In the months before the release of my first book, I didn’t really know how to prepare for a writing career. I was busy gearing up for marketing and promoting my book, but I was also fumbling to do all of the things that were necessary to brand myself as a professional author.
I struggled to know what things were important and which were optional. Did I really need a website, PO Box, business cards, Facebook Page, etc.? Now, in hindsight, I can see what kinds of things were helpful and what I wish I’d done sooner. The time during the release of a book is already stressful and busy. If writers establish a professional foundation ahead of the big date, they’ll be able to focus more on their promotional efforts.
Here are 10 things writers can do ahead of publication (along with my thoughts on the importance of each):
1. Establish a website.
This is a must-do. Once your book is contracted and by the time it shows up in online bookstores (which can happen 6-8 months ahead of release), you should have a website—preferably one with your author name as your URL so that readers can easily find you. At some point they will look you up and you need to be prepared.
2. Start a blog.
This is optional but helpful. Blogging is probably more imperative to non-fiction writers attempting to build platforms. In my experience, fiction-readers are not flocking to author blogs on a regular basis. However, even if our genre readers won’t haunt our blogs and wait for every new post with bated-breath, blogs can help writers in many other ways. (See these posts: The Snowball Effect of Social Media, 3 Reasons to Start Blogging Before a Book Contract). Once again, use your author name as your URL. Always make it as easy as possible for people to find you.
3. Start a Facebook Page.
This is optional but helpful. A Facebook Page (versus a personal account) allows readers to post thoughts about your book and to connect with you without having to wait for you to get around to approving of their friend request. And as an author, I can post book news, awards, and release information on my Facebook Page without feeling like I’m spamming my friends. With Pages you can also add a “like” box to your blog or website. (See mine in my sidebar.)
4. Get a quality, updated author photo.
This is a must-do. We don’t need to go broke having a photo shoot. (I had mine done by a high school senior who ran a home-based photo studio.) But we do need a professional-looking picture that we can use on all our social media sites (consistency across the sites makes it easier for people to keep track of who we are).
5. Use an email address with your author name.
This is important but not critical. Our author name is the one that will appear on the cover of our books. We should be using our author name everywhere (twitter, facebook, etc.), including our email addresses if at all possible. Mine is jodyhedlund (at) jodyhedlund (dot) com. Simple. Uncomplicated. Easy to remember.
6. Set up accounts on reader sites.
This is optional but helpful. Sites like Goodreads, Shelfari, and Librarything allow authors to set up accounts, list their books, and link to their website and blogs.
7. Set up an account on Amazon’s Author Central.
This is optional but helpful. Amazon allows authors to create a place where readers can come and find out more about you, your other books, videos, etc. (Here's a link to mine.) You can also keep track of sales statistics through Author Central’s BookScan.
8. Get professional business cards.
This is important but not critical (especially if you have something else you can hand out like bookmarks or postcards—see below). I’ve used my business cards to pass out to local businesses (like bookstore managers and libraries). I include the cards in written communication with other professionals (like writers, radio show hosts, etc.). My web design team made my business cards to match my website. But there are many, many options available for making business cards.
9. Set up a PO Box.
This is very optional and probably unnecessary for most writers. Before designing my business cards, I wavered on whether I needed a PO Box, but in the end I set one up (rather than using my home address). I wanted to be as accessible as possible and yet still maintain some privacy, so I put a PO Box address in my books, on my website, and on my business cards. But I also write in a genre in which a percentage of my readers still send handwritten notes.
10. Get bookmarks or postcards for each book.
This is optional but beneficial. I’m fortunate that my publisher designs and provides bookmarks, postcards, and other promotional items at my request (which usually includes a picture of my book along with a blurb and my blog/website address). I hand these out in various places, send them in letters, and include them in book giveaways. There are a hundred-and-one ways to use bookmarks, postcards, or other promotional items.
So, what do you think? What have you done in advance to prepare for publication? Is there anything else you’d add to my list? Do you feel you’re on track or are there some things you need to get working on?
P.S. Make sure you check out The Doctor's Lady Trailer Contest! I'm giving away prizes! (Including Amazon gift certificates, a copy of my new book, and a 15 page critique!)