I recently watched a movie (Starting Out in the Evening) about a once-successful, aging, literary fiction author whose remaining goal in life is to make a comeback by finishing what he knows will be his final novel. At a literary event he encounters the editor from the publisher of his earlier books. The editor asks the author if he is still writing.
"Well yes, yes, of course. As a matter of fact I'm just putting the finishing touches on my new novel. And I'd really be happy to send it over to you as soon as it's finished."
The editor looks down then at the author and says, "Look, Leonard, I respect you too much to blow smoke. This business has turned into the film industry. It's all about the name. And to tell you the truth, most of the business we do now is celebrity confessions and self-help books.”
The dejected author replies, “I understand.”
What the editor told Leonard rings true today in a market that has been referred to as the "Hollywoodization" of publishing. With many agents and publishers, it is now often less about the writing and more about the name…or to be more precise…about the worrisome p-word: PLATFORM, or AUTHOR PLATFORM.
What is an author’s platform? It is what the author “brings to the table” to sell books; the author's built-in book-selling potential; the built-in audience. It’s about the author's influence, passion, and the author's goal as a writer. It's about how well the author is situated to sell books.
Celebrities and other famous people have thousands and millions of fans who will buy their books. TV anchors and similar talking heads have a huge television audience who will buy their books. Others who possess a ready-made market include high-profile speakers who can draw large listening audiences, people who have been part of a significant newsworthy event, and owners of successful businesses who have a large client base. These high-profile people represent less financial risk to publishers because publishers know their platform alone will sell many books.
But if you are not a famous person or someone with a ready-made reading audience, you can create your own platform if you’re willing to do the work. You may never reach the audience potential of a celebrity, but you might be able to build a platform large enough to interest an agent or publisher, or create a nice audience for your already-published books.
Today, the easiest and quickest way to build your platform is by using the internet to establish a strong online presence. Here are some steps you can take to begin creating your author platform:
Create a great-looking website to showcase your work and personality. Include a detailed bio, cover images and details about your book, a schedule of your planned book events, and reviews/endorsements of your book. Occasionally update the site so that it doesn’t become stagnant. Include links to your social media accounts on your Home page.
Blogging is a quick, dynamic way to grow your online presence by sharing your ideas and knowledge with others. Create your own blog and post on a regular basis, or become a blogger on a multi-author blog (such as this one). Comment on other blogs using the name of your book alongside your signature. You can also contact other blog authors and offer to be a guest on their blog.
Join and participate in popular social media groups such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.. Always include links to your website and blog. Try to connect and participate regularly.
Grow your email list from your website or blog by offering a newsletter, giveaway, or inviting people to contact you via a contact form. You can use this list on occasion to announce new books, editions, or special sales. But use the list sparingly so your recipients don't feel spammed.
Audio and Video
Learn to make your own book trailer to post on You-Tube, your website, and/or blog. You can also make an audio of yourself reading an intriguing passage from your book. With a little research and basic software, you can create these products yourself.
Use your writing skills to write helpful online articles, such as tips on writing, book reviews, etc., on places like Associated Content and other online article venues.
All books are not for all people. Whether you are connecting with individuals, groups, or organizations, guide your marketing efforts toward the audiences and niche markets who are the most likely readership for your book.
Because some of these marketing methods can be time-consuming, pick and choose the ones that most appeal to you and do those first. Don't let the amount of work involved in building your platform intimidate you. Make a plan to do one small thing each day, or two or three things each week. As you grow your online presence, your author name and book title will appear more and more frequently in web topic searches, and those interested will eventually have information about you and your book at their fingertips.
In addition to your online presence, here are some ways to enhance your platform offline:
Promote yourself and your writing expertise by speaking at conferences, schools, libraries, and other relevant venues in your area.
Check in your community to see if there are extension programs, community centers, or other places where you can use your writing experience to teach other writers.
Join professional groups where you can get known and can interact with others in your field.
Try to setup interviews with radio, television and newspapers. If you are traveling on a book tour, try to schedule interviews with the local media well ahead of time. In smaller communities, the media are often happy to interview authors for local events.
Consider submitting articles in your topic area to newspapers and magazines in your area.
Building a platform is about marketing yourself and building a readership. Some say an author should begin building their platform up to three years prior to publication of their book. But even if your book is already published, continuing to build your platform will help get it into the hands of new readers.
According to Jane Friedman of Writer's Digest: "Audience development doesn't happen overnight (or even in six months or a year); it's a process that continues for as long as you want to have a readership. It shouldn't be delayed, postponed, or discounted for one minute."
In the end, however, getting maximum benefit out of the platform you build goes hand-in-hand with writing the very best book you can write.
With the exception of teaching, I've used all of the above marketing techniques, in varying degrees, to build a platform. Over the past year or so, however, I've focused exclusively on the online activities. Not only has online marketing helped boost book sales and my visibility as a writer, but I love that I can work on my platform while wearing my fuzzy slippers.