You’ve probably heard it said that writers these days need something called an ‘author platform’.
But what exactly is an author platform? A dais to stand on when talking about your book? Part of a railway station? A raised shoe? We need to take it seriously, though, because without an author platform you will tend to struggle - we just have to know what one is and how to create it.
An author platform breaks down into the following components: your persona (a mix of your ‘uniqueness’, your area of expertise and your personality); who you know; your social media presence; anything that you’ve done in the past that has registered in any way in the media, including any previous books; your existing readership and your ability to follow through and get things done.
Let’s look at each aspect in detail:
1. Your Persona
More than half the problem that people have with developing an effective author platform is that they are trying to be someone else. They look at what’s needed and think ‘OK, so I need to be this way to achieve that.’ But the truth is a little different. What’s really needed is YOU. To strengthen your idea of You may require that you do some things that you might find unusual - like:
a) List your strengths
b) Describe in a sentence or two why you are the only person who could have written your book(s)
c) List a few unique or at least highly uncommon experiences that you have had (they don’t have to be dramatic, just unique)
d) Write at least three genuine compliments to yourself for things that you have done.
The first step toward developing an effective persona is to have at least some belief in yourself.
An online persona can be three things:
i) a fake image
ii) yourself with no holds barred, including a whole mess of reactions and emotions
iii) an authentic You without displaying your worst side.
Because you might want to retain a little privacy, not to mention dignity, you should probably aim for iii) an authentic You. The good thing about this is you decide just how much you want to show of yourself.
Once you have fleshed out a persona for yourself, let’s have a look at the other aspects.
2. Who You Know
You’ve probably heard of the Six Degrees of Separation, the idea that we are only six people away from everyone on the planet. You know someone who knows someone who knows someone else, and so on. For example, I have met three Prime Ministers in my time - that means, given the people that they have met, that my ‘invisible network’ is quite large. But everyone whom you know is important, they don’t have to be famous or powerful. Everyone you know is a contact of some kind. Part of this is that the more people you know, the more influence you have, but a more important part is that everyone needs to be treated with the same dignity and respect a) because they just should be for their own sake and b) because you don’t know who they might be connected to who could really help you.
In terms of an author platform, this means that you need a policy or an approach to people in general - everyone who comes on your ‘radar’ should be treated well.
3. Your Social Media Presence
Social media can be overwhelming, and a 'social media presence’ can sound like an enormous, out-of-control thing. So set some limits: if you only feel comfortable using one channel of social media, use that one; if you don’t like a particular channel, don’t feel obliged to use it. Set up a profile on the ones you want to, and post once a day.
Pinterest is good for images; YouTube is good for videos. Play around until you find a social media channel (or maybe two) that works for you and your writing, and with which you feel comfortable.
The keys to building a social media presence are posting regularly and engaging with people. Don’t spread yourself thin across multiple platforms, focus on content and engagement. My booklet How to Blog Every Day Possibly Forever might help here (it’s free). It can take a while to build up a following on social media, but you’ll do so quicker if you are consistently active and you actually participate in conversations.
4. Your Media Footprint
You may have no such thing. If people search for your name, perhaps nothing comes up except your Facebook profile, if that. This is partly why having a blog is useful, because it’s an easy way of putting something out there for the search engines to find.
Another good thing would be to put out a couple of e-books. This is surprisingly easy to do. Getting a short ebook to publication is a fairly simple process.
Media opportunities will arise, as will interviews. It all qualifies as ‘media’.
Self-promoting can require a difficult shift of consciousness, especially for writers who may be used to solitude and an introvert’s life. Developing a persona above can help, as can getting into the habit of blogging. With practice, it gets easier.
5. Your Existing Readership
If you don’t have readers yet - and even if you do - you will definitely need a website.
The website will need a sign-up form to capture email addresses. You absolutely need to collect emails, so that you can send out worthwhile content to your own database, rather than depending on anyone else’s. Your email list will take a while to build to a decent number of identities, but it will slowly grow to at least 1,000.
That’s your readership.
6. Your Ability to Get Things Done
Sticking to a schedule means that you have a chance of creating content, either for blogs, websites, social media or new books. My booklet How to Blog Every Day Possibly Forever shows that you can overlap these and generate several books a year.
Building an author platform is hard work, but it’s like putting in the foundations of a house. Once they are in, they are in, and all kinds of other things can happen; without them, everything will collapse and can disappear quickly.
If you want to be a published author, if you want readers, you have to write content, connect with your readers and put yourself out there. Work out a schedule that works for you. Keep going, even when it feels like no one is listening and eventually people will start to listen, and eventually you will get feedback that will make it all worthwhile.
There are some short cuts to this, but you’ll still need to put these basics in. The short cuts I’ll deal with in a later article.