The Friday sessions were over, and I took my overstuffed head up to my room to freshen up before going in search of dinner. On the way back down, I ran into author/presenter Steven James in the elevator. I asked him how the conference was going, and he gave me a curious look. It was then I realized I was no longer wearing my badge. I told him I was done for the night; he admitted he’d hidden for a good part of the day himself, only appearing for his panels, and was now on the way down to the mixer. As we were chatting, another attendee got into the elevator and immediately began gushing when she saw Mr. James. Wow, I thought, I hope someone is that excited to see me one day.
I mentioned to Mr. James that I myself would be doing a couple panels in October. “My first time on the other side of the table,” I said. He was happy to give some advice. “Be funny,” he told me. “The audience wants the interaction, so entertain them.” Sure enough, I heard from other conference goers later in the weekend that Mr. James had been so funny on his panels.
He left to brave the crowds, and I went out to buy a hairbrush (because I’d forgotten to pack mine) and a burrito from a local food cart. Was a really good dinner. I ate it in my room while watching lightning play over Central Park.
Okay, but you’re here for more tidbits from the sessions, right. Well I started Saturday with Fauzia Burke, who spoke on Three Ways to Build a Successful Author Platform. She’s the founder of FSB Associates, which funnily enough is one of the companies that sometimes sends me books to review.
First off, Ms. Burke noted you need to know where your audience is online. For example, when considering my YA fantasy Manifesting Destiny, I need to figure out where readers of YA fantasy are hanging out online. Which blogs do they frequent? Which social media platforms do they use? (I suspect this is one reason it’s been so difficult to get The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller off the ground; those readers aren’t really hanging out on Twitter.)
Ms. Burke also did a nice job of defining author platform, which sounds much scarier than it is. She says, “It’s a way of showing a publisher or agent that you can bring readers to your book.” So yes, those numbers of Likes and Followers are important. However, every publisher and agent has a different idea of how many are enough, and even if you don’t have many, if you write a great book they’re not necessarily going to turn it down just because you aren’t on Snapchat.
Here, then, is Fauzia Burke’s Formula for Success:
And you have to do it in that order! So let’s break it down.
This is how we represent ourselves without words. Authors are word people, so this can be tricky for them. But a Princeton study showed that people take only 1/10th of a second to form a first impression about something or someone, and there are no words involved in that! Your author photo, your book jacket, your website all need to make a great first impression.
This is about being likable online and building trust with potential readers. According to Burke, likable people do these things:
- Ask questions
- Are honest
- Don’t seek attention
- Are consistent
One thing I heard repeatedly over the weekend is that you need to be genuine online. People can always sniff out when you’re being fake. Now that doesn’t mean spew acid when you’re having a bad day, but it’s important to come across as human.
Quality is more important than quantity, too. If you post every hour but it’s all junk, no one will want to follow you. If you only post a couple times a week but it’s quality information or very entertaining, you’ll win a lot of readers.
“Seek connection, not attention,” one attendee noted. There is a difference! You’re not a one-person show, even if you feel like the limelight is on you. You’re more a moderator or a nexus, a place where things and people come together. It’s a conversation, not a lecture.
As for consistency, the key is not to disappear between book releases. You can’t just pop up to demand that people buy your book and then disappear again. You shouldn’t be demanding that people buy your book in any case. Be a regular presence and maintain a posting schedule for your blog and newsletter. You may post more frequently around a book launch, but don’t inundate either.
In short, a smaller community that is active and engaged is way more valuable than a bunch of empty Likes and Follows that don’t actually connect.
You need to begin building your platform the moment you have an idea for a book. But if you already have books out, never fear. You can still build on that.
Start a blog before the book is out. Your blog will actually be a writing sample of sorts, proving to readers that you know how to write and showcasing your style. Posts of 700–1000 words are shown to be most effective. And don’t just post on your personal site; try to get clips and essays posted elsewhere, too. That will help drive readers to your page as they discover you in various other places.
The publicity and advertising steps up in the months prior to book release. Spread the word! And continue to do so once the book is out.
Distribution and events are for when the book is out as well. Figure out what works and focus on those things. Re-assess your efforts every three months so they don’t grow stale.
At this point the Q&A began. Someone asked about writing under various pen names for different genres. Burke advises against it. She says it quickly becomes too much for any one person to keep up with. “It’s amazing that you’re able to do so many different things! Embrace it!”
And regarding keeping up with social media, Burke says to pick the one or two things you can consistently do. In other words, don’t start a blog if you know you can’t keep up with it. Same for Tumblr, Instagram, etc.
Someone asked how often you should post to your site or blog. Burke says once every couple weeks, or more importantly, when you have something to say. It may not be exact, though readers do like knowing when to check in. But it’s natural to have times when you’ll have more posts than others. So long as you do have posts often enough to make it worthwhile for the readers. Otherwise they’ll stop visiting your site.
I’m relieved to hear I haven’t made a huge mistake by putting my name on books of a variety of genres! And I need to reconsider my fallow Tumblr and patchy Instagram. What about you? Do you have wayward social media accounts? Where do you most like to connect with readers and authors?