Creating and Maintaining Your Online Author Image

Once authors publish their books, they become public people. They are subject to having people do online searches about them and their books. Authors need to be proactive, therefore, about creating and sustaining a positive online image.

Once you become an author, you are, in the eyes of others if not your own, a celebrity. Even if the paparazzi aren’t chasing after you, people will be interested in knowing more about you and they’ll be looking online for that information. You need to remember you are no longer a private person, and anything posted online about you is subject to public commentary and can affect both your image and the sale of your books. Therefore, you need to be proactive in promoting your online image and branding yourself appropriately, as well as monitoring how your image is being presented by others with or without your permission.

Branding Your Website

Your website may be the first place people go to learn about you and your book, although it won’t be the last place. Do everything possible on your website to make sure your image is professional and promotes how you want people to think about you as well as the tone you think will promote your book. Plenty of articles have been written about creating good websites for authors so be sure to do some research, look at other sites, and capitalize upon what you see at other sites that you like while learning not to make the same mistakes other authors have made. Remember that just like Coca-Cola and Nike are brands and use branding, as an author you can do the same. You want to present a consistent message about who you are online. While your website may be the primary spokesperson for that image, don’t forget other sites where your author image is being created, whether you intend that or not.

Social Networking

After your website, social networking sites may be the place most of your readers will look for information about you. One author I know has several websites, and he has done hundreds of interviews and written dozens of articles, all of which can be found at numerous different sites online. Yet when you Google his name, in the top ten search results are his Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace pages, which means they will be among the first stops people will go to find out more about him.

Because social networking sites have high search engine results and are frequented by hundreds of millions of people, you need to be very conscious about how you promote yourself in these forums. The author I mentioned above specifically joined these sites to promote his books, but especially if you’re a newly published author, you might have joined these sites before your book was published so you may need to reassess your profiles to see whether they now promote the image you want.

For example, a lot of people post photos on their Facebook pages. Do your photos flatter you or show the tone you want to promote as an author? You may have been on these sites for years before you became an author, but now that you are one, does that change what you should have posted there and how you want to present yourself? Although not an author, I know a bookstore owner who has photos on his Facebook page of himself at some wild parties where he is obviously drunk. Yes, he’s in his twenties and that may be what twenty-year olds do, but are the authors and customers who come into his store going to approve of that kind of behavior? Are they going to feel he is going to do his best to sell their books or provide reliable service when his Facebook page makes it appear that getting drunk is his primary interest? Even fun photos can sometimes go overboard or could be misinterpreted by people who don’t know you as well as the friends for whom you primarily posted those photos.

Don’t forget to protect your privacy in posting information. For example, people have strange ideas about the celebrity statuses of authors. Too many people assume you are suddenly rich because you published a book. I’ve known authors who have received requests from people they haven’t heard from in years for large sums of money just because those people assume an author is a millionaire. You don’t want to put yourself or your family in a compromising position because there are unsavory or foolish people out there looking at your photographs or other information on your site and scheming for a way to use information against you. In short, not only must you protect your image, but be careful about the information you put on your site—your phone number, address, children’s names, may not necessarily be the best things to post. Just a website or email address is usually sufficient.

Be careful about the information you write about yourself as well. I saw one author who has listed under the “Favorite Books” section only one book titled “Everyone Poops.” I didn’t know anything about this book, but I looked it up on Amazon and it appears to be for potty training, so it’s an odd choice when this author has no children. Remember, people like to know what authors like to read, so think twice about what you post here and everywhere else.

Make sure you have all your social networking accounts (and your blog and website’s guest book) set so you can pre-approve comments or you have the ability to remove comments made by others. Also remember that when posting your own comments, while you may be able to remove them, once they are posted you cannot edit them, so double-check before you submit them so there are no typos.

Yes, you can create new social networking sites for your books or a separate author profile and keep those other sites for family and friends, but unless you set your sites to private, you’re going to be sharing them with your readership, whether they make you aware of that or not. And even if you set the sites to private, you are going to get friend requests from people you meet at book signings or places where you gave presentations. It’s up to you whether you add these people, but if you don’t, they may feel offended and then you are doing nothing to build a relationship with your readers. It’s better to use common sense in what you post than giving people the cold shoulder via the Internet.

Monitor Your Publicity before It’s Posted

You will get requests from journalists, bloggers, and other people to interview you, or post stories about you, or you may simply hire people to write press releases or other marketing pieces. Make sure you let these people know you want to see the piece and approve it before it is posted. You may not always be able to approve such pieces, but if you request it, most people will be willing to share it. That doesn’t mean to rewrite the piece; just make sure there’s nothing misleading in it. For example, one author I know had a press release done with a title that said something like “Author Grows Up in Ghetto but Now Lives in Fifth Avenue Penthouse”—sounds like an inspiring story, only the author didn’t actually grow up in a ghetto—the area became more of a bad neighborhood after he had grown up. The headline might grab attention but it wasn’t wholly accurate and the author felt it actually hurt his image. However, once it was submitted to an online site that handles press releases, that site would not allow the title to be changed. Even if you are successful in requesting something to be changed or removed once it’s posted online, you have no control over people who have copied, forwarded, or reposted the information elsewhere online—like a virus, that information can spread across the Internet, so take preemptive measures.

Google Yourself

Search periodically to see how other sites are promoting you. If you find unsatisfactory or defamatory content, ask that it be removed. You’re less likely to have this issue if you use good judgment in creating your online presence.

The best advantage to seeing how your image is being promoted online is to find places where you and your books are mentioned that you might otherwise not know about. For example, one author found his books listed for sale online, unknown to him and via his publisher, in Korea, the Netherlands, and Italy. He then made a point of posting to his blog that his book had become an international seller, complete with links for how to buy it in other countries. I don’t know whether he ever sold a book in any of these other countries, but I’m sure it impressed his potential North American audience and made some people curious enough about his book to purchase a copy.

Be sure to sign up for Google Alerts. Google Alerts searches whatever comes up in the Google search engine and Giga. This is a free service with options to purchase more advanced services. This site allows you to submit a few keywords, such as your name, your book title, and your publishing company, and then get emails whenever new listings of those keywords appear on the Internet, thus allowing you to monitor your online image with little effort. You can also use this service to find opportunities to promote your book. For example, if your book is about divorce law, use that as a keyword—then when a news story breaks about divorce law, you can chime in and comment on websites or volunteer to be a guest on a show discussing the issue.

Remember, your online image is how your readers will view you. While it may be true that even bad publicity is good publicity, being proactive about creating and maintaining your online image so it’s attractive to your readers will go a far way toward selling your books.

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.