London Book Fair: How To Be Yourself Online Event Report

Posted by Maleeha Mir on 25 April 2023, in Event reports, News

Photos by Amelia Kyazze, Words by Chris Russell

As part of the London Book Fair’s busy programme of author events, Byte The Book packed out the English PEN Literary Salon for a panel on digital promotion. Chaired by Byte founder Justine Solomons, the discussion saw Bookswarm’s Simon Appleby, marketing mentor and confidence coach Kelly Weekes and Mark Stay of The Bestseller Experiment Podcast take to the stage to talk about how authors can best be themselves online.

Justine Solomons (right in lime green) introducing the panel, from left to right, Kelly Weekes, Mark Stay and Simon Appleby.

To begin, Justine asked Simon why authors should be getting themselves out there in the first place. Simon pointed to the recent drastic change in what writers can expect from their publishers, commenting: “This is my fifteenth London Book Fair, and the industry has changed dramatically in that time. Traditional publishers used to take responsibility for author marketing, organising websites, headshots and events, but these days, unless you happen to be Stephen King, you’ll be doing all that yourself. You need to take ownership of it”. Kelly agreed, emphasising that while more is expected from authors in 2023, this responsibility brings with it great opportunity. “Close contact with your readers used to be rare, but these days, you can build those relationships directly”. She also pointed out that if you do move publishers across the course of your career — a trajectory that’s becoming more and more common — then having your own mailing list, website and general online presence will allow you to take your audience with you.

Kelly Weekes sharing her insight on how authors can engage with readers online.

But in such a crowded marketplace, how can authors engage effectively with their communities? “You can always start small,” advised Mark, aware that the task of crafting an online persona can be intimidating to some writers. “An author website doesn’t need to be complicated; you could simply post a single page with your name, biography and a link to buy your book. That way you have somewhere to send people”. Similarly, Simon reassured authors that their online presence can and should be tailored to their personal schedule and resources. “Be realistic about what you can do. It’s better to maintain a small courtyardwell than let acres of land goto seed”.

Simon Appleby sharing his advice on how authors can plan social posts.

Kelly reminded writers that their readers actively want to hear from them, and that online marketing doesn’t mean a constant hard-sell. “Authors worry about coming across as ‘braggy’ or ‘salesy’, but marketing is about so much more than that. Take people on the publishing journey with you. You’ve written your book for a reason, so tell people it’s there… or they won’t know!”. She also stressed the importance of defining and seeking out your target audience, pointing out that this will help writers decide which platforms to invest their time in. “Clients ask me which channels they should use, but there’s no one answer to that. It depends on you, your book, and who and where your audience are. Are you a very visual person? Then head to Instagram. But if you’re more text-based and likely to post multiple times a day, Twitter may be a better fit”. On the topic of Twitter, Mark then shared his weekly approach to using the platform, which involves sitting down every Monday morning and scheduling a series of tweets for the week. “I allow myself one ‘Buy My Book!’ tweet per day, and my first post each morning is a simple one — my current word count. People respond to this with their own word counts, which starts conversations”.

Mark Stay sharing his experiences using social media.

The panel rounded off with a series of top tips for the writers in the room. “It’s a long game,” counselled Simon, “so don’t expect overnight success”. Search engines, he added, take a while to find you, so don’t wait until a fortnight before publication to start posting. Mark extolled the virtues of consistency and persistency (he has a friend who does an ‘Ask Me Anything’ every single day at eight o’clock) and reminded the audience to always be on their best behaviour, because the internet never forgets (“You’re a brand, so don’t go around picking fights with people!”).

A packed audience enjoying the talk

Finally, Kelly tackled a problem that the vast majority of authors can relate to: procrastination. “Don’t overthink every single piece of content,” she said, addressing the temptation to obsess over posts that, in all likelihood, will be forgotten within hours. “Done is better than perfect,” she concluded. “So get it done”.

Thank you to English Pen and London Book Fair for hosting us.

You can see more photos from our wonderful LBF event here!


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