Today’s guest author is here to talk about something I want to know more about. You see, I’m never happy with my website and continually give it a makeover. And I often feel overexposed with the image of myself I use on social media.
I see what other authors do and wonder if I’m doing too much or too little. And if I’m doing the right things at the right time.
Like us, fellow writer, Mel Gough, has pondered many of these things. She’s the author of several books and has a Masters in Social Anthropology, due to (like many of us) her interest in human interaction. She was born in Germany but has found herself living in London for the last ten years.
She’s here to talk us through Author Branding, what it means and why we do it. And while I’ve been reading through her blog before publication, I’ve learnt I should to try to be more personal online. In fact, I’ve been playing with the idea to also blog about my upcoming wedding and the irrational fears that come when you realise that most of your family are coming to see you tie the knot.
So exactly how much of yourself should you share? Mel is here to tell us.
Who are you?
Branding for authors.
Authors, like performers and entertainers, wear a mask in public. We have pen names (sometimes several), avatars, official bios, and mostly hide behind our screens – unless a new book is about to be released and suddenly we have to leave our cave. This is when things get scary. How do I interact with my readers? Where do I go? And what do I tell them?
These days, contacting authors is easy. Many interact with fans on social media, sometimes respond to private messages on social media or take part in fan Q&As. The not so famous (but sometimes incredibly successful) indie authors usually respond directly to every email they receive. Having this access is great, but for a fledgling author it can also seem pretty scary.
Nearly everyone we come into contact with these days has at least a Facebook profile. Many people have Twitter, and now, increasingly, Instagram. And more and more people are using YouTube – if not to post content then to find info and entertainment on topics they enjoy.
When you make the transition to building your author brand, it can seem like a lot of work to be present on all of those platforms. A piece of advice: You don’t have to be everywhere. Pick the social media where most of your readers hang out, and start with that. Then later, add one or two more. In this article, I really only talk about the three I use myself – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Many writers have pen names. There are many reasons for it – commercial and marketing considerations (about which I could write a whole post; maybe another time) and privacy concerns being the main ones. This latter concern is what I want to explore today.
What’s in a brand?
I like to think that your brand is the story you tell about yourself. You’re not telling lies (though a well-placed, funny exaggeration somewhere in your bio can be fun; for example, I played with the thought to include the story my boyfriend likes to tell of us meeting for the first time at an agricultural show – which is so not true), but rather about what part of yourself you emphasise in your profiles, on your author pages and on the dust jacket of your books.
Some people share very personal aspects of themselves with their readers. In fiction you find that a lot in own-voice author bios. These authors talk about their gender or sexual identity, neurodiversity and maybe their personal history in more depth than other fiction authors. But remember, you’re still in charge. You can fictionalise the aspects of your experience that are important to your story and keep the rest private. There’s no need to overshare outside your comfort zone. On the other hand, non-fiction authors are under more pressure to explain why they’re writing about a certain topic. For example, if you write about nutrition it helps to disclose information about any qualifications that make you more of an authority than the next guy. Or self-help gurus often share very personal experiences that got them to a particular topic. I don’t know much about non-fiction platform building, but if you put that phrase into Google you’ll find a wealth of information.
Ultimately, you’re in charge. You don’t have to talk at length about your family or anything you struggle with. But you’ll find that readers do have an interest in you as a person, and that you’ll be much more memorable if you include little snippets about your day-to-day on your social media. Cats and other pets are always a good idea! So are children, and it doesn’t have to be family pictures. Some of my favourite authors regularly talk about their offspring on Facebook, and it’s hilarious (James Breakwell even built his career on it: https://twitter.com/XplodingUnicorn).
I personally get the most likes when I update my Facebook profile pictures, though I honestly don’t understand why. Like, what does my ugly mug have to do with M/M romance? But there you go. People like to connect with other people.
OMG, what do I say?
You can also talk about areas that interest you, but do a bit of a soul searching exercise first. You can talk about politics, but unless you know that your audience all love your take on current topics, keep your opinions within reason. Talk about things that interest you and your readers. Some authors swear by setting up Google Alerts for topics they know their readers will engage with. I find most of the links I share on social media or on websites I frequent (news stories but also book news via the Bookseller, for example). And bonus points if the topics relate to your books.
Or you can do something you’re good at, like photography (then you should definitely have an Instagram), or writing poems, or jokes. I seem to have a bit of a knack for sarcastic, dark humour and quick-witted comments. I don’t use them much in my writing, but they always get me a fair few likes and shares online.
Remember, building a brand (or, if you like, being a person) online doesn’t directly translate into selling books, but it’s a very important step of the process. It will also help you become part of the community and interact with other authors. When you start making friends with others who do similar things to you, they will start to respond to you and might even retweet your book release. You’ll definitely gain visibility that way.
Where to be, that’s the question
As mentioned above, there are so many social media platforms these days, and different factors will determine which ones work best for you. It’s probably not wrong to recommend you have at the very least
- A Facebook profile. Most readers are on Facebook, organised by genre and very active in groups and on pages. Go forth and make friends! You should also set up a page, for advertising purposes and to build your fan base, but thanks to Facebook changing its algorithms that’s not as useful as it once was. It’s not a bad idea to also set up a group. When you become better known you can use that as a playground for your fans and it can help you gather people who like you a lot and might be willing to be beta or ARC readers, or simply like to hang out with you when the rest of the internet seems scary and mean.
- Twitter is great to hang out with fellow authors. Don’t expect too much from Twitter, it’s too impersonal and fast-moving. But once you’re very famous you can get good traction with a well-worded tweet. Until then, retweet and reply to other authors. Once you’re on their radar they’re often happy to boost your signal. Don’t tweet at everybody and their dog to share your stuff, these things take time. Genuinely engage and make friends, then in a year or two it’ll be totally okay to ask for a retweet. If that sounds too slow and cumbersome, there’s always advertising, which is faster, can be expensive but also has its merits. I’ll write about that once I get to grips with it.
- Instagram is becoming more popular with authors too. I think it’s partly due to the app being linked to your Facebook presence which allows people to find you easily. But it’s a good place for a quick post when you have used up all your words. Take a picture of your blistered fingertips (and the half-empty pack of Ibuprofen), slap a crying emoji on it and you’ve got a post that tells your fans that you’re done for the day!
As always, wherever you are, try not to get into too many arguments or the whole exercise becomes counterproductive. And if you’re curious how it works now, you can follow me on my social media accounts:
Facebook profile: https://www.facebook.com/mel.gough.author
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/melgoughwriter/
Something else that can help you become better known and give people an idea of who you are and what kind of books you write is a so-called reader magnet. This is a free piece of content you usually make available when people sign up to your newsletter. It’s often a short story or novella, or a full-length book for authors who have a large backlist; or it can be something that ties in with a book or series, like a character profile. Again, there are whole blog posts just on this, but if you want to see how it can help you become better known, you can sign up to my newsletter and download the free novella I wrote as my reader magnet: https://melgough.com/newsletter/
Thank you, Mel Gough, for sharing your insights into Author Branding. Mel would also like you to know that she has a new mm romance out that features some great twists. It’s titled He is Mine and tells of a New York detective trying to find love and a crazed Hollywood star out to seek revenge.