Report: How can Authors Build a Platform in the Digital Age?

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January’s event was a lively evening with a terrific buzz.

The vibrant panel consisted of Alexandra Heminsley, Jeff Norton and Catriona Troth.

Justine opened things by asking how large a part was played by Twitter in building platforms for authors. Alexandra felt it provided huge opportunities for expanding social circles and pointed out that vis a vis her own field, running and Twitter went very well together. Catriona said she had been using Twitter for 18 months, following those with similar interests, and had made some useful connections some of which had evolved into real relationships.

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Justine hosts the panel with sponsors Emily Pedder (in black) and Emily Midorikawa (in red) of City University watching from the front row.

Justine then spoke about non-digital means of communication and wondered how important they continued to be in a digital age. Jeff, whose readers are predominantly Young Adults and generally not registered on sites, observed that people still craved face to face interaction. In his case he attended many schools where he was able to speak with members of his readership.

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Jeff and Alexandra listen intently to Catriona and her Twitter experiences

Justine introduced the concept of Branding and Jeff said it was an important factor and that it was helpful where an author was producing material in various fields, to develop Brands that would be relevant to each. His ‘girl books’ such as ‘Princess Ponies’ for example used a female name in order to create a brand which was completely different from that for ‘MetaWars’ for which he used his own name. He maintained, at another level it was painful to reduce oneself to a brand and Catriona felt that being part of an author collective, such as Triskele, helped to alleviate sensitivities on this point.

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Jeff weighs up the merits of the author becoming a brand

Moreover, others in the group could promote one and collectively they have more clout which is useful for building up relationships with literary festivals and other outlets.

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Alexandra discusses effective means of author promotion

Justine then spoke about what was the most effective means of promotion and Alexandra made the point that ultimately the book itself was the important thing as people would realise very quickly if there was a gap between what was being promoted and the product.  She suggested that short videos work well as a promotional tool and in the case of her topic – running – it was particularly useful to have the visual counterpart.

A discussion then took place about marketing and publicity with Justine wondering whether authors were better placed to publicize themselves than their publishers. Catriona maintained that everyone had to participate in the process, and that it was wise to begin well before the appearance of the book itself. Jeff said a writer had to be ‘out there’ and claimed a writer will be more likely to focus on the new project with the publisher concentrating on what was done for the previous one.

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The panel give invaluable advice for authors and publishers in the audience

Justine asked what advice the panel would give to authors new to the whole thing and Alexandra said that the most important quality was integrity and that without this a mere sales pitch would be unconvincing. Catriona and Jeff agreed wholeheartedly and all felt that actual human presence was key to a sense of authenticity and that online interaction was only an attempt to reproduce this. The need people felt to meet up and discuss went very deep, they thought, as evinced by the huge and continued success of Byte the Book itself.

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A packed audience at the Ivy once again!

There followed a number of questions from the floor, covering such topics as how far an author should speak about unfinished material prior to publication date and how closely a writers’ community should be involved with an individual member’s work at the draft stage. After the discussions, in which audience members participated fully, general networking then took place.

Not only was this a highly useful and informative meeting it was also a sparkling occasion with a tremendous atmosphere in which people mingled and chatted and were clearly enjoying themselves.

Words by Jay Merill , photos by Daniel Solomons

If you enjoyed this report why not book to join us at The Club at The Ivy on Monday 10th February when we discuss the thorny topic of pricing 

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