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Keep Your Author Platform Rooted in the Independent Web

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I write a lot about the importance of web presence for businesses and individuals, how to create it and how to sustain it. But right now authors are in a uniquely powerful and also potentially hazardous position in terms of their web presence, and in this post I want to speak to those issues specifically.

As a result of Amazon's aggressive moves in the publishing industry, independent authors now have the book distribution system of our dreams. It couldn't be easier to publish on Amazon (well it could, but why quibble), and it is now possible, if you have a quality product and are willing to work hard, to actually make decent money writing. Maybe even a living. (Cue authors sobbing for joy.)

Amazon gives authors a powerful publishing platform (other e-reader platforms do too, though Amazon is unquestionably the leader). They  also provide fantastic opportunities to interact with readers through lists, forums, and Author Central pages, and allow easy control of pricing and promotions for all your titles.

Many authors have huge audience interactions on their Facebook fan pages as well. There are tons of readers on Facebook, and you can really build a buzz for your books using this amazing free platform. The downside? If your web presence is solely on Amazon and Facebook, it's not really yours.

John Battelle writes compellingly about the independent web and how that commons is shrinking due to the rise of "walled gardens" such as Facebook and Amazon. Both platforms are interested in keeping the value of your transactions for themselves, and both are focused on long-term strategies to grow their own turf, not on helping you with your writing career. Facebook can already use any of your content for its own purposes, however it chooses to do so. In exchange for exposing our work to vast numbers of readers, we help Amazon and Facebook in their long-range plans to dominate the Internet.

What to do? The solution isn't to ignore Facebook, or refuse to distribute your e-books through Amazon. I would like to see authors make money and adopt some of that long-range strategic thinking to tend their own gardens while conditions are ripe. Using Battelle's apt metaphor, authors need to anchor their taproot on an independent website or blog.

There are several ways to do this that come readily to mind. Have I missed any? Please let me know in the comments.
  • Use Amazon Author Central to link back to your independent web presence. If you don't already have a blog, set up a wordpress.com or Tumblr site. Then link its RSS feed to your Author Central page, so readers looking for you on Amazon can click through back to your site. Twitter has the same functionality on Author Central, but blog feeds are given more space.
  • Make sure every e-book you publish has external links to relevant content on your website, and an invitation to join your mailing list when they visit your site.
  • Don't use DRM (digital rights management) on your e-books; it is a bad idea for you personally and a disaster for publishing in general.
  • If you publish original short-form fiction directly on your Facebook fan page, stop at once! Use Tumblr or WordPress to publish there first, using canonical tags so that search engines know that your website hosts the original content. Then push those stories automatically to your Facebook page using Facebook's Import Notes function.
  • Always keep some content exclusively on your website -- free downloads of bonus chapters, for instance. Periodically remind your Facebook fans that they can access the content for free by heading over to your website or joining your email list.
As long as Amazon's and Facebook's interests are aligned with those of authors, every writer should take full advantage of the situation and start getting paid to write. Yet when the day comes that they change their policies to take more of our value, don't get caught without an independent web platform of your own. Start now to anchor that taproot in your own garden, and reap the benefits of your own hard work for years to come.

A version of this article was originally published at Creative Content Coaching.