How do writers establish credibility?
It used to be that we could look to a blue check mark on Twitter to establish if a writer was – quote unquote – “legitimate”, but that world is long gone.
Now it’s up to the individual to prove their worth in a consistent and very public way. Writers of all kinds need to demonstrate that they care, that they are knowledgeable in the subject, and that they can be trusted. Why? Because that’s how readers start to form a relationship with your writing.
“People jump to all kinds of conclusions about you when they read documents you have written,” writes Barbara Wallraff for HBR. “They decide, for instance, how smart, how creative, how well organised, how trustworthy, and how considerate you are. And once they have made up their minds, it is hard to get them to see you differently. Research in social psychology shows how sticky early impressions are.”
So it’s super important, and we need to, as writers, establish credibility if we want to gain readers and head for success. But first: what do we mean by “credibility” in the first place?
What is credibility?
“Establishing ethos in your own writing is all about using credibility—either your own or that of your sources—in order to be persuasive,” according to the Lumen Writing Skills Lab. “Essentially, ethos is about believability. Will your audience find you believable? What can you do to ensure that they do?”
Lumen goes on to say that: “You can establish ethos—or credibility—in two basic ways: you can use or build your own credibility on a topic, or you can use credible sources, which, in turn, builds your credibility as a writer.”
So establishing credibility as a writer really depends on the genre and format you’re working in. For example, non-fiction authors and those working on academic texts need to ensure they’re citing authentic sources that have been validated externally. Personal essayists and memoirists have a different task ahead of them, as they tend to be writing from their own experience—so, the credibility lies purely with them and the “brand” they build up around themselves.
It’s sort of similar for fiction writers looking to establish credibility: it’s about how you, the author, not only bring the world alive for your reader, but also how you as an individual carry yourself in the public world.
Tips to help you establish credibility as a fiction writer
We’re talking here about you as a writer establishing credibility – not about establishing credibility within your writing. We know, it’s confusing. But here is how you can set yourself up to be memorable for the right reasons as an author.
Respect your audience
First and foremost, you need to respect your audience. Noone will go with you if you insult them, insult their intelligence, or insult their passions.
People can see right through false intentions. They’ll know if you’re not interested in the work or in them. Approach your creativity and their interest with care and respect, and you’ll get off to a flying start.
Build your brand
Which is where your “brand” comes in. Even the writers with the purest intentions – those who are in it for the sake of the art – have a brand. They might not want it, but they do.
According to Ignyte: “A brand is the sum of how a product or business is perceived by those who experience it—including customers, investors, employees, the media, and more. Branding is the process of shaping these perceptions. A brand, then, is more than just a company’s name, logo, product, or price tag. It’s more than the marketing and advertising around these things. A brand is the consistent and recognizable feeling that all of these things evoke.”
As writers, we want to engage readers’ emotions. We want them to know and trust us and our writing, so that they will be interested when we release new works and want to follow our careers. And a big part of how we do that is by building an author brand. Being out there, in the world, on social media, on websites, in newsletters, in publicity. Talking about our work and ourselves and our interests. It’s all branding; it’s all a way to get your work noticed.
Assemble your team
That’s a lot to ask one person to do, though, so you’ll need to assemble a team around you. We’re not talking about spending big bucks or desperately trying to get a Big 5 publishing deal. Whether it’s harnessing your fans to build a street team, roping in your friends and family to use their special skills, or just making sure your books and stories are the best they can be by engaging an editor, proofreader and beta readers, you’ll need people around you to help you establish credibility. The recommendation of a third party carries more weight than your own recommendation.
All of this is great, but you need to do it consistently. Not just when you have a new book coming out. Not just when you need something from people. You need to be out there consistently engaging with the world outside of your writing.
But be mindful, too—being “out there” doesn’t mean just blurting out any old thing, or jumping on bandwagons. Everything you post online is traceable and will be found, so make sure it’s something you would be happy with others seeing. Be consistent in your messaging, and stay true to your values. Not sure what those are? There’s plenty of help online to help you find them. Like here.
In speculative fiction, you need to care. Like, actually care.
Finally, you need to know your stuff—but also know it’s ok to admit when you don’t. In SFFH genre writing in particular, there can be a lot of pressure to know every detail of every niche in your niche, or to at least have seen/read/played/experienced [insert cool title here]. It’s ok to admit you haven’t.
What’s more important is that you actually care about your genre, about the work of other writers, and about the community as a whole. That’s the quickest way to establish credibility in this field—share, comment, support. Be an active member of the community. Be true to yourself, be honest, be real, and your credibility will get a real boost.
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Lauren McMenemy wears many hats: Editor-in-Chief at Trembling With Fear for horrortree.com; PR and marketing for the British Fantasy Society; founder of the Society of Ink Slingers; curator of the Writing the Occult virtual events; writers hour host at London Writers Salon. With 25+ years as a professional writer across journalism, marketing, and communications, Lauren also works as a coach and mentor to writers looking to achieve goals, get accountability, or get support with their marketing efforts. She writes gothic and folk horror stories for her own amusement, and is currently working on a novel set in the world of the Victorian occult. You’ll find Lauren haunting south London, where she lives with her Doctor Who-obsessed husband, the ghost of their aged black house rabbit, and the entity that lives in the walls.