social media, create a website, and post regularly on your blog. Making the effort before you’re published will help you sell more books when you do become published.”
But isn’t being active on social media enough?
I’m afraid not. Why? Because not all of your followers are going to buy your book. They may think it’s amazing that you’ve written a book and cheer for you as it nears release day, but they may not actually buy it. Why not? Because not all people will be interested in the age group, category, or genre. It’s that simple. People close to you may buy it because they want to support you (and that’s wonderful!) but I imagine you’ll want to sell more than thirty or forty copies!
So, what can you do?
Well, you can start by creating a website that helps to build your author brand—essentially your image as an author. Ideally, your website should showcase you. It should reflect your personality, writing style, and mission—which in turn will provide you with a way to connect with your readers . . . a solid home base.
Take a look at Heidi Mastrogiovanni’s website and you’ll know what I mean by creating an effective author brand. Her personality and writing style are splashed all over the site, especially in her blog posts. She’s done a masterful job of building an author brand and staying true to it. I’ve never met Heidi in person, but I feel like I do know her, just because I’ve read her blog. And by doing so, I felt compelled to buy her book—even though I didn’t realize that her website may have actually nudged me to do it!
It may take time to figure out what your author brand is. But really, you need to look no further than your own personality. Be yourself, blog about things that interest you, and write about them in a way that helps readers get to know the real you.
I created my website several years before I signed my first publishing contract—all in the hopes of connecting with my future readers. I targeted my site at young writers because there was nothing like it (that I could find!) and I was anxious to encourage their love of writing. I filled the site with all the things I thought would be motivating for them like middle grade book recommendations; beginner writing tips; and a place where they could share their short stories and give encouragement and suggestions to each other—a critique group for kids. The site garnered some traffic at first, and I was thrilled that young readers had found my site. I thought this would be my way into the hearts of readers who would one day read my own published books.
But I was wrong.
I soon realized that not many middle school kids actually follow blogs. I was not reaching my target audience. Young writers were not the ones reading my blog posts and clicking on the pages. YA writers and adult writers were. So I aged up my website and began offering critique rounds for any writer. But soon I was getting only submissions for YA and adult books and I didn’t feel particularly confident in those age categories. That’s when I realized I needed to change my focus again. I just wasn’t sure how.
It took me months to decide what the point of my website really was. I was writing middle grade fiction and reading a lot of middle grade books, but who was the audience I was trying to reach through my website? I realized that if I ever wanted my website to draw the attention of the middle grade community, it needed to offer content for the people who love middle grade books—middle school parents, teachers, librarians, bloggers, book sellers—and middle grade writers. So, I updated my website again and focused my content on all things middle grade fiction.
Not that I minded. It has been amazing to meet like-minded people—people who live and breathe middle grade books. In fact, I met one of my future critique partners when she commented on my blog. But still, as time went on I realized that there were so many fantastic middle grade sites. How could I compete? Was writing about middle grade books and my experience getting published enough to make my site unique and memorable?
It took me almost four years to figure it out—to realize that my own author brand was not about the specific topics I had been blogging about or the pages on my website. My author brand was not middle grade writing.
My brand is me: fairytales and positivity and dreaming big. My middle grade books are centered on kids who believe anything is possible and most of the time my blog posts (no matter what I write about) reflect this too. It’s the underlying theme in the way I live my life, the way I raise my kids, and the way I think. Of course I know life isn’t always a fairytale full of sunshine and snickerdoodles, but I choose to think it can be!
If you’re a writer and you want people to connect with you, the best way is to give them an important part of you to connect with. Because even though readers may click on your site for a particular topic, they’ll keep coming back to read more year after year because of the way you say what you’re saying. Your author brand will emerge just by being you.
When I first began writing seriously, I devoured Mary Kole’s craft-oriented blog posts at kidlit.com and when she ultimately published a guide to publishing fiction, I was right there ready to read it. I followed Jillian Boehme’s blog, Miss Snark’s First Victim just as closely, and now that her first book has been contracted, I’m anxious to read that too. I gained something different from both of these writers and connected with them in different ways, because their personalities—their brands appealed to me somehow. Now I’ll read just about anything they write because I’ve gotten to know them through their blogs. It just goes to show what a powerful tool it can be to have an author brand that reflects you well.
So take some time to develop your own author brand by simply filling your website with graphics and images you love and blogging about topics you’re passionate about—in a way only you can. Developing a base of devoted readers is so worth your time—not just because one day they may be interested in your books, but because they may one day become your best friends and support system—connections you’ll treasure, even long after your first book is published.
Amberjack Publishing, founded in 2014, is an independent small press of fiction books with offices in New York and Idaho. Amberjack’s books are distributed by Midpoint Trade Books, one of the largest distributors in the industry.