How to Sell Your Writing by Building a Powerful Author Platform
You’re an author, and you believe in your work. You know you have what it takes to produce the kind of stories people want to read. You’ve homed in on your niche, you’ve procured the right tools and you’re ready to wow readers. There’s just one problem: you don’t know how to reach those potential customers. What to do?
In short, the answer is to stand up and get noticed. It’s time to build an author platform. Read on to find out why you should, and how you can get started today.
Why You Must Have an Author Platform
Today, an author platform is essential. Make no mistake, in the age of social media and instant gratification, you must stand out from the pack to get sales. Your competitors are everywhere, and you must hone every edge you can.
One indispensable tool is the author platform.
You can think of your author platform as the gateway through which all future success will flow. For instance, if you’re seeking traditional publishing, you can be sure that agents and publishers will check your platform before consenting to read your material. In fact, the harsh truth is that without a strong platform, you don’t stand a chance of being read.
But even if you’re planning on self-publishing, you can’t afford to slack off in this department. Modern readers enjoy a level of connectivity that previous generations did not, all provided by the Internet and social media. If you distance yourself from your potential customers, you might find it difficult to get sales. Worse, you might find it impossible to build a fan base.
Your author platform is the central hub through which you run your business, and whether you’re looking to sell fiction or non-fiction, make no mistake, you’re running a business. With a solid author’s platform, you will be able to guide your potential customers through five distinct sale phases:
- Repeat business.
In the awareness phase, your potential customer becomes aware of your work either through encountering you on social media, through your website or via word-of-mouth advertising from someone else. In the trust phase, you gain their trust by being present and by providing consistent value. In the referral phase, the new customer-hopefully-provides you with valuable word-of-mouth-advertising. In the fifth phase, the customer comes back to buy your next book.
Who Needs an Author Platform?
The short answer is all writers who want to turn a profit need a platform. But let’s take a closer look:
- Those who want to publish through the traditional route. As noted, many agents and publishers these days won’t consider new authors unless they have established a platform for themselves. The reason for this is simple: more than ever, publishers lean on authors to do their own marketing. If you haven’t put the work in to establish your author’s platform, a publisher will take this as a sign that you won’t be willing to do your own marketing, either. Most publishers are only willing or able to market your book for around 12 weeks after release.
- Those planning to self-publish. If you’re going the self-publishing route, a platform is even more crucial. You’re running your own small business, so setting up your brand properly from the start is essential.
- Screenwriters. It’s notoriously difficult to get into Hollywood. The unspoken rule is this: know somebody or be somebody. However, the advent of the Internet and social media has made it possible for previously unknown writers to get noticed by the right people. If you’re a screenwriter, you’re likely willing to get your loglines, beat sheets and even treatments out there, so why not create your own website and post them there for a start?
Has Anyone Actually Done This?
Absolutely, yes. Many self-published authors have found massive success after creating their own platforms. Look at Joseph Malik, for instance. He had been working on his novel, Dragon’s Trail, for over ten years. He had received numerous rejection slips throughout that span of time. Then, while on deployment for the U.S. military, he was injured. While recuperating, he began work on the book again, and-crucially-began solidifying and centralizing his online presence. After receiving yet more rejection slips, he hired a professional editor and cover designer and then started his own company through which he published his novel.
Upon release, the book hit the bestseller lists for every major retailer. In fact, Dragon’s Trail broke the top 100 overall in Kindle, iBooks, Barnes and Noble and iBooks. It even hit #1 on Amazon in the Epic Fantasy category.
Keep in mind that Mr. Malik was a debut author, and he self-published. Now take a look at his website. What do you see there, bright, bold and beautiful? As of July 2018, front and center, you will see what’s referred to in the industry as a call to action.
“Exclusive pre-release offer for email subscribers.”
Clicking this button leads to a page full of copy that further encourages the reader to give their email up. This is how it’s done, folks.
For another stellar example of a self-published author who took initial success and multiplied it by building an author platform, look no further than Amanda Hocking. By 2010, Hocking had written 17 novels while working as a caregiver for disabled individuals. Having been snubbed by traditional publishers for years, and needing funds to make ends meet, Hocking turned to self-publishing. Her first published work, My Blood Approves, began to sell decently on Amazon, averaging nine sales per day.
But by interacting with her new fans and by answering the demand for more books-publishing three more books in the series in the following weeks-she had netted over $6,000. This, in turn, allowed her to quit her job and pursue the goal of building her author’s platform full time.
So What Is an Author Platform Anyway?
Before we tell you how to build it, let’s define it very clearly:
It is the platform from which an author builds their brand. That’s it.
- An author platform consists of two things, in broad terms:
Actions taken consistently. This includes everything from writing consistently to engaging consistently on social media-keyword is consistently.
- Tools. This includes tools like your website, your social media accounts, social media management tools, email and list management tools, Google Alerts, and on and on.
How to Win the Game
Alright, so you know why you should set up a writer platform, but how do you do it? It’s not as complex as you’re probably thinking. But again, as with much in life, success depends on taking consistent action. These days, for Internet-savvy consumers to become your fans, they want to see that you’re dedicated to your craft. Before they invest in you, they want to see that you’re willing to invest in yourself. The way to do that is to create and maintain three things:
- Your website.
- Your social media accounts.
- Your blog.
- Your email marketing strategy.
Crucially, setting up these four components of your author platform will also help you establish and maintain your brand.
Build Your Brand
Let’s get to work. It’s time to put theory behind us and jump into action. Here is what you need to create for yourself if you want to get noticed, if you want to break out for good.
Many budding authors think that a Facebook page and a Goodreads profile are enough. While these sites can certainly be important spokes in the wheel, they are not enough. These sites are known to change how they operate on the fly. One day their algorithm might change, forcing you to show up lower in search results, or you may run afoul of new content guidelines-erotica writers take note-and find yourself out in the cold.
On the other hand, your website represents your own space, and make no mistake, it is vital to your success. Your website shows potential fans you mean business. It shows them that you’re in this for the long haul and that you’re dedicated to your craft.
Building your own site sends the same message to prospective agents and publishers. A smooth, functional site tells them that they’d better snatch you up before someone else does.
Your site functions as your portfolio, allowing you to put your work on display without having to worry about word count restrictions or content limitations. It’s your space.
On your homepage, we suggest the following:
- A clear headshot.
- A mission statement or statement of purpose.
- A short bio.
- A “Contact Me” box or another way to get in contact.
We suggest building one website instead of building a separate website for every IP you create. On this site, you feature your books, short stories, screenplays or other works, each in its own space. The advantage of keeping everything on one site is twofold:
- It keeps costs low. No need to pay multiple hosting and domain fees.
- It helps fans find your work easily. You won’t have to worry about SEO or ranking in Google for several sites.
You should also have a blog, but we’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s look at the next essential component of your author platform, social media.
Your Social Media Platform
More than anything else, especially in the beginning, this is where the magic happens. Your website is essential, yes, but if no one knows who you are, if no one cares who you are, then your website doesn’t matter much. Social media is an indispensable tool, and if you haven’t jumped in yet, you will want to start now.
Think of social media as a channel through which you can reach out to potential customers, free of charge. That isn’t to say that it’s more effective than paid advertising-it isn’t, at least not at the start. But it does allow you to establish a following that you can then turn into a hungry fan base. But not all social media sites are created equal when it comes to promoting books. Some, such as Pinterest, focus on visual media and usually are not good candidates for our purposes.
Others, however, like Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter, are much more text-friendly, and you should establish yourself on these if you haven’t already. Some, like Tumblr, may seem like a good time investment, but you must look at the demographic data for each site to determine if it’s a good fit for you. For instance, Tumblr is used primarily by teens and may not be a great way to promote, say, historical fiction.
When deciding whether a social media site would be a good fit for you, ask yourself:
Does the site cater to a demographic that will be receptive to my work?
Does the site encourage niche users to interact? Does it allow groups, sub-forums or other means for likeminded individuals to come together
Is the social media site primarily text-based, or does it encourage the sharing of images instead?
As mentioned, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads are great places to start.
Don’t write off YouTube, either. It’s the second most used search engine in the world. If you have the budget, or if you can do it yourself, consider getting some of your work voiced and then post this content to your YouTube channel. YouTube can drive massive traffic to your website.
A quick word on blatant self-promotion-three words, actually: don’t do it. Nothing turns a prospective customer off faster than self-promotion. From the customer’s perspective, blatant self-promotion demonstrates a lack of respect. A good rule of thumb is to post one promotional post for every 8 to 10 non-promotional posts.
Remember this: through your social media efforts, you’re trying to make connections, not sales. Make genuine connections with people and sales will follow.
Focus on sales first and you will turn people away.
Finally, keep in mind that building a healthy social media presence won’t happen overnight. It takes time, effort and dedication. You need to respond to people when they reach out to you and you need to conduct yourself professionally. Pretend that all interactions are happening face to face and act accordingly.
Think of social media as the traffic driver and your site as your store. Your blog, then, is the face of your business.
All three are essential components of your author platform. Without social media-at least in the beginning-people won’t find you. Without a blog, people won’t care about you. Your blog humanizes you. It turns you from a face on the back cover of a book to a human being that fans can relate to. Your blog is essential.
What you post is up to you; the important thing is you post consistently. Here are a few ideas to help you along:
- Post excerpts from your latest work. This can be free chapters, sections or even just a few paragraphs.
- Tell your fans about a new project you’re starting. Are you working on an entirely new novel series? A play? A short story?
- Share things from your personal life that you feel like sharing.
- Use the space for world-building. This can be any supplemental material that fleshes out ideas or concepts from your novels, short stories, screenplays, etc.
- Create character bios. Or publish the behind-the-scenes character work you’ve already done. Just be mindful of spoilers.
- Talk about your writing process. What tools do you use? Scapple? Scrivener? Tried and true three-ring binder and ink pen? Just don’t be salesy when suggesting a product. This is a turn off for many people.
Many new authors are hesitant to start their own blog. They figure that their published work should be enough. But, as we’ve noted, your blog humanizes you. What’s more, it gives you a place to link to from social media that isn’t just your store or published works. Your blog serves another purpose: it shows prospective customers that you can write. To that end, treat each blog post with the care you would show to your published work.
One more tip before we move on: When you create a blog post, look for at least one other post on your site you can link to. This interlinking helps with search engine optimization, but it also cues your reader to check out your other posts and keeps them on your site longer.
Your Email Marketing Strategy
Remember the sale phases listed above? It’s email marketing that will allow you to build the most trust, and trust leads to purchases. A purchase, in turn, can lead to extremely valuable word-of-mouth advertising.
Modern consumers are fickle. The truth is, while social media is essential, it isn’t likely to drive a lot of sales on its own. What it will do is get readers to your website. What you can do from there is encourage them to join your email list. An email list is a magical tool. It gives you access to a prospective customer’s inbox, obviously, but more than that, it helps you build trust with them.
As you can probably guess, we’re going to caution against blatant advertising here as well.
When someone joins your newsletter, they aren’t giving you permission to spam them. They are requesting to be notified when you have something of value to say. Take that opportunity seriously and treat it like a responsibility. This isn’t to say you can’t send marketing messages, but you want to do it with tact.
Consider setting up a series of emails for newcomers that introduces them to your work slowly. Only at the end should you pitch them your latest book. Don’t hit them with a sales pitch on day one. Furthermore, when someone signs up to your newsletter or email list, treat them like royalty. For instance, give them early and exclusive access to new stories or to the first chapter of your next book. These are the people who are your true fans. Treat them as such.
Remember, as an author, you are a business. Whether you seek traditional publishing or not, you are your own best advocate. No one will stand up for you until you stand up for yourself. Get started today by building a stellar author platform.
You’re busy. You want to focus on crafting the best story you possibly can. We get it. At Bee Clever, we’re ready to help you build a powerful author platform. Let us do the hard work so you can focus on what matters: thrilling audiences and building your fan base.