One of the best parts of being an author is that I get to work at home in my boxer shorts. I don’t have to shave or comb my hair or even get out of bed if I don’t want to (thank you, William Grant Moggridge, inventor of the laptop). After years of being an office guy, this new ultra-casual work environment was a wonderful change of pace. But writing is not always a solitary existence (even the Unabomber had to go out for stamps). Obviously there are times when we need to look and act the part of a professional (I know, I know, but I promise it’s not ALL the time). There are tools writers can use to project a polished image to the publishing community. You've probably seen these lists before. They tell you what tools you need, but rarely where to find them. My goal today is to point you in the right direction. Keep in mind, my intent is not to endorse any particular company, and I encourage you to explore options, but I’ll mention some I've used personally and with satisfying results.
AN AUTHOR WEBSITE
This one may be a bit daunting to those of you who aren’t very savvy when it comes to the whole interwebby thing. Despite the boxer shorts uniform, a writer still works for a company, except now that company is YOU. Companies benefit from websites in so many important ways.
Maybe you assume your only option is to pay big money to have a web-designer build a site for you. I assure you, that’s not the case. There are some terrific one-stop shopping sites that make it simple to purchase a domain name and then build and update your own website. Pre-made templates and drag-and-drop editing make the process almost as easy as changing your cover pic on Facebook. Frankly, building an author website can be kind of fun.
Squarespace.com and godaddy.com offer easy design solutions, but for my website I went with wix.com. I built my site and had it up and running in a day, and my total cost was less than $200 a year (broken down into 12 monthly payment of $15 a month.) Not too shabby. The great thing about sites like WIX is that they let you build your site before you have to pay for anything, so there’s no harm in trying the do-it-yourself method before turning to a professional designer. If you like what you've built then just pull out a credit card and pay for it. If you don't, just walk away.
Here’s what the WIX design editor looks like. Friendly, right? You don’t need to know html or java or any coding at all. You can even integrate some rudimentary Flash with the click of a button.
Don’t forget to add links to your social media pages, like Blogger, Facebook and Twitter, to make it easier for people to find you elsewhere on the internet. Updating your website often is the best way to get people to keep coming back. If you build the site yourself, it’s a snap to update. Updating it yourself saves money.
You’re an author. Which means you’re a business person. Which means you need business cards (or you probably will at some point). There are plenty of office supply stores and printers you can visit or you can make your own online. I’m a fan of Printrunner.com because their editing tools are user-friendly, they ship quickly and they make a quality product. Like WIX, Printrunner offers a simple drag-and-drop design experience. Here’s a screenshot of their editing bay.
Nothing too complicated about it. Last month I ordered 75 postcard-sized business cards for around $50, but there are more affordable options based on size, coating, quality and quantity. They also have a wide range of print products, like posters, stickers, banners and bookmarks—all the best promotional swag.
I’m not sure how useful video trailers are for promoting books, but if it’s something you want on your website (or on Youtube) then you have a couple options. You can hire someone to film it and put it together for you (typically pricey!) or you can make your own. Learning video editing software takes a little more patience than building a website online, but once you learn the basics, you can make your own book trailers for years to come. I use Cyberlink Powerdirector because it came with my computer, but there are plenty of inexpensive software options available, starting at $20 on the low end. Corel’s Video Studio Pro looks good and it’s less than $80. Can’t go wrong with Corel and most of their software is downloadable from their website.
If you have a good video camera and a little gumption, why not give it a try? You can also use the software to make short, informative videos of yourself promoting your work. Creating an author Youtube channel is easy and can be an effective way to let readers connect a face/personality to your books (which is great, unless you're the Unabomber). Authors from John Green to Rick Riordan have their own Youtube channels, so why not you?
Self-promotion is an important part of being an author. It's a wise idea to put your best foot forward. Maybe you’ll get lucky and a publisher will assign a publicist to help out, but most of the time we are our own one-employee PR-team. Making a great impression both in person and on the internet doesn't have to be a costly or overwhelming proposition if you know where to find the right tools.