So much of success in self-publishing these days is about standing out from the crowd. Writing and publishing a quality book is a prerequisite for success, but it’s not enough. Sadly, the market is so packed with low quality books, authors need a way to stand up, be heard, and rise above the competition. Building an author platform is a necessary step for any author who wants to reach their audience, earn back their investment, or start a writing career. This means getting out there, drawing a following, and having people who are interested in you and what you have to say. It’s not just marketing your book—it’s marketing yourself and your brand. And ideally, it begins long before your book is published.
This isn’t unique to self-publishing, either. Traditional publishers look for authors with a platform in addition to quality writing. Even with major publishers, you’re not just selling the quality of your book, you’re selling your ability to reach an audience.
What is an author platform?
So, what does this really mean? A platform just means people will notice and take an interest in what you have to say. The platform could be very broad – Tom Hanks could publish a book on just about anything, and rest assured that people would buy and read it. But it could also be highly specialized, such as a geneticist who’s been publishing academic papers for years, and is already well-known among fellow geneticists. For most authors, their platform will be smaller and usually more specialized. Maybe you’re a food blogger who’s ready to write a cookbook. Maybe you’ve been sharing photos on Instagram, gaining followers, and you’re ready to publish a photo book. Maybe you’ve been doing corporate speaking events and want to write a business book.
If this is the case, try to build out that platform as much as possible — blog more frequently, reach out on social media, build an email list at your speaking events and on your website. However, if this doesn’t sound like your situation and you want to succeed as an author, it’s time to think ahead. Creating a platform from nothing isn’t easy. But it is very possible with enough planning and hard work, and it’s essential to publishing success in today’s crowded marketplace. Readers won’t notice your book just because it’s been published—they need to have a reason to seek it out.
Building an author platform from scratch
First, ask yourself what you have to offer. If you’re planning to write a book, there must be something you believe you can provide to your audience. For fiction authors, it might just be their storytelling abilities. For artists, it might simply be the experience of their art or photography. For many others, it often comes in the form of expertise and experience. You might not think of yourself as an expert, but most of us have had life experiences that could be helpful, or of interest, to others. Perhaps you’re an experienced parent with tips to offer. Perhaps your career experiences can give you insight into a world others might not know much about—whether it’s restaurant kitchens, or local politics, you may have experiences that seem mundane to you, but could either be of interest to the general public, or to others in a similar niche. The challenge is to start building a network of those who might be interested. And it starts by offering that audience a taste of what they’d get from your book.
Social media is a great place to start. Pick a couple platforms that seem right for your content — Instagram is great for photos and other images; Twitter and Facebook are both great for posting links to written content. The trick here is to post regularly and to offer content that people want. If you’re planning to publish a book of fiction, spend a year or two publishing short stories on your blog, with links posted on social media. If you’re a photographer, publish a few photos that you like, but which might not make the cut for the difficult task of narrowing them down for your book. Give followers just enough to get interested, while holding back enough to keep them curious about a book in the future. Building a following this way isn’t necessarily easy, but with time and hard, consistent work, it is absolutely possible.
Once you start building a following, try to interact with and listen to your followers. Answer questions, respond to requests whenever possible. Make yourself a presence in groups and on message boards relevant to your subgenre or area of expertise. If you opt for paid social media promotion—make sure you’re not simply paying for ‘likes’ or ‘friends’. It takes active participants to really raise your social media profile.
Platform building vs marketing
If you’re consistent with this, it will pay off. But you’ll need to leave yourself enough time to build this platform organically. You don’t want to seem like you’re only there to sell something. And in fact, you’re not just there to sell a product, you’re there to build a platform for yourself that could open up other avenues, such as speaking events. So try to offer some value, keep the explicit marketing to a minimum (especially early on) and just try to connect with your audience. Offering value will keep followers interested, and give potential readers good reason to follow you, join an email list, and eventually, buy your book. The key is to publish content that people can genuinely appreciate.
The next level
Some authors may be ready to think bigger, especially if your book is already published, or about to be published. Take any available opportunities for speaking events and interviews. Look for opportunities with other blogs, podcasts, and even radio and television.
For instance, Izzard Ink sent the book and the bio of one author, a neurologist, to our public relations partners, who pitched it to radio shows, ultimately landing him an appearance on Dr. Drew. Another Izzard political author made an appearance on iHeartRadio, as well as bigger national syndications that reached over 250 stations across the country. Appearances like this give authors a chance to build credibility and get to know their audience. Every appearance on a high-profile platform will boost an author’s name recognition as an expert, and many appearances will also offer the chance to take questions from their audience—invaluable for building a platform. For PR efforts, Izzard uses a pay to play system, so authors only pay for PR services if they book appearances—rather than simply paying for the opportunity to make those appearances. We highly recommend this approach.
Building beyond radio
After radio, we move on to online and print, to get the author’s writing in front of their audience. This where having a great author website can really pay off. We’ve gotten authors into publications like MarketWatch and Forbes. This goes such a long way toward establishing an author’s name as an expert in their field.
Building an author platform can be a challenge, especially starting from nothing. But if you’re writing a book, it means you have something you believe the world wants to hear. Building an author platform is simply an extension of that. You’re showing the world a little bit of what you’re offering with your book. You’re establishing why you’re someone qualified to write that book. And whenever possible, you’re establishing a genuine connection with your audience.