Tired of Hearing about Platform?

How many times has some helpful soul told you that in order to succeed as an author, you need a platform? Either a network of fans who will support (i.e. buy) your book or a mechanism, such as a well-regarded newsletter or blog, that enables you to let people know that your book is available. In the case of nonfiction, you also need professional experience that gives weight to the claims you are making. For example, it’s best to have a background in nutrition or some closely related field if you’re going to write a book on dieting.

But what if you don’t have any of that? What if you’re “just” a writer with a story to tell and you’re not interested in building a platform? Can you still succeed?

You can. But what you have to acknowledge (and be willing to accept) is that you’re relying largely on luck. You may have written an extraordinary book; but its success depends upon people finding it, talking about it, sharing it with friends who also talk about it, and so on.

That’s the truth of it. When writers ask me if they need a platform or if they really need to spend a lot of time marketing and promoting their work, I ask them what their goals are. Some goals don’t require any effort beyond writing the book itself. For example, maybe you take great satisfaction in simply having a finished book in hand – something that represents the culmination of your hard work at the keyboard. And beyond sales to friends and family, that’s all you need. In that case, who cares about platform? Plenty of writers just want a printed book; and there’s nothing  wrong with that.

That said, most writers I know believe that their novel or nonfiction is good enough or interesting enough that others will benefit from reading it and will pay for the privilege to do so.

If you’re that kind of writer, then a platform and the promotional efforts associated with creating it only increase your odds of success. As an indie author, it’s one more part of the process that you can control. Start small. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if you try to launch a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, a blog, a Pinterest page, a website and a newsletter all at once. But once you start something, be aggressive.

If you’re going to open a Twitter account, for example, don’t just send out one Tweet a week. That’s like throwing a pebble into a lake. No one will notice. Learn everything you can about how Twitter works, the best ways to build a following, and the kind of Tweets that get the most attention. Think about who your audience is and what they’re interested in. Give them relevant information so that they pay attention to what you have to say. Occasionally let them know about your book. The more engaged they are with your media efforts, the more likely they are to check out your book. Keep in mind, if all you do is promote your book on Twitter, you’ll never build a following. Similarly, if a TV station simply played the same commercial over and over, no one would bother watching.

Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the first leg of your platform, start building the next one.

I have a friend who is self publishing a series of science fiction novels and has enjoyed quite a bit of success. When he started, sales beyond family and friends were nonexistent. So he launched a Facebook page on which he discussed the story, as well as science fiction in general. He invited visitors to submit artwork that reflected scenes from the books. In some cases, he asked the more talented among them to submit illustrations for future volumes in the series.

He considered very little of this “work.” It was fun. It was talking about his favorite things with like-minded individuals. And after building that rapport, those folks started buying his books. He now has several hundred followers who buy the new volumes as he publishes them. He also sells copies at local science fiction events, etc. This kind of platform creation – fun, social, friendly – isn’t necessarily the fastest, but it also doesn’t feel like work. And for him, it’s paid off in friends, followers and sales. I have no doubt – none whatsoever – that his fan base will continue to grow … as will the related revenue.

Ultimately, you need to find the method for building a platform that works for you. It’s like deciding on an exercise program. If you hate the gym, don’t commit to weightlifting. Play tennis, do yoga or go for long walks with your dog. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to platform either. Start with what you like to do – talk, trade, share, gossip, inform – then find the vehicle (social media or otherwise) that enables you to build a fan base with those efforts.

What steps have you taken to build your author platform? Tell us what works for you.