When I talk to my friends who are agents and publishers, they all say they give authors advice and documents that walk them through the online marketing opportunities and timelines. The bigger publishers even have author portals with lots of important and useful information. I wonder then, why do so many authors I speak with say “why didn’t someone tell me that.”
I speak and work to promote authors online and almost all of them feel that their needs are not supported by their publishers. As someone who has worked in-house, I know how hard everyone works and how passionate they are about their books. So I wonder why there is this disconnect?
The fact that so many authors feel that they were not given the right advice and direction, makes me think that there is an opportunity for publishers to create an “author branding department.” A department where authors (all authors not just the big ones) learn to develop their brands along with writing their book. I know it’s a lot of work and I know authors are already busy, but in today’s digital culture both are equally important. Yes authors need to write the best book possible, and yes they need to have an online brand that helps sell more copies of their books. It is not an either or option. There is an editorial department, maybe there should be an “author branding department” as well.
I believe there are three steps for developing a successful online brand. With my clients I use the following formula: Design + Engagement + Visibility = Success.
- First step in the process is Design. Studies show that we judge a person in 1/10 of a second. I don’t think our visual branding is any different. A good website can make or break an author’s career. The design of the website, social media assets, graphics, newsletters and video (if possible) is all crucial today. All of these assets require some resources and skills. Some authors have them, but most need advice from professions. Maybe publishers can work with authors right after the contract is signed. I know many authors would benefit from publisher support in this area. With a strong author brand, publishers would sell more books too, so it’s a win win.
- Second step is Engagement which means creating a relationship with readers through blogs, social media, mailing lists, and comments. This area takes a little bit of training, but then the authors can do it on their own. Many of my clients, who were hesitant in the beginning, come to really enjoy this interaction with their readers. They tell me writing is a lonely endeavor so the engagement with readers is very gratifying. Authors should know it takes a long time to build a following. The sooner they can start the better off they will be. Most of my clients say they feel the efforts pay off 18 months to 2 years later.
- Third step is creating Visibility which is publicity, marketing, distribution, events, etc. We all spend a lot of time and money on visibility, but until step 1 and 2 are in place, the visibility quickly fizzles. Authors should also know that they need to have their visibility plans in place 6 months before the publication of their book. Many authors call me 2-3 weeks before the book’s publication date, wanting to start an online publicity campaign. That is not a tragedy as we can still deliver a successful campaign but not in time for the publication date which can be a missed opportunity.
The few authors that have become huge bestselling successes without a digital or social strategy are anomalies. Most of us need to work on online branding everyday, for the success of our businesses, books and careers. I think everyone would sell more books, if we helped authors, who are the biggest assets of our industry, develop and manage their online brand. In my opinion, online branding is not about selling, it’s about making buying easier.
Fauzia Burke is the founder and president of FSB Associates, an online publicity and marketing firm specializing in creating awareness for books and authors. She’s the author of Online Marketing for Busy Authors (Berrett-Koehler, Spring 2016). Fauzia has promoted the books of authors such as Alan Alda, Arianna Huffington, Deepak Chopra, Melissa Francis, S. C. Gwynne, Mika Brzezinski, Charles Spencer and many more. A nationally recognized speaker and online branding expert, Fauzia writes for the Huffington Post, MariaShriver.com and MindBodyGreen. For online publicity, book publishing and social media advice, follow Fauzia on Twitter (@FauziaBurke) and Facebook (Fauzia S. Burke).