Very simply, a platform is the thing you have to stand on to get heard. It’s your stage. But unlike a stage in the theater, today’s platform is built of people. Contacts. Connections. Followers.
– Michael Hyatt, Platform: How to Get Noticed in a Noisy World
If you have a message to share – like “My new book is out!” – how many people can you reach?
Perhaps you’ve got a few dozen friends and family members on Facebook, or a bunch of followers on Twitter. You might even have a few blog readers. But you want to be reaching hundreds or thousands of people, not just a handful.
As an author, you need to invest time and energy into building your platform: establishing connections with hopefully, lots of potential readers.
Why You Need an Author Platform
Whatever your writing aims and ambitions, you’re going to need a platform.
Traditional publication: Publishers are increasingly expecting authors to show evidence that they can market the book – on a blog, to a mailing list, or through social media.
Self-publication: If you want to go it alone, producing your own e-book or print-on-demand book, then you’re not going to sell any copies without a platform.
Self-employment: If you run your own writing-related business, you need clients to buy your services and/or products. Building a platform means you’ll be able to help people know, like and trust you.
I talk to lots of writers who feel disappointed that great writing simply isn’t enough. Sometimes, they think that 20 years ago, it would have been. The truth, though, is that publishers have always favored authors with the ability to promote and market their own work.
And on the positive side, if you know your writing is good but perhaps not great, a strong author platform can lift you above the competition and give you a much better chance of success.
Three Key Ways to Build Your Platform
In the past, platform-building happened in the physical world. It involved speaking at events, sending out postcards, networking with fellow writers and so on. All of which is time-consuming, not to mention nerve-wracking for many shy writers.
Since you’re reading this on a blog – or in your feed reader or inbox – you’re probably aware that things have moved on! The online world is a wonderful place to build a platform cheaply and efficiently.
Here are three key ways you can do just that:
Method #1: With a Blog
If you haven’t yet established an online presence, the best way to begin is with a blog. This gives you a “home base” on the web that you can fill with whatever content you want.
I recommend starting with WordPress.com. You can set up a blog completely for free here, or you can buy a unique domain name: a good idea if you have a few dollars to spare each year, as it means your blog’s address can be yourname.com rather than yourname.wordpress.com.
What should you blog about? That’s up to you, but most bloggers find it easiest to build an audience when they stick to a specific subject. Yours might be:
- Writing and writing advice – this can work well if you’re looking for writing/editing work.
- Almost any topic (gardening / technology / parenting) – this is great for non-fiction writers specializing in a particular area.
- Fiction-centered – if you’ve written a novel, your blog could tie in with the fictional world, perhaps offering short stories or excerpts from the book.
Is it Too Late to Start Blogging? (Christopher Foster)
Method #2: With an Email List
An email list is a great next step after a blog. While you can allow readers to subscribe to your blog by email, you may well want to create a separate email newsletter through a service like Aweber or MailChimp. (MailChimp is free at the basic level.)
Your newsletter could be:
- Short tips and advice for your clients and potential clients – plus an occasional special offer, or announcement of a new service.
- A regular short article related to your blog topic – you could also include links to some of your best recent blog posts.
- A monthly update about your next novel-in-progress – along with a gentle reminder to buy the current one (or to tell a friend).
The huge advantage of an email list is that it gives you direct access to your audience. For most people, email is a comfortable and familiar technology, and they’ll probably see every email from you – whereas they might only visit your blog occasionally.
Method #3: With Social Media
Social media is a great way to reach new people and grow your platform. It shouldn’t be your only platform-building focus, though. You’re limited by the constraints of different sites (e.g. a tweet can only be 140 characters) and often, only a fairly small proportion of your audience will see any given tweet or Facebook update.
There are dozens of different social media sites, but some of the most popular ones are:
Invest your energy in one or two social networks, rather than trying to be present on half-a-dozen: think about where your ideal customer or ideal reader is likely to be. For me, Facebook is a great place to keep readers up-to-date, and Twitter is a great place to build relationships with fellow writers and bloggers.
(If you write for high-powered executives or major organizations, for instance, you might find that these people use LinkedIn but aren’t present on the more informal networks.)
If you already have a blog, email list, Twitter account etc., then look for ways to build on that. What could you do this week, and this month, to reach out to more people?
If you don’t have any online presence yet, get ready to set up a blog. Think about what topic or approach you want to take (you could look at other writers’ blogs to see what they do) – and then make a start!
About the Author:
Ali Luke is a writer and blogger, and author of Publishing E-Books For Dummies. She runs a community/teaching site, Writers’ Huddle, which is open for new members until 12th October. Write to Done readers, head on over to this special page and enter the password writetodone.
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