Ten years ago, it probably didn't matter if an author had an online presence. That certainly isn't the case anymore. Think about the number of books sold on Amazon.com, BN.com or Borders.com, and you'll quickly realize that if you are an author, you should definitely have some kind of online presence.
What kind of online presence do you have now? To find out, just Google your name, or the name of your book. If you only have 2-3 pages of search results which pertain to you or your book (or worse yet, none at all) you don't have enough of an online presence.
Your name is your brand. It is the thing that readers look for when readers want more information about an author or their books. If your name or the name of your book isn't the first thing that appears in the search results when you Google them, you've got some work to do.
So how do you build an online presence? Fortunately, the fixes are simple, and in many cases, free.
1. Get a web site. As an author, this should probably be one of the first things you get to build your online presence. It doesn't have to be a huge web site with a bunch of bells and whistles, as long as what you have looks professional. At a minimum, it should have an author biography, information about the author's books, a way of contacting the author, a schedule of author appearances and a way of purchasing the books. If you can't build your own web site, you can hire someone to build one for you, and it doesn't have to be expensive.
2. Get a Facebook/MySpace page. This is a fast, free and simple way of developing an online presence and staying in touch with your readers. Setting up an account is free, although if you don't know what you're doing there are services which will customize a page for you. The key here is to post to your pages frequently, and to build a list of "friends." You can start with your family and friends, and encourage people to join your page through your web site. The more friends you have connected to your Facebook page, the more effective it will be. Even better, your friends can recommend your page to other people.
3. Get a Twitter page. This is kind of like having a Facebook or MySpace page, but your updates are limited to 140 characters or less. I use Twitter to pass along marketing tips and links to articles I think authors will find helpful. Authors can use it to notify people about their book signing events and the latest news about their book. Getting a Twitter account is free.
4. Get a blog. If you are reading this, then you already have a pretty good idea of what a blog is. It's like having a web site, but you can update it often...even daily if you want to . Posting to a blog frequently is most effective, and the posts should be concise and informative. If you are working on a new book, tell your blog readers. If you have a book signing event coming up, tell your blog readers. The idea is to build as much traffic to your site as possible, and I'll tell you how to do that in an upcoming post.
5. Comment on posts on other blogs and message boards, and sign them using your name. This is another fast way of building an online presence. The key here is to leave short, informative feedback on other blogs and message boards, and include a link to your blog or web site so people can click on it and connect with your directly. The more incoming traffic you have on your web site or blog, the more your name or the name of your book will come up in search engine results.
Of course, you don't want to spend every waking moment of the day managing your online presence, but it only take me about ten minutes to write a blog post and post updates on Facebook and Twitter. These few extra steps will help you build an online presence and help spread the word about your and your book. Authors can't afford to be shy. If you aren't connecting with readers, readers will be connecting with another author.
What methods have you used to build an online presence?