What is an author platform? Do you need an author platform? How do you build an author platform?
This is a hot topic among unpublished writers. It comes up often in the Facebook groups for writers that I belong to. It came up last night at a publishing session at the Emerging Writers’ Festival.
What is an author platform?
Your author platform is your home on the web. Authors aren’t the only people who might want to have their own platform. The most obvious example is the celebrity or public figure, but there are good reasons why a person that isn’t famous might have their own platform, such as if you have business or to build your personal brand as an expert in your field.
Even people who start a personal blog might find one day that they’ve developed a community or audience. They may not be famous, but they’re known in blogging communities or in their niche. A good example is Diane Wargnier. Diane is an American expat living in France who started her blog, Oui in France, in 2012. Back then she wrote:
This blog is something I can be proud of, something to ground me, an outlet, a place to connect, a sounding board, and most of all, something fun! Maybe I wanted to prove to myself that I could actually DO this and gain loyal readers that have a genuine interest in what I have to say. Or maybe it’s because I want some sort of validation that I don’t get from the work I do in my day job. Or maybe it’s just because I wanted to embark on a new project – something fun and exciting that allows me to share my life with all of you. Whatever the reason(s), know that Oui In France is something I believe in and believing in yourself is half the battle in life…
Fast forward to 2017 and Diane does have loyal readers with a genuine interest in what she has to say. She has done fun things on her blog, won blogger awards, been featured in the media, and launched a t-shirt shop.
Your author platform is your home on the web. Typically, this means your own website. If you’re using a social media network, such as Facebook, then you’re just leasing. Facebook decides what it looks like, how it functions, what you can and can’t do with it, can change the rules anytime, and it can evict you at any time. Social media is useful, but it’s not where you want to build your home on the web.
Why do you need an author platform?
All things being equal, if you have a good platform, it could give you an advantage. It’s an opportunity to build relationships with people who will support your work. It shows a potential agent or publisher that you’re willing to market yourself. If you’re working with a small publisher, you need to take an active role in the selling of your book. If you’re self-published, the burden of selling your book is entirely on you. An author platform can help.
I say “all things being equal” because a good platform won’t make up for bad work. If you’re pursuing traditional publishing, an online platform is low on the list of what an agent or publisher looks for. Cate Blake is a Commissioning Editor with Penguin Random House Australia. At last night’s publishing session, she said that it’s okay if a writer doesn’t have a platform. As the world’s largest publishing house, Penguin Random House has the resources to help an author establish their presence online. Unless you have an enormous audience, it’s not going to make a difference to them.
How do you create an author platform?
One approach is to create an information website and use social media to engage. It’s useful if someone wants to know more about you and your work. For example, Mark Brandi is a Melbourne-based writer. His debut novel is out in July. On his website, you can learn more about Mark, see where his writing has appeared, the awards he’s won, and where he’s appearing. Mark’s not a content creator. He has a contact page and you can engage with him on his Facebook page and on Twitter.
Another approach is content creation, namely the blog. On Natasha Lester’s website, you can find her bio, information about her books, news, and events. She also has a great blog. She shares her writing process, research, deleted scenes, behind the scenes, reading recommendations, and much more. People leave comments and she replies. She’s also very engaging on social media.
There are two important things to remember here. The first is to do what you love, what is manageable, and what makes sense. If the idea of being on Twitter every day, several times a day, is too much for you, don’t use it. If you love Instagram, use that. If you want a website, but not a blog, explore that. Consider carefully what you’re trying to achieve.
The second important thing to remember is value. If you never talk to anyone or, worse, you only ever talk about yourself and your work, you’re not building relationships or an audience. You have to create value for others. That’s easy for the published author. The value is in their work. Author J.K. Rowling, for example, doesn’t need to form a relationship with me. She gave me (and the world) a series of wonderful books and films. By the way, even J.K. Rowling engages highly on Twitter with her fans.
If you haven’t published anything, then you need to cultivate your audience around related topics. For example, I don’t know if Diane Wargnier has publishing aspirations beyond her blog, but if she wanted to publish a book about her experience living as an American expat in France, she already has an audience that would be interested in buying that book.
Yes, I want an author platform. Now what?
The next round of questions is about the logistics. Should I use WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace? How much does it cost? Is it hard? Should I pay someone to do it for me? Check out my next entry on this topic, Should you get a hosted or self-hosted website for your author platform?