What is an author platform?

do writers need an author platform to get published

This is the #1 question I get from people who are just starting to test the waters of nonfiction publishing. What is a platform, and why the heck does it matter? Shouldn’t writers just focus on honing their craft and revising their manuscripts, and worry about actually selling copies of the book once (and if) it’s actually published?

Well, that’s how it used to work. Writers used to be able to hole up in dark offices for years as they perfected their book, and once published, they could just sit back as the critical acclaim and sales came rolling in. And to a degree, some extremely well-established writers can still do that. But 99.9% of authors need to take the promotion of their book into their own hands, or that book will never make it into a reader’s hands. And the best way to get eyeballs reading the words you toiled over? Build a platform that attracts those eyeballs, even before you have a book to share with them.

Having a platform means having an existing, built-in audience that already enjoys your work, in whatever form. Maybe they think you’re a hilarious tweeter, or love your recipes on your blog, or use your products, or enjoy watching your videos, or felt inspired by a talk you gave. The people who have already friended/followed/signed up/bookmarked you have already decided that the content and products you offer are worthwhile, and that they want to routinely receive more of your great information. They already like you, and hey, maybe they’ll like your book, too. And the more engaged and connected to you that audience is, the more likely they’ll be willing to part with their hard-earned dollars for your work.

In my opinion, having a one-to-one connection with your audience is the best way to get them not only invested in your work, but truly benefitting from your message. By it’s very nature, the internet is one of the most powerful connectors of humans we’ve ever had. (Well, after food!) The internet helps you find that one person out in Bluesville, Alabama who is as infatuated with thrifting art deco lamps as you are. And it’s no secret that finding your tribe is not only rewarding, but it can help you turn your passion into a career. (Just ask Lissa Rankin.)

So how do you find your people, the ones who are passionate about the things you are, and who might one day buy your book? Set up one (or all!) of these outlets:

–Online Community
–Online Newsletter

Note that these are all internet-based. After all, you can reach millions of people through the internet, but most of us don’t know even one thousand people if we wanted to say, mail them an article we wrote, instead of posting it on a blog. Also, the post office is really slow. The internet isn’t.

So if you’re starting from scratch on building a platform, start with one of the items on that list. I personally think they have the most impact, and they also require a fairly minimal amount of upfront investment of time and money. I’ll break down more details about which of those outlets I think are best and most worth building in another post. (Edit: here’s that post: the 5 outlets that are the most important to focus on for platform-building.)

You can also boost the amount of people you reach by increasing your level of visibility–namely, broadcasting your message from someone else’s platform. Other platforms can be anything like:

–Other blogs/online media

The people who come across your work through an outlet not owned by you might become dedicated fans, or they might forget your name three seconds later. But being able to access, say, 1,000,000 readers of a magazine versus the 100,000 visitors who stop by your blog is still a big deal. Sure, the conversion rate might be lower–maybe 1% of the magazine readers will become repeat readers of your work, while 10% of your website visitors become repeat readers–but, hey, any heart won is still one more person whose life you can enrich and improve with your work.

That’s the most important thing to keep in mind during the absolute insanity of platform building–if you feel like you’re just slogging away, consistently creating free content but barely boosting your numbers, remember that it really shouldn’t be about the numbers. It’s not about being “conscripted” into “Jennifer Weiner-ish” self promotion. It’s about cultivating a conversation about something you care deeply about, and that should be a reward in its own right.

12 thoughts on “What is an author platform?

  1. Hi Maria,
    This is great post. I’m working on building my author platform now. I write suspense novels, but I’ve been told I should brand the author, not the book. So I blog mostly about the things I love (like running, yoga, and writing). My blog is evolving, but I’m posting consistently now and I’ve seen my traffic increase steadily. I’ve pinned this post for future reference, because I know I’ll need to read it often as I try to grow my platform. Thanks! 😉

    1. I’m glad it was helpful, Monica! And yes, it’s always a great idea to focus on your author brand rather than a book brand. That way you can carry it through your whole career, no matter what books you decide to write next!

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