What is an author platform?

Your author platform is what enables you to sell a lot of books, but what is it?

Very few agents know what an author platform is. Most publishers seem to be clueless about author platforms. Even successful authors are not always aware of their own platform or how they built it.

Over the course of this post I am going to explain what an author platform is and why it is so hard to explain.

I am also going to share the secret of a good authorial platform.

Defining an “Author Platform

Very few publishers truly understand the author platform. Even writers have a hard time explaining what one is.

It seems that even Jane Friedman, who has a very effective author website, has a hard a time as anyone defining what one is and she has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry behind her.

This difficulty is not a surprise. Author platforms are badly defined most of the time and most people only have a vague sense of what they are. This is because the idea of a platform is a marketing concept that has made a crude transition into the world of publishing.

As writers, we are often still trying to “get it”.

I have spent the last fifteen or so years in the world of marketing and SEO and might be one of the few writers that can explain author platforms to you properly.

What is a platform?

In marketing terms a platform is all the work you have done to get an audience. That audience is listening to you and while you have their attention – that is your platform.

If I had a hit chat show that I hosted, then that chat show would be my platform – millions of people would tune in each week and I could use that to push a message or promote something.

If I have any sense I would promote my product in such a way that I would gain rather than loose viewers. That gaining of viewers is know as building my platform.

A platform is the current attention that I have that I can use to address any topic I want.

A newspaper is a platform. Newspapers moguls often use that platform to play “kingmaker” in general elections.

A successful blog is a platform. Top bloggers often use their platform to make money and sell products or services.

Facebook and Google are a platforms, but they are not your platform. To use Facebook’s or Google’s platform you are going to have to pay money or be very good at viral marketing.

So what is an “Author Platform“?

When Jane Friedman defines an author platform as an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach, she pretty much summed it up.

An author platform is the platform (connection to a steady audience) that you have as an author.

That’s why blogs and social media play such a huge part in building an authorial platform. They enable you to address any topic you wish. Do that well, and your platform will grow.

There is a simple secret to all this.

Neil Gaiman’s “Author Platform

A perfect example of building a good author platform is Neil Gaiman. Mr Gaiman, aside from being an amazing writer and one of my literary heroes, is also genuinely interested in interacting with fans.

Neil Gaiman blogs about life, about writing, and about books that are coming out soon. When his beloved dog passed away millions of us mourned with him. Gaiman’s ability to put feelings into words let us share a personal moment with him; or at least feelt hat we did.

Not only does Neil Gaiman have his blog but he has a Tumblr account too. The by-line says The official Neil Gaiman Tumblr, but honestly no better than the unofficial Neil Gaiman Tumblrs out there. Will sometimes have stuff about my books or my wife in it.

Here, Gaiman will sometimes answer fan questions and give advice to young writers. That’s just the sort of awesome person he is.

Neil Gaiman’s platform is not the blog or the tumblr (although they are put of it). If they were to be deleted tomorrow he could set up shop somewhere else and still have the same platform.

Neil Gaiman’s platform is the loyalty and attention that he has earned from his fans and followers.

He got that by employing the one secret that I am going to share.

Your “Author Platform

When I wrote Setting Up Your Author Platform, I said that the core of your platform would be your own website. That’s because unless you are lucky enough to have a syndicated and popular chat show, a website (with a blog) is probably your best way to get started.

That’s not to say that your main presence might not be a Facebook page, a tumblr account, a youtube channel, a podcast, a web series, an endless series of speaking engagements, or something that no one has even invented yet. It might be any of those, or none of them.

There is also sorts of SEO, video editing, essay writing, networking, and social media management that can go into a good platform. But at the heart of it, the secret of a good authorial platform is so much simpler.

Want to know the secret?

The secret of a good authorial platform

Forbes tries, and makes a good effort, to explain what an author platform is. Read their explanation here. Yet even though they spend two pages explaining author platforms, they only skirt arround the issue.

Neil Gaiman instinctively employes the secret. If you study his platform you might work it out for yourself.

George R. R. Martin was given his platform by HBO (although, to be fair, he had one before that too).

The secret of a good authorial platform (aka your Author Platform) is this:

Give people a reason to spend their finite supply of attention on you, by providing value.

  • You provide value by being authentic.
  • You provide value by constantly connecting with people
  • You provide value by providing content that matters to the people you want to reach.

Neil Gaiman does this by being himself and connecting with other people who are like him. This works because those are exactly the sort of people that will want to read his books.

It helps that Gaiman has been writing a long time and his fans actively seek him out because they passionately love what he does. I know that because I am one of his fans.

George R. R. Martin’s platform works because there is a huge TV show based on his work and enough fans to remind the new fans that there are books they can read.

George R. R. Martin got there by writing solid books and working hard to build a fan base. I don’t know for sure, but it seems like he did that by being a regular guest at expos and festivals. That was what worked for him.

J. K. Rowling maintains a platform by being sassy on Twitter. The geekier news sites love her for it. Of course, it helps that she has a hit book series and a whole bunch of films to back her up. What Rowling is doing is capitalising on her success.

Rowling, Martin, and Gaiman have all found a way to give back to the people that love what they do. It is, very much, a two way relationship between author and fans.

These authors give people a reasons to invest attention on them by providing value.

Attention is finite – the last true limited resource. People do not give it away for no reason.

For example, the fact that you are still reading this article is evidence that I have been successful in sharing something that you have decided was worth your time to read. You are not reading this article because I have some magic way with words but because I have, I hope, shared something that you found helpful.

To make it as an author, we each need to provide a good reason why our content is worth other people’s attention.

Do that and then, when you have a book release coming up, there will be people that are willing to not only notice but care enough to go out and buy that book.

When you and the content you produce are worth attention, people will give it freely. The secret of keeping that attention is to keep giving value.

Of course, there are ways to leverage that attention and maximise your return from it but at the heart of it all is the simple fact – you need to be worth paying attention to.

That is your author platform in a nutshell.

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?