Top 10 Things I’ve Learnt about Building my Online Platform
*Image by thanunkorn via freedigitalphotos.net
This year I turned 30 and although this hasn’t really worried me as much as I thought it would, I decided that 2012 is the year that I get back into doing what I want after taking almost the whole year off after the birth of my second child. So I have a shiny new baby blog, a new twitter account and a new facebook author page.
But I must say that despite only taking the plunge recently to set this all up it has been building for a long time. Over the past year or more I have been steadily collecting information from various useful sites and blogs to try and give my shiny new baby platform an edge.
What I have learnt is that there is so much information out there aimed at helping writers. There are other writers and readers, ebook designers and book marketing specialists, SEO (search engine optimisation) and blogging specialists, agents and publishers all sharing information about the craft of writing and the process of publication. The sheer volume of information can be a little overwhelming.
Sorting through it all can be time consuming and exhausting so I have compiled the top 10 things that have resonated with me as being vital to building your online platform, reaching my target audience and connecting with like-minded writers. These are things that I have tried to do and include on my own blog and in my opinion they are as equally important as each other and therefore not in any particular order. If you feel I have missed something please comment below!
1. Read. Read books. Read blogs. Read ezines. Join your local Writer’s Centre (mine is Qld Writers) and subscribe to their publications – if they have them. Find information and soak it all in. Some of the best information comes from other writers who have been there and done what you are trying to do. There are so many other writers who list mistakes they have made and post about them. Some of the most useful sites/blogs I have stumbled upon include these ones but there are many more:
- www.thecreativepenn.com – Joanna has one of the most comprehensive blogs documenting her journey as an indie author from writing her first novel through to publishing her ebook with much success.
- www.hollylisle.com – Holly is a successful mainstream fantasy author with many books under her belt and a lot of very useful information and worthwhile courses. This is definitely worth checking out – even if you aren’t writing fantasy.
- http://janefriedman.com – There is loads of information here on publishing, author platforms and basically every aspect of the industry.
- http://www.thebookdesigner.com – Joel offers some really useful advice on book design, blogging and indie publishing.
- http://www.noveldoctor.com – Stephen is an editor with 20 yrs plus experience and his posts are informative, insightful and encouraging.
As a writer, reading books is the best way you can research your craft. There are many books on the craft of writing but reading books that inspire you for their characters, story, genre – whatever – are the best way to see that kind of writing in action. Take note!
2. It’s all in the details. When it comes to blogging the details matter. Post content is important but so is your About page, Bio, Links to your Books/published (or unpublished) work. Information also needs to be able to be shared easily which is where social media buttons come in handy. Place them at the top/bottom of your posts, include links to your own social media pages and make your own email/subscribe buttons accessible. There is a really good article about the importance of your ‘About’ page here.
WordPress is popular for bloggers but there are many different options available when setting everything up and with some extra knowledge on things like tags, permalinks, widgets, themes, images, keywords and choosing effective titles. I am still an ultra newbie when it comes to blogging and all things WordPress but this article here helped me with things that I had never even considered. Like putting thought into your naming your permalinks in order to maximise return on searches and making sure images are tagged clearly and concisely to drive home what your site is all about. A confused visitor is one that is not likely to return.
3. Make you and your book accessible. Selling your book? It is well known that the more links a visitor has to click through, the less likely it is they will make it to the ‘Pay Now’ button to buy/download your book. Well placed, easily accessible links to books and other items for sale increase your chances of closing the deal. Let’s face it. The internet is all about instant gratification. People don’t want to spend too long searching out information on sites. A well designed blog will set everything within a few clicks of your home page. If a visitor has to dig too deep to find what they are looking for. They won’t bother.
4. Don’t get lost in social media. Join twitter. Have a facebook author page. Blog. But what about Google+, Linkedin, Tumblr, Pinterest? The list of social media pages goes on and on There are so many options available to be able to join and start connecting with other readers and writers but don’t try and do it all at once! Remember to think practically. These sites need to be maintained and only work when you make the effort to engage your audience and connect with your readers. Spreading yourself too thin will see you with no time left to do the most important thing – write!
5. Don’t be a Spam Bot. The whole idea with joining social media is to connect with your audience. The operative word in that sentence being ‘connect’. People will not follow you for very long if the only thing you tweet to people is ‘buy my book’ over and over. You need to engage your audience with discussions about different aspects of the craft of writing for example. Find a topic that fits you and run with it. It is acceptable to promote yourself occasionally but there is need for balance. I read a great article which mentioned the need for 80% retweeted information vs 20% self promotion here.
Pay it forward. So you’ve joined twitter. You’ve started to tweet about your own project and are trying really hard to retweet valuable information from the people you are following. Have you noticed that every now and then someone thanks you for following them? Isn’t it nice when someone shows an interest in the work you say you are doing? Be courteous. Thank people for following you and if you see someone new around, introduce them as a new writer on the scene. Making people feel welcome and valued goes a long way to building an audience.
6. Set clear goals and be honest about them. Let people know where you stand. Be honest from the beginning about what you intend to achieve with your blog and where you are right now in terms of your project. If you set yourself up as an expert in a certain field and you aren’t, you will lose followers by misleading them (unless you are a spectacularly good liar and can pull it off long term). Likewise don’t tell your readers that you intend to update your blog with reviews or posts every 4 days and then fail to keep up with your deadlines. Don’t over commit yourself.
The same goes for your writing. Setting a realistic word count or research goal can alleviate some of the pressure of trying to fit everything in. I have two young children and a part time job as well as a household to run and if I push myself too hard (which I have a habit of doing) I end up burning out. It becomes a vicious cycle of trying to achieve something unobtainable, failing, getting depressed and losing all motivation. How can you feel inspired to write and connect with your readers if you are burnt out?
7. Be professional. If you are a writer who is blogging on the craft of writing and giving advice people will not take you seriously if your articles are rife with spelling errors and blatant grammar mistakes. Make an effort to check your work thoroughly and if need be re-educate yourself or partner up with an honest critique partner.
It goes without saying that honest critique is invaluable and every aspiring novelist should have someone they can turn to who can point out issues with your progressing manuscript. But what happens when you receive critiques on your blog that catch you off guard or are downright insulting? Be professional in your response to the comment or review. Respond tactfully and apologise for any offence caused. You will lose respect pretty quickly if you immediately get your back up and start hurling insults straight back like a monkey in a faeces fight.
8. Write with passion. It goes without saying that you should do what you love. For better or for worse the writing and publishing industry has grown and changed over the past few years. Writers who are seeking publication are expected to have an audience built through blogging and social networking. For some people this journey is exciting and gratifying but to others it can be a chore. The trick to keep your creative juices flowing is to write with passion. Find a niche market if you need to and explore it thoroughly. If you start to get stale, perhaps making a request for someone to ‘guest post’ on your blog might change things up a bit. Try something different every once in a while and make an effort to learn new techniques.
9. Participate. Comment on other blogs too. Engaging other people means not just waiting for them to come to you but also going out and participating in discussions and asking questions on other blogs/sites. This is also a handy way in leaving some breadcrumbs that can lead others back to your own site.
Submit work to ezines. To drum up interest in you and your work you need to take an active role in putting yourself out there. It’s ok to say you are writing a novel/serial/short story but in my opinion if you have solid proof of your work, you are more likely to find your and connect with your audience.
10. Be Yourself. Don’t be afraid to express yourself and stand up for what you believe in. This topic can be controversial at times. Not everyone will agree with your point of view especially if you are writing a post about the importance of Christianity in Science Fiction. But building an audience is about letting them know who you are. You may lose some followers or gain some with a post like that but at least you will know that those who continue to follow you follow for the right reasons.
Have I forgotten anything?