Photo by Christian Betrand, courtesy Shutterstock
About ten years ago, the publishing industry starting tossing out the word “platform” like confetti during a rock concert. Major publishers started expecting authors to have an existing platform, because they were far easier to promote.
Soon everyone, including indie authors, used the new “platform” buzz word, but few really understood what it was or why they needed it.
Cycle forward ten years. Everything has changed. Not only do we live in a world where anyone can publish, but in order to gain any kind of attention for your book, you must have one.
A platform, that is (there’s that word again).
So, what does it really take to build one? Surprisingly, not much, but sometimes it’s easier to understand what it isn’t.
Having “no platform” means you have very little presence in any existing social media, do little or no blogging and, in some cases, have no web site.
Feel like you belong to this crowd? You’re in good company.
Many new authors, not just those who are indies, are like this. Their lack of understanding often brings inaction or, in some cases, the wrong action.
Who Knows You?
In essence, a platform is not who you know, but who knows you. Simple, right? A platform is really the series of actions that put you in front of your reader.
Apparently, what you really need to do is run ads.
I can’t comment on the effectiveness of ads without knowing your particular market and your budget but, regardless of genre, if you have the kind of budget it actually takes, you don’t need the rest of this article.
However, if your budgets are more like mine (read almost non-existent) you’ll understand why I favor earned media. As I’ve mentioned before, earned media is organic … it’s when a reader finds your content naturally, instead of having it pushed on them in the form of an ad.
(Check out the “earned media” tags at the end of the post to find more about it).
Organic discovery could come from a blog post you wrote, or something in your social media platform (there’s that word again).
Now, to do it right, social media requires work … but most authors misunderstand what I mean by “work.”
It doesn’t mean you need to participate on every social media site in existence. Quite the contrary, it means you need to find the ones that best serve your market … and use them consistently.
And by consistently, I don’t mean incessantly.
Don’t overdo it. Post in the specific places you choose and move on.
I post every day or two in those areas, but I’m not one of the social media trolls who hangs around all day commenting on anything and everything. Trust me, more isn’t necessarily better, it’s just more. Being productive and busy aren’t the same things.
Here’s another, often misunderstood marketing tool. Blogging can be the single best way to grow your platform.
It’s your voice and your expertise on your site. Do you need to blog daily? No. Want proof? Look at my blog following. I only blog about twice a month.
But I try to make it content that’s helpful.
The problem with trying to throw out content just for the sake of pushing volume is simple … most of it is garbage.
People are writing lots of stuff but, sadly, much of it isn’t worth your time. I’ve unfollowed blogs who seem to think posting twelve times a day is the right output … regardless of what they have to say.
Don’t be one of those people.
When it comes to blogging, less can be more. If you’re writing something that’s incredibly helpful, insightful, or engaging but feel you can only do that twice a month, that’s just fine. Frankly, I’d rather look forward to one thing that totally inspires me, instead of ten things that bore me to tears.
For fiction authors, you can write in character if you want, discuss some unique ways to do book research or talk about the publishing industry, because so many of your readers may be writers, too.
Speaking is a fantastic way to draw in an audience, but bookstore venues are shrinking. I spoke a couple of years ago at a local writers’ conference, but if you aren’t on the speaking circuit and don’t know places where you can do events or talks, keep your eyes open for special book events.
I participated in several book-signings last year, including one at a well-known local design store last fall and one at my local public library … I did so well at the design store (for both of us) I’ve been invited to sign books April 30 of this year at the same place.
Everyone who writes a book needs a website. Period, end of story. If you think your book will sell well without one, you’re mistaken.
Your website doesn’t have to be mega-fantastic, but it should be easy to navigate and the best ones will have a mailing list sign-up (mine is in the works).
You may have a million reasons why you don’t want one (most of them I’ve used myself), but I’ll give you one major reason why you should: Platform (I bet you saw that coming, didn’t you?)
How will you get your reader to remember you?
I never do a signing without bringing a mailing-list sign-up sheet and encouraging folks to give me their email address. I don’t have to hard-sell to get it. I offer them something as an incentive. I give one lucky winner, chosen at random, one of my signed books free to encourage getting their email address.
When you capture emails with your website and/or blog, you are making those sites work for you. They become your 24/7 sales and re-marketing tool.
My free newsletter (which I’ve been developing for years, and actually tested once or twice) goes live in May. If everything works the way I hope it will, it could become one of my best ways to market. I can get in front of my readers every few weeks with helpful information … and hopefully they’ll remember me long enough to buy my books.
Reader engagement is crucial. Now, more than ever, you must learn to engage your reader. You can do that via your blog, on social media sites, in places like Library Thing and Goodreads … and with your mailing list.
In other words, developing your platform is a fancy way of saying: “Get in front of your reader as often as you can.” Figure out how to reach them, and you’ve figured out how to build your platform.
In an age where everyone can publish (and it sometimes seems everyone is) the thing that will define you, and separate your message from the noise, will be your platform.
Without it, yours may be the best book that no one has ever read.
My books have all garnered some terrific reviews and you can see the ones I have available by using the Amazon link below. Look for them. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.
Visit my web site to hear the remarkable interview about my novel “Blood Lake” by The Authors Show. By the way, “Blood Lake” was just selected as a 2016 Indie Book of the Year Finalist!
My next blog post will outline the 5 ESSENTIAL steps to building your author platform.
Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.