Why Every Author Needs a Powerful Online Presence

A while back, I posted “4 Surprising Conclusions About Author Websites”. In case you missed it, I concluded that, for authors, building a powerful online presence doesn’t appear to have much to do with having (1) slick graphics or state-of-the-art technology, (2) a large media platform, (3) a large organization behind you, or (4) a young, hip image.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/ahlobystov, Image #4619850

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/ahlobystov

Joe Sheehan commented on the post, saying,

Mike, I have a fundamental question. Why does it matter? Does a powerful online presence really make you a better author? I’m not convinced the two are well-correlated. Word-of-mouth recommendations would probably convince me to read an author more than an obscure website ranking.

This is a good question and a valid point. In fact, before we get to how to build a powerful author brand online, we need to be clear on why it is important for authors to go to the trouble.

First, I don’t think the choice is between having good word-of-mouth or a poor website ranking. This is a false dichotomy. In fact, I would argue that the two are directly related. As Joe assumes in his comment, word-of-mouth [affiliate link] is the single most important ingredient in effective marketing.

But that begs the question: how do you get word-of-mouth started?

Certainly it begins by creating a great product. No argument there. As I often say, “it’s the product, stupid.” To quote advertising guru David Ogilvy [affiliate link] , “Great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster.” Why? Because the word-of-mouth actually works against a disappointing product.

But once you have a great product, you have to get the word out. At that point it becomes a question of how to do that in the most cost-effective manner.

Certainly, you can use broadcast media, including TV, radio, print ads, billboards, etc. But, generally speaking, this is a waste of money. Only a narrow subset of the audience you are paying to reach are (a) regular readers and (b) know your brand. Worse, more than ever, people distrust advertising [affiliate link], so the message is suspect from the get-go. It takes enormous frequency to overcome this—something that most book budgets can’t justify.

This is why I oppose almost all one-off magazine or newspaper ads. You’re paying a lot of money to reach a broad audience without enough frequency to influence consumer behavior. (Yes, there are a couple of exceptions, but they are rare. Most one-off ads are done to satisfy the agent or author’s ego. There. I said it!)

Instead, it’s better to “narrowcast” the message to a target audience. There is no cheaper way to do this then on the Internet, where you can build a tribe of followers who eagerly anticipate your next written communiqué.

This is all more or less common sense among authors and book publishers alike. The problem is that the Internet per se is not enough. You can’t just hang a website in cyberspace and expect that to create a following. It’s a start, but without traffic, it is a waste of time. It’s like putting up a billboard in the desert.

Joe went on to say,

One counterexample I’m thinking of here is Peggy Noonan. Her website traffic rankings are low while she is very popular as a writer/speaker. Although, she became famous in a different era. So is this post aimed more towards up-and-coming authors?”

Peggy Noonan has built her word-of-mouth primarily via her weekly column in the Wall Street Journal. (I am a fan myself.) She has a large and loyal following. However, as Joe points out, her website, relatively speaking, is not that popular. (You can run it through WebsiteGrader as I outlined in my post to see the results.)

The only thing I would say to her is that if you are going to the expense of creating a website or blog, you might as well maximize its potential. It’s not that difficult, assuming you have something people want to hear. (And, clearly Ms. Noonan does.) But she is making some simple mistakes—like no meta tag data in her page headers, etc.

Michelle Malkin, on the other hand, is probably a better example. Her web following is even greater than Dave Ramsey, whom I cited in my previous post. She gets a website grade of 99 from Website Grader, a Google Rank of 7, and a traffic rank of 10,453, and a blog rank of 28. That means she has the 28th most-read blog on the web.

Unfortunately, Ms. Malkin hasn’t written a book since 2005. If she would write a new book every year as part of a comprehensive brand strategy, the synergy between her online audience and book sales would amplify both, extending her reach and influence even further.

This is not an either/or proposition. What I am suggesting is that if you are going to write, take advantage of every possible delivery mechanism to build your audience. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about exactly how you do that. I promise. But I thought it was important to nail down the why before we get to the how.

Question: Do you think building an online presence as an author is important? Why or why not?
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  • http://www.sheeptotheright.com Carol Hatcher

    Michael,
    Thank you for such great information! I am a new author and am just getting my feet wet. It’s funny that you posted about this. A girlfriend and I recently submitted a proposal to teach at our next writer’s conference about how to build a “beginner’s platform” with blogging, Facebook, and Twitter. Evidently, we are on the right track.

    I have definitely taken note of your suggestions. Thank you for putting such thoughtful and noteworthy information out there.

  • http://www.sheeptotheright.com/ Carol Hatcher

    Michael,
    Thank you for such great information! I am a new author and am just getting my feet wet. It's funny that you posted about this. A girlfriend and I recently submitted a proposal to teach at our next writer's conference about how to build a "beginner's platform" with blogging, Facebook, and Twitter. Evidently, we are on the right track.

    I have definitely taken note of your suggestions. Thank you for putting such thoughtful and noteworthy information out there.

  • http://www.momishome2.blogspot.com/ Bethany

    Yes! I do believe a strong Web presence is necessary for authors and wanna-be authors. Several years ago, I tried to sell an article to several magazines with not even a nibble of interest. Last year, a friend suggested that I start a blog to "practice" writing and to build up an audience. I said, "A what?" But, I did start a blog and have since become a regular contributer to an online magazine and also have an article being considered for a well-known Christian women's magazine.

    My dad has written several books in different genres and is trying to get them published, but he says he doesn't have time to spend promoting them (to publishers and agents), although he has sent out a slew of proposals. I have been telling him for a year that he needs to start a blog! I sent him the link to this post :-)

    I just subscribed to the RSS feed and can't wait to read more. Thanks for taking time to post all this helpful information.

    Bethany LeBedz ~ Confessions of an Organized Homeschool Mom
    <a href="http://www.momishome2.blogspot.com” target=”_blank”>www.momishome2.blogspot.com

  • http://www.momishome2.blogspot.com Bethany

    Yes! I do believe a strong Web presence is necessary for authors and wanna-be authors. Several years ago, I tried to sell an article to several magazines with not even a nibble of interest. Last year, a friend suggested that I start a blog to "practice" writing and to build up an audience. I said, "A what?" But, I did start a blog and have since become a regular contributer to an online magazine and also have an article being considered for a well-known Christian women's magazine.

    My dad has written several books in different genres and is trying to get them published, but he says he doesn't have time to spend promoting them (to publishers and agents), although he has sent out a slew of proposals. I have been telling him for a year that he needs to start a blog! I sent him the link to this post :-)

    I just subscribed to the RSS feed and can't wait to read more. Thanks for taking time to post all this helpful information.

    Bethany LeBedz ~ Confessions of an Organized Homeschool Mom
    http://www.momishome2.blogspot.com

  • Pingback: 7 Ways to Build Your Author Brand Online | Michael Hyatt

  • http://www.oceanathome.com/ Brian Blank

    Michael,

    Great points for authors starting out and established. I think the authors looking to gain traction are making the use out of every means necessary to create as many digital bridges between potential readers/followers and themselves. Everyone has different ways they like to communicate to taking advantage of a simple blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc., can increase the chances your name will come in contact with more people and keep you relevant.

    Even committing 20 minutes a day can help keep you in touch with your readers. I think its just as important for the author to follow what their readers to help build up that community and build a stronger tribe.

    Great piece!

    Brian

  • http://www.oceanathome.com Brian Blank

    Michael,

    Great points for authors starting out and established. I think the authors looking to gain traction are making the use out of every means necessary to create as many digital bridges between potential readers/followers and themselves. Everyone has different ways they like to communicate to taking advantage of a simple blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc., can increase the chances your name will come in contact with more people and keep you relevant.

    Even committing 20 minutes a day can help keep you in touch with your readers. I think its just as important for the author to follow what their readers to help build up that community and build a stronger tribe.

    Great piece!

    Brian

  • http://www.flirtingwithfaith.com/ Joan Ball

    As a new author making the writer's conference rounds in 2005 I was told, as so many aspiring authors are, that my book was interesting but that I lacked the kind of platform that would turn the heads of reputable publishers. Blogging, communicating with other bloggers and developing relationships with people all over the world on Facebook and Twitter (as well as attending writer's conferences) have resulted in countless connections, a book contract and, lately, offers to speak in surprising and wonderful venues. I cannot say enough about the importance of online community and an online presence for authors – especially those of us who are nobodies from nowhere…

  • http://www.flirtingwithfaith.com Joan Ball

    As a new author making the writer’s conference rounds in 2005 I was told, as so many aspiring authors are, that my book was interesting but that I lacked the kind of platform that would turn the heads of reputable publishers. Blogging, communicating with other bloggers and developing relationships with people all over the world on Facebook and Twitter (as well as attending writer’s conferences) have resulted in countless connections, a book contract and, lately, offers to speak in surprising and wonderful venues. I cannot say enough about the importance of online community and an online presence for authors – especially those of us who are nobodies from nowhere…

  • http://evaulian-thebestoftheworst.blogspot.com/ Eva Ulian

    I certainly agree with what you say here Joan. I particularly liked in reference to: "especially those of us who are nobodies from nowhere…" I do indeed connect with that.

  • http://evaulian-thebestoftheworst.blogspot.com/ Eva Ulian

    I certainly agree with what you say here Joan. I particularly liked in reference to: “especially those of us who are nobodies from nowhere…” I do indeed connect with that.

  • http://doreenisthewizardofwords.blogspot.com/ Doreen Pendgracs

    I complete agree with you, Michael. In fact, since joining Twitter in July & discovering your tweets, I have worked hard to build my author's profile on Twitter (now have over 500 "real" followers) and on my blog which I started in Feb. Just finished my new book on boards of directors ("Before You Say Yes …") which will be published by Dundurn Press in March, and am hoping that having a very visible online presence will increase interest in the book, thereby increasing sales. And the chance for me getting an even better contract for my next book.

  • http://doreenisthewizardofwords.blogspot.com/ Doreen Pendgracs

    I complete agree with you, Michael. In fact, since joining Twitter in July & discovering your tweets, I have worked hard to build my author's profile on Twitter (now have over 500 "real" followers) and on my blog which I started in Feb. Just finished my new book on boards of directors ("Before You Say Yes …") which will be published by Dundurn Press in March, and am hoping that having a very visible online presence will increase interest in the book, thereby increasing sales. And the chance for me getting an even better contract for my next book.

  • Richard Robertson

    I attend Emmanuel College, in Northeast GA. I put our website in the grader. It is rather scary! Our website needs some clarity work. Doctoral Level of readability on a website created to reach people wanting to attain a BA/BS.

  • Richard Robertson

    I attend Emmanuel College, in Northeast GA. I put our website in the grader. It is rather scary! Our website needs some clarity work. Doctoral Level of readability on a website created to reach people wanting to attain a BA/BS.

  • http://dominatenashville.com Darren Crawford

    Great post Mr. Hyatt. I would submit that ANY business, not just authors need a powerful online presence (and community). I think businesses without a solid presence online are simply islands without shipping traffic lanes. They might be nice places to visit, but they are not on the map and nobody knows they are there. Tragic in the sense of the number of small, local businesses that have GREAT concepts or offerings, but don't stand the test of time because of poor marketing.

    - Darren
    Dominate Nashville
    My recent post Good News &amp; Bad News About Growing Your Nashville Business

  • http://dominatenashville.com/ Darren Crawford

    Great post Mr. Hyatt. I would submit that ANY business, not just authors need a powerful online presence (and community). I think businesses without a solid presence online are simply islands without shipping traffic lanes. They might be nice places to visit, but they are not on the map and nobody knows they are there. Tragic in the sense of the number of small, local businesses that have GREAT concepts or offerings, but don't stand the test of time because of poor marketing.

    - Darren
    Dominate Nashville
    My recent post Good News &amp; Bad News About Growing Your Nashville Business

  • http://www.cinja.net/ cindy lynn jacobs

    Building an online presence is important because everyone is online now. It's the new social gathering place. You can keep in touch with readers and editors. Another reason is that many of your editors that are considering your work with google you to see that you have an online platform. Any additional help you can offer to help promote yourself and your work is a benefit to the publisher.

  • http://www.cinja.net/ cindy lynn jacobs

    Building an online presence is important because everyone is online now. It's the new social gathering place. You can keep in touch with readers and editors. Another reason is that many of your editors that are considering your work with google you to see that you have an online platform. Any additional help you can offer to help promote yourself and your work is a benefit to the publisher.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/WindmillDuke WindmillDuke

    Funny thing happening on my way to the publishing circus. Soninlaw, co-author, a Gen Xer, has no clue. Barely uses cell, never doest text. So here I am four generations away from the Millennial (5) kids he is letting me help him raise on the fathering side, and I am pumping him on the need for this "tribe" and following thing. Printing your counsel here, Michael. We've a site, but the biggest nextest thing is our blog-to-be, GenDads. If I don't print this off, he won't be a-reading it.

  • Mark

    Great post as usual @mikehyatt

  • Jenny

    As a writer who has recently returned to writing after getting through young-children years, I think an online presence is definitely helpful. I have not yet been published, but I’m sure my blog and Facebook page and Twitter will be very handy when I am! People who follow your blog will feel like you are a friend, if they don’t personally know you, and will want to tell their friends about your work. It’s a kind of word-of-mouth.

  • http://twitter.com/2020VisionBook Joshua Hood

    The value of an online presence for an author, like the publishing world, is changing. Every day an online presence becomes more valuable, because every day the way our world communicates changes. This shift in methods of communication effects the way books are read, the way writers write, and the way they promote their brand and business. It was not that vital five years ago, but is becoming more so every day.

    Joshua Hood
    2020visiononline.org

  • http://write2ignite.com Write2ignite

    What do you suggest for blogs and websites for relatively new (and still not widely known) writing conferences and writers?

    As a web admin for a writing conference (for folks who write for children, teens and YA) I am looking for ways to increase our traffic on the site and blog. One of our bloggers had to step down and we are making some changes to help the flow of everything go smoother and reach out to more folks.

    We are constantly networking by word of mouth and have a twitter and FB account. We’ve started adding tags and categories to each blog post. Is that enough? Or do you suggest more?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Without reviewing your content, I would say that your content is the single most important asset. If you write helpful, compelling content, people will find you and recommend you to their writing friends. I wrote a post on this a while back: “Focus on Blog Content Before Traffic.”

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

    The Question Is: Do you think building an online presence as an author is important? Why or why not?

    Answer: OH YES! Building an online presence is pretty much a must these days. People want (even expect) their authors, speakers, bloggers, etc. to be more accessible these days. If they’re not, they’re quickly forgotten. Sure a book will come out. Sure they may read it. But how successful they are from that point on (I’d argue even up to that point) can be determined by presence.

    Several examples come to mind. Two right off the top of my head are:
    1. Tim Sanders
    2. Scott Ginsberg

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  • ap

    If you something people want to know about i mean malkin is conservative and her message is largely ignored in the media so yes. I follow tayari jones but honestly to see her upcoming events and shes onthe pulse of the literary world for my market. But if you have no followers may b a waste of time

  • http://www.peaceforthejourney.com/ Faith Elaine Olsen

    Thanks for including the website grader link. Very informative and helpful. I’ve been blogging for about 5 years now and am noticing less comments these days. Honestly, it’s discouraging, because I’m not sure how to assess impact at this point. My Klout score was 30 (not sure if that’s good) with an overall rating of 82. I’m going to dig deeper into the suggestions offered and see what happens.
    peace~elaine

  • Teresa Green

    Michael, I am writing a novel, and want to use a pen name for my fiction separate it from my non-fiction writing and main career. I have enough trouble in my efforts to build a platform for my blog. Building a separate platform for my pen name is daunting, since it feels like I’m creating a entire new identity. Any suggestions?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I really don’t. I think this is challenging because social media rewards authenticity. I would write under your real name if at all possible.