This week I’m introducing a guest feature from my publisher / wife. Since she handles the majority of the business, it’s an opportunity for you to get an in-depth perspective on some of operational and entrepreneurial aspects of being a self-published author.
Kristin’s note: This blog post originally appeared as guest post Divide and Conquer, Building an Author Platform by Proxy on The Creative Penn blog on January 5, 2013. It has been lightly updated for 2015, and I’ve added an update on how our process has evolved, but is still a relevant approach for you authors out there who struggle to “do it all”!
Options for Self-published author platform building
Spend any reasonable amount of time learning about the current publishing atmosphere, and you’re going to quickly learn the importance of having an author platform. Most of the time, you hear 3 different options:
- Don’t do it, and miss out on that all-important connection with your readers
- Do it yourself, and devote a substantial amount of time that you cannot spend writing
- Hire someone to do it, and not only invest money, but sacrifice some amount of authenticity
However, if you have a close friend or loved one who works on the web, and is already familiar with websites, blogging, and social media, you might actually have another option:
- Divide and conquer, by bringing a trusted partner into the process
As the wife of a self-published author, I have a vested interest in the success of my husband’s book, especially now that he has made the shift from daytime mechanical engineer to full-time writer. Since he finished the first draft of his first novel 3 years ago, I’ve immersed myself in all the material I can about publishing, self-publishing, and building an author platform, so that I can support him however possible.
I know it’s important for authors to create genuine connections with fans, and show the world who they are, but I also know that there are certain things that I can do for him, given my 15+ years of experience in web design and development.
There are some things I’ll never be able to do for him, or we’ll risk potential fans connecting with me, and not really getting to know the person behind the stories.
So where’s the balance? How can the promotional and platform efforts be divided up so that everyone’s talents are maximized, but your true self as an author and a person still shows through?
Step 1: The Conversation
It all begins with a conversation. Similar to the planning you need to go through to decide on your personal brand, you’re friend or loved one needs to know what your goals are as an author, and what personality you want conveyed to the world. Chances are this person knows you well enough to know your personality, so mostly this conversation is about what parts of your personality to focus on.
My husband’s personality includes a fascination with how things are made and a meticulous attention to measurements that come along with his years as a mechanical engineer. However, it also includes a quirky sense of humor with a particular affinity for bad puns. It also includes a fanciful yet geeky streak from his days of Dungeons & Dragons as a teen. Since his books are epic fantasy novel with quirky humor throughout, we know that these last two are things we want to focus on, yet we can downplay the first.
Step 2: Dividing the Effort
So what do you, the author, still need to do, once you’ve collaborated on your goals, and decided on the personality of your author platform?
The line really gets drawn at where authenticity needs to be 100% vs. where someone else’s knowledge of your personality can be “good enough”. So the better your partner knows you, the more that person can take on for you.
Your partner should be able to have a pretty good idea of things like:
- who to follow on Twitter
- what to retweet (and how to comment on it)
- what to “Like” on Facebook
- what book-related announcements need to go on the website
- what type of website needs to be created for the book (and eventually multiple books/series)
- which sorts of forums to sign up for
- what content is worth commenting on and sharing
- what LinkedIn groups to join
- which blog topics to write
However, the more active components of the platform will always need your direct involvement.
You should always have at least some involvement in things like:
- writing blog posts
- creating new quips / quotes for Twitter
- crafting the actual comments or forum responses
- engaging in live chats with readers
- responding directly to reader questions
I don’t respond to any reader on my husband’s behalf without my husband actually crafting the response himself. I may do the actual posting, but if the reader is receiving an email from “J.S. Morin”, the words are his.
I also have him send me any quirky links that he finds on the internet, along with his (often snarky) commentary on them, which I use to craft tweets by cutting down words, adding hash tags, and giving attribution to the creator’s Twitter handle.
He plays an online version of Bloodbowl, a game that resembles football, where the characters are fantasy characters like Elves, Goblins, and Werewolves, and had the idea for him to set up a team named after his book with his characters as players. So while he gets to maintain a hobby, he’s also promoting his book and connecting with target readers. I simply provided him with a special link to his website, rather than a normal one, so that we can track how many referrals to the book’s site came from the game.
Step 3: Experiment, re-evaluate, modify, hand off, repeat
Now that we’ve been doing this for a couple of years, we seem to have a pretty good rhythm going.
In addition to handling the business side of things (like marketing, advertising, handling vendor relationships, buying domains and ISBNs, maintaining the website), and monotonous tasks like formatting and publishing, I’ve settled into the role of “experimenter”.
When I think a new strategy or way of reaching readers has potential, I’ll do the research, handle any setup, and tell my husband exactly what type content/interaction I need from him so he can focus on the small piece that actually needs to be from him. If we start to see results, I’ll turn ownership over to him, and it gets incorporated into his daily workflow. For example, he now handles 100% of his Twitter and Facebook. If we’re not seeing results, I can either adapt my approach, or abandon it entirely.
This is still an experiment, but one that has been working out well for us. It seems to let us take advantage of our strengths, keep him making genuine connections with readers, and maximize the time he has available for the actual writing.
A challenge to you
I know that not everyone has a web-savvy family members ready to devote a large percentage of their free time to your author platform, but there are small ways everyone can get help.
So in the spirit of January goal-setting (or New Year’s Resolutions, if you prefer), I challenge you to come up with just 1 way you can enlist the help of a friend or family member with a skill that doesn’t come easily to you. You might be surprised how flattered they are be asked!
Share your goal/resolution in the comments.