What is an Author Platform and How Can I Build One?
By: Linda Fulkerson
Author platforms have become a popular topic in the blogosphere, especially since more and more publishers are expecting more and more marketing from authors themselves and more and more authors are turning to the indie method of publishing their books.
What is an author platform?
In other words – how many people can you personally influence when it comes time to sell your book. Another way the phrase “author platform” is used is the topic or message an author promotes to help build that audience. I’ve used the phrase that way many times, but after further research, I’ve learned that publishers and agents and editors mean visibility when they say “author platform,” so that’s how I’ll be using it on this blog/podcast from now on.
How does one build an author platform?
Most authors have a theme or message resonates with a lot of people. Speaking, blogging, engaging via social media about that topic will attract those who are interested in it to you. This will grow your audience, or, your author platform.
For example, I’ve chosen Marketing for Christian Writers as a topic that I felt was needed among the writing and marketing communities. As I’ve said before, there is no shortage of marketing training available, but much of it is not appropriate for the Christian audience due to the language, images, etc., that are used by some marketing gurus. There is a LOT of great training information available about writing in the Christian community, but not so much about marketing. Since that is where my expertise lies, I chose to work in that niche.
Finding a topic for your author platform
Blogging, speaking, podcasting, etc., are great ways to reach and build your author platform. However, one of the big questions is – what should I blog, speak or podcast about? This is easier for nonfiction writers. We write on topics we’re an expert in. This question is especially challenging for fiction writers. Try “preaching what you practice.” In other words, what are you passionate about? Where do you focus your time and energy most? What methods/habits have you developed that have helped you get where you are today?
Many fiction writers I know include serious life issues within their books, and some of those were inspire by real-life situations within either their immediate or extended family. Others don’t necessarily have an ongoing life-issue theme within their novels, but with a little thought, but they may use research tools or write within an historical era that has a built-in audience of interested people. Brainstorm a bit to find something that is important (within either your writing or your life experience) that can benefit or be of interest to others.
Here are some life-issue questions to consider: Have discovered ways to study the Bible to gain a deeper, more meaningful relationship with Christ? Are you great at make-ahead meals to serve as “deadline dinners,” keeping your family well fed when you’re time is tight? Have you had unique parenting experiences that could help others (such as fostering, adopting, a special needs child)? Have you and your spouse overcome a great challenge in your marriage (infertility, loss of a child)? Are you a care-giver to elderly parents? Do you struggle with a particular health issue?
If you’d rather build your platform around a more writing-related topic, here are some brain-storming questions to get you started: Do you use genealogy research to develop characters? (This is a hugely popular and the community is passionate!) Do you write based upon a specific historical era? (Civil War buffs travel great distances to see and learn more about sites, museums, etc. What about scrap-booking? The scrap-bookers I know are VERY passionate about their hobby, and I’ve met some authors that “scrap-book” their novels, like a storyboard of sorts. Do you include pets in your works? The pet industry is another huge, passionate market. What about cooking? People love books that include recipes, and blogging about food never goes out of style!
Finding a niche within your topic to help build your author platform
A niche is a segment of a market that is interested in a specific topic. It’s best to drill down into your target market and address a specific segment of that market with your blog, podcast, presentations, etc. This is how you position yourself as an authority within that part of the market.
To help build a community using your expertise on a topic, it’s best to “niche twice” at least. What that means is, choose a broad topic that you know a lot about – for me, that topic is marketing. Then pick a market within that topic. Because I’m a writer, and I know a lot of writers who struggle when it comes to marketing, my first sub-niche was marketing for writers. But, because I saw the need for marketing training suitable for Christian writers, and, because I know a lot of Christian authors and writers, I “niched twice” – Marketing > Marketing for Writers > Marketing for Christian Writers.
So, my target audience is all Christian writers/authors who struggle with marketing. That is my niche, and my author platform is the amount of market reach I have within that niche.
Methods for growing your author platform
There are a number of ways to grow your author platform. Here are some – and because growing your audience and your market reach is a core principle of marketing, we’ll be discussing these separately in coming Today’s Tips posts:
- Blog – visitors and subscribers
- Email list
- Guest contributions to influential sites/blogs
- Book sales
- Published articles (print and online)
- Public speaking/presentations
- Personal influential contacts
- Social media presence
Tips for helping build your author platform
Be Personable – Understand you’re building a community. Your author platform will help you sell books, but as you’re building the community, build it based upon a common interest or passion – not simply for the purpose of selling books. People will follow you loyally because they feel the know you, like you and trust you, so let your personality shine through as you write/speak to your public.
Be Real – Nothing turns people off more than a hypocrite, and people can sniff one out quick, fast and in a hurry. And, with today’s social-media savvy market, being fake will ruin your reputation. If it appears as though you’re engaging your community for the specific purpose of increasing sales, you may gain some followers, but they will be fair weather and won’t help you build a sustainable author platform.
Be Passionate – If you’re not a sports fan, don’t choose sports as a topic to build your author platform upon. Pick something that you’re good at, enjoy, and that has a large enough audience to sustain book sales. But most of all, make it a topic you care about so blogging about it won’t become a burden.
Be Relevant – Create content that your audience is interested in. Think about what happened to John Grisham when he wrote A Painted House. It was a great book, but you could almost hear the collective “Huh?” among his legal-thriller-reading audience. Your audience follows you because they want more of what they’ve already received from you. Your audience has expectations of you. Fulfill them.
Be Consistent – This is my biggest downfall, and I don’t think I’m alone here. Consistency and persistency are two huge keys to success when it comes to building an audience (also called a “tribe” in today’s marketing world). Blog on a regular schedule, even if it’s only once a week. If you choose to blog every Tuesday, then blog every Tuesday.
Be Helpful – The number one reason people read is to find solutions to their problems. If you are the one providing those solutions, you will quickly build a base of loyal followers – your author platform!
Please share your thoughts in the comments section about how to best build an author platform.