Have you heard stories about plagiarism, authors behaving badly, review abuse, major formatting problems, or books with spurious typos?
If such stories are circulating, readers may be aware of them, too.
Would those readers grant you credibility simply because your name is in the author field? Or would credibility be something that you must earn?
Let’s imagine that we’re shopping for a book and consider some ways that we might assess an author’s credibility.
We see the cover, blurb, and Look Inside on the book’s product page.
What does the cover say about the author?
- Is an appealing cover a sign of an author who likes to do everything right? Does it show that the author believes in the book? Is it a symbol of professionalism?
- If the cover seems to lack effort, is it a sign that the book is similarly lacking effort?
The answers to these questions are not necessarily, “Yes.” For example, the author might believe the adage that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, or might have The Catcher in the Rye in mind as inspiration.
However, the shopper doesn’t know the author’s true motivation; the shopper only sees the result. Cover appeal does make an impression.
What can we learn about the author from reading the blurb and Look Inside?
- Are typos, formatting issues, or writing mistakes a sign that the author didn’t take the work seriously? If these short writing samples have problems, how does that bode for hundreds of pages?
There may be a reason for it. For example, the author might be a gifted storyteller who just doesn’t have the gift of grammar. Regardless of the reason, doesn’t this impact the author’s credibility?
I read a thought-provoking article1 by former publicist Sandra Beckwith last night, which inspired this point.
If the author receives help from an editor or a cover designer, does this lend credibility to the book?
- Does the presence of an editor suggest higher quality?
- Do other contributors show that the author is willing to work with others, recognizes his or her limitations, and is serious about perfecting the book?
- When the author does everything alone, does this suggest that there may be some aspects that are lacking, that the book could be better?
These are all tough questions. I’m not suggesting that the correct answer to each question is necessarily, “Yes.” What I’m wondering is how such things may impact readers.
What can we learn from how an author handles criticism?
- Does an author lose credibility when he or she comments on a review? I’ve heard from several reviewers who say that they strongly dislike it when an author invades this space. So even if you comment tactfully, this may lose credibility with some shoppers.
- Let’s go a step further. Suppose that the author comments, sounding defensive. Does this make the author seem needy, immature, or unprofessional?
- What if you check out an author’s blog, and the author is lashing out at a reviewer there? Although the blog is the author’s own site, it is in the public eye. How does this look to a prospective reader?
The toughest public relations challenge may be cyber-bullying, which poses a serious threat to authors, both indie and traditional. Ionia Martin, an avid book reviewer who often provides helpful advice for authors, suggested in a recent article2 that authors who are unfortunate enough to encounter this should deal with it using intelligence, honesty, and tact.
Perhaps intelligence, honesty, and tact, would go a long way toward building credibility in all of an author’s public relations.
Assuming you’re looking for a book you’d like to read and not for an author you’d like to date, does the author photo matter?
- Do you need to look like an author in order to be a great writer? Or do you just need to look professional?
- Or is it the quality of the photo that matters, not so much how the author looks? Do things like lighting, red-eye, blurriness, and pixilation impact the author’s credibility?
- Does a touch of personality appeal to you? Does too much personality put you off?
These questions might be worth considering, even if they aren’t easy to answer.
What do you look for in an author’s biography?
- For nonfiction, do you want to see the author’s relevant qualification?
- For fiction, does it matter to you if the author has a writing degree? Should the author have taken a writing class? Should the author belong to a writing group? Do you want some sign that the author has received feedback or help from others?
- Perhaps, for fiction, you don’t want to see a resume, but want to learn something about the writer’s relevant life experience or personality.
Not all of these questions may be straightforward. For example, some people have strong opinions about writing classes. I don’t want to open that can of worms, but would rather simply state that opinions on this differ. My concern here is just whether or not this impacts an author’s credibility with some prospective readers.
We probably have different expectations for what should be in a biography, especially for fiction. An effective biography will lend the author credibility with the target audience.
Did you know that CreateSpace has free marketing resources? One of these includes tips for writing an author biography.3
When the author interacts with the target audience, both online and in person, the author has a chance to build credibility with prospective readers, but the author also has the opportunity to detract from it.
What do you look for when you meet an author?
- Do you like to see signs of professionalism? Suppose you visit an author’s blog. Your first impression could be, “Wow, this author really knows what she is doing,” or it could be, “Umm, uh, well…”
- If the author’s writing samples in a casual setting appeal to you, does that help to create interest in the author’s book? If there are frequent writing mistakes, is that a red flag?
- Does the author’s character impact your buying decision? How about the author’s personality? Or the author’s writing persona? After all, you’re going to read the book, not go on a date with the author.
- Do you like to see a few signs of the author’s humanity? Do you want to learn more about the author as a person?
I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:
Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers