5 Things You SHOULDN’T Worry About When Building Your Platform

easy platform building for authors
let these worries go!

I know it’s technically September, but I have unanimously agreed with myself that we could use one last article in August’s The Good Stuff series. In case you missed the last few posts, you can catch up on them here:

Week 1: Why Publishing Professionals Have to be Eternal Optimists

Week 2: A Success Story with a Side of Cheesecake

Week 3: 6 Moments to Celebrate on Your Publishing Journey

Week 4: The Most Important Character Trait in Publisher, Plus a Free Jack Kerouac Art Print

A Literary Agent's advice on how to enjoy the process of writing and publishing a book

One of my very favorite cities in the country is Richmond, Virginia. It’s where I went to college; it’s where I met some of my best friends; it’s where I met Jarrett (and also where he proposed to me last weekend—more on that in Friday’s roundup!); and it’s where I’ll be back for another year at the James River Conference on October 17th.

The James River Conference is such an especially fun one for me, since it’s usually a smaller and more intimate experience than the big mega conferences like the Writer’s Digest Conference (although I had a blast there, too!). The JRW organizers asked me to put together a quick little “5 Things About Anything” list to include for their newsletter subscribers, and as I was writing it, I realized it’d also be a great send-off to The Good Stuff series.

As September kicks in and the publishing industry comes to life again, you’ll probably be doubling down on the platform-building and picking up your regular writing schedule again. Even as things pick up speed, here are the 5 things you just shouldn’t waste your energy worrying about:

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4 Common Mistakes Bloggers Make That Hurt Traffic and Engagement

How to build a nonfiction platform

I spend a lot of time looking at blogs and websites. Maybe too much time. Sometimes I feel like if I have to see one more watercolor Facebook icon or read one more About Me page, I will just flop over, dead from too much Interneting.

But 95% of the time, I just love it. It’s fascinating to see the front end of a blog or website and then talk to its owner and learn more about their back end stats and strategies. I guess it’s sort of like seeing how the blog sausage is made. (“Blog sausage” sounds wrong. In a hilarious way. I will now have to dedicate my remaining years to proliferating this phrase.)

ANYWAY. It’s become so incredibly important to have a strong online platform before you launch a book that it’s impossible to overlook the power of a well-done website or blog. Yet if there’s one thing I’ve seen from speaking to hundreds of bloggers, it’s that very few of them know what the heck anyone else is doing. Sure, there are plenty of online courses you can take that could help you build traffic, but there’s nothing like seeing how that traffic converts into real business (as in product sales) to show you how important certain overlooked areas are.

There are 4 areas that I think are especially overlooked, and where I think many people are stifling their engagement, throttling their traffic, and overall slowing down the growth of their businesses. Here are the mistakes I see most often:

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Read, Eat, Drink: William Zinsser on Nonfiction and a Wild Feast

Literary Agent Advice

Read:

How to Secure a Traditional Book Deal by Self-Publishing (Jane Friedman at Writer Unboxed): “It’s not any easier to interest an agent or publisher when you’re self-published, and since new authors are more likely to put out a low-quality effort (they rush, they don’t sufficiently invest, they don’t know their audience), chances are even lower their book will get picked up.” As Jane puts it, “we have a serious epidemic of impatience.” The truth is that publishing a book is easy, but finding readers for a book is hard. More here on how to decide if self-publishing is right for you.

What’s Your Book Marketing Plan? 6 Crucial Steps to Include (Maggie Langrick on The Write Life): “I now counsel all of our authors to build a relationship directly with their readers.” The wonderful thing about this Internet age is that no one can keep you from your readers but you. That’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s also a lot of opportunity.

The Biggest Business Mistake I Ever Made (Joel Friedlander, The Book Designer): “My big mistake was ignoring my email list. I just didn’t understand why it was crucially important until a friend showed me the light.” From my data, there are tons of bloggers and aspiring authors who are making this same mistake. In fact, of the last 10 calls I had with aspiring authors over the past few weeks, exactly ONE understood the importance of building an email list. Guess which one I offered to represent.

The Art of Science Communication: William Zinsser on How to Write Well About Science (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings): The day William Zinsser passed away, I picked up my old yellowed copy of On Writing Well, and it pulled me back to my journalism days in college. I didn’t realize it then, but Zinsser, McPhee, Mitchell, and the whole crowd from my Literary Journalism class are the ones who dragged me, happily, into making a career in nonfiction. I remember picking up The New Yorker sometime in high school, spotting an article about UPS, and being so riveted I couldn’t stop reading. Good nonfiction makes even the most dense and mundane subject fascinating. As Zinsser says: “Writing is not a special language owned by the English teacher. Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who thinks clearly can write clearly, about anything at all. Science, demystified, is just another nonfiction subject. Writing, demystified, is just another way for scientists to transmit what they know.”

Eat & Drink:

Before I jump into this week’s Eat & Drink, an important question: Does your diet consist almost entirely of chicken tenders, mac and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, and other delicacies from the kids’ menu? If so, please avert your eyes. Things are going to get what you would consider “gross.”

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How to Measure Engagement and Why It Matters for Your Platform

How to measure engagement

A few weeks ago I was asked about how to measure engagement, and I gave a quick answer in a comment thread. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I spend a lot of time talking about how crucial engagement is, and not enough time talking about how to measure it.

But first, a story about meetings and why they can be so painful.

When I was an editor at a New York publisher, I would have anywhere from 7-15 meetings a week. Mostly that was because I had to be at meetings for two different teams, but it still meant anywhere from 1-2 full work days a week spent sitting around a conference room with a group of people. Some of the meetings were awesome and energizing and full of smart people brainstorming about our books. But some of them were painful. If anyone has ever been in a production meeting where you’re reviewing deadlines title-by-title, you’re probably as accomplished of a doodler as I am. I can now draw quite a menagerie of miniature animals. This is in no way a life skill.

But the point is that it was the content of the meeting that determined whether I was an active or inactive participant. If we were talking about one of my books, or about marketing strategies, or about titles, I was usually giving my full attention and input to the meeting. If we were talking about production dates that had nothing to do with me, it was giraffe-drawing time.

If you had put a two-way mirror in that conference room and placed a randomly selected group of people on the other side, they could have easily told you which people in the meeting were engaged, simply by looking at who was interacting with the meeting content—by offering opinions, asking questions, or expressing emotion.

The meeting of the minds that is your blog/vlog/website is no different. Some people are just popping their head into the room and leaving, some people are present but not engaged, and some people are all in. The people who are all in will be interacting with your content in one way or another. So measuring engagement is really about measuring action.

Here are a few of the metrics that can quantify the actions of engagement:

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