Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

Building Your Author Platform: Your Author Photograph

My new author photo for social media
My new author photo for social media

Your author photograph is a key part of your author platform. After all, it is literally the face you are showing to your readers, fellow authors, publishing professionals, and the world at large. However, many authors struggle with producing or choosing the right author photo for them and their brands. Don’t be one of these authors. Follow these simple steps to create the perfect author photograph for your brand.

1. Hire a professional or use professional equipment

If you are traditionally published, your publishing company may coordinate this for you. However, if you have not yet signed a contract or are planning to independently publish, you will have to arrange your photographs yourself. If possible, hire a professional photographer — just like you would hire a professional editor and/or cover designer. Sure, you can probably take a passable photo on your smart phone, but a professional photo is always better. If you will be working with a professional, check out this article with tips on working with a professional photographer from Joanna Penn.

If hiring a professional photographer isn’t in the budget right now, at least try to use the best equipment possible. For example, my husband and I bought a low-end professional camera to record our wedding. We used this camera when taking my most recent author photos. Would the photos had been better if taken by a professional and if edited by one? Probably. But they beat the old photo I used that we snapped from his iPhone at our engagement party.

Tips: If you can’t afford a professional, try asking around your local college or art classes. Likely, there will be an amateur photographer seeking to build a portfolio who will work with you for free or cheap. Alternatively, look into renting professional camera equipment.

2. Research basic portrait photography

Even if you are not taking your own author photos, do a quick Google search on the topic. Figure out the best time of day to meet your photographer or snap your own shots (Hint: the “golden hours” are early morning and just before sunset.). Learn which lenses and settings will look best for the shot you are trying to achieve. Take a few test pictures at different times of day and in different locations to sort out lighting issues. A little research goes a long way.

My old author photo
My old author photo

3.  Dress to impress — but still look like you!

Traditionally, author photos only include the face and perhaps the tops of the shoulders. Of course, waist-up or full body shots can also work in the right circumstance. However, even if you plan to only show your face in the photo, make sure you dress nicely, fix your hair, and consider wearing makeup. Looking your best not only makes the photo better; it will also make you feel more confident.

4. Keep in mind your branding

In my first author photo, I had my hair perfectly curled and my brightest red lipstick on. It was taken at my engagement party, and while I looked gorgeous (in my humble opinion), it didn’t look like me and it certainly didn’t look like my author brand. If I were a romance author, it would have been perfect, but my debut novel is a steampunk dystopian. My new photo doesn’t feature a corset or wasteland backdrop, but it looks like me and is much more genre-neutral.

What is your brand? If you are a romance author, perhaps you want to look friendly, like you’re ready for a date. If you write thrillers, maybe your photo should feature your brooding scowl in black and white. If you write nonfiction, consider working your topic into the photo. Do you write about dogs? Let Snoopy in the pic! Your imagination is the limit — just make sure that, whatever you do, it still looks professional.

My author photo for my fiction book covers and professional events
My author photo for my fiction book covers and professional events

5. Consider selecting a few different photos

While it is always good to have consistency across your branding, keep a few back up photos handy. For example, if you write fiction and nonfiction (or two drastically different fiction genres), you may want separate photos for each. Likewise, you may want a friendly, welcoming photo for your social media and a more serious or professional one for your book covers, author website, or networking events. If you use multiple photos, just make sure they both are easily recognizable as you and have a brand consistent feel to them.

In the end, as with every aspect of your author platform, your photographs are up to you. Make them as professional as you can, dress to impress, coordinate with your brand, and most of all, have fun!

And remember, if you can’t choose, asking your family, friends, or readers to help you is a great way to get your loved ones involved in your author career (without making those “non-readers” pick up your book) and a great way to market yourself!

For more on building your author platform, click here.


How did you decide what you wanted your author photo to look like? What tips do you have for authors trying to put their best “faces” forward? Share in the comments!

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

Building Your Author Platform: The Purpose of Social Media

Don't be this guy.
Don’t be this guy.

Social media has become increasingly more important to all businesses. Consumers (in our case, readers) often look to brands’ (in our case, authors’) Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram accounts before going to their actual websites.

Why do they do this? Numerous reasons.

Partially, it is much more convenient to do research on a site they are already on. At the same time, they are looking for social proof — How many likes does this business have? Do any of my friends like it? What are the ratings? What are people saying? And maybe, they could simply be searching for relevance. After all, if a company isn’t on social media, are they even really trying?

As an author, especially as an independent author, social media is an important part of your author platform. However, it is important to understand why you should be on social media and how you should use it. Contrary to many authors’ beliefs, social media is NOT the place to sell your books.

Now, before I explain, let me add my fail-safe caveat. Might thousands of readers stumble upon your book in their Twitter feeds or hashtag searches and buy, buy, buy? Sure, it could happen. But for most authors, it doesn’t, and spamming followers with their buy link only makes them run for the hills.

So, if social media isn’t a selling platform, what is it and why is it useful?

1. Branding and networking

For authors looking to go the traditional publishing route, social media is a great place to begin crafting your brand and gaining a following. Often, agents and publishers will not even consider taking you on as a client until you have proven that you can market yourself and your writing on your own.

For independent authors, the same is true. Social media is a perfect place to establish your author brand (more on what this means later) as well as start gathering your readership. Likewise, social media is a fantastic place to network with other authors, podcasters, designers, editors, and anyone else who could help you grow your author business.

To begin, start following the “big names” in your field. This could be your favorite authors, publishing houses, literary agents, podcasts, etc. See how they run their social media platforms. What do they share? What do their biographies say? More than likely, they won’t have time to interact with you. But their followers will. Who are their followers? What do they talk about? What hashtags can you use to engage them?

2. Engagement

Social media is a place to have conversations. At first, you will need to join in conversations with others. This can be done by getting active on others’ pages and joining in common hashtags (#amwriting, #amrevising, #writerslife, etc. for writers and #bookworm, #bookwormproblems, and #amreading, etc. for readers).

Once you get a decent following, you are more likely to receive responses for the conversations you start. Make sure to reciprocate engagement with responses, likes, favorites, shares, etc. To make your content even more alluring, you can follow the five “I’s” of social media, which I outline in this post for my previous employer.

No matter how often or with whom you engage, make sure you are genuine. If you sound like a salesperson or magically wiggle your book into every third comment, people are going to get tired of talking to you and delete you. Absolutely make it known that you are an author and have a fantastic book (or books) published (or in the works), but don’t bring it up constantly and don’t start conversations with a link to your sales page.

3. Funneling 

Perhaps the most useful purpose of social media is to funnel prospective readers into the markets that do sell. Think of social media like a net — you cast it wide, put a little bait on the fringes, and wait for the readers to swim deeper down for more. Your social media is your gateway drug, beyond which lies your author website and your email newsletter — the latter of which is your best sales tool of all.

So how can you move readers through this funnel? First and foremost, make sure that your author website and/or email newsletter sign up are clearly displayed on your social media accounts. Second, offer FREE content that will attract readers to visit your author website or sign up for your email list. If you blog, this could be as simple as linking to your blog posts. If you don’t blog, this could be a short story, a giveaway, or an interview or guest post you did. Last, offer your readers something they need. If you are a nonfiction writer, answer their questions about your topic. If you are a fiction writer, be that burst of entertainment and relief from the daily grind. As Tim Grahl says in Your First 1,000 Copies, the best marketing is being relentlessly helpful.

Remember — social media is not the place to sell your books. It is a place to demonstrate your brand, network with industry peers, engage with readers, and funnel readers into more effective parts of your author platform. Be genuine, be helpful, and eventually, your follower count with grow. And if you happen to be one of the dozens of indie authors who I follow on social media and who happens to post about his/her book every hour on the hour, please stop.

In my next “Building Your Author Platform” post, I will discuss ways authors can use the most common social media sites as well as helpful social media management tools.

To read the entire “Building Your Author Platform” series, click here.

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

Building Your Author Platform: Writing and Placing Your Author Biographies

Authors have the reputation of being introverted creatures. Most authors fall back on this stereotype whenever they are asked to write about themselves for an author biography. After all, we’ve already shown ourselves as arrogant by thinking our creation is worthy of widespread consumption, and now you want us to talk and/or write about ourselves? How awkward and self-absorbed! No thank you!

Well, sorry ladies and gents. The truth is, an author biography is an integral part of your author platform and your author website. It helps readers connect with you as a person, validates your qualifications, and provides information about your publications. You’ve got to write it, no matter how painful it is.

Here is a quick guide to five types of author biographies you can have, examples, and where to put them out into the world.

1. Personal tagline

This is a short phrase or series of words that describes you to your readers. It should encompass your business title (ie: Author, Writer, Novelist), as well as other “roles” or identifiers you want to share with your reader. While it is tempting to make this entirely selfish, don’t! Think of identifiers for yourself that will connect with your target audience.

For example, my tagline is: Author. Globetrotter. Cat Mother.

Obviously, Author indicates that I write books. Globetrotter shows I have a sense of adventure and love exploring new worlds. Because my novels will take place in mostly dystopian/fantasy worlds, I want to attract my kindred adventurous spirits. Cat Mother shows that I love animals and value family. This title should appeal to fellow animal lovers and those with a dash of romance in their personalities.

Places to put your tagline: website header, as a header to longer biographies, Facebook page (short description), Twitter biography, Instagram biography, Pinterest biography, Google+ tagline

For more on how I created my original tagline, read this post.

2. Brand tagline

Like your personal tagline, this is a short phrase or series of words that tells your reader what your brand (books, writing, etc.) is all about. Think of it like a company slogan. Again, keep in mind not only your business purpose, but who you are trying to attract.

For example, my brand tagline is: Exploring real world themes in not-quite-real worlds

From this statement, it should be clear to my reader that my writing takes place in fictional worlds, and it also implies that these fictional worlds are not precisely based on our reality. Likewise, it shows that my writing is theme-heavy and is likely to have larger, social messages within it.

Places to put your tagline: website header, as a header to longer biographies, Facebook page (short description), Twitter biography, Instagram biography, Pinterest biography, Google+ tagline

3. Micro biography

Having a short (under 100 words) author biography is a great promotional tool. It gives readers a quick glimpse into who you are and what you do — enough to intrigue, but not enough to overwhelm. I specifically say “promotional tool,” because this type of biography is best for when you write a guest post, do speaking engagements, do book signings, etc.

Here is my micro biography:

Kate M. Colby is an author of cross-genre fiction and creative nonfiction. Her first series, Desertera, consists of steampunk dystopian novels with themes of socio-economic disparity, self-empowerment, romance, and revenge. She lives in the United States with her husband, Daniel N. Gullotta, who is an aspiring Early Christian historian. You can learn more about Kate and her books on her website: www.KateMColby.com.

Notice it is four sentences that succinctly say: 1) what I write, 2) title/detail of novel or what is special about what I write, 3) personal detail, 4) where you can find me.

Also, notice it is written in third person. This is because, in these situations, you are not so much speaking directly to your reader as your reader is learning about you.

Places to use your micro biography: promotional events, speaking engagements, guest posts, contributions to other publications, back cover of books, back matter of books

4. Medium Biography

What I term a medium author biography is what most authors and readers consider the “standard” author biography. This biography consists of a few short paragraphs, written in third person. It should explain what you write (including titles, genres), your writing credentials (degrees, awards, etc.), and personal facts to humanize you.

Kate M. Colby is an author of cross-genre fiction and creative nonfiction. Her first series, Desertera, consists of steampunk dystopian novels with themes of socio-economic disparity, self-empowerment, romance, and revenge.

Kate’s writing begins with big picture concepts and is centered on her artistic purpose of exploring real world themes in not-quite-real worlds. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, Creative Writing, and Sociology from Baker University, which she uses to marry her love of the written word with her passion for the human experience.

When she is not writing or working, Kate enjoys playing video games, antiquing, and doting on her furry children. She lives in the United States with her husband, Daniel N. Gullotta, who is an aspiring Early Christian historian.

You can learn more about Kate and her books on her website: www.KateMColby.com.

If publishing is still in your future, do not shy away from writing an author biography. Instead of your publications or writing credentials, you can share: your blog, what you intend to write, a bit about your writing process, your favorite books, why you want to be an author, etc.

Places to use your medium biography: author website, back covers of books, Facebook page (long description), Goodreads biography, LinkedIn summary, Google+ about me section, YouTube about me section

5. Long (Auto)Biography

Your long author biography can be any length, though I advise keeping it under 1,000 words. Write it in first person (which makes it an autobiography, technically). Think of it as a conversation between you and your readers. Expand on points from your medium biography, reveal the origins of your tagline(s), share your story. A long biography is special, something you share with your most loyal readers.

For an example, you can read my long biography on my About Kate page.

Not all authors take this step, and that’s okay. You have to decide what is right for you and your brand. However, I think this is the best way to show your personality and really “sell” yourself as a person, not just a book, to your reader.

Places to use your long biography: author website, blog, as a welcome email in your author newsletter

As with everything relating to your author platform and author business, you have to decide what you need and want and what will work for you and your readers. These are simply guidelines to help put your creative gears in motion. If you take away one thing from this post, let it be this: your author biography is a great tool for connecting with your readers; keep them in mind as you write it, and your target audience will appreciate you.


What tips do you have for writing author biographies? Is writing an author biography a dreaded task for you, or do you enjoy the challenge? Share your thoughts below!

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

Building Your Author Platform: 8 Essential Elements for Your Author Website

So, you’ve set up your author website. Now what in the world do you put on it? First and foremost, know that it is your website. Your brand is unique to you, and there is no cookie-cutter model that will fit it perfectly. Only you can determine what features and content should fill your author website.

That being said, there are a few elements that I strongly suggest every author include. I will keep this post relatively simple and expand on some of these features in later posts. This is simply a “what” and brief “why” post — not a “how” tutorial.

1. Author Head Shot

Your readers want to connect with you, and nothing does that quite like seeing your face. Don’t worry — this doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Simply find or take a photograph of yourself that focuses on your face. It should be clear (high resolution) and cohesive with your brand. For example, romance authors may want to look dressy and sophisticated, while thriller authors may want a more brooding, black and white photo. You can read a more thorough post on this topic here.

2. Author Biography

You can read a detailed post on writing and placing your author biography(ies) here. However, no matter how much research you do, make sure you say something about yourself on your author website. Your biography can be written however you like, but it should definitely include: your publications/writing experience, any relevant education, and/or something personal about yourself.

3. Your Books or Works-In Progress

If you already have published books, fantastic! Make sure to advertise them! Include your book cover, book description, and links to purchase your books everywhere they are available. You never know where your reader may want to buy, and only including “big names” like Amazon could limit your market. Likewise, I strongly suggest allowing your readers to buy directly from your site. You cut out the middleman and keep 100% of the royalties yourself this way.

If you do not have published books yet, don’t worry! At the time of this writing, I don’t either! Instead, share the title of your work-in-progress, its genre, a short description, its production stage, and/or an estimated release date. Informing your readers about what is coming builds anticipation and creates a connection even before your creative product hits the shelves.

4. Email List/Newsletter Sign Up

You should have an email list. Seriously, it is your best marketing tool as an author. For more on why you need an email list, read this post. Make sure to include a link or widget to allow readers to sign up for your newsletter. If they are on your site, they probably want to hear more from you, and reaching them directly will be key to building relationships and generating sales.

5. Social Media Links & Widgets

Social media is a great way to craft an identity for your author brand and get in touch with your readers. There is so much to be said about what social media sites to use and the best way to use them (more to come). However, when you do commit to social media sites, make sure that it is easy for your readers to A) find you on them, B) see what you are doing on them, and C) share your content on them all from your website.

6. Contact Information

At some point, your readers will want to contact you. Maybe they want to tell you how much they love your book, maybe they want to tell you about a typo, maybe they want to offer a guest post on your site. Whatever the reason, make sure they know how to do it. Being accessible will make you likable and probably be a lot of fun for you, too!

7. Testimonials/Reviews

If you offer a service, make sure to have testimonials from previous clients on your author website. After all, knowing you offer editing services and seeing John Doe rave about your editing services create two drastically different impressions in the minds of your readers and potential clients. Likewise, knowing that you have a book on the market and seeing that other readers judged your book “Brilliant!” “Fantastic!” “The best YA book I’ve ever read!” give two incredibly different messages.

8. Content (Preferably lots and a variety)

If your author website never changes, readers will view it twice (the first time and once again to look for updates) and never return. Moreover, if you only ever update when you have a book for sale, readers will feel you are just a salesperson and never check your site. You have to figure out what works for you. Some authors blog, some vlog, some post interviews, some share book reviews, some write stories and poems. Whatever you decide, figure out content that you can put out consistently that is relevant to your reader and cohesive with your brand. As with other topics, more on this in a later post.

Remember, as I wrote at the beginning of this post, ultimately, your author website simply needs to work for you, your brand, and most importantly, your readers. Think carefully about which of these features you would like to include and how you can tailor them to your unique website. And, of course, have fun with it!


For more on building your author platform, click here.

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

Building Your Author Platform: How to Choose Your Pen Name

Once you have decided to start building your author platform, the first thing you need to do is select the pen name under which you plan to publish. This is an extremely important decision, and for some authors, it will be more difficult than others. Your pen name is likely the first impression of you readers will receive (beyond your book–but more on that down the road), and you want it to be something that sticks with them and easily identifies you out in cyberspace.

The first decision to make is whether to publish under your real name or a pseudonym (fake name). There are valid arguments on both sides, and only you can make the decision that is right for you.

Publishing Under Your Real Name

  • You get all the glory associated with your books and author business.
  • It’s easy for you to remember and embrace when speaking with readers.
  • It makes you more transparent as an author.
  • It makes the business and legal aspects slightly easier.

Publishing Under a Pseudonym

  • You can separate yourself from your work. (This is especially nice if you fail miserably or write in “controversial” genres like erotica.)
  • It provides a layer of protection or privacy for you.
  • Certain genres, especially romance, have a long-standing tradition of pseudonyms.
  • It can help avoid readers’ prejudices against certain genders writing in genres considered to be dominated by another gender.

Google Your Chosen Name and Potential Connections to the Industry

While it is nearly impossible to avoid sharing your name with someone in the universe, try to avoid having an identical name to someone who is well-known in the writing industry. For example, if your name happens to be John Kenneth Rowling, publishing as J.K. Rowling probably would not be a smart idea. When your readers tried to find you online (once they realized you were not THE J.K. Rowling) they would be bombarded with search results for Ms. Joanne and struggle to find little old you.

Of course, this could also work in your favor and bring some “accidental” traffic your way. Maybe these readers would stumble upon you and be pleasantly surprised to find a new author. However, they could also feel “duped” or “cheated” to discover you are not THE J.K. Rowling and drown your book or website in bad reviews.

Personally, I chose to publish under a variation of my real name. My first choice was to publish as “Kate Colby.” However, a quick Google search told me that a relatively successful poet was already publishing under that name. By throwing in my middle initial, “M,” I was able to separate myself from her, thus preventing confusion and allowing me to dominate any Google searches that were meant for me.

Likewise, “Kate Colby” as a username was taken on virtually every social media site. Other than Facebook, most social media platforms do not allow multiple accounts to have the same username. However, a quick search on my desired platforms showed me that “KateMColby” was available on every single social media platform I wanted to use, which leads into my next point…

Keep Your Author Platform Cohesive

Once you have found an original pen name for yourself, use it in as many places as possible! Keeping your entire author platform branded under the same name has several benefits:

  • It makes you easier to find for readers who are searching for you.
  • When readers find you, it increases their confidence that the account is truly yours.
  • It groups your entire author platform together in search engine results for your name.
  • It makes your pages/URLs easier to remember.
  • It looks more professional.

My blog, my email, and every social media platform I use are under “KateMColby.” This makes it easy for my readers to find me on whatever social media sites they use, and it makes them feel more confident that it truly is me and not some other Kate they are finding online.

Admittedly, using your pen name online may not work out as perfectly as it did for me. However, try to keep your author platform as cohesive as possible. If you have to throw in an “author” or “fiction” here or there (ie: AuthorKateMColby or KateMColbyFiction), that’s okay! Just make sure you keep your accounts as searchable and obvious for readers as possible.

In short, selecting and using your pen name should be your first step in creating your author platform. Without your pen name, you cannot brand yourself nor establish an online presence. But remember: your pen name is not just a name. It is the “brand name” of your author business, and it is a strategic tool you can use to make sure you are unique, genre-appropriate, and easy to find online.

For those of you who skipped to the end, here are the actions steps to take as you move forward:

  • Select your pen name (real or fake)
  • Test your pen name online (Do you have a lot of competition with your name?)
  • Test your pen name on social media (Are accounts with your name taken?)
  • Repeat until you find a good balance
  • Use your name universally across your entire author platform

For more on building your author platform, click here.


Resources

What J.K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith Can Teach Us About Author Platform – The Book Designer

Pen NamesThe Passive Voice: A Lawyer’s Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

On Using a Pen Name and Selling 1,000 Books a DayThe Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast


How did you choose your author pen name? How do you feel about authors using their real names to publish? Pseudonyms?