There have been quite a few questions lately about platform, so I thought the topic needed to be talked about where everyone could participate.
What is a platform?
A platform is who you know (have access to) and what you know (can offer the people you have access to). Your skills, accomplishments, education, awards, reputation, what you stand for in life … When all this is communicated to others so that people come to know who you are and how you can help them, that’s platform.
Some might define an author platform as your ability to sell a product to your chosen market.
And literary agent Chip MacGregor says that platform is simply a number that indicates how many people you can reach.
Do you need a platform?
In this day and age, all published authors need a platform of some kind. But do unpublished authors need one? Yes, Then when do you start? Now. Is it ever too early or too late? Nope.
Just do it.
But don’t freak out. This doesn’t have to be stressful. The important thing is that you will showing an agent or editor that you’re willing and capable of marketing yourself in some way. Also, the sooner you register a blog or website and start putting in time on it, Google starts your ranking credit (my term, not theirs). I’ve owned my domain name since 2002. That’s over ten years of me being online in some way, proving that I am Jill Williamson. If you Google my name, I’m not only the first name you see, I’m all over the place. I’ve done a good job of putting myself online. And Google knows who I am. You want your name or platform to be in the number one spot when an agent or editor Googles you.
But how do you know what to do?
Chip MacGregor says that the trick to good marketing is “to figure out where the readers who would be interested in your story are gathering, then go stand in front of them.”
I think that says it best.
You might not be able to stand in front of people in person, but you can be findable online. Fiction authors often get frustrated with platform since it seems like most everyone is either writing a blog for authors or doing book reviews. And, yes, it’s true that those things have been overdone by fiction authors, including Stephanie and me. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do blog about writing or books if that’s your passion. You simply have to find a unique approach or angle that sets you apart and attracts your potential and unique audience.
Here are some steps that should help you brainstorm what types of platforms might work for you.
1. Pinpoint your audience
Do you write science fiction, fantasy, mystery/suspense, Amish romance, books for teen girls, books for middle grade boys, or steamy romance novels? Whatever you write, that’s the audience you should be seeking to connect with. And if you’re writing for kids of any age, you might consider parents or teachers as part of your platform. But a blog for parents likely will be a blog that teens don’t visit. So you have to choose which audience to go after based on who you are and who you best relate to.
2. Figure out where your audience gathers
Where do the readers in your genre hang out? Are there any professional organizations they like to join? What magazines or blogs do they read? Are they on Facebook or Twitter or YouTube? Know them enough to find them.
3. Do you already have access to people?
Are you famous? Have connections with celebrities? Are you an officer in a big organization? Do you work for any type of media? Do you teach or speak to a large group of people regularly? Do you appear on TV? host a radio show? have a newspaper column? write a popular blog? have a regular column in a newspaper, magazine, website, or e-zine?
4. What interests you? What are you good at or an expert about?
Are you funny? Smart? Do you have a unique skill? Do you like a certain topic enough to become an expert? For example, Gillian Adams knows a ton about horses. She could start a blog about horses that, over time, could make her an online expert. And as long as there are always horses in her fiction books, that might work well.
Consider writing a mission statement for your life to help you pinpoint goals, what you stand for, and what message you hope to share with the world so that your platform. I wrote one once. Click here to read about how I did it.
Here’s a list of ideas of things you could do:
-write articles for newspapers, magazines, newsletters, blogs, or ezines
-lead online discussions groups
-develop educational or entertaining resources (mp3 downloads, YouTube tutorials, radio shows, podcasts…)
-give away your content via audio or video recordings (short stories, chapters from a novel, cut scenes, cool research, drafts of work-in-progress that invite comments, extras like maps and drawings. You could deliver this through your blog or places like ScribD or Smashwords)
-create YouTube videos like Rachel Coker does
-Partner with peers to share the work and create a bigger platform
All of these activities have a number of potential readers associated with them. Be creative. But always offer something of value. And don’t rave about how awesome you are.
5. Choose a home base for your platform
Yes, platform is the number Chip MacGregor talks about. To get that number you add up all the places you appear before people. For example, if I talk to one school with 400+ students each month. That’s 4800 students a year. I have 2400 Facebook followers. So I add those two numbers and now my platform would be 7200 people. Add to that my ezine subscribers, Twitter followers, blog followers, YouTube followers, the Go Teen Writer’s blog followers, etc, and I get one big (hopefully) number.
But there is a place where I should be spending most my time. (And I’m still struggling to identify this, which is why my platform is weak.) Do I point people to my website? My Facebook page? YouTube? I still don’t know. And that’s bad. I need to figure it out, and so should you. Once you do, pour most your efforts there, and all other online platforms should feed into that main one. For example, Julian Smith is on Twitter and Facebook. But YouTube is his home base. And his Facebook and Twitter point people to YouTube, where his real platform is.
So think about your strengths and which online location could best display those strengths to the public. You don’t have to have a blog. If acting is your strength or singing or music, you could start a YouTube channel or podcast stories or discussions on your blog or iTunes. Think about how famous people can get on YouTube. Justin Bieber is a great example. And Julian Smith (1,255,698 YouTube followers) with his funny videos. My favorite is I’m Reading a Book. Or the Piano Guys (1,444,542 YouTube followers) with their clever videos. I like so many of them, but one of my favorites is the Cello Wars (Star Wars Parody) Lightsaber Duel that has 11,777,184 views. Now that’s a successful platform.
How can you attract these kinds of numbers? What are your strengths? What can you do that will get people talking and sharing links to your stuff. That’s what you need.
Chris Kolmorgen and his friend Jacob Parker have a gift for making people laugh on YouTube. They did some videos about the word wars they had writing their novels. This could easily become their platform. Check out these two: Jacob loses and eats grasshopper. And Chris loses and must sing the song Jacob wrote.
6. Include your personality
If someone likes you, he will likely buy your book. He will want you to succeed. So be authentic. Be you. Let your personality come through in whatever you do. Let people know what you’re good at, bad at, love, hate. You will attract people who like you and repel people who don’t. And that’s a good thing.
7. Be consistent
If you only blog once, no one will find you. Chris and Jacob’s fun videos aren’t really a platform because they only made two of them! You have to be consistent at whatever you do. You could do it once a month, once a week, or daily. But your followers will come to expect that you follow through on your promise. If you don’t, they’ll find someone who will.
8. Never ask
Platform is not about self-promotion, calling attention to yourself, bragging, or yelling “Here I am! Pay attention to me!” It’s not about telling people they should read or buy your book. That’s annoying.
Instead, draw people to you by offering them something they want. Platform is about giving away something of value for free. It’s about sharing and helping others. Be entertaining or offer valuable information. Make friends.
Some people are better at platform than others. That’s life. And there is no list of rules I can offer that will ensure a successful platform. You can’t buy one, either, nor can you create one overnight, even if you had a Harry Potter wand. Platform takes time. If you start now, it will add up eventually.
What are you doing to build an author platform? And if you’re not doing anything, what could you do?