You love to write.
You’ve always dreamed of becoming a published author, and now you’re finally putting pen to paper and beginning your journey.
But you wonder… what happens after I finish my book? How do I sell it? Do I really have to market it when I just want to be a writer? Won’t my publisher do it for me?
Or you might think that it’s such an amazing book so it will go viral via word of mouth and you’ll become an overnight success… then have the unfortunate realization it rarely works that way.
Don’t worry. These are common thoughts and issues every budding young writer faces, and we’re here to help make this process clearer than crystal.
Read on to discover why building an ‘author platform’ is the number one most important thing you can do for your books, how it is the crucial step to standing out from the crowd, and why your platform is the key to actually making a living from your writing.
What Is An Author Platform?
Essentially your ‘platform’ is everything that makes up your audience, fanbase and readership. This includes things like your email list, social media, blog, website, or anywhere where you can contact your readers.
The critical distinction to notice is that this doesn’t really include people who simply ‘buy your book’.
Let me explain…
Let’s say your book is for sale on Amazon, in stores or any other marketplace and people buy it, read it and decide they like it.
How will you tell those exact same people that book two is out? How will you tell them you’re having a sale? That you’re writing a prequel? Or another series they might like?
You can’t rely on people to take the initiative and Google you or your books, remember you amongst the many authors they read or keep checking back for more info. Think about how many things you’ve forgotten to check up on, or how many books are in your ‘to be read’ list.
It’s your responsibility as an author to make the process easy for your readers and it’s a win-win.
Imagine knowing you made thousands of sales but having no way to contact any of those people!
A platform is a crucial part of your marketing because it gives you the power to manage and control your author career. With the ability to talk and connect to your readers, it is very possible to make money as an author.
If you desire to become an author as your career (or part of it) then writing and marketing go hand in hand.
Writing, especially creative writing, has long been viewed as a ‘starving artist’ type of career where you’re forced to sacrifice everything to do what you love because only the lucky few strike it rich. That’s especially discouraging to young and aspiring authors because people tend to push you towards the ‘smart’ and ‘reliable’ backup plan.
‘Author = starving artist’ is a myth.
For every ‘JK Rowling’ you see, there are thousands of ‘mid-level’ authors who might not be household names (yet) but are still earning a full or part-time living from their writing.
That’s not because they’ve gotten lucky or are slaving away for every penny, it’s because most of them are working smart.
When you can contact your readers and have control of your author platform, the doors open to a real career that doesn’t rely on luck, it relies on a good strategy.
The Key To Conquering Your Fear Of Marketing
Now, you might be quaking in your boots thinking, ‘Not only do I have to learn how to write but I have to learn all this platforming stuff too?!’
Fear not. It’s okay to be anxious or scared.
People have made terms like ‘marketing’ seem scary because it pulls up the image of the sleazy used car salesman, the annoying door to door knockers or the unsolicited phone calls trying to sell you insurance.
For authors, here’s what marketing is NOT:
- Shouting, harassing or begging friends, family and strangers to buy your book
- Awkwardly bombarding people with sales, deals and advertisements
- Throwing tons of money at promo materials and copies of your book, only to be left with boxes full of it in your shed that you don’t know what to do with
Even the simple concept of ‘selling’ has a lot of misconceptions.
It often means budding authors end up afraid to promote their books, connect with their audience or network with others in the industry… and you can imagine how that leads to all the book launch flops and starving artists you hear about.
The secret to overcoming that fear is understanding that:
Marketing is not about selling. Marketing is about building relationships. It’s about:
- Making direct connections with people who care about you and what you’re offering (and filtering out those that don’t)
- Getting in front of those people and positioning your offers in ways that make sense to them
- Developing your unique story, voice and persona to establish a brand your ideal audience can recognize and get behind
When you change your perspective it feels more accessible and achievable.
Instead of feeling like you’re bothering people who don’t care about you and your books, you’re getting in front of the people who are desperately looking to read a book like yours and are thrilled to buy it.
Yes, there is an exchange of money or other value involved. But when you realize true marketing is about opening a conversation with your readers who want what you offer, everything changes.
That’s why you NEED an author platform.
And the best part is, it’s never too early to start.
Do I Need A Platform If I Want To Traditionally Publish?
The short answer is yes, absolutely.
It doesn’t matter if you’re self-publishing, hybrid publishing or going through traditional publishing routes, you still need to be able to communicate with your readers.
The times have definitely changed too. Gone are the days when you can write a great book, land an agent and publisher, then sit back and let the money and fame roll in and write books for the rest of your life.
With staggering competition from both other writers and the availability of self-publishing, traditional publishers expect you to take a much more active role in order to be an attractive prospect to them.
Since most traditionally published authors don’t earn out their advance (the lump sum they’re paid by the publisher) they often never see another dime from their book and consequently, it becomes much harder to land a second contract.
So given the choice between two equally great books side by side, but one author has an active readership of 1,000 people, they’re going to choose the one who proven they can take action on their own and is more likely to be a success.
That’s why the author success model has changed to becoming an authorpreneur, no matter which way you decide to go.
Becoming more self-reliant, not banking on your books to ‘market themselves’ and having the ability to pursue multiple income streams and more profitable ventures from your books is how you can have a realistic, smart and obtainable author career.
Make sense? Let’s jump into the nitty-gritty of building your author platform.
The First Step To Building Your Author Platform: Who Is Your Ideal Audience?
Figuring out your ideal audience is a crucial ‘step one’ for any author.
And no, ‘everyone who likes my books’ will cut it. Remember if you’re trying to catch every fish in the sea at once, you won’t catch any. You need specialized bait.
You may already have a pretty good idea of your audience if you’ve chosen what genre or niche you’re writing in, and since working out your ideal reader is an in-depth topic on its own, we’ll just go over the basics.
You can also check out these helpful posts to find out more:
- Does Your Target Audience Exist? Use This Simple Trick To Find Out
- How To Identify And Understand Your Target Audience As An Author And Why This Is Crucial
- How To Find The Target Audience For Your Book
To make your ‘audience’ feel less intimidating, we start out by coming up with an avatar. This is one (or sometimes more) person who embodies all the ideal characteristics of your reader.
Give them a name, put a face to them. Make them feel like an actual person (just like coming up with one of your characters) and that way everything you write and put out on your platform feels like you’re talking to a specific person with who your message resonates.
It’s much easier to write for Sarah, a 16-year-old Christian teen girl who is homeschooled aspires to be a detective and loves crime novels than just ‘someone who likes crime novels.’
Here are some things you should think about when imagining your ideal audience—the more specific you get the better!
- Demographics (age, gender, marital status, family/financial situation, education, where they live, what they do etc)
- Interests, hobbies, sports, pets
- Words to describe their personality, strengths and weaknesses
- Dreams, aspirations, fears, beliefs
- What type of people they hang out with, what they like and dislike
- Where and what they spend their money and time on
- The reason they are reading your genre/niche and their level of experience or exposure to it
Besides having a clearer idea of how to speak your avatar’s language, one of the most important reasons why you need to know them in-depth is because you need to figure out where they hang out.
There’s no point pouring all your effort into Twitter if your audience is on Instagram, or not on social media at all.
By knowing where to find your readers, you’ll make it easier for your readers to find you.
An Overview Of The Top 10 Author Platform Components
So what IS involved in your author platform? Let’s go over components you’re most likely going to include in your strategy…
1. Email List
Your email list is undoubtedly the most important thing you can have, which is why I’ve put it first! You’re probably on several (or hundreds) of email lists already. But unlike every other method, an email list is something you own. In addition to being a more intimate and reliable way of consistently contacting your readers, you call the shots here.
Things like social media are constantly changing their rules, banning accounts and there is a real possibility that one small change could mean all your hard work building that audience disappears overnight. With an email list, that’s not a problem.
This generally works by creating a freebie/reader magnet or incentive that’s the ‘bait’ for your ideal audience and exchanging it for their email address. Then you email your audience, develop a relationship and let them know about things they’d be interested in, i.e. your books.
(Check out this post to help you build your author email list)
Your website and blog are often your hub, your own little piece of online real estate. For most people, it’s not a big part of their strategy because keeping up with blog posts can be difficult to do alongside your writing and other commitments, and it can be hard to get traffic to your blog.
However, if used correctly, your blog can be a great source of organic traffic and bring in readers and sales automatically. It’s also often the first point of contact with potential readers and a good way to nurture them, get them to be aware of who you are as well as set up your sales funnels (more on that later).
(Check out this post to help you build your author blog)
3. Social Media
Social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat etc) is the ‘go to’ for most people and it definitely has its time and place. Like your blog, it can be another great touchpoint for strangers to get to know you and engage with your content and find out about your books.
But it’s not the best place to build a real relationship. With so much noise out there competing for attention you might get stuck creating a constant stream of content for not much reward, and the followers you do get aren’t nearly as engaged as your email subscribers. For this reason, it’s best to pick one platform and focus on it first, rather than trying to split your attention across the board.
(Check out this post for tips to build your social media)
4. Facebook Groups & Other Private Communities
Private communities can be a very good way to connect with your audience in a more intimate way where they can also interact with each other as well as you, and it doesn’t rely on just you to create content and engagement. Facebook is one of the leading platforms for this as it leverages the popularity of the platform itself, rather than each person needing to make a new account on something they wouldn’t normally visit.
However, with constant changes to the algorithm, many Facebook group owners find that their posts don’t appear to most of their group members which makes it difficult. In saying that, there are many other platforms that could be leveraged such as Discord, Clubhouse, public/private forums and more, and an engaged fan group can be a powerful tool.
(Check out this post to learn more about Facebook Groups)
Podcasting is a niche that has been rapidly rising in recent years and with a simple microphone and free editing software, anyone can start a podcast. Because it is audio, people can listen to podcasts on the go, for example on their way to work or while they’re exercising, which makes it very convenient.
Like having your own radio show, you (and other guests/co-hosts if you choose) chat for around 20-30 minutes each episode discussing different topics relevant to your podcast. Used in the right way, you can build a loyal following that gets to know you through your voice and personality, as well as direct them to any relevant links they’d be interested in.
(Check out this post to learn how to start an author podcast)
YouTube is another popular medium to include in your platform, and although it can end up being a lot of extra work to create quality videos it’s certainly possible. There are plenty of YouTubers who drive a ton of traffic and dedicated fans to external links to buy their merch or other products.
You would need a basic camera, recording software, or other software to make video content with (which is all readily available for free or cheap nowadays) and simply make consistent content that would appeal to your target audience. While it is possible to get your videos picked up by the algorithm, again you’d need to put effort into getting your videos in front of people, but once it takes off it can be a great tool in your arsenal!
(Check out this post to learn how to use YouTube as an author)
Pinterest is separate from social media as it is in fact, not social media. Pinterest is effectively Google, but for images. It’s a visual search engine. And for a medium that loves its visual content (think pretty collages, character art, book covers and more), it’s a great way to catch the eyes of your audience.
The best thing about Pinterest is that just like your blog, the more SEO effort (search engine optimization) you put in the more likely people are going to find your content organically, which can take them back to your website or books on autopilot. With a good Pinterest strategy, you can get steady traffic for free, forever.
(Check out this post on Pinterest for authors)
Goodreads can be a tricky platform to leverage properly. You can create and join groups, look for beta readers and reviewers, discover other authors and readers, host giveaways and advertise your books.
It’s definitely great to have your books listed on Goodreads with reviews posted there (if they aren’t eligible to review on Amazon, Goodreads is one of the next most reputable places), however, I have found that Goodreads reviewers are more critical on average. I tend to use it as more of a hub than anything else, but plenty of authors have turned it into a great platform for themselves.
(Check out this post on using Goodreads)
BookBub is a lesser-known method of platform building as it’s mostly synonymous with paid advertising. While you can run ads to a very targeted selection of readers as well as land expensive (but normally very successful and coveted) BookBub deals to garner a stream of sales, it’s also good for other things.
If you build up your audience to at least 1,000 people, you can send out free alerts to your followers when your next book is released. You can also organize BookBub ‘swaps’ with other authors to recommend each others’ books, which also alerts your followers. It’s not so much an interactive platform, but you can’t discount its power for launches and sales!
(Check out how to use BookBub here)
I included advertising as even though young writers may not have the money to run paid ads as of yet, it will definitely be in your arsenal in the future. BookBub, Goodreads, Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, Google, TikTok etc are all platforms you could choose to run paid ads for your books. You could also run ads straight to your landing page where you give away a freebie to build your email list.
There is a learning curve and trial and error, but when you get smart with advertising a lot of the ‘leg work’ can be negated as the ads do it for you and turn a profit, so it’s definitely worth considering.
(Check out this post on whether using ads for authors is worth it)
How Do All Your Platform Components Go Together?
I know that’s probably a lot to take in, and here’s the good news straight up—you DON’T have to do all of that!
Actually, that’s the point. You don’t want to spread yourself so thin where you’re putting in all this effort and not getting anywhere on any platform.
You might also have a natural knack or be more comfortable with these, for instance, you might be a whiz at taking beautiful photos but be horribly shy with showing your face on camera (meaning you’d probably like Instagram over YouTube).
Additionally, your audience will probably skew towards certain platforms more than others. Teens may be on SnapChat and Pinterest, but adults might gravitate more towards Facebook and podcasts.
Finding the overlap between your interests, skills and where your audience is is where you’re going to have the best chance of success.
It’s best to pick one to start with, learn everything you can about the nuances of that particular platform, then decide whether it’s right for you to continue.
Eventually, you can end up with many of these platforms working in sync with each other, but that may take a while. It’s all about leveraging these different mediums and skills to put together your own platform filled with people who support you.
And what that looks like is—in marketing terms—called a funnel.
What Is A Marketing Funnel And How Does That Help Authors?
This may sound like fancy lingo, but the idea is really simple.
A funnel essentially encompasses the entire customer journey starting from when they hear about you, to when they take the final action you want.
The reason it’s called a funnel is that most people come in at the beginning (or the widest part) and fewer and fewer people make it to the top of your customer journey (or the narrow part).
Along the way you can offer many Call To Actions (CTA) where you invite them to take the next step on this journey with you. These ask more and more from your customer the farther down the funnel you go, such as requiring more time, money or effort.
Here are some examples of CTAs you might use:
- Subscribe to your email list, blog or follow on social media
- Replying to an email, commenting on your blog, sharing your posts, answering a survey
- Leaving a review for your book, being a beta or ARC reader
- Becoming part of your launch team and spreading the word
- Buying something small (<$50) like your book, a low-end product, merch
- Buying something expensive (>$1,000) like coaching, online courses, services
A simple example would be that:
- A potential reader sees your book on Facebook
- They click the link
- Goes to Amazon
- Eventually buys a copy
A more complicated example would be:
- A reader sees an ad for your lead magnet
- They click the link
- Downloads freebie and joins your email list
- Gets to know you through your email automations
- Ends up buying your entire series and becomes a big fan
- Responds to your callout and becomes a book reviewer and launch team member
- Loves what you do enough to buy something more expensive from you like an online course, coaching etc.
Simply planning your funnel strategy takes you from a clueless writer to a budding authorpreneur.
You’ll have a better, clearer idea of the process your reader goes through and where you want to lead them.
It allows you to focus your efforts on the things that make the most difference, identify what’s working, what’s not and how to refine these parts, as well as actually make money.
By understanding the basics of how your author platform works, you’ll be able to confidently build a career instead of wandering around in the dark.
Your platform IS your author career.
Building Fiction VS Non-Fiction Author Platforms
Fiction and non-fiction platforms can look very different from each other, even though they operate on the same principles. It all depends on how you plan to make your money and what your ideal audience will pay for.
With non-fiction it’s fairly straightforward, especially if you’re teaching a topic, helping people solve a problem or addressing a movement.
You can easily translate your knowledge into other products and services which you could charge a higher price for. A non-fiction book funnel is how many entrepreneurs turn $0.99 book sales into tens of thousands of dollars.
For fiction, it’s generally going to be about developing a strong readership across series in a specific genre (different genres would require separate platforms).
That means you’re going to be focused on writing lots of books that garner high read-through rates through your series, as well as related ventures on the side such as merch and cross-promotions.
There are many nuances to building these platforms, but ultimately it comes down to understanding your target audiences’ wants and needs and being able to deliver them.
Understand your platform, and your author career will no longer be an ‘unrealistic’ dream, but an attainable and financially viable career.
Don’t Be Scared To Start Building Your Platform Because…
Your author platform is YOU on a plate. You don’t have to worry about being ‘good enough’, comparing yourself to other authors or feeling like you have nothing to say.
You are unique. Your writing is unique. Your voice is unique. It’s about what you bring to the table that ultimately determines whether a reader becomes a fan.
It’s not about following a strict set of rules, it’s about finding what works for you and your audience.
Your author platform is critical to your success as an author, and the sooner you start the better!
Instead of throwing out your book blindly to the masses, you’ll instead have an audience already waiting for you. You’ll be more confident in writing books as your career, and a better understanding will make marketing a much less scary prospect.
There’s no better time to start than now, young writers.
Your Free Guide To Your First 100 Email Subscribers
And what better way to take the first step than to learn how to gather your first 100 email subscribers or your core supporters?
This free guide is going to take you through the entire process from A-Z, and by the end, you’ll have the beginnings of your very own author platform.