The first thing every savvy nonfiction writer needs to do is to create a presence on the Internet. That is often the first step in declaring yourself to the public. A website helps build your future platform while also serving as your current billboard. Consider the websites of authors you admire, especially those who are writing in your same category. See how they position themselves. Take note of the kinds of information they post about themselves and their books. These sites represent the industry standard; it is a good idea to continue to refer back to them while you construct your site. A professional e-mail address to accompany your website is also necessary. Once your new professional website is constructed and ready to launch, be certain that everything is running perfectly and it is free of typos and visual flaws before you tell the world.
Link Your Site
Now that your website is up and running, you need to get the word out. Attract readers. The most effective way is to have other websites embed links to yours. Visit several websites that relate to your field of expertise. Contact them and offer to put a link to their site on your links page if they will do the same for you.
There is no reason to be shy about seeking links to your website. Just be certain there is an obvious reason for your connection to that particular site. The point is to increase the flow of visitors to your site. Even those who arrive indirectly while surfing other sites may find their interest captured by your clever and engaging website content.
We highly recommend that your website have a photo section where you can post images of you doing what you do best: working your platform. Never be without a digital camera at any professional event. Get plenty of shots of you speaking, attending book signings with well-known authors or recognizable experts in your field, and participating in other events that extend your credibility.
Once the photos are up on your website, contact a few of the other attendees and ask for their comments about the event. Also ask permission to post their comments on your site with the event photos.
In this way, you are giving the world a chance to meet your audience.
Another key component of your profile is a professional-quality headshot. You can have a friend or family member shoot the photo of you, provided that they hold to professional standards as your competition will. No candid shots, and forget that good one of you at the beach. With digital photography, take as many appropriately posed shots as you need until you get the right one.
A few things to note about your photo: Do not wear white or black, or dress in vivid patterns. Be sure the background is in the light to medium range and not too busy. There should be no shadows across your face or body. Your wardrobe, the setting, and facial expression should match the tone of your book. Keep shooting with different variables (hair, lighting, background, pose) until you get the perfect shot. Let the public greet you the way you want to be seen.
It can be helpful to have advance praise for your book before it is published. Ask others who have a direct tie to your topic—preferably with some name recognition of their own—to read your manuscript and give you a quote. Then pull out short excerpts of these quotes to create a testimonial section on your website. A sentence or two from each person is enough. Your testimonial section will begin with these comments from people who are impressed with your writing, and will eventually expand to include reviews or comments from articles that you publish. It can also include e-mailed responses to talks or lectures that you have given, or those of colleagues in your field. Your testimonial page will grow as your platform expands, all of which can enhance a book deal. A good testimonial page (with entries that are all strictly true) can even help persuade a highly visible person to write a foreword to your book.
E-Mail Mailing List
Your site should have a prominent area where visitors can sign up for your newsletter or mailing list. Over time, this builds a nice mailing list that you can use to promote your book when it hits the market. Be certain that your website has a “Contact” section so that visitors can write to your e-mail address. You don’t want to be hard to reach.
Another great way to build an e-mail list is to create an electronic newsletter to discuss your book project and alert readers to speeches, appearances, and signings, as well as to expand your platform. There are many new electronic newsletter services that provide attractively designed templates for your content. Ask Google or any Internet search engine for information on electronic newsletters. Use your mailing list for distribution. You can then monitor statistics such as: how many people opened your newsletter, what they specifically read, and whether they wish to continue receiving material from you. What was once prohibitively expensive is now quite affordable, with rates as low as fifteen dollars a month, depending on the number of names on your mailing list.
Blogging may not be helpful until you have a good number of visitors coming through your website and reading your book, so don’t sit around tapping away at your daily journal and waiting for things to get better. Instead, contact other blogs, ones you like and that are in the same area as your book, and offer to send them your column for free. Search online for electronic magazines and large blogs that actively seek and accept submissions from any writer if their story is compelling. Just set your search engine with keywords that apply to your subject. Also, consider the wisdom in avoiding the temptation to blog about your personal life. Anything posted online is permanently out there. It can easily come back to haunt you.
If your story has caused any news footage, make a point to get video snippets mounted on your website.
If your video clips come from a mainstream media television show or an online news site with video, the station or site probably keeps a history of their episodes in archives, so you might be able to get permission to link their video directly to your site. That way you don’t need to load the interview itself onto your site, saving on your site’s memory load and raising your site visitors’ scanning speed. The station may also be pleased to have more online hits through your site, so this situation is mutually beneficial. That’s a good selling point when seeking permission.
If the video is an amateur YouTube sort of posting, try to contact the original source of the upload. You may have to load this sort of video onto your site because you don’t want to lose the video if the owner’s site shuts down.
You can create helpful video snips by shooting your own and mounting it on your site, so long as you do it in a way that evokes your professional image. Many nonfiction books are so true-to-life that they can support an interesting video segment just by having you sit before the camera and tell something about your story.
So make your own video. Invent a style for yourself. Address the camera in the “direct pitch” mode, or have someone off camera ask you brief questions so you have someone to respond to. For brevity, cut out the questions and play only relevant snippets of the answers. Viewers will understand that these are trimmed interview bits.
This is great practice for when you are actually doing a real on-camera video interview. Many televised programs will not book a new guest without seeing some existing footage, so this can also be used to send to stations on request.