As an increasing percentage of book sales move online—whether for print, e-book, or audio editions—marketing can involve and rely upon authors executing today’s best practices for websites and digital media. This is true for traditional authors as much as it is for independent authors. As authors’ careers grow across multiple books, the online accounts and sites tied to their names inevitably become more influential, visible, and meaningful.
Online presence ought to be under the control and ownership of authors rather than publishers. However, this raises immediate concerns for author and publisher alike: authors may not be in a position to know best practices for websites and digital media, and publishers may not have the time or resource to invest in every author’s online presence. (And if publishers do make this author investment, they’re investing in something they likely can’t own.) So there’s something of a catch-22 here, and the importance of figuring this out has been discussed by longtime industry consultants as a key challenge facing publishers.
I won’t be solving that conundrum in this column, but I’d like to put forward a few principles for authors to follow regardless of how and where they publish to ensure a solid foundation for growth and sales.
First, authors need to identify the names they’re publishing under—at least for a particular genre or target audience—and stick with them. Unfortunately, I’ve met writers who publish under several variations of their name, e.g., sometimes using middle initials or not, or sometimes using their maiden names or not. It’s much easier to build brand recognition if you keep all your publishing activity under the same name and the same expression of that name; usually the only exception is if you’re writing for very different audiences. Emerging or unpublished writers should give preference to author names that are most easily distinguished in the marketplace. Try to build on territory where you’re not directly competing against someone else, and where you’re unlikely to be confused for someone else.
Once you know what author name you’ll be using, be relentlessly consistent in the expression of that name throughout your websites and social media accounts. The domain name of your author website will ideally be the name you publish under, but this isn’t always possible to acquire. Sometimes it’s necessary to add the word “author” or “books” to the end of the domain name (e.g., janefriedmanauthor.com), but even if the domain name isn’t perfect, it’s okay. You can set the title of your website as the name you publish under (so that search results clearly state your official author name), and your website homepage or header image can reinforce your branding by clearly stating your official author name as well.
For social media accounts, you want the same consistency and discipline. Unfortunately, this is where things can start to fall apart because we may have created these accounts at different times, for different reasons, and before a publishing career is underway. To the best of your ability, depending on what the social media network allows, change your social media handle or URL to the name you publish under, or, at the very least, change your display name to the name you publish under. Also take special care to set your official author name for your Amazon Author Page (you can access it through Amazon Author Central) and at Goodreads, where you can create an official author profile.
If you’ve ever searched for your name through Google, you’ve probably noticed that accounts on social media can often appear on the first page of search results—sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. (The same is true of your books or author profile at Amazon and Goodreads.) By establishing accounts at these networks with your official author name (and linking back to your author website from these accounts), you can reinforce your author brand and message when people search online for you or your work.
Finally, consistency is also important when you publish at sites or blogs other than your own. This includes any interviews or media coverage. Make sure that your author name is expressed in a way that matches your name everywhere else, and, whenever possible, have a bio link back to your author website. Again, the point is to reinforce the digital breadcrumb trail that points to the website of Suzy Q. Author and helps suzyqauthor.com be among the top places that people go to find out more about Suzy—not to mention that it allows you to sign readers up for your email newsletter and further engage with a growing readership.