Unpublished writers often want to know if they need an author platform in order to be published. As with so much in the publishing business, the answer is yes and no. Or no and yes, depending on your point of view.
We live in an age where anyone with a computer and an internet connection can become a published author. (Thanks, Amazon.)
But the relative ease of publishing highlights and reinforces the fact that getting published is the easy part of the process. The hard part is selling books. And to sell books, you need a platform. That might be a real-life platform you’ve built yourself, perhaps as a speaker or sportsperson or actor. Or it might be an online platform—a popular website or blog.
When to Start an Author Platform?
Some people build the platform, then write a book. They might self-publish, or they might work with a traditional publisher. Either way, the success of their book will be related to their platform.
But my experience observing and talking to pre-published and newly published writers suggests the author platform is low on their list of publishing priorities. The typical publishing process seems to go more like this:
- Author writes a book.
- Author researches publishing options.
At this point, an author will make an important decision:
- To self-publish.
- To seek a traditional publishing contract.
An author who decides to self-publish is likely to experience the following:
- Author self-publishes book.
- Book sells a handful of copies.
- Author investigates marketing methods.
- Author discovers people recommending they build an author platform.
An author considering traditional publishing will soon find they need a literary agent to attract the attention of a big-name publisher. They’ll find that agents and publishers expect them to have an author platform.
But what does this mean? What are agents (and publishers) really looking for?
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Why is an Author Platform Important?
When I first started investigating the publishing world, literary agents talked about author platform purely in terms of the number of Twitter followers or Facebook likes they wanted potential authors to have. Later, this expanded to what we now see as an author platform:
- A website (with or without a blog).
- An email list.
- A presence on social media (usually Facebook, but Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram are also popular choices, depending on the demographic of your target reader).
The focus remained on numbers, and the author with the largest Facebook following or email list “won”. But agents and publishers now realize that focusing purely on the number of followers detracts from the more important metric: engagement.
It’s still important to have a big platform in terms of numbers if you’re trying to pitch nonfiction, especially memoir. Platform size provides a metric publishers can use to leverage their marketing efforts:
- A writer with a blog that attracts 100,000 readers a week is more attractive to a publisher than a writer with a blog that attracts 1,000 readers a week.
- A speaker who speaks to crowds of over 10,000 people on a regular basis is more attractive to a publisher than someone who speaks once a year to 100 people.
- All are more attractive to publishers than a writer with no blog or online presence, or a speaker no one will pay or travel to hear.
The same holds true for self-published authors: the bigger your platform, the more people will hear about and potentially buy your book.
Platform numbers or engagement aren’t as important for fiction writers, but they’re still important. If you plan to self-publish, then your platform is the people you can expect to be most interested in your book. This is vital if you self-publish, but it’s still important if you are seeking traditional publication. Agents and publishers will want to know about your platform.
Why? Because most first-time authors don’t get a lot of attention in terms of marketing. The publishers will undertake some advertising and promotion, but they also want to know how the author can contribute to the marketing plan. And publishers want to see evidence of that contribution. They don’t want a proposal saying things like:
- I will set up an author website and relevant social media profiles.
- I will approach Oprah, Conan, and Reese Witherspoon to get appearances on their shows.
- I will get interviews with five major national newspapers.
That’s not a plan. It’s a wish list (unless you’re already BFFs with Oprah, Conan, and Reese Witherspoon).
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Instead, publishers want to see what you’ve already done. They want to see a platform you can build on:
- I have a website, and I blog every two weeks on topics my target readers are interested in.
- I have profiles on the major social media networks (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter).
- I am currently focussing on growing my Instagram followers and engagement by …
- I have a Facebook reader group with X members, who have agreed to act as advance readers and reviewers.
- I have an email list with X subscribers and send a monthly email newsletter.
- I have recently started a YouTube channel where I interview popular authors in my genre. Recent interviews have included X and Y.
You don’t have to have big follower numbers to get a traditional publishing contract. One author I know got a publishing contract with a Big 5 publisher with less than 300 people on her email list. But she had all the elements of a platform and had launched a podcast and YouTube channel aimed at her target reader. It wasn’t a lot. But it was a start.
That’s what is important:
Making That Start
Building a platform takes time and effort. It’s a long-term project. And the best time to start is now.
What questions do you have about author platform? Ask in the comments.
One free enrollment in my email course, Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge (Value: $69).
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All comments must be left prior to midnight on Thursday, May 7th, 2020 in order to be eligible to win. Winners for the week announced on Friday, May 8th.
Iola Goulton is a New Zealand book reviewer, freelance editor, and author, writing contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist.
Iola holds a degree in marketing, has a background in human resource consulting, works as a freelance editor, and has developed the Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge, an email course for authors wanting to establish their online platform.
When she’s not working, Iola is usually reading or writing her next book review. Iola lives in the beautiful Bay of Plenty in New Zealand (not far from Hobbiton) with her husband, son, and cat.
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