Authors marketing themselves online: the components of a strategy

Mike Shatzkin has been in publishing since 1962. Since 1979, Mike has been an independent consultant (The Idea Logical Company) with clients that have included most major publishers in the US and UK, retailers including Barnes & Noble and Borders, wholesalers including Ingram, and a host of tech startups. He has partnerships with Michael Cader in a conference business (Publishers Launch Conferences) and with Peter McCarthy in a digital marketing business (Logical Marketing Agency). You can follow him on Twitter @MikeShatzkin.

A range of useful options is available to any author as they consider their online presences. All can be useful to any author but their own website is an essential component of that. It’s an anchor and it is the only web presence the author knows s/he will always control.

An author’s objectives for a website should be to:

  • Make it crystal clear to search engines who the author is and for what they are an authority.
  • Give the author a platform that can be used for many things: blogging, posting parts of books or works-in-progress, and gathering email addresses.
  • Give fans of the author a sensible place to link to an author’s content and biography that is not called
  • Collect data that is independent of any specific book’s sales that can help an author know how s/he is doing in the digital world.

In addition to a web site, which is real estate an author totally controls and is the most important tool in an author’s kit to get new followers through search, an author can do him or herself some good by going where fans could be.

Every author should have a presence on Goodreads and Library Thing. And every author should have a robust Amazon author page, a Google-plus page, and completed author pages for every online retailer that offers the opportunity. All of these not only effectively reach out to groups of potential readers, they also inform search engines.

Depending on the author and the topics about which s/he writes, Pinterest, Medium, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instangram, or Tumblr might also be important. They’re all free, people find out about books and authors from all of them, and search engines crawl them. Which of them is worth doing and how much effort each is worth depends on the audience and the book.

And authors should be in touch with other authors too. They have blurbed for each other’s books for years. Now they can link to each other. They can mail to each other’s fans. No author is so prolific than s/he needs to “own” fans exclusively.

Publishers should be helpful in all of this but too seldom are. They should insist that authors have websites and build them if necessary but put all of an author’s books on them, not just the ones they publish. They could help organize their own authors to help each other with links and mailing list pooling. (Note: agents could be doing that too; I am not aware of one that does.) Publishers should “audit” the online presences of all their authors and, at the very least, make clear suggestions about what needs to be improved or fixed. It is past time for publishers to be offering that help.

You can read more from Mike on the Shatzkin Files.


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  2. Kate Sexton

    Excellent points, especially about the weak or nonexistent help publishers give. But when cutting staff is your way to a better bottom line quarter to quarter, how can you help sell books? It’s a crazy world. Books are not toothpaste and can’t be marketed that way.

  3. joelfriedlander

    As someone who addresses these issue for indie authors, I think your article does a real service for authors who may not have been keeping up with how marketing has changed in the last few years. This is a very good overview that will help orient authors to their role in social media. And although I think you are exactly right about the role of publishers in all this, I wonder how effective your advice will be, since we don’t see much of the auditing or advice filtering down to the vast majority of their authors.

    1. Mike Shatzkin

      You’re right about the status quo. Publishers are not routinely providing help or effective collaboration with authors. Things change.

  4. Hilary Sierpinski

    Smaller pubs might be doing this. I know we are at The Story Plant. Our Marketing Director helps our authors build a website, or goes through their existing one from top to bottom, and I do a full digital audit with recommendations on how to expand their reach and offer advice on what social media platforms they should try and how.

    1. Mike Shatzkin

      Innovation often comes from smaller publishers. Open Road has been doing things for a long time that should be copied and aren’t, such as constructing a calendar of non-book events around which they promote (Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, etc.)

  5. Bob Mayer

    An author at the very least needs a landing page with links to all titles on all platforms. That is the basic starting point as you note. I’m always amazed when I look up an author and they have minimal social media presence. If you’re Stephen King, that’s okay, but in today’s market, social media is the new, nonstop book tour. The good news, it’s out there for everyone.

    1. Mike Shatzkin

      That’s a useful minimum starting point. Aggregating reviews and comments about a book would also be useful. And the author can use a landing page — or, better, a site — to make sure the search engines have the info they need to report that author back for relevant searches that are NOT as simple as the author’s name or book title!

  6. Richard Pawlowski

    Interesting points and never even heard of Library Thing. But geezus…isn’t there a better way to do some of these data management tasks. Seems like it is getting much harder to find the time to just write books…and not worry so much about technology. Thanks for the insights.

      1. Richard Pawlowski

        Mike, I understand that thinking but, traditional publishers may not help do all this new marketing. They aren’t necessarily up to speed on all new tricks and changes. It seems no one really has a good grip on all this.

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  8. Chris Aldrich

    It seems to me that even major publishing houses could/should be giving their authors crash courses on topics like this, even if they only did it quarterly, it would provide a great benefit to their authors. Unfortunately, it seems like they don’t have enough respect for them to do even this… such a missed opportunity when they rely on their authors do bear the brunt of the publicity for their own releases.

    1. Mike Shatzkin

      Plus one on that. We’ll know something is changing when we hear the first big house has instituted a marketing education program for authors.

  9. Chris Syme

    Your point about authors helping themselves is well taken Mike. Social media is an enigma for many authors and you are right in saying that its use needs to be strategic. Thanks for keeping the discussion going.

  10. Toni Hargis

    Great post. I must admit I’m a bit hopeless with web site stuff, although I try to keep my presence alive on some social media. I found that shelling out for someone to develop my web site was money well spent and people are usually more than happy to link to in in my bios.

    1. Mike Shatzkin

      VERY important point that your site gives people a place to link. If you don’t have one, they probably choose Amazon. And, by the way, make sure your Amazon Author Page is optimized and fully filled-in. It’s important!

  11. Nikoya

    For indie authors, the ones whom pro published works have not manifested yet, blog posts like this always emphasize the basics of an online presence and nothing beyond. Have a specific website…. Pick a niche…… Write with authority on your industry. Get on Twitter. Talk on Facebook. Link to other websites and authors in your industry. Build a email list. Sign onto Tumblr, Instagram and blah, blah, blah. How effective is it all, really? When everyone is on “everything” doesn’t the value of it all loose power? Many of us have all this, and most of our readers want more FREE material. Free blog posts. Free eBooks. .99 cent downloads. With the plethora of info on the web, I feel these strategies are dying and its quite frustrating. Even as a pro published author, when you are everywhere, all the time, I see the potential for readers to get tired of you as a personality. If that happens then they will not seek your works. Then in the professional space, publishers you query will try to sum you up and also fall short on what you are all about! (IMO)

    1. Laurie Varga

      Nikoya, I agree. Social media and blogs are VERY time consuming to keep on top of and for most authors the ROI is just not there. I’ve tried it for years and made little progress (not for books but for another business venture – though I’ve heard it’s even worse for books). The other issue: If all authors are using the same techniques we end up drowning in the sea of sameness. If you want to be read, you have to do something different, something other authors aren’t doing.

      A good website is important, it’s the only piece of web real estate that you own. Finding one or two other places to focus on and reach out online is fine but if you spread yourself thin there isn’t any energy left for writing good books and you end up just giving things away to people who are only interested in FREE.

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  14. Palessa

    I agree with this article 1000%. Your site is a brand/business card to the readers who can come from any platform. As someone who is not only an author but a former marketing analyst, I’m always looking for ways to connect on the platforms you mentioned to help increase my discoverability and expand my sphere of influence. Of course, the challenge now is consistency but I’m not working them as much as I can regularly.

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  17. BookJaw

    Great article but:
    The major issue is the difficulty in merging the deadline-driven, ‘publish and forget’ culture of traditional publishing with the permanent care digital products need. This requires different skills and different people. It may require whole other companies — that’s what we’re trying out. Our just-launched company is a digital agency that only builds sites for published authors. We also do strategy, social, Goodreads, Wikipedia etc… We work with authors from all and every publisher and are funded sometimes by authors, sometimes by publishers and sometimes by both.

    These are interesting times with many possible new services and approaches. It will be interesting to see what comes out of it. I just don’t think it’s necessarily true that this is work that publishers need to do…

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