Building Credibility as an Author

Trust 2

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.

Packaging Display

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.

Public Relations

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.

Author Photo

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.

Author Biography

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

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

The Publicity Paradox

Double Edged

Do you remember the days when you first applied for a job? Scouring the want ads, preparing resumes and cover letters, going to job interviews.

It seemed like everybody wanted you to have experience. The only problem was that you didn’t have any. You may have thought, “How will I ever get experience if I need experience just to get hired?”

Publicity suffers from a similar seeming paradox: You may feel that publishers, agents, publicists, editors, bookstores, reviewers, and even the media want you to have publicity before they will help you get more publicity. That’s great if you’re a celebrity.

Breaking through as a new author is a challenge. You’re an unknown. There are too many uncertainties. How will people react to your storytelling, characterization, and writing? How good is your idea? How will you handle the pressure? How effectively will your market your book? How well will you follow through with your commitments? How much help do you need? How professional or amateurish are you? How much do you need to learn about writing, editing, formatting, marketing, publicizing, social media, and making connections? And most importantly, how will you go from being a nobody to becoming an author with much publicity? Ah, if you only had that publicity (among your target audience) to begin with, that would help to make the risk so much more worthwhile.

How do you get publicity when you don’t have it to begin with?

If you had publicity, it would lend you credibility as an author; it would lend your book credibility, too.

If you credibility, it would help you gain publicity.

If you could lay an egg, you could make a chicken out of it.

If you could make a chicken, it could lay an egg for you.

It’s like you’re on a deserted island with no chickens or eggs, but you desperately need one or the other.

Baaak! Baak, baak, baaak!

I see a similar hurdle for Read Tuesday, a Black Friday type of event just for books.

If we had authors with more name recognition, it would greatly improve the publicity that we could receive from the media, internal promotions, paid advertisements, etc.

If we had more publicity, it would help us attract authors with greater name recognition.

However, Read Tuesday has a big advantage. There are many indie authors who are experiencing the challenges of marketing their books firsthand who have been very supportive of the Read Tuesday event. This has helped to give Read Tuesday much initial support, and we are fortunate to have the participation of some authors who have achieved some modest levels of success (e.g. top books in their categories at one time, or ranking at around a thousand on Amazon for a limited time in paid sales). We also have a couple of small publishers who will be participating.

(We are fortunate to have every author who has agreed to participate, no matter how big or small—everybody is vital to our success, all participation is valuable, and each author is much appreciated. I wish for every author to have a successful Read Tuesday.)

Read Tuesday also has something to offer. An author with name recognition could gain increased exposure from the Read Tuesday promotional efforts, as the Read Tuesday publicity and promotions would feature this author’s name.

On the other hand, would the author who has risen to the top want to come back down and play with the small fish? Would he or she remember his or her roots? Would he or she support his or her fellow indie authors? Surely, it’s much easier to say what you would do if you get there than it is to do it when you’re sitting at the top.

The thing is, all indies have the same advantage that Read Tuesday has. There is a very large readership that supports indie authors. Why? Because there are hundreds of thousands of indie authors and hundreds of indie publishers, and their friends, family members, acquaintances, and coworkers raise this number to the millions.

Although some people try to paint a poor image of self-publishing, there are millions of people who support it. “This book was published with CreateSpace, was it? My niece published a book through them.” The books that have serious issues aren’t hurting anyone, while the large number of very good indie books and the growing number of successful indie authors show that indie publishing has much potential.

Ultimately, what the reader wants is a professional book. Whether or not the book is traditionally or indie published is secondary. A book that looks professional, pleases the target audience, and is discovered by the target audience can gain much support.

Read Tuesday also has the opportunity to help indie authors promote their own books. The event itself is far more popular than any single participating author. By promoting Read Tuesday in addition to the author’s own book, Read Tuesday has the potential to help authors market their books.

It can be a win-win situation for any author, tiny name or big name. Every author’s participation helps to improve the credibility and success of the event, and the event can help any author promote his or her own book in conjunction with the event.

Back to the publicity paradox. What you have to do to break out of the paradox is start small, work hard, be wise, be patient, market effectively and diligently, keep writing, and spread outward.

You gradually build a following, increase your number of connections, gain a little exposure, and build a little publicity. Continue writing and you’ll have a few books out.

The better your books are from cover to cover, the more they will help you grow your following, connections, exposure, and publicity. The better your marketing efforts, the more they will help you grow your sales.

Eventually, you may achieve some small measure of credibility and publicity. Once you finally get your foot in the door, you have the chance to run with it. Once you have a little credibility, it will help you gain publicity, and once you have a little publicity (with your specific target audience), it will lend you credibility.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing), Facebook, Twitter

Read Tuesday, Facebook, Twitter