This blog post was originally published on the Book Trust website
I was delighted to be invited to take part in the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Joined up Reading Conference, organised by the Society of Authors, which took place this weekend.
I was there to talk about writers’ websites, alongside Sarah Benton, Sales and Marketing Manager for Hot Key Books, the Guardian’s Julia Eccleshare and author and History Girls’ blogger, Celia Rees. The session was chaired by author John Dougherty, who’s also part of a group of writers blogging at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure.
Check out illustrator Sarah McIntyre’s amazing illustration of our panel above – in which I look like I’m getting a bit overexcited!
Although it wasn’t perhaps quite as wild as Sarah’s illustration suggests, there’s no doubt that our session was quite a lively affair. There was lots to discuss and some great comments and input from the audience, who had plenty to contribute about their experience of developing their own websites and promoting their work online.
For those who weren’t there, here are some of the key areas we discussed – plus a few extra notes from me on some of the topics we didn’t have time to cover.
Authors do need a web presence
Everyone agreed that today, authors and illustrators are missing an opportunity if they don’t have a presence online. Whether it’s via a traditional author website, a blog, or a Facebook page, the web offers all kinds of ways to engage with your readers. As Hot Key’s Sarah Benton pointed out, by having your own website, you also keep control of the information about you and your books online. As a book reviewer, one of the first things I’ll do if I read a book I like by a new author is to Google them to find out more – so it’s important to make sure there’s up-to-date information about you and your books readily available.
Think about your audience
When planning what you want to do online, think about who you want to reach. If you write for teens or young adults, you might want to concentrate on content that will appeal to them. If you’re a picture book illustrator on the other hand, you might want to think more about ways to engage parents, teachers or librarians.
What platform is right for you?
Consider what sort of content you want to create, and how much time you have to commit. If you don’t think you’ll want to update your site often, you might want a more traditional ‘static’ site, which contains information about your work and how to contact you.
However, if you’re looking to build a relationship with your readers online, a blog might be a better option. You could use a simple, free web-based tool such as Blogger which is incredibly quick and easy to set up, or if you’d like a bit more control and flexibility over how your site works, you could explore WordPress, which offers you a range of different templates, some free or some which you’ll need to pay for.
There are other options too – if you’re an illustrator and want to share sketchbook pictures or images of work in progress, you might find a free platform such as Tumblr, which is specially designed for quickly and easily sharing images, would work well. Or maybe you’d like to share your visual inspirations for your books with your readers using Pinterest? Explore what’s out there and think about what would best suit your needs, as well as your audience’s.
Get help from your publisher
Don’t be afraid to ask your publisher for help or advice about setting up a blog or website. They may be able to offer helpful technical advice, whether it’s about how to get started with your own website, or how to use Twitter (all the publicists I know are expert users of social media!) They can also help promote your site by linking to you online and including it on any promotional material for your books.
Consider group blogging
If you don’t think you have time to blog regularly, but want to have a go, one approach would be to explore group blogging. Group blogs are a great way to share the work of maintaining a blog, whilst also widening your audience, helping new readers to discover you through the work of other authors in the group and vice-versa. There are some great collaborative blogs out there already, such as Girls Heart Books, Trapped by Monsters, Picture Book Den, Authors Electric, The Edge, The History Girls and The Awfully Big Blog Adventure,, some of which might be interested in a guest post. Alternatively you could set up your own group blog with some other authors or illustrators in your field.
Be personal – and be yourself
Your website or blog doesn’t have to be just about promoting your books and providing factual information. Readers tend to be bored by straight ‘self-promotion’, but from working on the Book Trust online writer in residence scheme, one thing that I’ve learned is that they are fascinated by the creative process. They love knowing all the details of how your work comes together, right down to what biscuits you’re eating or what music you’re listening to as you work (Book Trust’s current online writer in residence, Hannah Berry, shares her ‘song du jour’ in each of her blog posts). Aspiring writers and illustrators will love your tips and advice on how to get started too.
Don’t be afraid to be personal and have fun online. Having said that, as one of the writers in the audience pointed out, it can be difficult to know what your online ‘persona’ should be. If you write for younger readers, for example, filling your Twitter timeline with swearing might not go down well with some parents. Set some sensible guidelines that you feel comfortable with, and then just be yourself.
… But don’t allow your website to take over the real business at hand!
Let’s be honest, we all know how much of a distraction the internet can be, whether it’s discussing the line-up for Strictly on Twitter or looking at pictures of kittens. Lots of the authors and illustrators in our session were frank about how the web can become a procrastination tool which stopped them from getting on with the business of writing and illustrating. Our advice? Set yourself some boundaries and avoid spreading yourself too thin. Consider whether you really need to be on every social media platform, or update your blog every day – maybe once a week is enough. Remember you don’t need to write reams – research shows that people read differently online, and actually prefer lots of small pieces to huge blocks of text. You could just write a couple of paragraphs – or even share a photo instead.
For some different approaches to author blogging, check out Sarah McIntyre’s blog, check out Sarah McIntyre’s blog, which is full of photos and illustrations of her doings or Emma Chichester Clark’s illustrated blog written from the point of view of her dog, Plum. Hot Key’s Sarah Benton has also written up some useful tips from our discussion, which you can read here.