You’ll hear the phrase “Author Platform” bandied around a lot when you become involved in the writer community. For the longest time, no one even bothered to explain to me what an Author Platform was, so I assumed that it was an author’s blog, website, or another such marketing endeavor.
However, what editors and agents typically mean when they say they want an “author with platform” is essentially that they are looking for someone with visibility and expertise who has already proven that he or she can reach to a specific, targeted audience with their products.
When I talk about a person’s “visibility,” I am talking about a person who is known by others both personally and professionally. When you want to build your visibility as an author, begin by asking these questions: Where do people regularly see my work? How many people see it? How does awareness of my work spread? Where does it spread? What communities do I participate in? Who do I influence?
If you can answer all of these questions positively, then you have gained good visibility. If not, then your visibility needs some work.
It isn’t enough to just claim that you have visibility; you have to prove your reach to readers. You have to show how and where you make an impact on others. Quantitative evidence like the size of your e-mail newsletter list, website traffic, or blog comments is one form of this proof. Another form of proof is the qualitative evidence of your work’s impact such as high-profile reviews of your writing or testimonials from A-listers in your genre. Do not worry so much about your proven reach toward your “target audience”. This can only come through steady work, community interaction, and patience.
Your books’ visibility and reach need to be with the right audience, otherwise your efforts are wasted. For example, let’s say that you have visibility, authority, and proven reach with motorcycle riders, but your latest published writing is about a pink kitten who gets lost in Panda Land. It probably won’t be helpful to market that story to the bikers in your fan-base (unless, of course, the kitten is rescued by Sir Harley Honda Kawasaki, III).
Now let’s talk about author credibility. What is your credibility within the writing community? Your credibility is something that accumulates through the quality of your writing and through your cordial interactions within the writing community. For example, let’s say that you submit a well-written story to a publisher and your manuscript is accepted for publication. Congratulations! Not only have you made a sale, you have also established some credibility with that publisher. However, before the story shows up in print or on the publisher’s website, you still have to sign a writing contract, help the editor edit the work in preparation for publication, and get paid. If, at any point during the process, you prove difficult to work with, you will lose credibility with that publisher. But if you prove helpful, insightful, and punctual in you dealings with that publisher’s personnel, you have gained even more credibility. Your added credibility can then help win you more publishing acceptances in the future.
The same can be said for the writing community as a whole. If you publish well-written, accurate, factual, and insightful work on a regular basis, you will gain credibility with your readers. If not, you will lose credibility.
For some authors, credibility is substantially helped by credentials. Credentials are particularly important for nonfiction writers. After all, you would be more likely to pick up a book about healthy dieting if it was written by a certified nutritionist, wouldn’t you? Credentials are usually less important for fiction writers, although it can still help. Publishers will often take a second glance at a writer’s work if they discover that the writer finished the Clarion West writer’s workshop or graduated from the Iowa MFA program.
In general, an Author Platform is not about bringing attention to yourself, nor is it to be used to yell at every single person you meet, “Hey, buy my stuff!” The Author Platform is not about who screeches the loudest or, necessarily, even who can market his writing the best. It is more about putting consistent effort into building your relationship with readers through good work and sincere interactions over the course of you career. You cannot build an entire network overnight, you cannot buy your way into it, and you cannot create it solely through social media and blogging interactions (although those certainly help).
A platform is about doing unique and interesting things that attract other people to you and then making incremental improvements to extend your network and improve your financial gain. Your platform is never more important than your story or message, but it does grow out of your body of work (as long as it is great work).
The following list is not exhaustive, but it will help you form an idea of how your platform can grow:
Publish quality short stories in magazines, websites, etc. with which you want to be associated. These need to be outlets that your target audience reads. This is where Duotrope.com and patience comes into play. If you want to expand your reach by traditionally publishing a specific work, make sure to do some extra research and only submit your work to reputable publishers. Watch out for newly formed markets; some can be quite good, others will take your work and fold without you ever seeing a cent of the money owed to you.
Create and publish a body of work on your own platform. Find meaningful ways to engage with and develop your target audience. Authors usually accomplish this by having their own website and filling it with different pieces of personal media like: blog posts, podcast episodes, videos, and, of course, links to buy and download digital copies of their writings. They extend the reach of the website by creating e-mail newsletters, social network posts, and other things to help gather quality followers. This is usually a long-term process. One important thing to note when building your personal platform: once an author posts anything online (but especially on her own website), it is considered published. This becomes important if you are trying to traditionally publish a piece rather than self-publish it because many publishers will not accept submissions that have been previously published (no matter the form). Another thing to note is your copyright protection on everything that you post online. Make sure you know what your rights and the rights of others are before you start writing publicly. The last thing you want is to be sued for copyright infringement, libel of character, etc.
Speak at and/or attend events where you can extend your network of contacts. Sci-Fi and fantasy cons are excellent places to do this, but there are numerous conventions and conferences for just about every major type and genre of writing out there. Start with the smaller cons to really get to know other authors and then work your way up from there. You’ll be amazed at the friendships you develop.
Partner with fellow writers to tackle a new project and/or extend your visibility. This idea is very difficult to accomplish until you already have good credibility within the writing community. All I can say is choose your partners carefully. Case in point, I have been asked several times by new writers if I would co-author a work with them. My answer has always been no. I don’t give negative responses because I wish to be mean; I say no because the would-be partner’s inexperience would be a burden on me and on the project. It is not fair for me to do most of the work on a project while the inexperienced “partner” suffers writer’s block. Likewise it would not be fair to a far more seasoned author to partner with me when she is used to producing two to three novels a year and it took three years for me to finish my first. I look forward to the day whenever I can collaborate with another author on a novel or series, but for now I am learning and growing in my own skills while doing my best to encourage others who are still behind me on the writing journey.
Another thing to note: some people have an easier time building platform than others. Two adages to remember when running your writing business: a) it takes money to make money and b) it takes fame to make fame. I say this not to scare you, but to make you aware of what your major battles will be. Write your creative works now and keep writing them no matter what. Begin socking away money as you can for the eventual marketing costs that you will have as you push awareness about your writing.
You will start out ahead of the game if you already hold a powerful public position, if you know friends in high places, if you are associated with powerful communities, if you have prestigious degrees or posts, or if you otherwise have public-facing work. This is why it’s so easy for celebrities and politicians to get book deals. They already have their platform. On a smaller scale, those who live in large cities have an advantage over those in small towns because they have more marketing resources at their fingertips. Although the rise of the digital age and the internet has begun leveling the playing field, there are still authors who start out on the mountain tops and other authors who have to trudge up from the valleys. Figure out how to use your personal strengths and contacts to get yourself on that mountaintop or at least halfway up the slope.
Remember that the experience of building an Author Platform is as unique as its builder. No two authors are alike and so no two platforms are alike. What works for me may not work for you. Platform building should be more organic and less checklist-driven because it depends on: your unique writing, your unique strengths and qualities, and your unique readership.
Your Author Platform needs to be as fun and creative as your regular writing so that it appears as attractive as possible to new readers. It should reflect your unique style and personality. Just like your regular writing, your platform should be deeply personal and passionate. Don’t worry about doing it all overnight; just enjoy building it like you do your writing: little by little.
Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better! I wish you all a very happy New Year!
The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!