by Anne R. Allen
These days, an author’s online presence is of vital importance to a career, whether we’re published or planning to publish. Whether we’re indie, hybrid, or trad-pubbed, it’s not only essential to be easy to find online, but we need to keep a professional presence and guard our author brand and reputation.
I’m not just talking about how we present ourselves on our websites. Your online presence means your book page bio, blog, and all your social media bios and interactions–anything that comes up in a Google search.
In the past decade, an awful lot of readers have been burned by a badly-edited amateur novel. (And the bad ones aren’t all self-published. Some traditional publishers have put out some pretty half-baked stuff.)
This means the most important thing a new writer needs to convey to potential readers is professionalism. If you come across as an amateur, you’re going to have a tough time getting any traction in sales.
Sometimes a quick glance at an author’s blog or social media can show a bunch of red flags that say “Not Ready for Prime Time.”
1) Failure to Proofread
I’m not talking about the occasional stubborn typo in your book that’s still there in spite of all the expensive editing and proofing it went through. Even traditionally published books in their 5th printing can have a few.
I’m talking about misspellings and bad grammar on your website, social media bios, or author page. If you say your favorite author is “Jane Austin” with an “i” or “Steven King” with a “v,” people are going to wonder if you’ve actually read them.
The most common red flag I see is apostrophe abuse. If you don’t know how to use apostrophes correctly, learn. Or get a grammar-savvy proofreader for all your online postings. A bunch of misplaced apostrophes look sloppy and/or ignorant. Also, it’s really helpful to learn when to use “lie” vs. “lay” and avoid other common grammar blunders. Pay attention to spellcheck and grammar check programs. They’re not always right, but they will give you a clue. Misused words can turn off a savvy reader.
Language is your medium. You need to show it’s a tool you know how to use.
2) Too Much Information
It’s way too common for newbie authors to take the term “bio” literally and write an entire autobiography on an Amazon author page or personal website. Or they write stuff that sounds like their own obituaries.
If the first three paragraphs of your bio don’t even get you out of high school, your bio is way too long. Nobody cares about the name of your elementary school or what part you played in the 4th grade Christmas play. Unless of course your book is set in that elementary school and zombies arrive while the 4th graders are putting on the Christmas play.
Here’s the thing: if you’re not a Kardashian or a member of the British royal family, nobody much cares about the details of your life. Make sure all the information you give is relevant to your books and interesting to your readers.
Other “about me” pages read like Oscar acceptance speeches. The place to thank your high school English teacher or long-suffering family is not in your bio. For more on how to write a bio, check out my post on How to Write an Author Bio.
And don’t say this is your first novel and plead for approval. Do you want to be a new doctor’s first patient, or a mechanic’s first car repair?
If you want people to read your book, pretend you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. 🙂
3) Grandiosity or Elitism
On the other hand, don’t act like a superstar when you’ve written one book which so far has only been read by your family, the members of your mom’s garden club and your stalker ex-girlfriend.
Readers don’t like braggy authors. If they’re checking out your bio or website, they want to find out how they can relate to you, not how superior you think you are.
It can be pretty comical to see a newbie claim to write better than a bestselling professional author, and even sillier to see them acting superior to other authors they think are their intellectual or social inferiors because of genre or audience. Nobody likes a snob.
4) Not Monitoring your Online Reputation
Your online presence is a delicate thing and sometimes your reputation can be damaged by something beyond your control. In some cases you may even have to contact a reputation management expert. In March, we’re going to have a guest post from reputation management expert Steven W. Giovinco of Recover Reputation, so you can find out more about how to do that.
We need to be aware of dodgy sites like “My Life” that display unauthorized bios of private citizens based on sloppy research and howling mistakes. They make people “join” the site and pay up to get anything corrected. One site gave me two adult children and another says my lovely California beach house is worth $21. Then there’s the one that says 14 people live here in my 2-bedroom $21 house. Not stuff to hire a lawyer over, but it shows how inaccurate they can be.
Unfortunately some of their mistakes can be seriously damaging. I know authors who have been assigned the criminal records of strangers. Or the photo shown with their profile is of some random person who’s 30 years older or a different gender.
And there’s my long-time friend who got hacked by Nigerian scammers who took over his Facebook profile. They started sending me suggestive lover-boy Direct Messages. Since my friend is a classy, happily married guy, I knew something was up. I soon figured out his profile was being used by some gang to catfish lonely women.
Since my friend had just published his first book with a small spiritual press, I contacted him and suggested he report it Facebook ASAP. The last thing a new author (or publisher) wants is something that’s going to get them in trouble with the #MeToo crowd.
So Google yourself often and click through a few pages of results. It’s worth the time.
5) Kindergarten Tit-for-Tat Behavior
This drives other authors crazy. Catherine Ryan Hyde mentions it to me often. If somebody follows her blog or social media, she’s not necessarily going to follow them back. She’s an Amazon #1, multimillion-selling author who puts out three full-length novels a year. Yes, she’s friendly and approachable, but don’t invite her to your Facebook launch “party” or demand she “like” your author page.
In fact, don’t demand that anybody like your author page. If they do and they don’t read your YA were-rabbit erotica genre, it’s going to screw up the algorithms and they’ll suddenly get a ton of YA were-rabbit erotica novels in their feed.
And in the name of all that’s holy, DON’T put other authors on the mailing list for your braggy-beggy newsletter. Not Catherine Ryan Hyde, or Anne Rice, or Stephen King, or J.K Rowling, or even Ruth or me. Veteran authors don’t have time to read about the fabulous vacations, podcast interviews, or desperate need for contest votes of all of their readers.
Besides, it’s against the law to put people on your mailing list without their consent. The fines are fierce if you get caught. Here’s Barb Drozdowich’s helpful warning on the subject.
And if a veteran author has done something kind for you—answered a question or given advice—they don’t owe you anything further. Don’t demand they review your book, promote it, or read those *&%# newsletters.
I recently got a flurry of newsletters from one author—with no unsubscribe function. I had to personally ask her to unsubscribe me, so I included a link to Barb’s post. The author wrote back in fury. She had followed this blog, and that gave her the right to make me a follower of her newsletter. That was only fair!
No. It’s not. This isn’t Kindergarten. And that $11,000 fine is not play money.
6) Indulging in Self-Pity Online
Yes, your book took years to complete and you put your heart and soul into it…and nobody’s reading it. Yet. Sigh. We’ve all been there.
But don’t whine about it. Complaining in public is not professional, in spite of how some celebrities misuse social media. If you need to vent, do it in private. (And that’s especially true about bad reviews.)
We all have some pretty bad moments when it seems as if the whole industry is out to get us. And we all get horrible, unfair reviews. But our readers don’t want to hear about it. They mostly just care when the next book is coming out.
Social media is social, yes, but it’s also “in public.” You can talk about your health crisis or the loss of a beloved pet, but don’t put stuff on social media you wouldn’t want in the local newspaper. Especially whiney stuff.
Instead, write another book. And another. That’s what the rest of us did. And it’s not that we didn’t wallow in self-pity once in a while. But that was before social media. So pretend there’s no social media if you feel an “Oh-Poor-Me” mood coming on.
7) Saying that You Self-Published because of Rejection
This is a common indie author mistake. I don’t know how many author bios I’ve read that state right there in black and white: “I was tired of getting rejections, so I decided to self-publish.”
Self-publishing is just as professional as traditional publishing, but when you tell people it was your second choice, you make it sound second class.
Maybe it’s true you tried to get an agent and got a ton of rejections. And maybe you were only rejected because were-rabbit erotica isn’t selling this year, and otherwise your book is tight as a drum and honed to perfection. (And entirely devoid of clichés. 🙂 )
But don’t tell us about the mass rejections! People want to buy books other people like (hence the lure of the bestseller) not ones everybody rejected.
We live in an era when anybody’s career can be wrecked by one angry Tweet. “Star Wars” writer Chuck Wendig got dropped by Marvel because of a few Tweets, so this isn’t something that only happens to newbies.
If you have a hair-trigger temper, do some meditating or take a chill pill before you go online. As I said above, online is “in public.”
For debut writers, this is especially true when reading your negative reviews. (And yes, you’ll get them. Everybody does. And a lot of them are idiotic. But you have to suck it up.)
Back before I knew better, I sometimes agreed to review something by one of my blog readers. Once I gave a rather glowing 4-star review to a bleak but well-written story about the toxic effects of a rageaholic father on his children.
I was shocked when the author wrote a furious reply. I couldn’t figure out why he was so angry at a 4-star review.
So I went back and reread the story. Slowly it dawned on me that the story wasn’t as well-written as I thought. The author expected the reader to sympathize with the raging father and not the cowering children.
Then I Googled around and saw his social media was full of signs of anger management issues. If you have them, get help. Or install a punching bag in your office. Otherwise, hire somebody to do your social media for you.
9) Expecting the Publishing Industry to be like Middle School
You wrote and published a whole book. No small feat.
But you don’t get a gold star for effort or a participation trophy. “They” don’t owe you anything. It’s not going to be fair. You don’t automatically get more sales because it took you 12 years to write your book.
If you’re not selling, it’s because your product isn’t reaching the right customers, or because it isn’t pleasing those customers. Maybe the market is saturated with that product, or nobody’s buying that product anymore.
Publishing is a business, as I said last year in one of our more popular posts.
The pizza place that has to deal with a cheaper pizza place moving in next door may go out of business. The failing restaurant isn’t going to get a gold star for participation no matter how unfair the situation is.
Business isn’t always fair.
All newbies are terrified of “idea theft.” But as I have said before, that’s not usually much of a problem for pros. They know it’s not about the idea—it’s how you write it.
So if you put stuff all over your website that screams in a big font that your blog is copyrighted and if anybody steals it you have a lawyer who’s going to rip them a new one, you’re waving a big red flag that says “amateur.”
Look at Stephen King’s website. The copyright notice is at the very bottom in a tiny font. That’s where it belongs.
And for goodness sake don’t keep your name a secret because you’re afraid of the Internet. If you don’t have your name on your blog or website, you might as well be typing on an old Royal in your basement and distributing your work via the sanitation department.
If you don’t want your real life peeps to know you’re a writer, use a pen name. But use a name that can be put on a book cover. Having a blog called Writings from my Soul or The Angry Keyboard–without your name front and center–is a waste of time. Ditto presenting yourself as Soulwriter or AngryKey on social media .
Your name (or pen name) is your brand. Use it.
It’s true that Internet provides fertile ground for pirates and crooks, but if you treat your potential readers like criminals, they’re not going to stick around.
The sad truth is that most non-superstar authors have seen a major drop-off in sales in the last two years. Amazon has become increasingly a pay-to-play retailer, where you have to buy ads (or be published by an Amazon imprint) to get noticed. So we’re all branching out to new retailers, trying to find new readers.
We also have to work harder because of the sheer number of books being published—most of which will never go out of print because of digital technology.
So you need to make sure everything you put out there is going to bring sales, not block them. Do keep your online presence positive and professional.
What about you, scriveners? Do you monitor your online presence? Have you ever found ridiculous mistakes in your online profiles? Does your bio reflect your professional self?
Last week I was so sick with bronchitis I didn’t get my book blog post up. But it’s there now, and I’m on the mend. It’s another poison post and I’m talking about the pretty but deadly Bloodroot plant. Click here for Poisoning People for Fun and Profit #39.
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