In the book industry, we often hear about a thing called an “author platform.” It sounds big and looming, but many authors are confused about what it is and how to build one.
We writers want to believe that good writing and good ideas are all that’s really needed to publish a book. And while that may still be true in some cases, every author will eventually be faced with the biggest question of all: How does one actually sell those published books?
Enter the author platform.
How to Build a Strong Author Platform
What is an author platform?
Publishing books used to be all about great ideas and great writing, but sometime in the 1990s, traditional publishing houses started talking about the author platform. The simplest definition of the term is your ability to sell books based on your network of people.
A network can look different depending on the individual, but often includes things like social media followers, email subscribers, and general name recognition or reputation within a particular field. It’s the “tribe” of people who are aware of you and your work that you can sell your book to.
If you were a celebrity, for example, you’d have a large fanbase you could engage with and use your status to sell books. It would be built-in and you wouldn’t have to try as hard to grow it.
But if you’re like the rest of us, you’ll have a much smaller network to engage with, and that’s okay. Keep reading and you’ll see how even a small and mighty network can be enough.
Do you need an author platform?
The short answer is yes, every author who plans to publish should begin building their platform as soon as possible. But the longer answer depends on what kind of book you’re writing and how you plan to publish it.
If you’re writing a novel and you plan to seek a traditional publishing deal, you might be able to get away with not having much of a platform. Publishers will be mostly focused on the quality of the writing (once you jump through all the hurdles to get it in their hands). However, having a platform will increase your chances of getting published in the first place, and regardless, it will help you sell more books.
If you’re writing nonfiction, you definitely need a platform. If you look at the bestsellers lists for nonfiction, you’ll notice that most of the authors already have rather large platforms, which tells us that traditional publishers still favor writers with the ability to help sell their own books.
In our article about the pros and cons of various publishing options, we wrote about the declining efforts big publishing houses put into helping authors market and sell their books these days, and that’s a trend that isn’t going to change anytime soon. Anything you can do to market and sell your own book will be beneficial to you, and help you get a foot in the door of a major publishing house. In fact, you’ll notice most book proposals have a “marketing plan” section, where the publishers will want to see exactly who you know and what you plan to do to help them spread the word.
A platform is especially necessary if you plan to self-publish your book. When self-publishing, the sales and marketing fall entirely on the author, so the best thing you can do is start building your platform as early as possible.
What’s included in an author platform?
This list is not exhaustive, but these are the most common elements that make up a writer’s platform:
An author website — if you’re wondering if you even need an author website, the answer is yes. This is the base on which your platform sits, and a central location for all things about you as an author and your book(s). At the very minimum, your website should include an about you page, a section about your book, and your contact info.
A social media following — this is the one most authors love to hate, and that’s because growing a social media following is hard and takes time. The best thing to do is choose one or two platforms that you enjoy using, and focus on growing an audience of people who might be interested in reading your book. Keep in mind that an engaged audience is far better than a large audience, so don’t focus as much on the numbers as the interaction you get on your posts.
A blog — if you can add a blog to your website, and commit to a consistent posting schedule, you’ll not only find that you’ll get more traffic to your site, but you’ll generate content to share on your social media accounts, which will then send people back to your website, who might decide to buy your book. The blog should be relevant to your expertise, and/or your writing life.
Publishing elsewhere — if you can write and contribute guest posts to related websites with large followings, you’ll be able to grow your platform faster. And if you publish in related journals, magazines or other print and online media, you’ll increase your credibility as well.
An email list — if you’ve already been collecting email address through social media or on your website, you’re ahead of the game. If not, you might want to start. The benefit of growing your own email list is you’ll own your database and you can reach out to them again and again.
How to Build a Strong Author Platform
Define your target audience — The first step in developing your messaging is to get clear about the target audience—or audiences—for your book. You may already have a clear sense of what this is, or you may not. Either way, it’s worth spending some time thinking creatively about who you are trying to reach. By knowing “who” is most likely to be interested in your book, you’ll be better able to create messaging that will appeal to them.
Identify and create your brand — It’s important for any business to have a clear and consistent brand, and as a published author, you will officially become an authorpreneur. It’s time to start thinking of yourself as a business, and what kind of message you want to represent. There is a lot that goes into branding, but you’ll want to keep your target audience in mind when deciding what kind of messaging, styles, and formats will best speak to them.
Build your website — You want to identify your audience and brand before you build your website because this is the biggest tool you have to represent both of those things. It should be obvious right away whom your site is for and what they can expect to get from it.
Start your blog and/or newsletter — Even while your website is being built, you can work on creating a list of blog topics you’d like to write about. Once your site is live, figure out a publishing schedule that works for you (it can be weekly, monthly, etc.) and create a calendar to help you stick to it.
If you’re offering a newsletter, make sure your site is set up to properly allow people to sign up, and push those names and emails to your preferred email service provider, like Mailchimp or Convertkit. The best way to begin is to offer something of value for free on your website (and link to it on social media), such as an ebook, a downloadable PDF, or even a free mini-course related to your book topic or expertise, in exchange for their email address.
Schedule your social media — Social media platforms like Facebook have a built-in scheduling tool, but for others there are plenty of third-party sites (both free and paid versions) that will allow you to schedule your posts (including images, blog post links and more) for as far in advance as you like. This will help you stay consistent, and make it feel effortless. Just don’t forget to check in and engage with your growing audience!
Keep writing and publishing — The more you can publish on other sites, like large blogs or publications in your niche, the more you’ll expand your reach and likely gain more traffic to your own site (tip, always include your website in your author bio), some of which may result in newsletter signups and book sales.
Go Even Further….
For the true go-getters, there are even more ways to spread the word, grow your platform and sell more books. If you’ve mastered the above and you’re ready to take your author platform building skills to the next level, consider the following:
Speaking engagements — Prior to the pandemic, book tours were commonplace. It’s a great idea to organize a book tour for yourself (yes, you can do this as a self-published author; try to focus on independent bookstores), but book tours aren’t the only speaking engagements that are useful. Think of events you could do related to the topic of your book. For example, we worked with a scientist who wrote a book meant to inspire young people to take up careers in science, and we organized a virtual tour where he gave a presentation and answered questions to classrooms, science camps and science museums around the country.
Podcasts — If you can commit to publishing a regular podcast, this can be a wonderful way to expand your audience and even bridge gaps between multiple target audiences. Try to keep it related to your book(s), but it can vary depending on which type of podcast you want to produce (interviews with experts, variety show, etc). For example, we helped an author publish her memoir about how gratitude helped her survive Stage IV cancer, and she started a podcast focused on all aspects of lifesaving gratitude.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and remember…all you have to do is start.
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