By Bree Nicgarran: a 7-minute read.
Once you’ve got your projects in order and your recordkeeping ready to go, it’s time to start building a platform. There are dozens of ways of going about it, and it can be very overwhelming at first. For the sake of expediency and ease, I’m going to stick to the very basics of platform and web presence establishment for this article. Even if you know absolutely nothing about building websites, advertising, or branding, the steps I’m about to describe should be achievable. All you need are basic internet skills and at least a moderate knowledge of social media, plus the recordkeeping strategies we covered in Tips from an Indie Author pt 1.
Begin by deciding how you want to present yourself. Consider your preferred genre and your readers. Is there an established community or academic audience for your work? Is there a particular aesthetic associated with the genre? Do you want to present a sleek, polished appearance, or perhaps something more fanciful? For non-fiction and academic work, a more professional presence lends you credibility. This is also true for fiction and genre work, but you have a little more leeway as far as aesthetics go. (For example, a children’s author might be able to get away with having cartoon characters all over their social media, but the same would probably look a little out of place as the banner for a true crime author’s Twitter feed.)
Your social media presence will be the first impression for many readers, potential vendors, and even publishers, so you want it to look as organized and subject-matter-appropriate as possible. When in doubt, stick to the professional look. You can always zhush it up later.
This is also a good time to decide whether you will be using your given name or a pseudonym. If you choose the former, be prepared for a certain loss of privacy, especially online. If you choose the latter, make sure it’s something you can live with five years from now and doesn’t violate an established copyright. Whichever way you go, put at least a week’s thought into it. The name you choose will be the entire face of your brand and you do not want to have to go back and change everything once you’re established.
A promotional picture can also help to build your brand. Some publishers, both online and in print, will ask for a promo picture to accompany your works. A clear, stylish, black-and-white photo showing your face, or sometimes your head and shoulders, is the traditional format. In the past, it was also traditional to shell out your hard-earned bucks to professional photographers for these headshots. Nowadays, if you have a good camera on your phone and a steady hand (or a helpful friend), you can probably create them yourself. Think more “oil painting” than “Instagram selfie” when you strike your pose. I suggest checking out the headshots of your peers for ideas and examples.
Once you’ve decided on your presentation style, it’s time to start building your platform and your brand. This is where you’ll need to flex those internet and social media muscles. Visit as many social media sites as possible and create accounts for your name, or some easily-recognizable facsimile thereof. You might also try the name of your book series or a nickname related to your genre. In any case, it should be something that’s easily recognizable and draws an immediate association to your brand and your work. Try to use a consistent name across all platforms if possible.
To help you get started, here’s a sample list of social media sites that I recommend for a basic web presence.
- Google (Gmail and Drive are lifesavers)
- Paypal / Ko-Fi
Reserve your public-facing name on every social media site available to you, even if you’re not planning to use it right away. Better to reserve the name right off the bat and wait to post content than to get established and find out it’s been taken. Or worse, that someone has hijacked it and is posting content which might be harmful to your brand. And keep track of your passwords!
If possible, reserve a domain name. Some sites, like Squarespace, will give you a simple site design for a monthly fee. Others, like WordPress, allow you to upgrade an existing blog to a domain name with additional features. It all depends on your budget and your online needs. When you post content, post it across multiple platforms at once whenever possible. Use appropriate tags to increase your exposure, but don’t tag-spam.
And speaking of appropriate behavior, this is a good time to talk about conduct. This is the era of receipts. Something that you posted years ago can come back to bite you at the least opportune moment, so it really does behoove us all to think before we post, especially on any platform connected to a personal brand. I’m not necessarily talking about the usually-taboo topics of sexuality, politics, and religion; I’m talking about conducting yourself like a decent, respectful human being online. This is a lesson that ought to be common sense, but sometimes it isn’t.
Don’t overshare on your professional accounts. Some personal information is fine; it humanizes you to your audience and readers are much more likely to support content creators that they can relate to. But those pictures of your last wild night out with the crew? That grisly account of the horrible stomach bug you had over the weekend? Keep those to yourself, or relegate them to a separate personal account. And it should go without saying that bigoted or sexist comments are not appreciated by anyone.
It’s highly likely that you’ll have to do most, if not all, of your own advertising, especially at first. Cold-calling is a thing of the past, but you may find yourself doing something similar via email. It’s prudent to come up with a short form letter of introduction that you can send to potential business contacts. The letter should introduce you and your writing, briefly summarize your work, invite the recipient to contact you for further information, and thank them for their time. Be sure to include your contact information in the email. Keep in mind that some spam filters may block your message if hyperlinks are included in the text. You may also run into spam blockers if you send more than a certain number of similar emails daily or weekly.
Keep a running list of the people and businesses you’ve contacted. You’ll need to compile a list of contacts as well. Make a note of anyone who buys your work or shows interest so you can easily contact them again. Track who you spoke with and when, as well as any important points or action items associated with the conversation. Make sure you also record contact information such as business names, phone numbers, emails, websites, and shipping or billing addresses. I use a simple Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for this, a similar model to the one I use for my accounting and order tracking. There are templates available online if you need help getting started.
Sponsors can be acquired in time, depending on the content you produce and your chosen default platform, but this income and exposure should not be relied upon. If you have friends in the artistic community who are already established, you can leverage their support to help you get started, at least to a point. Create a basic info post that you can put up on your social media and reblog periodically to keep the information visible. If you’re able to purchase audio adspace, come up with a thirty-second bit of ad copy that can be included in podcasts or on internet radio.
I also highly recommend creating a Patreon page. Where Paypal can function as an invoicing platform and Ko-Fi makes a good tip jar, Patreon allows you to build a following of dedicated sponsors. You can offer perks like project previews, merchandise, and other exclusives in return for various levels of giving. It takes a while to build that following and it requires a lot of interaction, but every little bit helps. Again, even if you don’t do anything with your Patreon right away, it’s a great resource to keep in your back pocket for later.
You should also look into creating a physical business card. When you’re out and about, nothing says “I am prepared and know what I’m doing” more than being able to hand someone your contact information on a card rather than scrambling for a receipt or a sticky note and praying that somebody has a pen handy.
Professional printing services like Vistaprint periodically offer basic sets of 250 or 500 cards for discounted rates if you use a simple design. Take advantage of these sales. Make sure the card includes your name, website, email, and a basic one-line description of your work. You can employ the use of color and logos, or stick to a classical black-and-white scheme. Just make sure it’s legible. You might also want to invest in a clip or a small case in which to carry your cards, something that fits easily into a pocket or purse. A rubber-banded bundle is fine for home storage, but it looks much nicer if you can pull a card from a clip or a case. Again, the appearance of preparedness can help you go that extra mile.
Now that you’re ready to get yourself out there, let’s take a breath and talk next month about Event Planning and Public Appearances.