Build Your Author Platform: 7 Manageable Ways to Start From Scratch

Build Your Author Platform: 7 Manageable Ways to Start From Scratch

By now we’ve all heard about author platform, even if we’re not entirely sure how to build or maintain one.

But in my everyday work with authors, I’ve noticed 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?

How to start building your author platform

As I explain in this post, author platform includes these components: expertise, contacts, social media, previous media, previous books, personality, existing readership and ability to execute. That breakdown can function 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 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 just 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.

Looking to use social media to promote your books? Check out Self-Publishing School’s free training to discover The 3 Worst Mistakes You’re Making on Social Media (and How You to Leverage Social Media to Sell 10x More Books – for FREE!)”

Not a published author yet? No problem! Check out this free training to discover 5 ways to establish your author brand and help your audience get to know, like, and trust you (PS: it doesn’t have to be selfies!)

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, figuring out how to write an ebook 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 an email 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. Here’s a guide on how to start a blog.

While you’re at it, create a sign-up form that connects to an email management system; here are a few of our favorite email newsletter platforms to choose from. Put it on your homepage 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.

(Ready to take your email collection to the next level? Check out these 7 simple steps to build your author email list – fast!)

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.

The best way to build an author platform is simple: start

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?

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Photo via GuadiLab / Shutterstock 

Filed Under: Marketing


  • I’m coming upon this article a year and a half after it was written, and it reads like it was written yesterday. Thank you for the clarity on building a platform! I’m curious how things have continued for you since this was written – 5,000 subscribers in 2014, where are you now?

  • This post was just what I needed. I write a lot but sometimes it feels that I have no focus. Going through these steps will help me to move ahead toward a writer’s life!

  • Chad Pettit says:

    Thanks so much for your post. I am trying to find what works, and it’s an exhaustive search. I don’t have anything set up yet, and nothing published. What are your thoughts on publishing an e-store story or two?

  • Kilburn Hall says:

    Thanks @brooke_warner
    very insightful article for new career authors. Even though I have previously done all that you recommend, hearing you advise it I know that I am on the right path. But if you are a “new career author” take Brooke’s advice. She isn’t kidding.
    Kilburn Hall

  • Thank you. This was truly helpful. I am a writer and photographer working hard to publish my first book that will be a photo/essay series on grief – and the whole thing has felt very daunting. This certainly gave me some great pointers, and helped me realize I’ve made some awesome headway in gaining a following in just one short year! Thanks again, i’ll be reading more!

  • Yvelette says:

    Great article with wonderful tips. Thanks for sharing. I like the idea of focusing on just a couple of SM outlets. I am going to work on that for both my site that focuses on writing and blog that focuses on health.

  • seema says:

    Very helpful article.

  • Cali Bird says:

    Thanks Brooke. This is very timely for me. Am just about to start on a piece of fiction and need to start thinking of these things

  • Fran Thring says:

    Hi there, thanks for the great post! I was wondering, what would you suggest posting on daily. I wouldn’t want to repeat the same content and bore my followers, also don’t want to share anything which is not related. Any advice? Do you just link to the latest post?

    • Brooke says:

      I suggest doing Google Alerts on issues that are relevant to your book. You can post about newsworthy items. You can share other people’s posts. It’s true that it takes a lot of creative thinking to not be repetitive, but I also think you can afford to be a little repetitive on social media. It’s called repurposing and it’s totally legit. I don’t know your topic so sorry I can’t be more specific. But hopefully this helps a little.

  • Tim Morgan says:

    Brooke, great article!

    Especially if you choose the indie path, most of the work is going to fall on you. Know it, embrace it, work at it and you’ll go places.

  • Yes, I agree… it takes a long time to build author platform. It is a marathon. We will need patience. And being patient is the hardest thing for me 🙂

  • I’m doing my best to try and get some kind of social media presence… and I’m supposed to be one of those Facebook-savvy youths! I find social media quite messy and I’m terrible at navigating it and figuring out what’s what. But I’m getting there, and your tips definitely helped. Thanks!

  • Muriel Murch says:

    Dear Brooke,
    Love following you. Am doing something every day for and with my work. Thanks for your seminar and words to us writers.
    Best for the Holidays. MAM

  • Brooke Warner, the first thing I did to build my writer platform was, in January 2010, follow the instructions from Blogger, and with some help from my husband’s and my youngest daughter, begin a blog. I transcribed entries from the one-year diary I kept when I was a junior in high school in Iowa, fifty years to the night after I originally wrote them. I’m currently posting the entries I wrote when I was a senior at Park College (now Park University) in Parkville (suburban Kansas City), Missouri).

    May you and yours have a fulfilling Thanksgiving.

    • Brooke says:

      Thanks for sharing your process, Barbara. Helps to enroll the youth, doesn’t it? How has the response been to your entries? This is a great idea.

    • SM Scott says:

      Great idea Barbara, I’ve been writing diaries and thoughts for years also – travel, insights, quotes, dreams – sometimes imagining them being found and read by someone after I was gone. No need to wait I guess – It’s just getting over the idea of really putting your innermost thoughts out there.

  • Dorit Sasson says:

    Brooke, This was a most encouraging article with valuable tips for the newbie and also for the seasoned “author platformer” — it really is training for a marathon and it’s easy to get discouraged when one doesn’t see many Facebook Likes or Twitter Followers per day. And it can be e-x-h-a-u-s-t-i-n-g! But rather than not get too hung up who is/isn’t following, I’d like to think of author platform as a exercise in building a connection and relationship. And I just know that somebody is reading even if s/he doesn’t have the time to comment. Thanks for writing such an important and informative article.
    Dorit Sasson
    author of Accidental Soldier: What My Service in the Israel Defense Forces Taught Me about Faith, Courage and Love.

    • Brooke says:

      Thanks for the comment, Dorit. I love what you said here about thinking of platform as a exercise in building a connection and relationship. When you can do that and have fun with it then suddenly it’s not so daunting, but more about connecting—which feels true and engaging and less like work!

    • Margret H says:

      All the social media are VERY HIGH CALORIE, as I heard a daily newspaper promotional manager say. High calorie with not a good financial return.
      Word of mouth is still a great way to work it.

  • Hey thanks a lot for the thoughts– as a budding writer, it’s encouraging for me to read what seasoned writers have to say. This website is great, and thanks so much for the people who make it so.

  • Yvette says:

    Taking the plunge! Thanks for sharing your wisdom and expertise. I’m very encouraged.

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