How to Build Your Author Platform

20 May 2024 Publishing

Guest blog by David Loy

 

“You need to grow an audience.”

 

“You need to build an email list.”

 

“You need to get more followers.”

 

These sound like different messages, but they all point to the same foundation:

You need to build an author platform.

Like most aspiring writers, you might wonder:

But do I really need to build a platform? 

Maybe not.

If you’re okay with no one ever reading your work…

If you never want to make money from your writing…

If your goal is to simply write for pleasure or to pass on some wisdom to your family…

Then you, my friend, can ignore all those people shouting from the rooftops that “YOU NEED TO BUILD A PLATFORM!”

But if you want to build a business around your writing or make a name for yourself or do anything beyond writing for fun—

Then yes, you need to build a platform.

But before I tell you how to build an author platform, let’s define exactly what a platform is and why you need it.

What Is an Author Platform?

An author platform is your “online stage” that you can use to share your writing with an audience.

When people use the term “platform,” they are most often referring to an email list, a social media following, or your blog’s readership.

Why You Need an Author Platform

Your platform is one of the first things publishers and agents look at when you submit a manuscript for their review. They simply look you up online and see what kind of presence you have established.

In fact, they often do this before looking at your manuscript.

Why? 

Agents and publishers are running a business. That means they need to make money. The way they make money is by selling a large number of books.

The more people already familiar with you, the easier it’s going to be for a publisher to sell more copies of your book. And they like that.

In short, building a platform is important because it increases your likelihood of being published.

How to Build Your Writer Platform

I wish I could tell you this was an easy process, but it’s not. It’s actually a lot of hard work. So if you’re looking for a quick fix, this might not be for you.

There is a silver lining though:

Building a platform is simple. 

But remember, “simple” does not mean “easy.”

I’m going to show you the exact 8 steps can you can follow to start building your own platform, but it’s up to you to follow those steps and actually put in the work.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Decide your author name

Choose your real name or a pen name.

The specific name you choose isn’t all that important. Consistency, however, is important.

Once you’ve chosen a pen name, you’re locked into that for the sake of promoting your work. A pseudonym is not something to hide behind. You will become known by that name in public.

So choose wisely.

Research the name you’re planning to use. If someone else is already using that name, take a look at what they’re doing and ask:

Is there potential overlap between what they’re doing and what I’m doing?

As an example:

When one of the writers on our team set out to purchase a URL under his name, he found that a hairstylist had already secured the “.com” URL.

But, since the overlap between writing and hairstyling is practically non-existent (and there would likely be little competition between the two), he decided to continue using his name, but with a “.co” extension instead of “.com.”

Once you’ve picked a name, stick with it. Go secure that named URL immediately, and register  your name on the social media platforms where you plan to be most active.

Step 2: Find and focus on your target audience

What type of reader will enjoy your writing? 

That’s your target audience.

Unfortunately, “everyone” is not a good answer. You want to be specific.

For example: 

If you’re writing science fiction based on actual scientific theories and facts, then your audience is likely to be adults who are in a scientific profession — or at least have an interest in science.

Whoever your target audience is, you need to know exactly who they are. This is not the time for guesses or ambiguity.

Here are two potential ways to clarify your audience:

  1. Go to Amazon.com and find books similar to your writing. Read the reviews. Click on user profiles and find out what other things those reviewers are interested in. Learn all you can about these people. They are your audience.
  2. Find forums on the topics you write about. Dig into the forum threads and read about what people are interested. What are they like? What can you identify about their interests and personality types?

Again, your goal is to be as specific as possible:

Who is your perfect target customer? The person most likely to engage with and purchase from your brand? 

Write it out. 

Age, demographic, background, interests, and any other area where you can be specific. 

Give them a name, too. 

This is your Customer Avatar.

Visualize this person every time you sit down to write, create content for social media, and communicate through email. 

Write for this single reader — no one else.

Your ultimate goal is two-fold:

  1. Learn all you can about your audience.
  2. Find out where they hang out online.

“Fish where the fish are.” 

Find out where your people are spending their time, and engage with them there. 

Catering specifically to your target audience will give you the best opportunity to establish your brand, build credibility, and deliver consistent value to them over an extended period of time. 

At Leverage Brands, we use the empathy map template to better understand our target audience.

Step 3: Create an Author / Personal Brand website

“Done” is much more important than “Perfect” here.

You don’t need the most beautiful website anyone has ever seen, but you do need A website.

Study the websites of your favorite authors or personalities. What do you like about them? What don’t you like about them? What do you want to emulate or avoid?

Your website can tell others about you all day, every day. It speaks for you when you can’t speak for yourself.

Jerry has a detailed guide to creating an author website you can see by clicking here.

Step 4: Build a presence on your favorite social media sites

Notice I didn’t say “all” or “most” or “five” social media platforms… 

I said “your favorite.” 

Don’t waste time building a profile on Pinterest if you have no idea what Pinterest is. 

If you like Instagram, and you enjoy spending time there, start there. 

The point is to start with what you like, which typically means you are starting with what your target audience likes as well. 

We tend to drift to like-minded people, so start with what you know and then consider expanding from there in the future. 

Start strong by writing out a month’s worth of content you could post to your social media pages. This is to start you in the habit of writing social posts in batches.

Step 5: Write your bio

Make no mistake—

Writing a bio about yourself is hard.

Being a writer doesn’t mean that writing about yourself automatically gets easy. So, if you struggle here, you’re not alone. 

For most people, it’s tough and awkward to talk about how great you are and why others should care about your writing. 

That’s why most notable authors have other people write their bios for them. So if you’re able to have another skilled writer create your bio, great! Do that. 

For most people though, the best way to handle this is to play a mental game with yourself. 

Write down 20 notable or interesting things about you. Your categories could include:

  • Accomplishments
  • Family facts
  • Awards
  • Passions
  • And anything else interesting.

Narrow that list to 10. And don’t cheat on this step!

Even though you are cutting your list in half, the exercise of writing down 20 facts about yourself is going to be useful later.

Once you have your 10 facts, pretend your first book is being printed tomorrow… 

But they can’t print the book until they have your bio. 

Use the facts you’ve listed to write a few paragraphs about yourself. Write as if you are on deadline. 

Have a close friend or family member give a quick edit. Then hit the brakes.

Sit with the final version for a few days. 

If you aren’t thrilled with what you wrote, try the process again. 

And remember, the bio you write today does NOT have to be the bio you use forever, but you do need to have something ASAP. 

Step 6: Collect email addresses

You need a way to collect email addresses from people who visit your website. 

This is called lead generation.

This post isn’t a technical guide, so I won’t go into details here, but here are a few lead generation tools that might help.

Some email service providers and website creation platforms have built-in ways to manage lead generation, too. (Mailchimp and Squarespace come to mind.) 

This is one of the most crucial parts of building your platform for the long-term.

Here’s why:

When you communicate with people via social media, you are doing so under the guidelines of that social media entity. 

But when you communicate with your audience via email, you are in control of the type of message, the delivery, the look, the length, the feel, etc. 

Remember, as you build your platform, one of the main purposes is to create a loyal and engaged audience that enjoys what you provide and is likely to consider purchasing your next book…

Having control of the way you present your message helps accomplish that.

To take this a step further, you can create a lead magnet (a free helpful or interesting resource) for anyone who signs up for your email list. Having your own personalized email domain not only conveys professionalism but also enhances your credibility and trustworthiness.

Your lead magnet can be as simple as a short pdf with some type of value your readers would appreciate, or maybe the first chapter of your next book, or a list of your top 10 favorite tools to help your readers accomplish some sort of goal.

Whatever your lead magnet is, make sure it gives people a reason to join your email list.

Step 7: Decide your email list communication strategy

So what happens after someone signs up for your email list? 

If you created a lead magnet in Step 6, it should be sent to someone immediately after they sign up.

But then what?

How often are your readers going to hear from you? And what will you be talking about in those emails?

Figure out your answers to those questions. And then tell your audience.

Ideally, you’ll have a Welcome email that tells people exactly how often you’ll send them an email and what will be included in that email.

This can either be part of your lead magnet delivery or a separate email entirely. 

The main point is this:

Be crystal clear with subscribers about what they’re going to get from you. 

There is no wrong answer here but there does need to be an answer. 

People want certainty. They want to know what is happening and when it’s happening.

When you deliver those things on a consistent basis, you start to create a loyal following (which is a HUGE part of building a platform). 

Step 8: Create a social media content strategy

Remember—

You don’t need to be on every social media channel. But, for the channel (or channels) you do pick, you need a plan.

You don’t have to post constantly, but you do need to post consistently. Consistent for you might mean once per week. And that’s okay as long as you stick with the plan, monitor the response, and adjust accordingly. 

But here’s the #1 thing you want to avoid when crafting your social media content strategy:

Setting an unrealistic expectation.

No matter how excited you are now, avoid saying something like, “I’m going to post on Facebook six times a day, every day, for the next year.” 

Don’t do that to yourself. And don’t do that to your following. 

Start with a target you know you can actually hit. Grow from there if needed, but don’t overpromise. 

Follow and engage with your favorite authors on their social media pages to get a better idea of how your social media content strategy could work.

Pay close attention to what works and what resonates with their following. Adapt what makes sense to your own strategy, and then closely monitor your own results to see if any adjustments are necessary.

Building a Writer Platform is Simple — Not Easy

These 8 steps are a great start, but you won’t get the most out of them unless you do them all.

It’s simple, but it’s not easy.

Don’t be overwhelmed, though. Be encouraged that you now have a game plan to follow! 

An “overnight success” is almost always 10-years or more in-the-making, so focus on consistency. The path is straightforward, but it’s paved with work.

You have a roadmap. Now it’s time to get moving. :) 

 

David Loy is a brand coach, digital marketing expert, and co-founder and CEO of Leverage Brands. Leverage manages Jerry Jenkins’s brand.