Ask the Editor Series, Q16
Q: I’ve heard authors should always have a platform. Is that really necessary for success?
A1: It can certainly make you look taller, and many tall people appear more commanding and therefore successful. Go, shawty!
A2: Ohh . . . a social media platform. Well, that’s different.
Think of your favorite author of fiction or nonfiction. Whoever it is, they’re probably readily found on the internet. All it takes is a handful of keystrokes and you can read about them or read their work.
Whether you’re a self-published (indie) author, published with a small press, or signed up with one of the bigger publishing houses, you’ve probably heard about the importance of having an author platform. Do you have one? Do you know what an author platform is? Let’s talk about it.
What’s a platform, anyway?
Having a platform is a general way of saying you’re findable. Author/editor/professor/publishing expert etc. Jane Friedman gives a great explanation of an author platform: “an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.” Jane’s blog, by the way, is one I highly recommend for writers of all types—find her at https://www.janefriedman.com/
Back to platforms, though. Contrary to what social media “influencers” will tell you, it’s not enough to simply tell people you’re important, or that you have something important to say. You need to show that you actually have a following, or at least some type of interest in what you’re trying to do, before someone will invest in you.
Whether the investor is a publisher or a potential customer, they need proof that their money is going to be well spent. And if they can’t find you—the internet makes this easier than ever, so there’s really no excuse for being invisible—they’ll move on to someone they can find.
Why would I want or need all that stuff?
Simply stated above, if people can’t find you, they can’t support you.
One author I work with mentions in her query letters that she’s successfully started not one, but two multimillion-dollar companies and clearly knows how to market herself. She mentions her blog with thousands of followers, and mentions key people in the industry who worked with her in the developmental stages of her book.
Her story is a compelling memoir that will undoubtedly get picked up at some point—and even if she decides to self-publish, she’ll already have a built-in following of people who have been hearing about her story and waiting for it with great anticipation. That’s the benefit of having a platform.
A platform can help you to market or promote your work, but that’s not its primary purpose. If, for example, you are a sewer of quilts, you might build your platform by starting a quilting blog. You can show off your favorites and talk about your favorite materials or designs. You begin to visit quilting blogs, commenting and maybe answering questions others have.
Maybe you decide to provide a tutorial on a simple technique once a month on your blog, in a local group, or in a short YouTube video. You may go to a convention to meet other quilters and compare notes. By the time you decide to put it all together in book form, you probably already have a solid batch of eager customers who trust that you’re knowledgeable in your field because you’re not just telling them; you’ve already shown them.
How can I know which platforms are the best?
There are so many places to make yourself visible that the most important thing to remember is that each one is best for someone, but everything doesn’t work for everyone. What works for person A may not work for person B.
For example, many writers use Twitter and the writing community there to promote, bounce ideas around, share their insecurities, and just get to know each other. They’ve built a little family of support.
Another writer may find that Twitter is a black hole where they get lost for hours watching people shout at each other. Or they may not appreciate the “here now, gone in ten seconds” aspect of trying to follow a thread that’s popular. Some may not have the time needed to keep up, whereas others love the real-time speed of the action.
Instagram may work well for our imaginary quilter mentioned above, because quilts are a visual product. Visual art does well on a social media that’s based on photos.
A personal blog, video channel, or website may be what you prefer. Bloggers/vloggers can provide regularly scheduled posts that will remain easily visible much longer than a tweet, a Facebook post, or an Instagram photo. Pinterest Pins remain steadily visible and can continue to grow in popularity for years after the initial Pin, giving you the most return for your effort.
The one rule you should take away from this
If I were to emphasize one thing in building your platform, it would be consistency. Show up, and keep showing up. If you’re on Twitter, interact often and tweet frequently. If you blog, set up a schedule and maybe even get a newsletter/email list going.
If you’re on Instagram, try to post at least a few days a week, around the same time of day (and experiment with posting times and IG analytics to see if one works better than another for engagement). I post 3–4 days per week, I don’t flood people with too much (once per day is plenty for me) and I interact by commenting, liking, or following people I’m interested in and who post interesting content.
If you flood your blog with three posts per week, you’ll burn out quickly, run out of topics to cover, or you’ll tire out your readers. And if you blog sporadically, no one will know when they’ll see you again and may stop looking for you. Again, be consistent and pay attention to what’s working and what’s not.
So get out there, figure out your target audience, and start building your platform! It’s never too early and it’s never too late.
If you have any questions, don’t forget to drop a comment and
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