Building an Author Platform: Websites
Many writers get confused about websites and social media pages and so forth. What is the best way to build that thing called an ‘author platform’? How can they do it so that they sell more books?
The truth is that there are many ways to build a platform for authors. And how you construct it, and where you place emphasis, has much to do with what exactly you are trying to achieve. There are loads of people out there willing to give you advice about all of this - so much so that it can all be a bit bewildering.
I’m going to give you advice too, based on my own experience. But there are two key things to remember about any piece of advice: the first is that you should only follow advice if it makes sense to you to do so, not just because ‘so-and-so’ said it; and the second is that you should not expect any piece of advice to bear fruit either instantly or completely all on its own.
You are the driver of your own car - advice from others is much like the advice of someone in the back seat. Take it if it seems right to do so, but stay alert and make your own ongoing decisions too.
So here’s how I see it, starting with websites.
Your story, your book, your piece of fiction, whatever it is, lies at the heart of something bigger. It’s the kernel, the seed, from which all else will grow. It needs to be crafted properly, so that it can grow and take over your reader’s emotions once they get it and start reading it; it needs to be constructed so that it grabs, glues and guides your reader’s attention all the way through to the end, leaving readers sad that it has finished and wanting more.
But it is the core of something bigger.
Around this kernel is a layer of what we might call ‘outward exposure’. This is what the prospective reader of your story sees before he or she has even come close to reading your story. This includes your website, your presence on social media, your appearances in book market places - basically, everything that a passerby might see of you and your book other than the piece of fiction itself. That includes your book’s cover and its blurb and reviews and anything other than the story itself. This ‘outward exposure layer’ is, broadly speaking, the author platform.
In nature, a piece of fruit frequently has its seeds in its heart, but the thing that it hopes will ensure that those seeds make it to fertile ground is the layer of fleshy goodness around the seeds. The fruity part of a fruit is what attracts animals and birds; they consume that part, and in doing so unwittingly contribute to the transportation of the seeds, thus furthering the life of the plant.
This analogy, though accurate up to a point, breaks down if we try to take it further though, because a reader might well be attracted by the ‘fleshy part’ of the author platform and consume it - but what they are ultimately led to is the heart of the thing, the ‘seeds’, the book itself. On consuming that - if it has been built correctly - the reader will feel it growing within, where it will command attention and secure an emotional commitment from the reader.
That’s all very well, you might say, but it doesn’t tell you much about what to actually put on a website, or whether or not you should have a page on Facebook, or anything practical. It doesn’t answer questions like ‘Should I be offering my book for free?’ or ‘Do I need more than one book?’ or ‘Where should I display my book?’
So here are my more practical answers to all of that, as far as websites are concerned to begin with.
If you are serious about growing a career as a professional author, this is what you need to do on your website to make sure that it attracts various kinds of readers and acts as a ‘fleshy part of the fruit’. 1. You need a website, and on the landing page of your website - the page where visitors most likely 'land' if they are looking for you or your work - you need something called a lead magnet. This needs to be a free gift and it needs to have an attractive and not misleading cover, and a punchy blurb.
When someone visits your site, they should have a chance to get this gift right away without any need to scroll down.
Cold traffic, coming across your site without knowing who you are or exactly what you write, needs something incredibly easy to download as the prospects who make up that traffic are still sceptical.
You need to have this free thing that you give away in return for an email address. There’s a lot more to be said about what kind of thing this lead magnet should be, but that will have to wait for a future article. For now, think ‘free’ and ‘easy to get’.
The email addresses you gather with this thing then build up into mailing lists of ‘slightly warm prospects’.
This can all be done automatically and, once set up, should not require any further attention. Email addresses should thenceforth trickle in to your list 24 hours a day without you having to do anything. 2. Below this free lead magnet, you should include credibility indicators. These are any kind of visible sign that you know what you are doing. If you advertise on Amazon, mention them and have their logo visible if possible; same with any other logo or famous name that people immediately recognise. Use PayPal? Get the logo up there. Are you on LinkedIn or other social media sites? Get those logos showing.
It might seem like a small thing, but having symbols and signs of companies, entities and media operations which people know is great for building trust and credibility. They act as an instantly recognisable bridge to the world of the visitor. 3. There are three types of people that come to your website: visitors, warm leads, and hot prospects.
You need to provide something different for each one of these groups. Your lead magnet caters for the casual visitor, grabbing their attention and making it as easy as possible to get their email address so that you have some link to them for future communications.
Now for the ‘warm leads’. The warm lead is someone who comes to your site and you already have their details. They’re not sceptical anymore: they’re curious. What do you give them? If you’re feeling adventurous and have the expertise, it can be a webinar, an invitation to a book-signing event, an option to get one or more of your books at a special rate, or something like that. Think about what your curious prospect may want to know and what will grab their attention.
If you’ve written a family saga, for example, perhaps there’s a prequel or a prologue which they can get cheaply; if you’ve written a fantasy epic, perhaps you could provide a map; if you have written a horror novel, perhaps a short true story upon which your tale was based. Even better, perhaps you have a group which they could join or a newsletter they could sign up to. Think creatively.
Does this mean extra work? Yes. But without these things, if a curious prospective reader arrives at your site, there’s nothing for him or her to take away except the free lead magnet which they probably already have and which piqued their interest earlier. You have to build upon that initial interest, stoke that fire.
4. The third kind of visitor that comes to your website is the hot prospect. This is someone who is already in your sales channel and ready to go.
On every page on your website, it should be possible to go directly to your main book, or main series of books, and make a purchase.
So cold visitors get warm through your free lead magnet; warm visitors become hot through further items that you offer; and at all points your main book should be visible and available.
That’s just your website.
What about social media and other sites?