7 Ways to Build Your Author Brand Online

On Saturday, I posted Four Surprising Conclusions About Author Websites. Yesterday, I posted on Why Every Author Needs a Powerful Online Presence. Today I want to address the how of building your author brand online.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/eyeidea, Image #3250049

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/eyeidea

Let me begin with a disclaimer. I am not a web guru. I am not a professional. I am simply a guy who has been blogging since 1998 (before they called it blogging). I have some degree of success, but mostly I have just tried to be a student of what works and what doesn’t work. And, I have made a lot of mistakes along the way.

From my point of view, there are seven things that are important in building an online brand, particularly if you are an author:

  1. Read Tribes by Seth Godin. I reviewed Seth’s new book last Friday. It explains the importance of building a tribe of followers and exactly how to do it. It represents a paradigm shift in leadership and communication.

    If you are an author, your tribe members are your readers—or, at least, that’s potentially true. The only question is whether or not you will become the tribe’s leader and equip them to communicate with you and with one another. Monologues are so last-century. Facilitating dialogues and polylogues are what is happening now. Authors who understand this and jump in with both feet are the ones who will succeed.

  2. Start Twittering. Do this before you do anything else online. It will teach you more about where the Internet is going than anything else I can recommend. I know, I know. You don’t have time. You can’t understand what all the fuss is about. You don’t get it. Blah, blah, blah. And you won’t get it until you try it.

    If you aren’t on Twitter, I double-dog dare you to try it for 30 days. Start with my 12 Reasons to Start Twittering, then read my Beginner’s Guide to Twitter. You can read both posts in 15 minutes. Then sign-up and enter the fray. If Max Lucado, Donald Miller, Sheila Walsh, Colleen Coble, Patsy Clairmont, Rachel Hauck, and other successful authors find it valuable, you just might too.

  3. Open a Facebook account. This is an easy way to humanize your brand and help people get to know you. Your fans want more than just the output of your creative mind; they want to get to know you. Facebook is an easy, simple way to do this.

    Again, this is one of those things you just have to try to understand. If you already have a Facebook account then connect it to Twitter using the Twitter app. This way, your tweedts will automatically update your Facebook account. By the way, I accept all friend requests on both Twitter and Facebook. Period.

  4. Create a website. Surely you already have one, but, if not, then make this a top priority. If someone hears your name or reads something they like about you, guess what they are going to do? That’s right, they are going to Google you. And, if your own site is not at or near the top of the list, they are not going to take you seriously. Worse, how will they find your other works or become a fan?

    But having a Web site is not enough. If you don’t have your meta tag data populated, you are missing traffic and opportunities. This is not that difficult. Run your website through WebsiteGrader.com and follow the directions. If necessary, get your webmaster to fix the problem. This was the number one problem with most of my own top authors’ websites.

  5. Write a blog. A static website (one that never changes) is boring. You’re not going to build a fan base, loyal readers, or repeat visitors unless you offer your visitors frequently-updated content. You must give them a reason to come back, again and again. This is what builds a following.

    A blog is like a lab for writers. It gives you an opportunity to try out new ideas and see if they get traction with your audience. It will also hone your writing skills. But you must make a commitment to write frequently. How often? That depends. I go through different seasons. In general though, I would say brief and more frequent is better. (I know, I could work on the briefer part.)

  6. Participate in the conversation. If you have a blog, you must—MUST!—allow comments. Today’s readers are not content just to sit at your feet and take notes. They want to interact. They want to challenge, question, and add their own comments. If you don’t allow this, you are making a big mistake.

    Yes, people will sometimes hurt your feelings. But they will also provide you with near-instant feedback. Both are essential for your development as a writer. So make it easy. Don’t require them to sign in, have a valid email address, or have you approve their comments first. This only creates delay and unnecessary friction in the conversation. Occasionally, you will get inappropriate comments, but you can easily delete these. I am speaking from many years of experience here.

  7. Be generous and show the love. The more you give to your readers, the more they will give back. Reply to tweets, Facebook comments, and blog comments. Leave comments on other people’s sites. Promote things that you think your readers will find valuable, even if it means directing them to your competition.

    This may seem like it will take a big investment of time. I don’t think so. But even if it does, you can establish some boundaries. Turn your email and other pings off while you are writing. Then, when you achieve your word count for the day, get out there and interact with your readers.

Finally, regardless of the online venue, be authentic. People today can smell a phony a mile away. The world is becoming increasingly open and transparent. The more you embrace this rather than fighting it, the more you will build a tribe of loyal readers.

Question: What am I missing? What else have you found to be important in building your brand online?
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  • Lexie

    That was a great post. :) Thanks for the awesome advise!

  • Lexie

    That was a great post. :) Thanks for the awesome advise!

  • http://wordvixen.com WordVixen

    As a reader, i appreciate a resources page/s and other goodies that don't go away. Blogs are great for current events and discussions, but my favorite author websites offer much more.

    Simon Haynes (http://www.spacejock.com.au/) has several blogs with identical posts on several platforms in order to be accessible to everyone, but his main website offers articles on how to write and the business of writing, and, being a programmer by day, custom built a useful writing program called YWriter and some other software that he offers as a free download. He's based in Australia and gives away several copies of his books every month, which helped create a high enough demand in the UK that the books have been picked up there, and now Powell's carries them in the US.

    Mercedes Lackey (http://mercedeslackey.com) customizes dolls to resemble characters from her books, and designs jewelry that her characters wear. These are sometimes auctioned off for her favorite charity, and are always great eye candy. She's also got a great FAQ, recipes, and short stories.

    I discovered Michael A Stackpole (http://stormwolf.com) through is podcast on writing (The Secrets). His site offers much the same as every other writer with a full website (bio, where to buy, FAQ, etc), but his The Secrets podcast is the reason that I ended up buying the first two books in his The Age of Discovery series (the third wasn't out yet).

    None of the above have pretty websites. None have active blogs on the websites that I've listed (though Haynes does have an active blog elsewhere), but they all have something unique to offer that I go back to time and again and am able to tell other writers and readers about that they can find easily from the navigation menu.

    Jenny B Jones's blog is fantastic for interaction and never fails to crack me up. Brandilyn Collin's blog has a wealth of information and publishing news. I honestly believe that if you can do any one thing really, really well, anything else is just a bonus. But believe me, blogging and social networking aren't the only way to succeed online.
    My recent post Win Thicker Than Blood

  • http://wordvixen.com/ WordVixen

    As a reader, i appreciate a resources page/s and other goodies that don't go away. Blogs are great for current events and discussions, but my favorite author websites offer much more.

    Simon Haynes (http://www.spacejock.com.au/) has several blogs with identical posts on several platforms in order to be accessible to everyone, but his main website offers articles on how to write and the business of writing, and, being a programmer by day, custom built a useful writing program called YWriter and some other software that he offers as a free download. He's based in Australia and gives away several copies of his books every month, which helped create a high enough demand in the UK that the books have been picked up there, and now Powell's carries them in the US.

    Mercedes Lackey (http://mercedeslackey.com) customizes dolls to resemble characters from her books, and designs jewelry that her characters wear. These are sometimes auctioned off for her favorite charity, and are always great eye candy. She's also got a great FAQ, recipes, and short stories.

    I discovered Michael A Stackpole (http://stormwolf.com) through is podcast on writing (The Secrets). His site offers much the same as every other writer with a full website (bio, where to buy, FAQ, etc), but his The Secrets podcast is the reason that I ended up buying the first two books in his The Age of Discovery series (the third wasn't out yet).

    None of the above have pretty websites. None have active blogs on the websites that I've listed (though Haynes does have an active blog elsewhere), but they all have something unique to offer that I go back to time and again and am able to tell other writers and readers about that they can find easily from the navigation menu.

    Jenny B Jones's blog is fantastic for interaction and never fails to crack me up. Brandilyn Collin's blog has a wealth of information and publishing news. I honestly believe that if you can do any one thing really, really well, anything else is just a bonus. But believe me, blogging and social networking aren't the only way to succeed online.
    My recent post Win Thicker Than Blood

  • http://dupontluxuryhomes.com Alex Beattie

    Out of all 7. I can tell you that reading Tribes is the most important. Absolutely. Hands down, without a doubt. Seth Godin is a brilliant author as well as very generous with his ideas.

    Apparently he has a new book coming out called Linchpin that takes the Tribes concept a few steps further.
    Nice post!
    My recent post Are you “insanely passionate” about real estate?

  • http://artisanbranding.com/ Alex Beattie

    Out of all 7. I can tell you that reading Tribes is the most important. Absolutely. Hands down, without a doubt. Seth Godin is a brilliant author as well as very generous with his ideas.

    Apparently he has a new book coming out called Linchpin that takes the Tribes concept a few steps further.
    Nice post!
    My recent post Are you “insanely passionate” about real estate?

  • Ifeanyi E. Onuoha

    I like this info is timely.Shalom.

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  • LoriLamp

    Some time down the road, I may be an author. For now I’m a nonprofit director trying to build a “tribe” around the work we’re doing, and all of these suggestions sound right on to me. In fact, I’ve already started to do most of them. Thanks for the confirmation of the direction!!

  • http://twitter.com/NewEnglandHiker Roy Wallen

    These 7 actions on building a brand are, once again, great advice. Although these points apply to an author’s business, appropriate coming from the perspective of your sector in publishing, they also apply to any brand development these days. In my field of medical technologies, too many companies are still missing the opportunity.

  • http://twitter.com/GaylaGrace Gayla Grace

    This is a helpful post for new authors. I noticed it was originally written 2 years ago. I’m curious if you still follow the policy of accepting all friends on Facebook and Twitter. I thought I read a blog post awhile back that discussed how your thinking on FB friends had changed. Do you do anything differently now? Also, do you still believe Twitter is as valuable now as it was previously?

    Thank you for your informative posts and continued help for authors.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I still let anyone follow me on Twitter. With regard to Facebook, I now have a fan page. Anyone can follow me there. I reserve my Facebook profile page for my family and close personal friends. I think Twitter is more valuable than ever and Facebook more valuable than I initially understood.

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  • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

    Like that websitegrader.com tool.
    I think testimonials are a great reinforcement of a strong brand.
    The more people we help, the more we’ll be a buzz in the marketplace.

    Zig Ziglar is on to something when he says, “You can have everything in life you want, if you just help enough other people get what they want.”

  • Anonymous

    Wow. I just finished a group coaching call w/ fellow She Speaks grads on this EXACT set of points… and here I find them again, all in one place. Just another reason I love your blog… you seem to post on what I’m thinking and wondering about more often than not! :)

  • http://www.taintedcanvas.com/ Jonathan Sigmon

    I feel like this could be summed up in 4 words:

    “Be authentic. Be engaged.”

    It’s pretty simple, it’s just the follow-through that is difficult…

  • Tinsleyfineart

    Do you think the same strategies would apply to artists? Like watercolor artists?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I do. Checkout RandyElrod.com for an example.

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  • Anonymous

    Goodreads … it is an excellent source of readers and followers! And once you have an account, I would suggest doing one of their Giveaways for your books. It’s another way to build readers.

  • http://www.linda-joyce.com Linda Joyce

    Okay, I’m gonna take the plunge and try the 30 day Twitter challenge. Will start tomorrow, Dec. 1st.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Awesome. Congratulations!

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  • Michael Mulligan

    You didn’t reference Google+.  How does that fit into author brand building?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I actually wrote this article before Google+ was available. It is simply another way to connect with your tribe. If you like it and can build a following, use it!

  • http://doreenpendgracs.com/ Doreen Pendgracs

    This is a great post, and I’m pleased to say I’m pretty much following all of the tips already. It sure is a lot of work, but it’s definitely paying off, as the posts on my blogs are beginning to develop a true community (particularly on my writer’s blog.) 

    And I agree. Twitter is amazing, and it’s only after you use it for awhile that you realize its true value.  

  • http://www.shortcutblogging.com/ Dave Young

    Throughout my career, I’ve met a lot of experts who had a lot to share. These are people who should be authors, who I wish were authors, who’s friends wish they were authors. Problem was that they just would not, could not find the time to write, or they didn’t have the confidence to write. We figured out that if they’d just buddy up with someone who could interview them for a podcast, they could produce about 80,000 words in a year doing a 10-minute weekly podcast. The magic comes in the repurposing of those spoken words. Transcribe them, then turn them into blog posts and articles. If you’re following a chapter by chapter outline, you’ll have your book in 52 weeks. Now, it’s just an editing job instead of a writing job. That seems a whole lot easier. I love finding shortcuts.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is invaluable advice. I am all about re-purposing content.

      • http://www.shortcutblogging.com/ Dave Young

        Michael, we built a business around the concept. Just launched it a week ago. We do all the work (except for the talking). We provide a professional radio guy to be the sidekick, we transcribe, professionally rewrite the transcription and handle posting to the blog and setting up RSS/iTunes. We even have a super cool brainstorm/outline process that generates a year’s worth of topics in 37 minutes.

        We provide the outline process for free (for an opti-in). It was taught to us by Keith Miller, author of The Taste of New Wine. We give him credit in the video. He passed away last week. We didn’t get to tell him about the terrific feedback we’ve been getting on his process. We adapted it to creating a blog editorial calendar, but he used to teach it to authors as a quick way to outline a book. The guy who taught it to Keith used it to plan new businesses.

        BTW…we’re going to teach exactly how to do what we’re doing for free via our own blog/email. I mention this because we’ve had a few comments about being expensive for individual authors, small biz and sole proprietors.  Our target clients are people who need to save time, not money. We actually operate pretty lean. Vetted professional interviewers and editors are not cheap. We don’t outsource to the freelance world.

        I hope this doesn’t come off as too promotional. My business partner and I have been teaching this stuff for over 5 years and found that most people get started and just lose steam. We figured out how to provide the steam.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          I’m sorry to hear about Keith. He was a friend of mine, but I had not seen him in a couple of years.
          Can you provide a link to your site? Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    Michael, concerning your comment about a Facebook page.  I’m assuming your talking about a fan page… If so I’ve been a little hesitant to do that.   I’m new to the blogosphere so I would think that starting a Facebook fan page would be a little presumptuous.  I was thinking that would be something for down the road…  You know when my readership has expanded beyond my mom and dad.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I am talking about a fan page. I still think you should set one up if you intend to write or build a following. I use my facebook profile exclusively for real friends.

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  • Kelly

    No mention of Google+? You might also want to read Guy Kawasaki’s “What the Plus.” Google+ is much, much more effective in reaching people that share similar interests than is Twitter. Twitter limits the discussion to 140 characters, whereas Google+ actually allows people to engage and interact with others. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your comment. First of all, I wrote this post before Google+ came out. Second, I don’t agree. I think Google+ is great for certain audiences, especially those who are more technology-oriented. (I use it myself.)
      The best social network is the one your prospects and customers use. You have to go where the people are. If that’s Google+, great. Dive in. But if that is some other service, go there.

  • http://www.dianeestrella.com/ Diane Estrella

    I think it helps to have a blog niche too that solidifies your brand. 

  • Dani Byham

    My writer’s group just talked about the importance of interacting on social media platforms, so your post perfectly coincides with that discussion. Thank you for explaining how to get it right!

  • neetika

    I think YouTube might be a good way to build a brand. People who are writers (non fiction) look to become speakers and uploading crisp videos on YouTube related to your writing content might help build your brand.

  • http://www.psdnetwork.com/ @hsboggini

    I’m a huge Hyatt fan and a student of his book Platform, which is why this post comes up short for me. The 6 listed items are essential but seem focused on transactions or tasks. I suggest before reading Tribes, first read and really understand Simon Sinek’s Start With Why – and do the hard work of figuring out your Why. A personal brand, platform, marketing message, tweet, blog – whatever you want to call it – will be grounded in your Why and make the tactical pieces more powerful and meaningful, and get you closer to building an author brand. Thoughts on that?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I don’t disagree with you. The why is critically important. I talk about this a lot in my work. But that is a different post. The purpose of this one was to explain how for people who already are convinced. (By the way, it was written back in 2008, so I would probably write it differently now.) Thanks.

      • http://www.psdnetwork.com/ @hsboggini

        2008!? That’s 100 years ago in web-years. Now that’s what I call leveraging your archived posts…but that’s another post in itself. Thanks for all your great work – Platform has truly been a great help to me.