The term “author platform” is one that new and aspiring writers are hearing more and more often on their journey to publication. As I make progress towards my own goal of publishing two books in 2013, I’ve been doing a considerable amount of research on the topic. What is an author platform? Why do we need one? I’m learning as I go, and – as promised – I’m sharing that learning with you.
What Is An Author Platform?
Despite what the name suggests, having a platform doesn’t just mean having a base from which to pontificate. Editor Jane Friedman defines author platform from the perspective of what mainstream publishers want:
“They’re looking for someone with visibility and authority who has proven reach to a target audience.”
She points out that it isn’t about self-promotion, the hard-sell, or being an extrovert who’s willing to annoy people as a means of turning prospects into customers. Instead, it’s a composite thing that ties together your ability to be found by a prospective audience (visibility); the mechanism for getting in touch with them, such as a mailing list (reach); and your own credibility as a writer they should want to read (authority).
I’d add that in this age of social media, there’s another important element to platform – and that’s conversation. We’re a sophisticated bunch these days, and we’ve come to expect that public figures will engage with us directly through social media outlets such as Twitter. Many of us have experienced the thrill of someone famous responding to one of our tweets. Being seen as a human being is a great way to build an audience that trusts your work.
The best news for introverted authors is that platform building is less about drawing attention to ourselves just for the sake of it, and more about creating a strong and sustainable conversation-based infrastructure that helps us get our message into the world in a way that’s beneficial both to us and to our readers.
The activities that can go into building an author platform include:
- Writing and distributing good quality work to your target audience through vehicles which you “own” such as your blog, newsletter, podcast, or social media profiles
- Sharing your expertise with others via coaching, consultancy, speaking, video blogs and podcasting
- Increasing your visibility by partnering with others and sharing your writing through their channels (e.g. posting guest articles on someone else’s website)
- Using your existing communications networks (perhaps through your day job) to help spread information about your writing.
Of course, not all of these activities will suit every writer, and that’s another piece of good news: you should build your platform based on your own preferences and priorities, because one of the greatest strengths of a platform is that it’s authentic.
Why Do You Need An Author Platform?
Well, you don’t – unless you want your writing to be read. It has always been the case that people writing for self-publication have needed to build an author platform in order to ensure their work sells once it’s “out there”. If no one knows about it, it can’t sell. Building and using a platform is vital if you don’t have the weight of a traditional publishing house behind you promoting your work.
In fact, even if you do have such weight behind you, in the 21st century it’s likely that you’ll still want to learn about platform-building, because many mainstream publishers will favour those authors who already have a ready-made platform. When Simon & Schuster recently relaunched their website, they included an Author Portal which encourages writers to use blogs and social media to help promote their work.
How I’m Building My Author Platform
The process of deciding how to build your author platform can be a complex one, because it will undoubtedly be influenced by several factors such as your goals, your personal style, and your workload.
In my case, when I decided I was going to write for publication, I weighed a few options:
- What was I building a platform for? Should I create it around my books (I had decided to write two) or around myself as an author?
- How could I build a platform in a way that didn’t take up an inordinate amount of my time? This was important, because I have a very full-time day job as CEO of a busy charity, in addition to running a part-time coaching practice.
- I didn’t want to start from scratch, and wanted to build on some of the infrastructure I’d already built over the past couple of years to promote my coaching work.
- Since I had quite a bit of writing to do anyway, I wanted to build my platform around activities I could easily do from home – such as writing, and perhaps some intermittent video blogging.
After weighing those options, I decided:
- To build a multi-faceted author platform around myself and my books. Consequently, I re-purposed my coaching site into an author blog (that’s the site you’re on now). I created two mirror sites, one for each book: Vital Vocation and Real Food Revival Plan. I spent a bit of time deciding on a brand for each book/site, trying to make them different enough to be distinctive, but similar enough to each other (and to my author brand) to be consistent. Branding is another important element to consider in building an author platform.
- To set up a social media presence for each book. There’s a Vital Vocation Facebook page and a Vital Vocation Twitter stream; there’s also a Real Food Revival Plan Facebook page and a Real Food Revival Plan Twitter stream. I have a LinkedIn account and also a Pinterest profile connected to my author site, and I have my own Twitter stream too. That might seem like a lot to juggle, but it allows me to target my platform(s) at my niche audiences, and I’ve made life easier for myself by automating what I can through Social Oomph. I’ve also integrated my blogs and social media presences by using some really useful Twitter widgets and Facebook badges.
- To make the most of my existing mailing list. I’d already built this for my coaching work, but it had become neglected. Nonetheless, I recognized the importance of a thriving mailing list for platform-building purposes, so I created two new e-books which I give away free to anyone who signs up, and made sure the sign-up box was prominent across all my sites.
- To hire someone to do the really technical stuff. I’m not a complete newbie when it comes to WordPress blogs, but I discovered when I originally built my coaching site that it’s quite possible to spend more time tinkering with your site (or figuring out why your site isn’t working properly) than doing your actual work. This time round, I’ve hired someone to handle the stuff I can’t (or just don’t want to). Joel Williams of Blog Tech Guy is my blog tech guy and his affordable and effective help enables me to get on with writing.
- To create a writing and platform-building plan. This outlines how much I have to write, about what, and by when; and it also outlines my social media commitments. In short, it’s a plan both for writing my books and for building my author platform.
Some Resources To Help You Build Your Own Author Platform
Perhaps the best tip I can give you is to just get started. Spend some time thinking about what your platform-building goals are. Consider how much time you have to spend on this endeavour, and how simple or complex it needs to be. If you’re working on one writing project for one niche, then you may only need one platform. If, like me, you’re simultaneously working on several writing projects that aren’t necessarily natural bedfellows, you may need to build a more complex platform with distinct elements within it. There isn’t a right or wrong here – you’ve got to figure out what’s going to work best for you.
Here’s some more information to help you get started:
- First, a fascinating article from veteran editor Alan Rinzler, in which he discusses the “new” model of the author platform. Pay attention to what he has to say about the importance of an online presence for every author nowadays, and about the fact that it’s important for a platform to mix personality, authenticity, and expertise. Perhaps his most telling point is that the modern author platform must demonstrate subtlety in marketing. “A cardinal rule of the new author platform is never to actually ask people to buy your book”.
- Corroborating Rinzler’s last point, above, check out Why An Author Platform Built On Spam Is Doomed To Fall, by We Are Not Alone’s Kristen Lamb.
- Here’s ten things to consider in building an author platform by Books & Such’s literary agent Rachelle Gardner.
- Learn exactly how the digital age is affecting the way authors and readers interact in this interview between O’Reilly Media’s Jenn Webb and Cooking for Geek’s Jeff Potter.
- Finally, here’s some useful guidance from Winning Edits on building an author platform that works, thanks to We Grow Media’s Dan Blank.
Now – you pretty much know everything you need to know to begin building an author platform. So go build it!