The Dozen New Digital Rules Authors Need to Know

“Choosing anonymity is choosing irrelevance.” Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, author of The New Digital Age.

Today’s guest is Carole Jelen, an author, former publishing editor, and literary agent for Waterside Productions. She is a former editor for major publishers including Addison-Wesley, Prentice-Hall and Sybex, an imprint of Wileyholds, and she has two degrees in English from UC Berkeley and UC Los Angeles. She also holds a California teaching credential, and trains and consults in publishing and audience building. Carole is the author ( coauthored with Mike McCallister) of Build Your Author Platform: The New Rules: A Literary Agent’s Guide to Growing Your Audience in 14 Steps. Her next book, a novel based on transcendence and her travel adventures to 44 countries, is still shrouded in mystery.

Carole’s book “will show you all of the tricks, tips, tools, and loopholes you’ll need to know –empowering you to take control of and build your author platform. When pitching a new author, one of the first questions I’m always asked by my publisher and our sales force is, ‘How’s the author’s platform?’ In the new age of publishing nothing is more important for success (aside from great writing, of course!).” — Andrew Yakira, Assoc. Editor, Tarcher/Penguin Group USA

Of her post today, Carole says that building readership is a subject close to my heart for launching my own novel and to build success as a literary agent for my author clients. I’m hoping to help every writer launch books with a story that needs to be told, and knowledge that will help others.

Connect with Carole on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter. And click here to view a trailer for her book.

The Dozen New Digital Rules Authors Need to Know

For three decades my job has been to search for talent, looking to discover the next “big” author. As a literary agent, I’ve come to rely on the web to find the best writers and thinkers. Like all talent scouts, I have to be able to find writers easily, and understand what books are about quickly, as well as seeing indication that people would care enough to purchase them.

My early career building days involved one foot in publishing, one foot in tech, and my head in clouds of ideas. Determined to stay on the west coast instead of transplanting to New York, I luckily found how to combine the best of both via the rise of the Silicon Valley. Out of a Redwood Shores office, I acquired books for large east coast publishing companies, scouring The Valley to publish now famous innovators. I learned from these brilliant yet sometimes reckless movers and shakers how they launched their ideas into the world. Their fervor in audience building influenced my ideal publishing model early on.

Then I realized my own book was growing inside of me, waiting to born in the form of fictional memoir. Because intuition pulls us along into areas where reason tells us not to venture, I went with it, booking a solo flight to a castle in Quebec to open the creative floodgates. I celebrated my finished manuscript—stumbling into a cafe with rumpled clothing, hair a mess, half awake at lunch—with bon voyage French champagne and soufflé.

But that soufflé deflated on the plane home. The reality of the publishing world I knew and the forces of reason combined with gravity to pull down that excitement: I realized I had no readers. With anguish I knew as a literary agent that as an unknown I could not place my own book into a publishing contract.

Teaching What I Know

So this is how I came to co-write Build Your Author Platform: The New Rules. Now in my third decade of working to make authors successful, I’ve studied how top authors who know something about marketing continue to hold a competitive advantage to get more books into the hands of more readers, and yes, achieve higher book sales.

The truth is that I couldn’t remain anonymous in order to bring my manuscript to life; and as a commissioned literary agent I have a stake in helping author clients successfully grow readership. This body of knowledge needed to be shared with all writers looking to grow readership.

I recorded how many successful authors build their platform on their own—without paying for consultants, expensive classes or publicity managers, using free web tools, networks and blogs as well as library cards. I discovered how authors find new fans, a surprising level of support, and an unexpected fresh idea stream by using twenty to thirty minutes a day for between six and twelve months.

As a new author, I also had to “walk the walk.” Using these same digital rules and new tools, I’ve built my author platform from ground zero, and it continues to bring in new readers, and will sustain my future writing.

keyOpen the Door…

The key to moving forward has always involved some holding on, keeping concepts that have worked before, and finding ways to translate and grow them into new avenues. Right here on Writer Unboxed, we’re using new tools to enhance what we’re doing; we’re communicating with bits and bytes, in a virtual community of like-minded souls scattered around the globe with a comment box dialogue. In-person coffee house discussion has been replaced by online interaction. You’ve already opened the door.

…And Walk In

The dozen new digital rules here can be applied one per month to make it easier to develop these concepts over one year. We have to move upwards by parts because we don’t live in a simple world, and the good news is that once separated out, each part is not that hard to master and grow. Each of the following “new rules” shines a light on ways to build readership from an already familiar base of people—starting with friends, colleagues, and associates who read books.

Unlock the Dozen New Digital Rules

At the end of the day, writers who keep traditional values of caring, sharing and helping others—combining these with new digital rules—get ahead of those who ignore them. Authors are boosting visibility digitally by joining author collectives, combining networks, forming groups, promoting one other, or blogging together. The main thing is to find what resonates and apply it.

  1.  We’re expected to be accessible by creating online conversations, in public. Readers feel more connected to you and your book if they can reach out and talk to you. Now readers are enabled with new digital tools and want to ask authors questions directly, so open the door and give readers access to your mind. Embrace the conversation with your audience with new tools like comment boxes and Goodreads “Ask the Author” feature.
  2. We need to share our ideas and get them re-shared on networks to build authority. We need to create some type of influence for people to explore our writing. When you share ideas with a huge pool your audience already participates in like Twitter, you easily enable people to reshare via RT. Twitter as a micro-blog is a shorter route than a full blog post.

    At the end of the day, writers who keep traditional values of caring, sharing and helping others—combining these with new digital rules—get ahead of those who ignore them. 

  3. Our findability is related to relevancy. Search engines like Google define findabillity via SEO. Learn how Google and other search engines work and use hashtags, metadata and key words to get found. Google is continuing to reward authors who create great written content, and it doesn’t take long to learn the tools, and why Google+ is more than a social network.
  4. We need to find ways to motivate others to talk together online. Authors who create motivation for interaction among members of their audience rank higher and be found more often on search engines. Creating a Facebook fan page boosts reader interaction as a community, and you can still maintain privacy with a personal page as well. Author Like exchange groups like this Author Networking Megasheet abound.
  5. As authors we need a demonstrated following. It’s better to have a smaller community of interested followers than thousands of uninterested followers. But remember, authors are also readers and are bonding through countless online support communities, like the Writers Network. Here is a list of ten more online writer communities.
  6. We boost audience by understanding readers. Understanding creates instant connection and uncovers reasons why people become interested in you and your writing. Online speaking and training creates avenues to gather questions and comments as food for blog posts and posts to networks. New tools for online talks and seminars gives the opportunity to teach in a pubic setting that opens new avenues to attract readers.
  7. Repurposing content gives us an extended reach. Find what others want to know and teach it, even if it is a subject somehow related to your book or how to write a book, then use it in the twenty ways suggested in this blog post.
  8. We need to appear wherever our readers hang out. This means appearing in as many multiple locations and media as possible. Picking and choosing is not the way to go. Instead, find multiple ways to get in front of people who are looking for you but have not yet found you.Now readers want to connect with writers by experiencing personal appearances, easily created online with video and audio through interviews, trailers, repurposing clips and more. For the same reasons you would not want your book to be found in only one bookstore, find and go to all the locations where your readers hang out.
  9. Building an online bookstore (for your book) sells more copies. Be sure that your book has a BUY button next to it, wherever it appears, to make it easy that once found, the reader can purchase it easily. Your book web site is an online bookstore selling your book, to readers, to bookstore buyers selecting titles, and to book reader groups who are thinking of selecting your title.
  10. Amazon’s Author Central forms a “billboard to the world.” The most empowering toolbox for authors is found right on the largest online distributor site—Amazon. Fill in all the slots: author bio, photo, book description, Twitter feed, blog feed, video, audio, so that readers can explore you and your book. There is nothing better for an author than having the info you choose about you and your book right there at the point of sale.
  11. Showcasing positive quotes and reviews has become essential. It’s not an era to be shy about praise. Readers base book purchases on what others say. In public view, print those positive reviews and praise quotes from your peers and readers: on your author and book sites, on your blog, on review sites like Goodreads, at others’ sites. Informative praise quotes about why the book is great work best.
  12. An author digital promotion plan has become a must, to connect all the pieces of platform. Understanding how to use the author site as “home central,” using online tools together to get the greatest and most effective impact, letting the Internet do the work of linking it all together, allows you to keep control of your platform and attract readers and talent scouts to be able to find you and your work.

BuildYourAuthorPlatform_3D5_TranspBG-350x396What Lies Ahead: Power to the Readers

The role of author and creative artist has evolved into an interactive experience and has gone beyond traditional book marketing. The artist role is evolving into a sort of partnership with readers. A new model is growing at publishers like Macmillan’s YA imprint Swoon Reads (you can read more about Swoon here). Now readers can vote online to choose what book Swoon will publish. The reality TV model is coming to publishing, with belief that this collective interaction will result in more potential buyers of books and that readers who vote will then evangelize the books to their networks, expanding the audience by multiples. Swoon’s site alone already has 10,000 registered users, and sites like Unbound are growing with advance financial support in exchange for book copies. Measuring readers’ reactions to manuscripts is also growing as a device as to what will sell in the future. This trend is becoming as powerful a tool for authors as self-pubishing.

The Next Step: Connecting Further

I invite you to jumpstart or widen your reach by connecting with me on Twitter, Google+ and on my Facebook fan page—connecting with my base of many thousands of authors and joining the author support communities I already belong to on these networks and on LinkedIn groups. This leads to exchange promotion through following and liking other authors in exchange. In the process you’ll attract fellow authors to become your readers. I hope you’ll join my networks and I’ll look forward to seeing you there.

What are ways you’ve opened doors in the digital world and boosted your online visibility? We’d love to hear your suggestions for what’s worked particularly well for you!



  1. says

    Oh, for the days when an attractive web site was enough! I’m daunted by all the other venues, but I see savvy authors using them and building successful careers, so I have to believe that what you recommend is true. With a book coming out in April, I think the time has come to expand my reach (not too far beyond my grasp, I hope!) thanks for providing a practical guide.

    • says

      Hi Cheryl, The whole thing was daunting to me at first too, but after taking one step at a time, I’ve seen how a platform adds up and brings in new opportunities on its own. I searched Google for your name and not sure if I found you; I hope you get your book visible and easily searched on when the time comes.

  2. says

    Carole– Thank you for a thought-provoking post. You say we need “to share our ideas….” Here are some of mine.
    As I reached the end of your article, I started seeing the Coliseum crowded with roaring spectators. This probably resulted from staying up to watch HBO’s “Rome,” but I’m not so sure. I think it also has to do with imagining crowds raising their thumbs, or turning them down for this or that author or book. The difference is, the gladiators being judged in the Coliseum have fought hand-to-hand in the arena.
    In the literary arena you see taking shape, the writer-gladiators are obliged every day to stop fighting to make a good book, in order to mingle with the crowd. They take off their breastplates and helmets to move through a sea of strangers, chatting them up and paying compliments, making them movies (trailers), etc. In other words, bread and circuses. At the end of the writer-gladiator’s long day under the hot sun, thumbs up or down will have mostly to do with the marketing he did in the stands, not with what took place below, in the arena.
    Please understand: I’m not criticizing your to-do list for the contemporary writer. It’s probably shrewd advice. I’m just suggesting that the new form of literary competition you describe has little to do with the literary past. Yes, there have always been writing celebrities. As with Hemingway and Norman Mailer, it came naturally. But the idea of celebrity, of self-generated, press-agented, digitized show business is essentially the model you recommend for all writers. If I’m wrong, please correct me. I’m teachable, just not interested in emulating the Kardashians.

    • says

      Hi Barry, Thank you for your comments and good to e-meet you via the online comment box here. Searching google on your name I found you’ve done work on your own online entries that point me and other potential readers to your work; it was great to be able to find you so easily, connect with your writing, and interact.

      A bit of research shows that Shakespeare and other members of his theater company were very involved in self-promotion, and easily argued that he very often wrote according to audience preference: with plenty of violence, war, sex, and betrayal. Many of his plays told stories people were already familiar with, decorated with fabulous language and costumes that were crowd pleasers. So maybe it’s not so bad to create around popular ideas and to network, which pre-dates the internet.

      You’re right that certainly there are those who will use the same free tools as everyone has at their disposal to sell or cheapen, which is a far cry from the basic idea of getting the word out about your books, being findable, and interacting with those interested in you and your books. The good news is that in today’s very crowded publishing environment, you have access to free tools and can choose– pursue any or all of these points finding what resonates with your style.

      • says

        Carole– thanks for troubling to write a detailed reply. Having taught Shakespeare for many years, I can appreciate what you say about him. It’s certainly true that he played to the crowd (sex and violence, etc), and “borrowed” all his plots from others, no doubt to save time. How he thought about his plays we can’t know, but it’s fair to say many if not most of them functioned something like soap operas or reality TV does in our day.
        As for self-promotion then and now, there’s where I think your analogy breaks down. Shakespeare spent his writing life in what is by modern standards a fairly small city. He was a known presence, a real person to other real persons. And he became popular because he was the best playwright of his time (or any time for that matter). In our day, many more marginal writers are succeeding than was true in the past. Yes, this has to do with so much more being published–but I think these success stories often have less to do with writing, more to do with knowing how to game the system–especially at Amazon–and how to develop friendships with digital pen pals. These carefully cultivated potential readers eventually buy the writer’s books out of a sense of loyalty. Is there anything wrong with this? No. But at the risk of sounding snobbish, I doubt it contributes much to the literary gene pool.

  3. says


    “In-person coffee house discussion has been replaced by online interaction. You’ve already opened the door.”

    Not only this statement, but the prevalence of one word resonated with me as I read your wise post today: online.

    The internet opens doors for authors unlike ever before, doors that are free to go through (whereas travel to book stores and events is costly), the only catch is an author must learn how. Thanks for your many illustrations – I’ve added a few things to my repertoire (for example, your post has given me the incentive to finally boot up my Google+).

  4. says

    Carole, you are right. Your advice is spot-on and comes from a professional perspective. But I’m sure I’m not alone when I say it makes me tired just reading all the things I need to do as a writer, besides simply write. It’s overwhelming to consider and certainly to achieve. Outsourcing is not a viable option because nobody can really “be me” the way I can. So, you are right. But honestly, it just doesn’t seem very realistic for most of us who still struggle to carve out the time to do the reading and writing we long to accomplish.

  5. says

    Hi Mia, Thanks for your comment, and yes, time is definitely an issue for all of my author clients (and for myself). Having been dedicated to the publishing industry this long as a life career choice, I kind of knew in advance how deeply it would sting to either have my own book declined by publishers or release it to the world with few sales, so I bit the bullet and put in my segment of time every day. Not everyone has extra time to create an audience, and you’re right, author platform like this has to be built in first person, authentically.

  6. says

    I enjoyed your article, Carole. Though I don’t have a major work finished yet, I have involved myself in social media for the reasons you’ve noted. Jane Friedman wrote an article a few years back that encouraged unpublished writers to create websites and use social media. I took her advice. In my research, over and over again I read how a writer who seeks publication should spend the time NOW to become familiar with digital platform tools. When I do have the opportunity to publish my work, I don’t want to spend my time learning when I could be promoting. So, thank you for these rules. I will study them now in preparation for that fine day when I have a book to share with the world.

  7. John Hooge says

    Barry–Your comments are well received, but why limit yourself to being a good or even great writer? It’s pretty clear that for many that just isn’t enough these days to be a successful writer. Not these days. You have to develop a platform–a term I never heard of a short time ago–if you want to sell your books successfully. I have a fantasy novel I have been writing and illustrating for some time and it’s getting close to being finished. While it’s being edited for the 2nd time, I’ve also been researching what is appropriate to market my book. It’s daunting, but at the same time exciting in trying to figure out what possibilities might work for me. If I can generate interest before my novel is published, what a great jump start! We hear over and over that a book should not be released before it’s truly ready. Seems to me that such also applies to getting your platform created by the time your book is released. I’m now in the process of creating a website with the hope of having readers ready for the publication of my novel. I have the advantage of having created some decent artwork of my own that will be in the novel. My website focuses on the artwork but it ties in directly to the novel. Of course having some ADD helps in splitting time between writing, drawing, contemplating marketing and being a full-time lawyer.

    • says

      John Hooge-
      Good luck to you. I wish you all the best with your book, and I’m impressed by how many hats you are wearing to produce it. But let me offer a caution, based on hard-won personal experience: marketing these days is much tougher than book writing, because marketing is in a state of constant flux. Plus, there’s lots of disagreement as to how writers should invest their time as self-marketers. And a tremendous number of people are offering their services as “experts,” ready to help authors sell their books. Before you pay for help, know exactly what it is you’re buying.

      • says

        Barry, you are so right about the aftermarket for those offering services to help authors succeed. Since publishers don’t do it anymore and since so many of us are self-published anyway, there’s a HUGE opportunity for true professionals in marketing and publishing and also those whose paint is not yet dry on their shingle. Author Beware!

  8. says

    This list of rules is daunting, to say the least. There is quite a bit to learn to accomplish the goal of creating a robust author platform. This actually fits right in with my long-term goals of a phased rollout for my fantasy series. I’m in the brainstorming process right now for the overall phase organization. I have two books published through Createspace. I am almost done with Book Three. The first two books will get new covers as part of the improved author platform.
    I have been wondering how to interact with my audience and build a strong foundation of readers and supporters. Many sites give very general information, but this list of twelve things makes it easier to visualize what needs to be done in the next twelve months.
    This is going into my business plan to create value for my readers and my product. Thanks.