This is for all you writers out there trying to build your author platform. I am in the trenches here, learning things the hard way, so I thought I’d jot a few things down about my journey. Maybe this will help you out. But really, I hope this will help me out.
I’ve read numerous posts about how to build a platform, but none of them actually reveal the steps one must take on this arduous odyssey. Maybe they say, “build a website” and “start sending a newsletter,” but they don’t tell me how, so I’m over here like, okay, start a newsletter. I’ll just sign on with Mailerlite. No problemo. And I’m whistling a tune…but when I get to the page in Mailerlite that allows me to send my first newsletter so I can test things out (keep in mind I have no clue what I’m going to say in my newsletter since I pretty much have nothing to say yet–a post for another day), I need to enter my email address. So, I do that. (I am a rockstar when it comes to following directions). But my email is not allowed because it’s free. ISN’T ALL EMAIL FREE? Nope. And Mailerlite says I need an email with my own domain. EXCUSE ME? I am already the queen of my own domain, but what in satan’s name is “my own domain” as it relates to an email address?
I have no idea what I’m doing, but I am certainly cursing the gods, at which I happen to be an expert. I put my cursor in the Google search bar to discover all the secrets, but then I realize I have no idea what I’m searching for so I sit there, paralyzed, as my cursor blinks itself blurry.
After much trial and error in the search bar, and many four-letter words from my mouth, I come across the thought that I need an email somehow attached to my domain name, which is my website name that I pay for yearly and for which I pay a web-hosting company to host. And with this, I begin the rabbit-hole spiral into the abyss of words and acronyms and information I can understand about as well as I can understand Russian (so, not at all). I think I’m being a little hard on myself here. I can understand every other word, but when words you know are next to words you don’t know, you might as well be staring at a wall of hieroglyphs.
This is why I am writing this. If I can help you decipher even one mystery in the world of author platform building, we will reach billions of readers and sell millions of books, and I will be at peace. I might still be dreaming, but I’ve been told having a goal is a good place to start.
THE AUTHOR PLATFORM
To build an author platform, one must consider learning about, and using, the following (caution: this list may not be exhaustive):
- Social Media Presence (one or more of the following):
- Facebook (author page and/or profile account)
- Newsletter or Blog (which is being replaced by the almighty Newsletter).
- Website (which may or may not also have a blog and definitely will not be a newsletter). Your author website acts as a modern day, visually focused, expandable business card.
- Web-Hosting Service with cPanel Email (which is different than private email, you know, those FREE accounts, such as Gmail, Yahoo, and the like). Your website must be hosted by a service.
- Mailerlite, Mailchimp, or some other email marketing tool that will allow you to create a Newsletter and engage with your subscribers (i.e. readers) in a more personal way.
- Professional photos of yourself.
- Canva or some other platform for creating graphics for marketing posts.
At this point, I’m feeling like creating a flow chart or some other visual representation of that list because, when I read it back, it seems to resemble hieroglyphs. Maybe I will do that.
I did it:
In this article, I want to focus on first steps to take when setting up a website and a newsletter. I am still in the process of doing these myself, so I may miss a few things, but if I do, I will update this information.
Before Setting Up a Website:
- Choose a website builder.
Different website builders provide templates that come with varying degrees of user-friendliness and options to meet your needs. I suggest testing them out to find one that is best for you. Unless you are super web-techy or unless you have someone who knows how to build websites (you can also search for someone who offers this service for a fee), you should spend some time looking at the website builders available from the web hosting sites you are considering. Integration is important.
What I mean by this is, it will be easier to get your domain name from the same site you choose to host your website. If you don’t do this, it’s okay, but you will have to go through a few extra hoops to get everything aligned and running. Let’s say you got your domain name from Namecheap, but you like the website templates and capabilities of WordPress for website building and hosting. You can transfer your domain name to WordPress and go from there. It is much easier to transfer a domain name than a website and hosting service.
You can also do what I’ve done, which is pay Namecheap to host your website and integrate WordPress by first, scrolling to the “Exclusive for Namecheap Customers” section and clicking on the “Softaculous Apps Installer,” and then, choosing “WordPress.” You can then access your website by clicking on the “WordPress Manger by Softaculous” in cPanel. Oh, by the way, “cPanel,” according to knsta.com, “is a popular control dashboard that helps you manage your web hosting server using a human-friendly web-based interface.” But you already knew that, right? [Insert eye roll here]. Nobody knows that.
It is true that Namecheap (and some other web-hosting sites) allow you to deploy WordPress using a software (and some instructions that should be fairly simple), so, if you’re like me, and you want to use WordPress for your website, but you like the hosting plan and capabilities of Namecheap, you can build your WordPress website and use it through Namecheap. This is not the case for all providers.
2. Secure a domain name.
You can do this at GoDaddy.com, Namecheap.com, Bluehost, HostGator, or any other web-hosting website. Consider a domain name that will represent you as the author. Your first choice may not be available, so you should consider alternates. Adding the word “author” or “writer” to your name is an option. You want to choose a domain name that will make it easy for your readers to find you when they Google your name. Purchasing a domain name means you are using it and must pay for it, usually on a revolving schedule, by renewing monthly or yearly. You will register it with the hosting site, and for the duration of the time you are paying for it, it will be yours. If you let payment lapse, you release your domain, and it goes back on the market where some other hottie can snatch it up.
3. Pay for web-hosting and set up a business email address.
Choose a plan with cPanel email. My author domain name is with Namecheap.com. They offer a few different hosting plans. I am choosing the Stellar Plus plan, which includes an email address (for sending and receiving), and it will fit my needs as a creator and author. If you are new to the language of web-hosting and computer storage and such, some of the details will be lost on you (I’m still lost) but you can do a little bit of research to make your way through the fog. Also, most sites will have Instant Chat, which provides help along the way.
When you sign up for email, choose something professional that will represent you and your author/creator business. Something like firstname.lastname@example.org, unless you are a romance or erotica author, might not be the best email address for a serious author looking to grow his audience base. I could be wrong, of course. Maybe it’s exactly the message you want to send. My point is, when all is said and done, you will be glad you spent some time thinking on this one.
4. Secure an address for your company.
When you sign up with a digital email marketing platform, such as Mailerlite, you will need to have an address, and it will be displayed on the newsletter itself. These newsletter platform sites will not allow you to use your Gmail. Most likely, you will choose a P.O. Box, unless you already have an office that is not your personal residence, since most of us don’t want to advertise where we can be found while sleeping. I decided to use a virtual mailbox provider, so I have a street address and a unit number instead of an actual P.O. Box number as my address. It ended up being the least expensive way to get a fake address.
5. Get some professional author photos taken.
You will need a professional photo for the back of your book, and you will use professional photos for visibility on your website and newsletter. These will be used for marketing your books on social media and in book stores and at book fairs to announce readings, signings, and speaking engagements. Any recent, good quality photo will do, and when you’re first starting all of this, you only need one, and it can be changed later. I have one I can use for my website. It’s a selfie. I took it during twilight in October while wearing fake eyelashes. And I was lucky I happened to get a decent shot, one I could make even more decent by applying a digital filter to change the coolness and tone. When it comes time to provide my publisher with a photo for the back cover of my book, I will want several professional pictures to choose from.
6. Now, you can build your website and create your newsletter, which are two separate things.
This is where you will have your photo and your bio as well as all the information about your books or art for sale (Be aware that some hosting sites do not offer pay links. A pay link allows people to buy things directly from your website). If this is important to you, search for a service that has pay capabilities. Some will offer a link to Amazon, and when your website visitor clicks it, they are redirected to your Amazon page where they can buy your book. Some offer hosting plan upgrades that include pay links.
On your website, you can include lists of upcoming events and a map showing the location of said events. You can incorporate a blog if you wish. You can include press quotes. It’s a good idea to look at some of the author websites you like to get an idea of how you want yours to look and function.
On your website, you will want to include a button where visitors can sign up for your newsletter. There are many articles online that include some great advice about this.
At this time, I would like to remind you that you can hire someone to build your website for you, sometimes for as little as $200.
There are some great email marketing sites out there. I’ve already mentioned Mailchimp and Mailerlite, which is the one I have chosen because I’m already familiar with its interface.
For authors and entrepreneurs, the newsletter is replacing the blog, and it allows you to create and deliver a more personalized way to engage readers. There are many great articles online that include advice about what to say in a newsletter and how often to send it to avoid annoying your readers and instead retain their loyalty.
Before committing to a marketing platform for the newsletter, many of which have free plans available, play around with the interface and see if you like it. Subscribe to newsletters of authors you admire to get a feel for the content they are creating. Then, you can build your own newsletter, replete with details that remind your readers just how quirky, cool, and interesting you are.
Earlier, I mentioned including a link to sign up for your newsletter on your author website. This is only one way to gather emails. You will want to research other ways to collect emails ethically. Then, the idea is, you sit back with your feet up and watch your readership grow. I’m totally joking. You’ve decided to be an author. You’re doomed. Your work will never be done.
Congratulations! You are on your way to reaping some of the rewards of marketing yourself and building that ever-important, oh-so-crucial author platform.
I hope this article has helped you gain some clarity before the madness ensues. I wish you many fulfilling writing days ahead and all the success and fame you can tolerate.
Stay creative out there!