So as mentioned previously, last Wednesday I was on a panel at our local SFF writer’s group, talking about author platforms along with co-panellists Elizabeth Fitzgerald and Chris Andrews. It wasn’t a super-formal panel, and I didn’t take notes, but I’m sure some of the discussion will be of interest to some people, so I’ve done my best to recap the salient points below…
#1. It’s important to own your own platform. This includes both one or more domain names associated with your professional presence, and some kind of content platform you control, which in this case means “pay for”. All three of the panellists used some version of WordPress, though places like Squarespace were also mentioned and, when it doubt, a basic HTML page on a VPS somewhere is always an option.
The point of this is so that authors can have some kind of consolidated “home base” online that’s not dependent on the whims of technology companies doing things like closing down, changing discovery algorithms, being sold off, or being regulated out of existence. Leveraging “free” services is fine for things like discoverability and networking, but starting an author “brand” early will be a lot easier (and less expensive) than trying to do it in retrospect…
#2. The blog is (still) dead… long live the blog! Some people just naturally like blogging, for others it’s a chore. If you’re in the latter camp, don’t force yourself into the former under the mistaken belief that it’s a requirement (although see below).
So what should an author, particularly one with few or no formal publishing credits, have on their website if not a blog? Well, your name, a short blurb about you, and links to any (author-ish) social media profiles is a good start. The publishing credits, both fiction and non-fiction, and buy links can be added later as you accrue them.
This sort of “portfolio” website doesn’t need to be fancy. Actually, given “Brutalist” websdesign is currently fashionable, you can get away with it being really, really not fancy (one of my current favourite Brutalist landing page/portfolios is Zeon Federated, for example).
#3. That being said, at some point, you’ll probably have to blog anyway. Guest blogging is still A Marketing Thing in the publishing industry, and traditionally published authors will be almost certainly be expected to write at least a few articles by their publishers. So getting into practice early can’t hurt.
If you’re not a regular blogger, then it’s fine to treat posts on your site more like articles or featured essays (i.e. with less focus on the post date, and so on). If you don’t have any kind of platform, don’t be afraid to pitch idea for guest blogs to your friends or media outlets who do.
#4. Be professional. No matter the platform—social media or your own site or someone else’s—remember that the SFF community, even globally, just isn’t all that big. In other words, if you’re a raging douchelord, people will remember it. And while there certainly are some people out there who’ve built their careers on being exactly that, it’s not necessarily a recommended strategy. It’s also something that’s almost impossible to pivot out of at a later date.
Also, morality clauses are totally a thing in publishing contracts now, so… there’s that.
#5. … but be authentic. “Professionalism” does not, however, mean being a bland husk of nothingness. People tend to respond well to personality and to authenticity, so don’t be afraid to earnestly talk about the things you love, even if they’re not 100% writing and publishing, 100% of the time.
#6. At least it was here (a.k.a. the community). The days of the Lone Author—if they ever really existed—are long over. The idea of “author platform” in general is very tied into both marketing and discoverability, and pretty much the only 100% reliable method of both is via word-of-mouth recommendations from both readers and other authors. This is also something that’s very difficult to (authentically) buy; instead, it’s something an author needs to grow organically over time, by participating positively in relevant communities.
For this one, we all had slightly different experiences: Elizabeth talked about getting involved in the book blogging community as, originally, a way to promote her editing business. I talked about getting to know people at cons like Conflux and Continuum. Chris talked about running community groups on platforms like Google+. And, of course, getting involved with writers’ groups like the CSFG itself.
#7. Don’t respond to your reviews. Seriously. Just… don’t. Even if they’re positive. And especially not on GoodReads…
So that was the summary. Quite a lot of the topics covered this year were similar to those we went over last time, although there was a lot less confidence over the future of social media, particularly Facebook, in 2018 than there was two years ago. It was also brought up a few times that, in general, the SFF community tends to be not as savvy around platform and marketing as some other genres, specifically romance and YA (so if you need tips, look to those communities first).
All-in-all, it was an eventful night, and I hope our fellow group-members found it informative!