A comprehensive introduction to author platforms 5 Comments

Have you ever heard of this thing called an author platform? It is supposed to sell books, right.

The dream of being an author is highly compelling for us writers. We spend hours and weeks and years writing our book. Finally, it is ready to go. There is just one snag – how do you get people to buy your book?

That’s where the author platform comes in.

Why you desperately need an Author Platform

The shocking truth about author earnings is that most of us don’t earn much at all. At least not enough to quit our day job. We wrote about that recently. The terrible state of author earnings is why you cannot afford to miss out on anything that increases your success rate as an author.

The shocking truth about author earnings

Agents and publishers look for a platform

While it was once true that you could get a six book deal and a movie on charm and skill alone, the truth is that way no longer works. Anyone who is likely to say yes to your book and have the power to make anything worthwhile happen looks for an author platform.

That is why we started Author Buzz with writers’ charity Thanet Creative Writers. We authors simply need all the help we can get.

Good platforms sell books; great platforms sell the author

A pretty good author platform will sell books. A great one will go further and sell the idea of you as an author (and thus many books). Whatever way you look at it writing books also requires someone or something to sell those books for you.

Author Buzz lays a lot of the ground work to help you set up a good platform but only you can make it a great platform.

What your author Platform is not

One of the mistakes many authors make is to think that having a large number of likes on a Facebook page or a huge number of followers on Twitter is the same as having a solid platform. Without the ability to engage with those followers the number is completely irrelevant. After all one million followers that ignore you is much the same as two followers who also ignore you.

There are many predatory businesses out there who will offer to blast out other people’s content, and spam your followers every day reminding them that, yep, you still got that book for sale. This is not the least bit helpful and could actually be hampering your progress.

An other platform is not social media accounts. Yes, it is true that social media can form part of your platform, that is not the entire story.

What is your author platform?

In the simplest terms, your platform is the number of people that you can reach who will be happy to hear from you. That and the way in which you can reach them. In other words – your audience or, more specifically, the means with which you are able to communicate with your audience.

Most sites, even the Huffington Post, tend to focus on two parts of the platform – your website and your email list. They forget as much as they tell you. Here is the most comprehensive introduction to author platforms I have ever written and how Author Buzz UK can really help super charge your book sales.

The website of your author platform

The website is the most integral part of your platform. While you could build a platform without a website, you will run into all sorts of blockages if you try.

While it is highly recommended that your website have a blog and other pages of information, it is not absolutely necessary. There are five things that you absolutely need (but a blog is very helpful):

  1. Information about your books
  2. Information (and links) about where to buy your books
  3. A little background information about you, the author.
  4. Some way for the press to contact you
  5. Something that drives visitors to sign up for your list

1. Your platform and your books

booksThe first two points are all about your books. You need to be able to tell people about your books.

You would be surprised how many authors, especially self published authors who should know better, miss this step almost completely. Or worse, they think that all they should talk about is their book.

I’m sure you have seen those twitter accounts that post endless links to the same few books until you get sick and tired of the desperate begging and unfollow them. I am writing a report for authors which teaches you how how to promote your books on social media without appearing desperate. If you hop over to my blog, and sign up for notifications, you will learn when my report is ready for you to read.

While begging for people to read your book on social media is bad, forgetting to have at least a page per book telling people about your book on your website is worse.

2. Links to buy your books

If you have done a good job exciting people about your book with the description then they will want to act on that excitement. The sooner the better. People lose interest quickly.

On each page about each of your books, there should be at least a few links to the top retailers that take you directly to the buy it now page for your book. An advanced option is something called affiliate links. If you know what they are and are happy to sue them – good more profit to you. If you have no idea what I just said, don’t worry about it, the tiny extra may not be worth the effort.

Should you need help making or finding links, ask in our forum.

3. Your background information

People respond to people far better than faceless websites. Put a human face on your work, literally.

At the very least tell people who you are and why you like to write. Thanet Creative Writers publish semi-regular platform prompts. Use them to give you new idea about what to tell people.

Try to answer the most obvious questions the press might ask you. How long you have been writing, why you started, who you insterpation is, that sort of thing.

4. A way for the press to contact you

With a bit of luck the press may want to talk to you. Local newspapers are always interested in local authors. As are regional and review bloggers. In fact, at some point we are going to run a whole series on building an impressive portfolio of press and blog contacts.

For now, you need at least some way for the press to make contact. That means that fans may also use it. Fans are great, always take the time to thank them for contacting you.

5. Drive visitors to your list

We are going to look at lists in greater detail a bit further down but the short version is that your list is vital to getting healthy sales.

Andy Weir, author of the book that the movie The Martian is based on go both a print deal and a film deal int he same week. That’s the power of a good list.

You need somewhere for people to sign up to something.

The Author Buzz UK blogging platform, which is built on WordPress, offers a module that lets people sign up for updates when you publish a post. This is a good place to start as it combines having a list with just writing a blog. Until we start charging, our blogs are free (forever) to those that ask for them.

Why your site need a blog

A good blog does a lot of the hard work for you. For starters it gives you something to post on social media other than pathetically begging people to please read your book (trust me, that does not work).

A good blog framework will take care of posting to your social media accounts when you publish new posts. That’s a whole load of platform building work done for you. Our blog network has a WordPress plugin called JetPack which can be connected to your Twitter account, Facebook page (or personal profile), TumblR, LinkedIN and more. We will talk about social media as part of your platform shortly.

Blogs are amazing for basic SEO and content marketing. In other words, a blog is a part of your site filled with content and content is what Google, Yahoo, and Bing are looking for to put in their search results. Good content, something that as authors we are practiced at writing, ranks better than badly written content. Exceptions exist but over time the quality stuff bubbles to the top.

Blogs are also a great way to extend the idea of a list. Not only do many blogs allow readers to sign up for email updates but they can subscribe via WordPress, RSS feed readers, and more. At least, that is the case with the Author Buzz blogging network. Also with our network are links encouraging visitors to share your content on their social media. I don’t think I need to tell you how powerful that can be.

Our blogging network is currently free and for whoever gets a free blog it will stay free. In the next few months we are going to start charging for our blogging platform. I suggest you get to the forum and ask for a blog, while they cost nothing at all.

Your Author Platform on Social Media

Like it or not social media is a big part of building a solid author platform. That’s why we made sure that the Author Buzz UK blogging network connects to so many different social media outposts.

Obviously, we could not connect to them all but with tools like If this;Then that, you can connect those platforms (and your blog) to hundreds more.

An author platform is a lot more than social media but social media is a part of it nevertheless. Like all things, there is a lot of duff advice and plenty of people using a good tool very badly with little or no profitable results.

What to publish on your social media as an author

I’ve said it before but it should be repeated, pathetically begging for people to try your book does not work. Spamming your amazon link ten times a day does not work. Talking about nothing but your book makes you boring.

Selling books is quite a lot like seduction or at least dating. If you want new readers then you are going to have to take them to dinner and show them a good time first.

You do that by engaging with people about topics that interest them. We find that a blog is good for this as it draws people back to the core of your platform and exposes them to the opportunity to find out about your books.

Which social media should you use?

There is no answer to this question. At least no easy answer. The truth is that it depends on you, your books, and your readers.

There is no shortcut for doing some homework and finding out where your potential readers hang out. Wherever that is – you need to be there too.

That said, There are some bigger social media sites that are so large that you should probably consider having an active presence there anyway. The problem is that this presence can be a huge time suck.

That’s why we supply JetPack for all blogs on the Author Buzz UK network. By using the auto sharing power of JetPack, you can reach fans on these networks every time you post a new blog article.

Of course, even with JetPack, that’s not quite enough. You still need to do one more thing. It is called social media, not announcement media. You have to go and be sociable. There are no tools to automate making friends with folks.

I will be releasing a report called “Social Media Master Plan for Writers and Authors: how to promote your books on social media without appearing desperate“. Subscribe to my Author Buzz blog if you want to find out when that is released.

Your Author Platform and your list

An announcement email list is perhaps the most effective way you have to promote a book when it comes out. Building and caring for this list is the most important activity a marketer can engage in. This list is far more important than all the social media presence you could ever have. By comparison social media is a tiny part of your platform.

If your website is the core of your platform then your list is the Strong Right Hand. Any paid service that claims to help with your author platform and cannot show how their services help with list building is a con.

Unlike social media, your email list is the only audience you can absolutely guarantee to reach all of every single time. Unlike social media, your list is something you own and you control. If Facebook closes its doors tomorrow you lose everything you built on that network but your list, that is still yours to keep.

That is why I encourage people to sign up to get updates from my blog. I know that this is an audience far more valuable than I will find on social media.

Your list will need 3 things:

  1. Somewhere to host your list – your personal email account is not going to be up to the task
  2. Some way to get people to sign up
  3. Something to say to the people on the list to make them glad they signed up

Here is a more detailed look at you list as part of an author platform.

1. Hosting your list

Most people’s first thought when faced with building a list is  “I have an email account already, that should do it for me”. However if you insist on sending out high volume email from your account you may discover a host of problems. Not least of which is that your host may prohibit mass emails.

When you are getting started the subscribe for updates by email service of our blog network is ideal. However you may soon find that you need something a bit more robust and flexible.

List management services, for frequently known as email marketing services, are what you need. There are list management services that have a free plan.

The first of these is benchmarkemail.com. Benchmark Email are free up to 2,000 subscribers.

The second one we found is verticalresponse.com. Their service is free up to 300 contacts. That’s not as the others but free list members is far from the only consideration. It will probably take you a while to fill that up when you first start out anyway.

The third, and by far the most popular is mailchimp.com. Mailchimp is free up to 2,000 subscribers. We are looking at ways we can offer Mailchimp integration with our blogging network.

I also found reachmail.net who offer a free service up to 5,000 subscribers and 15,000 emails a month (that’s a total of three messages to a full list each month.

By the time any of those start to feel too small, you should be able to afford a paid plan just from the increased sales that your list is generating. If your list is not doing that for you, ask for support in our forums because something is wrong.

For authors who happen to be really good at filling up lists, you might consider running more than one list but I do not recommend it for most people.

2. Getting people onto the list

The biggest hurdle you will face is getting people onto your list. Which is why I do not recommend trying to run more than one list.

Generally you are going to want to offer some incentive for people to sign up for your list. For example, I have made it very clear that signing up for updates from my blog will get you a valuable report.

These incentives are often some sort of free item. Things like ebooks, reports, videos, tutorials, and so forth are popular choices. Authors with a series of books might offer the first book in the series in ereader format as a reward for signing up.

Think about which email lists you have signed up for and what was offered to you to get you onto that list. Perhaps offer something of a similar nature. Personally I detest reading emails. I am so good at avoiding reading my email it is scary. Without a doubt, I am the worst person to have on an email list. most other people, though, love email.

I am odd; I know that.

We are going to look at list building in far greater detail in future articles. It is an important part of an author platform but this article is already huge.

3. Keeping the list alive

Once you have people on the list you have still got to keep them there. Send too many emails and people will unsubscribe. Send boring email and they will unsubscribe. Send illegible or off topic emails and they may unsubscribe.

Keeping your list alive means keeping it fed with interesting content. This is why the subscribe for updates feature of our network (via JetPack) is such a great beginners tool. If you need to move on from that, aweber.com offers an RSS feed to email service. You will have to pay for it of course.

A list that is filled with people who are looking forward to hearing from you is a list that will respond well when you tell them about your new book. However, you don’t want the first message they read to be “please buy my book”.

Here are a few ideas of things you could be sending to your list.

  1. Recommendations for books by other authors that you loved.
  2. Free videos, ebooks, or other downloads
  3. A round up and summary of recent blog posts
  4. A behind the scenes look at the life of an author (that’s you)
  5. An except from an upcoming book
  6. Progress updates, let them know how the writing and editing process is going
  7. An exclusive blog post – this one is just for the list
  8. A selection of great older posts that they might have missed
  9. Book signing and appearance dates
  10. Information about upcoming releases

Remember, whatever you send to your list ask yourself this – is this useful and/or interesting to my readers?

Further reading

Jane Friedman gives a pretty good definition of what an author platform is. I strongly disagree with her statement that fiction writers do not need a platform. Unless you are already part of the top 3% of authors, yes you do.

A Definition of Author Platform

Writers’ Charity, Thanet Creative Writers, have a fantastic introduction to author platforms and expose some of the secrets that others might not tell you. (Disclaimer, I wrote it). It makes a very strong case as to why authors need platforms. Hint: platforms get publishers interested.

The examples of great platforms by top authors is worth paying very close attention to. Those examples are ones you should definitely try to emulate to some extent.

Neil Gaiman, for example, does pretty much everything if not perfectly then damn close.

As if making my point for me, BookMachine have an interview with Adrian Zackheim, founder of Portfolio, Penguin’s prestigious business book list. Zackheim says that publishers look for a strong platform.

The author platform: Why it matters for publishers

If you are looking to be absolutely certain that you know what an author platform is, The Write Life, has a pretty good introduction. It makes the point that your platform is not just social media. Also it has some good examples for you to look at.

Author Platform: Here’s What All the Fuss Is About

Five First Steps in Making an Author Platform

Here is a quick, step-by-step guide to setting up your Author Platform. Five steps four of which are very easy. The fifth one is something we can help with.

Step One – join a central hub

Create an account with Author Buzz UK (if you want to sell books in the UK) and other similar platforms in your home country. Author Buzz UK will be creating a global platform eventually so if you are not in any hurry to reach the rest of the world. Sign up and wait for us to get there for you.

We recently wrote about why you should join Author Buzz but here is the short version – we make it so much easier to reach readers. Author Buzz UK is a shared platform for all authors. You’d be crazy not to grab a slice of that free cake.

Why should I use Author Buzz UK?

Step two – set up a website

If you have never done this before then this step can be the most intimidating. A good many authors try to skip this step. Don’t do that.

We here at Author Buzz are putting together an inexpensive package where all that set up business is done for you. We don’t automate it, someone manually configures and sets up a WordPress website that you will control.

Right now, that service is free. All you have to do is ask. But as soon as we get ten or so active sites for free there will be no more free blogs. If you want a free blog from us, ask in the forums soon.

If you set up a simple website without a blog, consider signing up for Tumblr. It is more or less a blog and can be used in addition to a blog later. Neil Gaiman uses Tumblr.

Step three – get a list

This is something you should work on right from the get go. If you are just getting started as a writer then you are not going to have books and reports to offer for free. The subscribe for updates feature that comes with JetPack might be enough for now.

Step four – set up some social media accounts

If you do not have a Twitter account, Facebook page or a Google+ profile, go and set one up. Say a few things, talk to a few people, follow a few people.

There will be plenty of authors for your to interact with and you will quickly find out what I mean about how badly most authors use social media. Trust me, it can be really tedious.

Step five – talk to people

Now you have a blog, or at least a Tumblr account, talk to poeple. Write things other people might want to read. Write things that people who might like your book would want to read. Do that regularly.

Likewise, make time to jump on your social media outposts and chat to any passers by. Don’t try to sell your book. You are not there for that (yet). Just be nice to people and have conversations. Remember selling books is much more like dating than it is shouting in a crowded market place.

About the author

Matthew BrownYou might be wondering who this follow is offering all this advice. Let me tell you.

I am a dyslexic writer with a background in web development and marketing. I’ve held a lot of jobs in that industry and spent far longer sitting at home trying to cope with unyielding physical pain. Writing is my escape from all that.

When I am not writing or being in pain, I am the chair of a local writers’ charity and a lead developer at Author Buzz UK. I started Author Buzz because I saw that it was needed. I really do just like helping people. Also I love writing even though my spelling and grammar can be a bit patchy sometimes.

I hope this article was useful. If there are any topics relating to the practicality of being an author that you would like me to tackle, please ask me in the forums. I don’t bite.

About Matthew Brown

Matthew is a writer and Geek from Kent (UK). He is the founder and current chair of Thanet Creative as well as head geek for Author Buzz. His ambitions include appearing on TableTop with Wil Wheaton and seeing a film or TV series based on something he wrote.