Many writers see building an author platform to promote our books as a chore at best, a major source of anxiety at worst. We tend to be an introverted bunch. We’d rather write in solitude than talk ourselves up on social media.
Unfortunately, we can’t just write all day and wait for readers to find us. Whether you self-publish or sign a deal, platform is as necessary as prose. But it doesn’t have to be a chore. Stay true to yourself and strive for quality over quantity, and you’ll attract plenty of new friends and potential readers.
What is an author platform, anyway?
Your platform is your social reach: how many people can you influence to buy your book and/or spread the word about it? A website, an email list, and two social media accounts generally work well.
Start to build your platform before you publish your book. If you write non-fiction, agents and publishers will expect an impressive platform before you even start writing.
How to create your platform
Building your platform can be a fun social experience that brings you closer to your readers. The key is to make a plan, stick to it, and be yourself.
Who do you want to be?
Consider your ideal online persona. How do you want others to perceive you — especially people who might buy your book and encourage their friends to do the same?
Your author platform is a professional space. Personal content should be tasteful and appropriate for your intended audience. If you have a social media account where you let it all hang out, change the privacy settings to friends-only. Because I’m wary of posting lots of photos of my kid, I keep a separate, private Instagram account for him.
Introverts who dislike social media will have to make peace with it, but do this in a way that feels genuine. Trying to be someone you’re not will turn your followers off.
Narrow your online effort
Identify where you feel most comfortable online, and where your crowd hangs out. Different age groups and genres flock to different social media outlets.
For example, most of my readers at The ADHD Homestead use Facebook and Pinterest. I don’t particularly like Facebook, but I need a presence there. Sometimes I feel limited, like my social media platforms have been chosen for me, but this can also be liberating. I don’t need to worry about learning to use SnapChat, and I can use Instagram mostly for fun.
Do you write romance? Science fiction? A cooking blog? Find out where your followers and fellow writers congregate and focus your efforts there. If you don’t know where to start, follow some popular accounts and learn from their success.
Build a website
Services like Wix and Squarespace make it so easy to create your own website, there’s no excuse for not having one. Your website is your internet business card. List your social media handles, bio, relevant writing credits, and your email newsletter signup.
Choose an email service
Many writers feel uncomfortable sending direct email, but it’s the most powerful way to connect with your followers. I use MailChimp, but there are many similar services available. Choose one that offers free accounts for smaller mailing lists.
Connect your email service to your website and prompt people to sign up for your newsletter when they first arrive. You can add close friends and family to your list at first, but never send a mass email to your entire address book or to people you barely know.
If you’re in the dark about email, Jane Friedman offers some great advice on her website.
Participate in the community
Find influencers in your genre/circle and get to know them: comment on their blog posts. Like and share their social media content. If you mention them in a social media post, tag them so they’ll see it. These people already have a strong platform, and they can help boost your signal at critical times.
Be courteous, the same as if you’d met these people at an in-person networking event. Observe the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of your social media posts should entertain or educate your readers. Even better if they help spread the word about a fellow writer’s work. No more than 20 percent of your content should be self-promotional.
Like and follow a lot of writers in your genre, not just the famous ones. New and unpublished authors are often eager to help each other out. Plus, you never know who will be the next big thing! Be generous with your time and attention and others will do the same for you.
Order business cards with your social media handle
You never know when you’ll make a valuable connection. Carry a business card with all your traditional and social media contact information on it. Like your website and email list, business cards are one of the few parts of your platform completely under your control. Order a set that reflects your work and personality.
While you may not call or email a random person you meet on a ski lift, you may gain a new Instagram follower. And who knows? That follower could eventually become one of your most loyal fans.
One step at a time…
You may feel like you’re screaming into the void at first. Platform and influence aren’t built overnight. Most people with popular blogs and social media accounts have been building those communities for years. You likely won’t see results right away, but don’t let that discourage you. Choose where you’ll focus your platform and be respectful, consistent, and genuine. The rest will follow.
Check back next week for tips and best practices for a successful platform.
I was thinking about this lately and wanted to build my social media platform a little bit. I revived my Facebook presence and are more active now on it then 2 years ago. I’m involved in many writing groups. I’ve neglected Twitter a bit but going to work on it. And also adding Pinterest to my list getting more followers that are writers and now just a website.Thanks for this:-) and looking forward to the tips!
Explain step by step how to build a Writers Blog
Really useful content, clearly and nicely presented, too. Thank you, Jaclyn.
Great article, but I have one question. If a person is an aspiring author wanting to build a platform (some time) before the release of their first book, how should that person brand themselves? Should she write “aspiring author” in her bio? Or should she just build generally and over time introduce the world to her creation?
I personally wouldn’t use “aspiring” author, I’d say – writer. No matter where we are in our publishing journey, if we’re writing, we’re writers! But you will build your platform over time, and it’s acceptable to talk and write about your journey on your platform.
I agree, I never say “aspiring” anything. My business cards and other promotional bios all say “writer.” Now that my blog has picked up steam, I’ve added “blogger” to some of those bios.