Setting up your author platform

Nothing else will sell your book to an agent or publisher like the idea that you have already set up the marketing and they simply need to cash in on it.

When we talked about getting a good agent and took a look at the advice out there, one of the top points was building a platform. That means gathering prospective enthusiastic readers who would buy your book if it came out today.

A strong platform is like catnip to agents and publishers. It means ready success and, more importantly for everyone, profits.

Creating an author platform is no small task. However, long before your book is ready, there are some foundations you could be putting into place.

In a single post, I could not possibly cover even half of the basics so this is going to be a very broad strokes picture. I will go into more detail on specifics in the future and the chances are that sooner or later I will run a seminar or two on the subject.

So you do not miss out I suggest that you follow or bookmark this blog and like the Thanet Creative Writers page so that you get those updates as soon as they come out.

Building an author platform

This is perhaps the most important single nugget of advice that I can give you – start with something that you completely control.

Facebook, Twitter and all that are great but at the end of the day they are owned by someone else. If you spend all your effort building a platform in someone else’s sandbox and, one day, they close up shop then you have nothing.

There are two things you can control. One on-line and one off-line. Both have legal and security considerations and can carry a small cost but they are worth doing and doing right.

Building an online platform

An online platform should be founded on a website. From here you are going to build a presence as an author. I suggest a setup that allows people to subscribe and allows you to make regular updates.

Those updates are very important. Without them, your site will appear dead and your support will become stale and useless in a matter of months. A great example to follow is Neil Gaiman a popular author who maintains a very open dialogue with his fans.

As part of this site, you are going to need a unique domain name. such as, for example, amazingauthorbob.com (or whatever). I can help with that.

This website should be on hosting that you can directly control. Even if you don’t really understand the ins and outs of it all you, personally, should have access to the files and the database that make up the website.

Hosting is going to set you back a few quid a month. Best value comes from a Linux based hosting deal which offers FTP access, PHP and some sort of database (MySQL for preference). These technologies are likely to cost your host nothing at all so the price of your package will be low. Furthermore, you will be able to run a CMS (content management system) or blog platform (such as WordPress, Joomla, or WebGUI).

Before picking a platform, decide what you want to do with it and then select a platform that does those things really well. You can take a huge number of open source (free) solutions) for a spin at opensourcecms.com. Best of all most of these packages are entirely free if you host them yourself.

If you are not a technical person and find the thought of setting up your own website horrific, it may pay to hire a local geek to do that for you. The chances are, these days, that the average teenager could set that up for you with their eyes closed. Alternatively, some hosting packages come with the option to press a button and have the setup done for you.

The reason for suggesting a CMS or blogging system is that the interface for putting up content is a whole lot friendlier than doing it with raw HTML and CSS files. What’s more, you are in control of the content. Being in control of your own content means that you are free to work on things whenever you have time, rather than waiting for some busy designer to get back to you.

Using an online platform

Now that you have a website with a domain name of your own, you have something that you can put on business cards. Not only that but if you set things up right you also have a custom email address with that domain name in it. Custom email addresses look more professional and inspire trust.

I am sorry to say but from the moment that you launch this platform you are committing to putting out something fresh at least once a week.

Make friends a with a cheap digital camera as photos bring content to life.

If you are part of a local writer’s group, you might consider promoting them. This shows that you are active as a writer and also is reasonably pretty likely to result in reciprocal promotion down the line.

There is one more thing that you need to set up and promote on your site – a contact form. With this you will make connections with possible fans and, assuming you get permission, you will start to build your list.

Building an offline platform

Offline, your best platform is your author’s address book. In marketing terms, we call this your “list”. It is a list of people that you have permission to contact. Ideally, people that will be pleased to hear from you.

As a safety measure do not store this list only in your web hosting. If anything goes wrong with the hosting, you want to keep hold of the list.

I could write from now up to the end of the year about list building, about ways to get people to subscribe to your mailing list, of getting people to sign up for newsletters. Of all that. What it boils down to is networking your behind off.

When you have a book signing, after you are published. Being able to email local fans and get them there will impress the publisher (and your agent) and also get you a lot of credit with local bookshop owners who will be very pleased to have you back next time.

Extending your platform into social media

Now you have the foundations in place, it is time to look at social media. A well established social media outpost represents you, as an author, in the social space but also serves to point people back to your site (home).

Social media users are not at all tolerant of spam – spam in this instance is posting the same thing more than once and also posting very similar things. Mix it up and keep it interesting. Share pictures (use that camera I suggested) as well as links to your new content on-site.

Each site has different amounts of effort required to make it work. Twitter, for example, is somewhat over-posting tolerant and is highly forgiving if you take random days off. Facebook (pages), on the other hand, are extremely intolerant of over posting and goes stale if more than 24 hours are left between updates. Choose what works for you.

Ideally, you are looking to start, not with big numbers, but quality fans or followers. Quality here means: Reacts to and interacts with you.

Try to connect with communities that are interested in the type of book you are finishing.

Conclusion

I could easily write a book about each area that I just covered. There is just so much that could be said. The most important is that building a good platform will make your work easier to get published.

On a side note, you are already doing a lot of free work “for the exposure” so don’t let anyone take advantage of the fact that you are just starting out. Big operations and small will often try to get you to work for nothing more than a link home. You are a professional writer – or will be once published – professionals get paid or at least make an even trade.

Finally, do not let all this distract you from actually writing but try to make a little time to build a valuable platform. You will be glad that you did.

What tips would you add?

Do you have an author website – tell us about it?

Do you promote on social media? Which sites worked best for you?

Getting a good literary agent

Getting published is not easy. Getting a literary agent helps but getting an agent is no small task.

For example, 5 Easy Ways to Keep Your Work from Ending Up in an Agent’s Trash” by Bethany Cadman (author of Doctor Vanilla’s Sunflowers) lists not following the submission guidelines, poor spelling, and bad query letters among the reasons writers get rejected.

Assuming that you avoid the common mistakes here is a selection of advice from writers about getting a good literary agent.

Forbes contributor Nick Morgan, writes Here’s How To Catch The Eye Of A Literary Agent. One of the key points here is that it pays to build your platform. We are going to look at building a platform another time because it is a truly huge topic. I have spent my entire life learning methods you can use and even I feel like I am still something of a novice sometimes.

When it comes to platform, the basic advice is this – build a collection of followers who will be delighted to hear from you and would very likely buy your book when then do. As I said, more on that another time.

A sad but true fact is that Science fiction, a genre close to my heart, has suffered from more than its fair share of fraudulent scammers (pretending to be agents) over the years. Science Fiction Writers of America has a solid article helping you to find a real agent and identify scammers (hint: a real agent does not ask for upfront fees). Read it here even if your genre is something else entirely.

Jane Friedman has compiled a fantastic in-depth look at how to get published and specifically what you need to do to get a good literary agent. How to Find a Literary Agent for Your Book looks at how to assess your work’s commercial potential, how to decide if you even need an agent, and how to research agents. There is so much more in there, just go read it.

Writers & Artists have a huge selection of articles about getting an agent including advice for first-time writers, getting your foot in the door, and why you should beware of vanity publishers.

Piers Blofeld, a literary agent, tells you how to get an agent in the video below.

One of the most important things that Piers Blofeld says that you need is a cover letter. You’d know this if you had not skipped the video (in which case you are missing out scroll back up and watch it now). Below, agents talk about the best, or at least most striking, cover letters that they ever got.

I hope that when you are ready to seek out a literary agent for your new masterpiece that this guide will help you find success.

Have you been published? Did you self-publish, go directly to the publisher, or did you use an agent? What advice would you add?