As an aspiring author, there is (no joke) so much you could be doing at any given moment. But perhaps nothing is as freaky-scary-frustrating to new authors as the concept of building a platform.
Your “platform” is the audience that’s ready and waiting to buy your book when it hits the shelf.
Publishers want you to have a significant one, because it mitigates their risk when they take your book on. (Bigger platform = bigger sales = less financial risk = happy corporate entity.)
But if you’re like most first-time authors I know, you don’t have much of a platform to speak of.
As a result, platform-building can seem like a Big Scary Thing. Which, and I know this from personal experience, can make you want to go hide under a Big Heavy Rock.
But not today! For as someone who has a growing author platform of her very own—and after two decades of advising authors on how to grow theirs—I am here to guide you.
Just for you, I’ve created a: Quick Start Guide to Building an Author Platform.
And because I don’t want to scare you, I promise I’m presenting small bites only.
Author’s Note: As is the case with most of the information on this blog, I’m speaking primarily to writers of nonfiction. The process of finding an audience for your novel is very different and is beyond the scope of this particular article.
While you may have heard the word “platform” before, I want to make sure we’re working with a similar understanding here.
So allow me to dig back into my Journalism 101 files and offer you the “Five W’s” of platforms.
#1: WHY do I need to create an author platform?
I’m starting with the “why” here, for what are perhaps obvious reasons.
Platform-building is about launching a long-term relationship with a whole lot of people. You probably want to know WHY you’re doing it before you make the commitment!
Long story short, you’re building a platform so you have someone to sell copies of your book to, once it’s out.
If you’re publishing your book as a way to spread the word about a business—your coaching or therapy practice, service provider, etc.—then you’re building your platform to grow your business as well.
If your heart is set on a traditional publisher, building a platform is non-negotiable. They want to know for sure you’re going to sell copies, so they don’t lose money when they front the cost of your books.
But what if you’re self-publishing? Alas, you gotta build a platform there, too. There’s an adage that 99% of self-published books never sell more than 99 copies. Why? Because nobody knows they even exist.
Your author platform is your bullhorn: It’s how you get the word out about your book.
#2: WHO is part of my author platform?
Your platform consists of anyone:
- Who knows your name
- Who would be interested in reading your book
- With whom you are in direct communication
This may include people who are:
- Reading your newsletter and blogs
- Following your social media accounts and commenting/sharing your posts
- Watching your YouTube videos
- Listening to your podcast
- Sitting in the audience at your workshop or speaking engagement
I always say everyone has an author platform, yours may just be your family and friends. (So far.)
First and foremost, your platform is defined by the number of email addresses you have on your email list. (And how many of these folks actually open and read your emails.
Why is an email list so important, again?
Because your newsletter readers are more invested in you than someone scrolling by your post on their Instagram feed. They’ve invited you into their inbox, after all. Even more impressively, they haven’t kicked you out yet!
That investment makes them much more likely to purchase a copy of your book when it’s available. Depending on your book’s topic, a publisher will want to see between 10k and 100k names on your mailing list to consider you a “safe bet” for publishing. (The more general your topic, the more names you’ll need on your list.)
#3: WHAT do I include in my platform-building?
Think of platform-building as “sharing amazing content on the same topic as your book.”
Content may be photos, blogs, videos, audios, PDF worksheets, inspiring quotes, anecdotes written from your heart, interesting or surprising facts…the list goes on and on.
Think of the content you share as “bait.”
In the short term, you’re using it to generate engagement around you and your topic. You want it to get people talking about you. This may include sharing your posts, forwarding your emails, commenting on your blog or YouTube video, etc.
All of this engagement establishes you as an expert, a teacher and a go-to for people interested in learning what you know.
And of course, in the long term, you’re using it to lure potential readers—in a totally above-board way—to purchase your book.
#4: WHEN do you need a platform?
No platform was built in a day. The truth is that it takes years of cheerful diligence to build the kind of platform that will turn a publisher’s head.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t self-publish your book today—and use it as part of your platform-building efforts! In fact, having a book to share with the world is a great way to get noticed by readers—and convert them into fans.
So the long answer to “when” is, “Before you start looking for a traditional publishing house.”
The short answer is simply, “Immediately!”
#5: WHERE should I focus my platform-building efforts?
Platforms are built in roughly two places: Online, and in real life. These days, online platforms are the place to be.
The most effective way to spread the word about your book is to build a list of email subscribers who are invested in what you’re teaching.
As I mentioned above, your email list is your #1 asset when generating interest in your book.
It’s also worth developing a social media following with the goal of sending folks back to your website for a free download or gift. (Which, of course, they get in exchange for subscribing to your email list.)
Creating a YouTube channel and/or podcast can also be great online platform-development tools.
So what about the real world? IRL platform building includes teaching in-person workshops, doing speaking engagements and finding your way onto local (first) or national (if you’re extremely lucky) TV and radio.
I’ll say it again: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is an author platform. I find that the topic of platform-building has a really interesting way of separating those who are writing a book for themselves and those who are writing it for other people or other reasons.
If you’re writing your book for, as I say, “your heart or your art,” you do not need an author platform. Selling copies is not your top priority.
But if you’re writing your book to support your business, establish credibility or (let’s be honest here) make money, you will need an author platform.
Platforms get built one email address at a time. If you don’t have a robust email list yet, that’s FINE. You’re not behind, I promise: You’re just at the beginning.