Whether you have been around the writing world for years or you are just getting started, I am sure you have heard the word platform once or twice. In today’s world having a solid author platform is more important than ever—practically a necessity if you aspire to be picked up by a publisher or sell a decent number of books. So what exactly is an author platform?
The world wide web is overflowing with information, sales pitches, and marketing schemes telling you what a platform is and why you need one. A platform is how your expertise or product visibly reach the masses. It should quickly and easily explain who you are to others. A good platform has multiple moving parts: a web presence, speaking or teaching engagements, media contacts, published articles or books, guest blogs, and more. Without a solid platform it is an uphill battle to form an audience that will buy your book, read your writing, and share your name with others. From a publishing standpoint how large and interactive your platform is says a lot about how successful of an investment your book will be.
Developing and maintaining any platform will require time and personal investment. There are thousands of programs and companies out there that you can pay to manage your platform for you, but I encourage you to proceed with caution. People want to get to know you, not some assistant behind the computer. It’s about relationships—people will invest in something they feel involved in. Like anything that’s worth doing, platforms that last are not raised overnight. While there are many tools to manage everything, it will take a little investment on your part.
Where to start.
Platforms look different for different people—be yourself and let that character shine through. Here are a few practical steps to get started.
- Identify who you are. What message do you want to get across to your audience? How do you want to be seen by people 12 months from now? Why should they look to you for the service you are providing? Know who you are before you ask others to put their trust in you. Pray over these questions, write them down and keep them somewhere where you’ll see them frequently. Stay focused on your purpose and don’t try to cover too broad of a subject matter.
2. Build your online presence. This can seem overwhelming, so if you’re a digital newbie just take it one step at a time. There are many people (like me) out there that are happy to help others learn the ropes and get started. Find a good online community of writers and seek encouragement and help there.
- Website. A good website or blog should be the hub of your platform. There are a million options and avenues to take here, but you can start with a simple and free option (try squarespace.com or wordpress.com) or you can opt to have something more customizable with your unique domain name for a cost (try wordpress.org).
- Mailing List. Once your website is set up and ready you will want to capture email addresses from visitors who are interested in your site. Again, there are tons of options out there. My favourite is MailChimp, which is a free service to start out with. This list is something a lot of writers skip at first but I encourage you to set it up from the beginning. This information will be a valuable tool for communication with your readers that will ultimately surpass any social media fad. You can use it to promote your product and events, send out newsletters, and so much more.
- Social Media. Social media is a must for anyone trying to build a platform. Pick 2 – 3 platforms to start with; get familiar with those tools and start to grow your tribe. Once you have a following there you can start adding more if you’d like. Each social media outlet has a bit of a different personality; the best way for you to know which ones will work best for you is to try it out. As you get to know them you will start to see which outlet you prefer and which one best fits your style and communication needs. I started with Facebook and Twitter, then added Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube. Don’t start all of them at once . . . that’s way too overwhelming.
- Online communities. The best way to start forming relationships is to comment on other’s social posts and blogs. It doesn’t take much time and it is an invaluable start of a relationship. You’ll make connections with that writer and their readers. I cannot tell you how many friends and connections I have made through the simple act of commenting on a Facebook post I enjoyed. These connections are vital parts of my network that connect me to other readers, editors, and artists.
3. Go offline. If you are a writer like me, you are probably nice and comfortable behind your computer screen. But stepping out into speaking or teaching engagements will dramatically impact your reach. Start small with something like a book signing, a reading at your MOPs group, leading a bible study at the local coffee shop, or speaking at a women’s ministry event in your community. Small steps like this can expand your audience in a big way.
4. Share your work. Don’t be stingy about what you offer to others. The more you write the more you will hone your writing skills and the more you will be able to share with others with similar interests.
- Be a guest blogger. Get your name and work in front of a new audience as a guest blogger. When you are writing for another blogger make sure you give them your best. Resist the temptation to send an article you have posted before or something you write up quickly. This post will be read by a completely new group of eyes. If it is a good read, they will click on over to your website and you will have a new follower.
- Magazine and Newspapers. There is no shortage of online news sites and magazines. Most places will allow you a short blurb at the end of your article with links to your website and social media. Just like writing as a guest blogger, give these outlets your best work.
- Ask others to blog for you. Reach out to other writers in your genre and invite them to be featured on your blog. Share their post on all your social media channels. If they have a great experience and gain some traffic from your community, they will often return the favour and ask you to be featured on their blog as well.
5. Provide value. Provide your audience with quality content that’s consistent and reliable. If all you do on your website and social media is talk about you and your product people will quickly tune you out. If you want a loyal, growing platform be the person they turn to for expert advice. Aim for 80 – 90% of your posts providing valuable resources for your audience and 10-15% about you, your book or your products. You’ll become a valuable resource instead of an annoyance. If you struggle with developing ideas for content, there are lots of ways to be inspired. Subscribe to newsletters from your niche or use Google Alerts. Use a scheduler or other tools to ensure your content is posted on a consistent basis (check out Hootsuite or IFTTT.com).
Building a great platform can seem like a huge task. Take it one day and one step at a time. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help from those around you and those who are a few steps ahead of you. The time and effort you put into building your tribe will reap great rewards—community, friends, and hopefully some amazing publishing deals.
Thanks so much for sharing, Jen! I actually met Jen in one of those online communities and now here she is guest posting—proof that her advice actually works. What are the biggest things you struggle with when building your author platform?
Author: Jennifer Moye
Jennifer writes from a place of transparency and with the heart of a mom who is passionate about God’s will for her family. Jennifer is wife to an Airman and mom to three rambunctious little boys. With excitement on a daily basis and grace around every corner, she believes we are meant to live this life in community with others and with the mercy to mess up and try again. She is passionate about learning to glorify God in parenting, marriage, and everyday life. Find Jennifer online: Blog. Facebook. Twitter. Pinterest.