Ep. 2. Your Author Platform: What It Is and Why You Need One

The following is a transcript of the episode. Further resources for the topic can be found at the end of the transcript.

Sara: Welcome to Book-a-Go-Go, your podcast that will guide you on how to go from writer to published author.

Hi, I’m Sara Stratton.

Jenna: And I’m Jenna Rose Robbins.

As we mentioned in our premiere episode, our first episodes will take you through the timeline of publishing your book — all the steps, including some you may not have thought of.

One of the steps that most writers don’t think about is their author platform, and we’ve chosen this topic for our second episode because it’s crucial that you begin working on it as soon as possible — and that could mean even before you start writing your book. In this episode, we’re going to tell you the steps you need to take right now to start building your platform.

Sara: Out of all the authors I’ve seen publish books, whether self-publishing or traditional, the ones who have been the most successful and seen the best results were those who embraced the idea of building their author platform. When I say these authors were successful, it doesn’t necessarily mean lots of book sales. I once had a fiction author who committed to her platform so intensely — she even created an entire social media profile for her fictional character — that she ended up getting her book optioned by Lifetime to be made into a movie. She definitely sold books, although sales did not break into the tens or hundreds of thousands, but she built up her platform and following enough to get noticed by an agent. Another author of mine made it decently far in talks with Netflix. Although nothing has panned out as of yet, his idea and platform were enough to get him in the door for that first meeting.

But just what is an author platform?

Publishing-industry expert Jane Friedman defines the author platform quite succinctly: an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.

And that ability comes in many forms.

Writer’s Digest defines it as your visibility as an author. The publication goes on to break it down into three components:

  1. Who you are. If you are already known in your field, this adds to your credibility. If you’ve already written a book, is it in the same genre as the one you are writing now? That’s to say, will your next book be for an existing audience, or will you have to attract all new followers? If writing nonfiction, are you known as an expert in your field?

Jenna:

  1. Your connections, both personal and professional. Do you know a lot of media people already? Can you ask them to review your book, interview you, etc.? Even if they don’t review your book or interview you, they might be willing to provide a blurb for the back of your book.

Sara:

  1. The platforms you can use to eventually sell your book. This can be anything from the obvious, such as social media, your website, and mailing lists, to less obvious examples, such as at events of organizations you belong to.

Jenna: Now, anyone who’s ever had a blog or tried to gain followers on social media knows that it takes time, which is why you should begin working on your platform as early as possible — even before you write a single word of your actual book.

And having a solid author platform will help you whether you eventually self-publish or go the traditional route. If you’re self-publishing, you’re building a foundation for marketing later on. If you end up doing traditional publishing, you will want to include your numbers — Facebook fans, Twitter followers, website views, newsletter subscribers, etc. — in your book proposal (which we’ll discuss in an upcoming episode).

In fact, I had a prospective client come to me last year, asking for me to co-author a book with her. Now, this woman wasn’t even a writer — she’s an artist — but she’d been approached by a big-name publishing house simply because of her existing platform: some 100,000 Instagram followers at the time. Plus, she’d received numerous write-ups for her art shows in publications such as the New York Times. The publishing house saw she had a platform and offered her a book deal on that basis alone.

Sara: But why is having a platform so important? Well, as Jenna mentioned, traditional publishers are looking for the numbers. This gives the publishers an idea of who you are, whether people know about you (or not), and if there are already potential customers of yours out there — people who might buy your book if it comes out and is marketed to them.

If you are self-published, you can turn to your followers for help when you’re having trouble making a decision, such as deciding on a title, choosing a book cover, or naming a character. And once you have your platform, you have a voice. As you grow and engage your followers, they will become more and more interested in the things you have to say and what you’re putting out there into the world. As Seth Godin says, this is your “tribe.” And your tribe is who you can trust to market for you. Once your tribe decides that they like your product, they will like your posts, share your posts, and even talk about your book to their followers, in an effort to share this new author they’ve found. They will, in effect, be marketing for you.

Jenna: Think about it: If a friend recommends a product, or says you have to go to a certain restaurant, or a specific place to get your car fixed, and they keep talking about it, you start to consider their suggestion, right? This is a concept known as social proof, which is when people behave a certain way because they see that behavior in others. Once you’ve built out your tribe, and they begin to connect with the materials you are releasing, they may begin to market you to their friends and followers, bringing you more people to add to your tribe. And this makes selling book #2, or #3 (or selling related items like memberships or tickets to a seminar you’re hosting) much easier.

Sara: I know you might be feeling hesitant about talking about your book right now; you don’t want to feel self-promotional. I hear it a lot from my authors. They tell me, “But I want to write, Sara, I’m not a salesperson. I just want to write.” And I get it — you didn’t start writing your book to get a job in sales. But, until you start talking about your book, it may never seem real and it will never get easier to tell people you are working on becoming a published author.

I always recommend my authors take one small step before they take on too much. Before they sign up for a Twitter account, a Facebook account, or start writing a newsletter, I tell them to call a friend and tell them about the book they’re writing. Or, the next time they go to an event, tell somebody you meet that you’re an author writing about whatever it is you’re writing about. If you already have a Facebook account, post one thing about your book. Just take the first step — make it a baby step — and then take another one in a week, and another one the next week. After a while, it will start to feel much more natural to talk about your book project and yourself as an author.

Jenna: And remember, in the beginning, you won’t be talking that much about your book anyway. The steps we are recommending you take right now are just going to lay the groundwork for you to promote your book once it’s out (or almost out) much later on. If you are writing a book about event planning, you may start out by posting pictures of other events or sharing articles written by other professionals in the field, or you may just use your account to share helpful tips and tricks for throwing an event. If you’re writing a fiction book centered around astrology, you might share horoscopes, talk about the history of astrology, or even post trivia questions to your followers.

So, let’s get you started on building your author platform. These are the steps we recommend taking:

  1. Claim your social handles. I can’t stress this enough. Even if you’re not going to use Twitter or Instagram, you should claim your name so that someone else doesn’t squat on it. Try to use the same handle everywhere, if possible, so that you’re easy to find. For example, I try to use StJenna, unless that’s already been taken. Make sure you claim your author name first: book title is secondary. Because when your second book comes out, you won’t have to rebuild a whole new author platform from scratch.

Sara:

  1. Decide where you’re going to focus your efforts. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, so concentrate on one or two platforms at first and then expand, if you have the time and wherewithal. To decide where to start, research the following questions:
    • Where does your demographic spend most of its time? Which platform makes the most sense for your topic? See where other authors in your genre spend most of their social time. There’s probably a reason they chose Twitter over Instagram, for example.
    • What platforms are you most comfortable using? For example, because Instagram is visual by its very nature, you need to be comfortable creating images or willing to buy them. Or maybe Facebook is where you’re most comfortable; if so, start there.

Jenna:

  1. Begin building your newsletter subscriber list. Start with your personal contacts, then collect new subscribers through your website and any events you may have, such as speaking engagements. You can have an old-school newsletter signup form that can be passed around, or you can have people enter their name and email on a tablet.

Sara:

  1. Claim your Amazon and Goodreads author pages. This applies to authors who already have a book under their belt, because you can only claim these pages once you have a book published. Visit the Further Resources section of the post for this episode for links to both of these.

Jenna:

  1. Build a content calendar. This can help keep you on track — and also help you avoid writer’s block. You can start with holiday-related content — even the strange ones like Talk Like a Pirate Day, if they’re relevant. Then keep a running list of ideas so that when you sit down once a week — and you should be posting at least once a week — you’re not starting from scratch.

Sara:

  1. Blog about your topic — but remember the 80/20 rule: Only 20% of your content should be self-promotional. The other 80% can be related to your topic or just good, solid content.

Jenna:

  1. Warm up those old contacts. You don’t want to be reaching out to a colleague from 10 years ago just when you need a favor, so begin rekindling those relationships now, particularly with people you may want to review your book, interview you, or in some way help with the marketing of your book. Since it can take a while to write your book anyway, one way to go about this is to make sure to contact people on their birthdays, and to do so in as personal a manner as possible. After a year, you should have gone through your entire contact list.

Sara:

  1. Write for other outlets. Offer to write a guest blog on a site that caters to your audience, or write articles for outlets your demographic reads.

Jenna:

  1. Join associations that might support you both online and in person — and be active in them. For example, if you’re writing a book about wine, join some wine lovers’ groups — online and off. Be active in their online forums and attend any in-person events you can. Start doing all of this now. As with reaching out to old contacts, you don’t want your first activity with the association to be a request to promote your book.

Sara:

  1. Start guest speaking. Although it’s best to do this closer to the date of your book’s release, you can start guest speaking on related topics now, just don’t give everything away before your book’s release. Guest speaking is more common for nonfiction authors than for fiction authors, but if you’re a fiction author who can think of a related topic to speak on, go for it!

Jenna:

  1. Hire a PR firm or social media agency. This is by no means a must, but you can do so if you have the money, because PR firms and their online counterparts can cost a pretty penny. Public relations agencies can book you on TV and radio shows or get you interviewed in the press. A social media agency can help manage your online platforms, drive traffic, buy online ads, or even get your blog posts syndicated elsewhere. I’ve had clients use both PR agencies and social media firms, with widely varying results, so make sure you interview other authors to find a reputable firm that specializes in promoting books.

Sara: So those are the steps we recommend taking. Remember, you don’t have to do them all now, but start to get comfortable with each step and slowly wade in once you’re ready. If you want to review these steps at any time, find the transcript of this episode on our website.

Jenna: Keep in mind that your author platform numbers do not translate directly to book sales. Just because you have 10,000 followers on Instagram or 10,000 newsletter subscribers doesn’t mean that 10,000 copies of your book will sell. A small percentage of your followers will buy from you right away, another percentage will buy somewhere down the road, but the vast majority may never buy your book at all. However, if they’re engaged, they may promote you to their own networks by sharing your posts, forwarding your newsletter, or even via old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Think of it this way: Coca-Cola has 107 million followers on Facebook. But that doesn’t mean that every time they post content, they sell 107 million bottles of Coke. But it does keep the brand front of mind and builds goodwill with their customer base.

Sara: To Jenna’s point, having an author platform doesn’t guarantee book sales, but your platform is your starting point. When your book eventually comes out and you’ve got a live link on Amazon, or Barnes & Noble, or are even selling through your website, you can now post this link to your platform. Over and over again (keeping in mind the 80/20 rule we mentioned earlier).

And it’s important to note that posting a book for sale does not mean your book will sell like wildfire. But your author platform is a start, and it should be the beginning of your marketing strategy. Closer to the date of launch, you may want to engage social media marketing teams, publicists, and other PR teams. So look at it this way: If you started to build an author platform two years before writing a book, think about how many friends, subscribers, followers, etc., you could collect in the meantime. This gives anybody else you hire a head start, as they are not spending their first months with you, just trying to amass enough followers to see your posts.

Jenna: And if you’re new to any of this, ask for help, get recommendations, hire a coach until you get the hang of it, or just hire a company to do it for you. You want to make sure you do it right, like creating a Facebook business page vs. a profile.

But before you sign that contract with a social media manager, here are two very important points you should ask about and that should definitely be spelled out in your contract with them:

  • If you’re hiring a company to build your following, ask how they do so. I’ve had clients pay a flat fee to get thousands of Twitter followers, but after a few weeks, their numbers plummeted and most of the remainder were fake accounts. And trust me, there are ways to tell which accounts are fake — so publishers will know your numbers are artificially inflated. Make sure you ask how the company plans to grow your numbers — and get it in writing that it won’t be with fake accounts.

Sara:

  • Make it clear that you want to receive regular reports on progress — how many pageviews you got after a campaign, for example — and that the company is willing to translate them for you if you’re unsure about the jargon. Ask to see examples of such reports that the company has done for other similar clients.

Sara: If you do anything at all after listening to this episode, claim your domain name and social handles everywhere. Even if you don’t intend to use Twitter, for example, you don’t want someone else squatting on your name.

Jenna: That’s it for our episode on author platforms. For more information, including links mentioned in this episode and other resources about building an author platform, as well as a transcript of this episode, visit Book-A-Go-Go.com.

Tune in next time when we discuss your author website, which will cover what platform it should be built on, what functionality will be included, and other important points to consider. And don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter on our website so you don’t miss an episode.

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