By now, we’ve all heard about author platform, even if we’re not entirely sure how to build or maintain one. I’ve detailed the importance of an author platform before on The Write Life, and highlighted the fact that it’s not all about social media.
In reading through the comments, and in my everyday work with authors, I’ve noticed that many writers aren’t sure how exactly to get started. What should you focus on when you’re being pointed in 20 different directions, and all roads are potentially huge time sucks?
In that post, I broke down author platform into the following components: expertise, contacts, social media, previous media, previous books, personality, existing readership and ability to execute. That breakdown also functions as a roadmap for anyone who’s trying to figure out how to get started, especially if you feel like you’re starting at zero.
Ready to build your author platform? Here’s how to start from scratch.
1. Expertise: Write an “I am fabulous” statement
The goal with this step is to pump yourself up. In what specific and particular ways are you awesome? Why are you the person to write your book? Why is it the case that no one but you could write your book? What unique experience do you bring to the table?
Even if your answer is simply that you lived the life you lived — and maybe it was a hard one — you’re awesome for having survived it. If you write fiction, your book likely involves themes or situations you know a lot about, which makes you an expert.
Let your statement be free-flowing, but work hard to pat yourself on the back. While many of us tend to undervalue our abilities, the first step toward being an expert is believing that you can be an expert. You may have to fake it till you make it, and your “I am fabulous” statement can give you the motivation and validation you need to get there.
2. Contacts: Put together a “big mouth list”
Everyone you know is a contact. The more people you know, the more influence you have, especially if you know people in high places.
So what if those influencers are a couple degrees of separation from you? People are surprising in how they choose to support fledgling authors. I’ve witnessed seriously established authors supporting new writers just because it feels good, and they remember what it’s like to be in your position.
In addition to the list of people you’re connected to, create a list of people who might blurb you, from realistic to pie in the sky. Who would be your ideal reader? Who do you dream might one day recommend your book?
3. Social media: Pick two social channels
That’s right: only two. Set up a profile on each and post once a day.
For most writers, I recommend choosing Facebook and Twitter, but if you’re into other channels or options, give them a shot. If you’re writing something that lends itself to images, join Pinterest. If your work lends itself to video, do YouTube. Experiment to find a social media channel that works for you and your writing.
The key to social media is posting regularly and engaging people. You want shares, because shares lead to more follows. Rather than spreading yourself thin across multiple platforms, focus consistently on the two platforms that provide the most value to you and your work.
It takes forever (seriously) to build up a following on social media, so don’t be discouraged. Celebrate a few likes a week. Manage your expectations. Keep going. Building an author platform is a marathon, not a sprint.“Building an author platform is a marathon, not a sprint,” says @brooke_warner Click To Tweet
4. Previous media and books: Publish an ebook
If you’re starting at zero, you may not have any previously published books or media, like guest posts or podcast interviews. That’s okay.
If you’re working on a book project that you know is going to take some time to complete — a novel or a memoir that’s already been in progress for a few years, for instance — then write a shorter ebook!
It’s surprisingly easy to self-publish an ebook. You want it to be high quality, with great content, a compelling cover and a well-designed interior. Using Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, or e-junkie you can promote and sell your ebook from your website. While marketing your ebook is a topic for another post, shepherding a short ebook to publication is a fairly simple process. And voila, you have a book to propel future books.
Media opportunities will come, but any interview you do, blog post you write or opportunity to speak in front of people you come across qualifies as media. Don’t be afraid to showcase these successes on your website and social media channels.
It takes a major shift in consciousness to start self-promoting, but I’ve found the key is in the balance. It’s cool to self-promote if you’re giving your readership fantastic, smart and interesting content — providing value. And it will get more comfortable with practice, I promise.
5. Personality: Figure out your persona
Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife helped me understand the value of figuring out who you are online.
Some people put it all out there and are wholly themselves online, while others choose to create a persona different from who they are in real life or only show a certain side of themselves. You get to decide, and you’re not wrong or weird or bad if you want to retain a little privacy.
However, being private or an introvert does not mean you should not have a website, or that you can get away with pooh-poohing the importance of an author platform. It just means you get to set boundaries. Instead of holding technology in contempt, learn to work with what you might not like, and to figure out how to make it work for you.
6. Existing readership: Create a sign-up form on your website
What? You don’t have a website yet? OK, the first step is to set up your new site.
While you’re at it, create a sign-up form that connects to an email management system like MailChimp or iContact. Put it on your homepage (or if you’re feeling fancy, a landing page) to capture email addresses — and take a deep breath.
Authors often tell me that people they know already have too much email. Get over it. Seriously. Your job is to collect emails, and to send out worthwhile content. It may take a long time to build up your email list, and to figure out exactly what your message is, but you need to practice having a following.
It doesn’t matter if you launch your email list with 20 people on it. That’s exactly what I did, and four years later I’m publishing for 5,000 subscribers who want to hear from me. After all, if they don’t, they can opt out.
But don’t worry about the numbers for now. Just take the first step and set up the form.
7. Ability to execute: Stick to a schedule
The ability to execute, like personality, is sort of a “soft” aspect of author platform, but it matters. It’s about follow-through and the ability to stick to a commitment to create content. It’s about consistency, and showing up even if it seems like no one is listening.
Building an author platform is grueling work, but it’s truly rewarding when you see the occasional spikes in engagement or new followers, or the payoff in the form of positive feedback or sales.
This payoff can only happen if you execute a plan and stick to it.
I know it’s a long haul. I’m out there myself, working on my platform every day, sometimes wondering why I am putting so much effort toward all this personal branding. But if you want to publish, and if you want readers, you have to find a voice, write content, connect with your readers and put yourself out there.
Your hard work will pay off; it just takes some time. Give it time and figure out a schedule that works for you. I recommend blogging once a month and posting on social media once a day, to start. You might increase from there, but again, you can take it little by little and adjust your plan as you figure it out.
What I know about author platform
Just like you don’t run a marathon without training for weeks or months, you don’t start your author platform full force. Building your platform takes discipline and hard work, but if it weren’t worth it, no one would be doing it.
The key is to find genuine value in your endeavors. Keep going, even when it feels like no one is listening. Eventually people will start to listen, and eventually you will get a comment to a post that makes you realize you’re making a difference, reach a milestone with your contacts that surprises you, or connect with a high-profile writer who supports you just because.
Have faith. Work hard. Don’t dismiss these ideas just because they feel like too much effort, or because starting from zero seems daunting. Everyone started from zero, even your literary heroes. And it’s only with hindsight and effort that anyone has the wisdom to promise that it’s worth it.
I promise, it is. Come on in and test the waters. Wade in slowly. You’ll find your way.
What was the first thing you did to build your author platform? If you’re just starting out, what’s your biggest obstacle?