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How Should Authors Promote Themselves Online?

As the director of an organisation for writers I was curious about the announcement of Random House’s new Web toolkit to assist RH authors to set up and maintain their own Web pages.

booktrade.info reports:

… the toolkit allows authors to customise their pages with a choice of backgrounds, fonts and colours. Authors can then select different types of content to add to their pages, such as profile or biography information, links to favourite sites, audio and video clips, book reviews, bibliographies, photo galleries, blogs and newsletters.

The web pages will be hosted on a community-based website called AuthorsPlace and once authors have created their web pages they can choose whether to interact with other authors on the site, or whether to use their pages as a standalone website.

There’s a couple of things worth discussing here. Firstly, a system that allows users to set up their own page and add content such as audio, video, images, etc. sounds awfully like a blog platform. If the goal is to put this power in the hands of your authors, why bother to build your own, possibly expensive, proprietary Web architecture instead of educating your authors to use WordPress, Movable Type or Blogger for themselves?

The obvious answer would be to control the platform. No matter how much customisation users can achieve with colours, fonts, images, etc., the pages will ultimately be constrained by the limitations of the platform. This could have both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, if Random House wants to drive attention to their authors’ Web sites they only have to concentrate on doing it for the one online community instead of dividing their efforts among titles or writers. If Random House gets good at SEO this could be a powerful benefit to RH authors. On the minus side, it would presumably be very costly to keep a platform like that up to date with relevant features. Why bother to invest in the software development cycle when other companies are doing it as their core business and a lot faster? Some, like The Lazarus Corporation, are even offering artist-tailored solutions free and open source.

Secondly, I’m interested in the idea of the AuthorsPlace, because alongside Authonomy, this is another example of a community where writers talk to other writers. I question the value of this to Random House and to its authors, at least in terms of book sales. Obviously there are a lot of benefits to writers who can be supported by professional communities of interest. But I think publishers’ efforts are best spent on assisting authors to connect with readers. That’s a much harder task. It means you have to understand and be good at search. You have to to stick with the conversation long after the book is launched. You have to be open about, and even encourage, sharing and spreadability of digital content, even when that content is the book. (See what Paulo Coelho thinks about that.)

Finally, all this raises the much broader question of how authors should be promoted online for best outcomes. I’m a firm believer that nobody can do this better than the author themselves, but what is the role of the publisher in online promotion of their authors and titles? How long can they realistically commit resources and energy to any one particular title or writer? Who controls the message? Given that, as Mac suggested in this post earlier this week, the shift is towards two-way conversation, it would seem that the best results will be achieved by authors who are genuinely prepared to put in the time to engage in that conversation.

What do you think authors should do to promote themselves online? How much should publishers get involved?

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  • http://www.bauuinstitute.com/Marketing/Marketing.html Online Promo Noob

    I think publishers should do whatever they can. I agree, don’t spend money on a proprietary platform – rather, educate the author about all of the techniques that are available for online promotion: blogs, social networks, press releases, forums, etc.

    I think that is the number one thing publishers don’t do, educate their authors on how to market and promote their books.

  • http://immateriel.fr Xavier Cazin

    I’d say publishers should resist hosting their authors and authors should resist being hosted. Reason is:

    1. authors are more useful outside publishers websites, on their own personal pages: since their activity is probably broader than their work for one publisher, they are able to attract new potential readers;
    2. authors often work with more than one publisher, and there is no reason to multiply points of presence when you can just multiply links instead.

    So yes, publishers should provide authors with tools that allow them to be visible on the web, as well as with any kind of affiliation links, but I think this visibility would shrinks if hosted on one publisher’s site.

    Of course, this doesn’t technically prevent publishers to display their proud team of authors along with their latest posts in one single place.

  • http://www.oracleatdallas.com John Mutchler

    In most cases, publishers have control of the process because they have control of the money. Attempts at promotion via the Web are successful or not, depending on the Web skills of the would-be promoter. Sometimes, therefore, a few dollars goes a long way…and sometimes it falls quickly into the crapper.

    Winning the promotion game by using the Web is still a crap shot, or a lottery ticket, at best. How many of you inveterate bloggers can trace book sales to your blogging efforts, or to a “free” Web site?

  • http://www.FullTimeAuthor.com Bob Baker

    I’m a full-time self-published author (and proud of it) who has been making good use of the Internet for more than 13 years. So I’m a little biased in my response :-)

    The proactive self-promoting author has the best chance of success. If you go the traditional publishing route, by all means, use the resources that your house has to offer. But don’t count on them to create your career for you.

    To make the best use of the Internet, know that you need more than a good web site. You need a Web Presence. So think seriously about setting up profiles on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Squidoo, Blogger and/or WordPress, and more.

    And make sure you purposefully funnel people from all these sites back to your home base on the Web: your personal author site.

    The Internet has been very good to me. Let it be your publishing friend too.

    Bob
    http://www.FullTimeAuthor.com

  • http://www.26thstory.com Carolyn Pittis

    Publishers have a powerful role to play to support and integrate authors efforts into something that authors cannot always do on their own.

    I’ve posted a response today to Kate’s post at http://www.26thstory.com, the HarperStudio blog.

    Carolyn Pittis
    carolyn.pittis@harpercollins.com