June 1st, 2020

More Thoughts on Growing a Fertile Author Platform

by Eldred "Bob" Bird

Most authors spend more time than they expected pondering their author platform. With the world slowly beginning to open up again it’s time to look at the other side of the coin—the Offline Platform. Take a look here for a refresher on what makes up your Online Author Platform in Part 1. If you are ready to reconnect in person there are plenty of opportunities to grow your brand.

 The Three Legs of Your Offline Platform

The offline author platform is supported by the same three legs as the online platform—visibility, authority, and reach. Let’s take a look at how each one plays out in the real world.

Visibility

Visibility relates to how easy you are to find. In this age of social media and the internet, it’s difficult to think in terms of our visibility in the physical world. How do we make ourselves stand out?

  • Get in front of the readers.

Book launches and signings at your local bookstore are a great way to get in front of readers, but not the only way. Check out book fairs as well. If you can’t afford a table, talk to other writers and offer to share a table and split the fee.

  • Get in front of other writers.

Writer’s conferences and workshops are not just for honing your craft, they’re a great place to network with other writers, editors, and sometimes agents as well. You never know who you might meet, or how they might help to boost your writing career (like asking you to guest post on an award-winning writer’s blog!).

Remember to always have business cards in your pocket, ready to hand out to your new contacts. If you don’t have cards, get some. They don’t cost much and will give you a good return on investment. Hand them out to everyone you engage with and remember to ask for their card as well. Check out this article about networking by John Peragine.

Do you belong to a local writer’s group? Talk to the organizer. I cut my teeth as a presenter by getting up and speaking to a group I’ve belonged to for several years. The familiar faces made it easier to dip my toes into the waters of public speaking.

Also consider presenting at conferences, both local and national. Chances are you’ve picked up some knowledge along your writing journey that others will benefit from. Write a proposal and submit it to the conference organizers. The worst that can happen is they say “no.”

  • Talk to bookstore owners, managers, and employees.

Building a relationship with your local bookstore, be it an independent or chain, is always a good move. Remember to be kind, be a good listener, and above all, don’t be obnoxious. You’re selling yourself, not just your books. Visit the libraries in your area as well. Talk to the librarians about your work and offer to get involved in some of their events.

Authority

Authority asks the question, “What is it that gives you credibility in your space?” This is especially important if you write non-fiction. People want to know why they should read your book, rather than someone else’s.

  • Are you published?

Whether traditional or self-published, having your work out and available in the real world makes a big difference. If your books are on the shelf in bookstores and/or libraries, so much the better! Publication in journals and magazines boost your authority as well.

  • Have you attended or taught workshops?

Education, be it workshops, or college courses, carries big credibility. While a degree (especially for fiction writers) isn’t required, it can open a lot of doors. Having an MFA under your belt shows a major dedication to the craft.

Teaching classes and workshops raises your credibility even more. Make sure to mention your past teaching experiences when putting together a proposal for presentations.

  • Do you have any awards?

If you’ve won awards for your writing it says you’re someone worth listening to. Make mention of them in proposals, bios, and any promotional materials you hand out at workshops and appearances. You worked hard for those awards, so flaunt them!

Reach

Reach is exactly what it sounds like. It’s about your ability to reach your target audience. Reach is not just about getting your name in front of people but getting it in front of the right people and getting them to respond.

  • Have you done interviews in print media?

While circulation has dropped for the big newspapers, a lot of small local ones are still going strong. Community-focused papers are a great way to get exposure in your own city or town. Many are happy to feature local writers and artists. That leads us to the next question.

  • Do you have a press kit?

When setting up an interview or sending a press release to the local media, it’s a good idea to include some information about yourself as a writer. Usually done in digital form these days, your press kit should at the very least include your bio, your headshot, a bibliography of your work (with cover images), and your contact information, including email, websites, and social media. You should also include other promotional images and logos if you have them.

  • Always have promotional materials on hand.

We’re talking about business cards, postcards, bookmarks and other swag. When making an appearance, always have something you can put in people’s hands. Check out this WITS post by Sherry Ficklin to learn more about using swag to extend your reach.

  • Do you use physical mailing lists?

It may sound “old school” to do physical mailings, but it can pay off. Get postcards printed and send them to libraries and bookstores. Emails are easy to bypass, delete, or lose to a spam filter, but a physical card in someone’s hand is going to catch some attention.

Some Final Thoughts

In the current technology-driven landscape, it’s difficult to separate your online and offline efforts. The simple truth is you can’t. Each effort supports the other, creating a much stronger overall author platform. Your online presence is going to help you get those real-world bookings. Likewise, your offline efforts help you make connections, build credibility, and may even give you fodder for your online content.

You may not be ready to step back out in public quite yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start planning and booking those appearances now. Be cautious, be confident, and be bold. Potential readers are out there waiting to hear from you!

What in-person efforts have worked well for you, or someone you know? What do you wish you'd done differently? Feel free to ask questions down in the comments - we have a great community of platform-builders here!

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Eldred:

Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing KarmaCatching Karma, and the soon to be released Cold Karma, reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking RoomTreble in Paradise: A Tale of Sax and Violins, and The Smell of Fear.

When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21-inch knives). His passion for photography allows him to record his travels. He can be found on Twitter or Facebook, or at his website.

Top Image by Nattanan Kanchanaprat from Pixabay

22 responses to “More Thoughts on Growing a Fertile Author Platform”

  1. LauraDrake says:

    This is one person's observations - in-person is dead. Not presenting at conferences, etc., but if you're not the absolute top in your genre, book signings are depressing - like a Junior High party, where no one shows up, and you're left with all that dip.

    I write (mostly) Western Romance- set in the world of professional bullriding. I worked it out to do a table with another author in the fan-zone expo at the PBR World Finals. My peeps, right? Um, not so much. I had a blast, and met people, but it wasn't worth the time or money.

    While there, I spoke with the girl manning our B&N cash register. She told me that John freakin' Grisham came to their store for a book signing, and you know how many people showed up? TEN.

    I've also done reader events. Again, if you're #1 in your genre, readers mob you. If not? You're standing alone at a table watching readers mob the #1 author. Depressing.

    Now that I've kicked dirt in your morning coffee, read on - it gets better.

    Online RULES. I have built a large following on Facebook, by posting interesting, funny, and weird things. I maxed my personal limit, so I tried using my author page. Didn't work. People are afraid of being 'sold' something, and it doesn't really lend itself to the 'community' atmosphere I wanted.

    So I started my own group. Laura Drake's Peace, Love & Books (https://www.facebook.com/groups/753367188406020/) It's mostly fun stuff, but of course, if I have a book release, or big author news, that's where I post first. I even do giveaways ONLY for new readers.

    Has it worked? I know it's helped. And in the meantime, I'm having a blast, entertaining and being entertained!

    Sorry for the long post, but you asked....

    • Eldred Bird says:

      I hear where you're coming from, Laura. This came up during the Q&A session when I did a session on this with a local writer's group. Comments were that they met and talked to a lot of nice people, but didn't sell very many books at the event.

      My answer is that selling books isn't the only measure of success for an event. The author platform isn't about selling your latest book, it's about selling yourself. It's building name recognition and a following. After these events, most of the people I've talked to admitted they had seen an increase in their followers on social media as well as signups to their newsletters and traffic increases on their blogs and websites. That's what this is all about--building an audience and a following so when that new book comes out someone is waiting t buy it.

    • Kris Maze says:

      Hi Laura,
      It's interesting how you compared your personal FB page to your author one. As if the category of "author" it makes it more distant to readers, less personal. Thanks, for your insights on Facebook pages. That's one area I'm not using as well.

      One event I tried this spring was online author talks. With all the schools shutting down, I thought it would be a creative way to help out teachers by promoting interest. As a guest speaker for 5th grade teachers, they commented that participation was up by around 30% with most of their students participating in the Zoom call. I planned it to be interactive, with a question form sent to students a week in advance to get them curious. I sent postcards (SWAG pack) to the teachers to mail to students via the school district.

      I realize Western Romance may not fit this 5th graders format, but the process might. How could this "author event" work for Library Book Clubs? They have been struggling to make online resources available and engaging. Also, indie book stores. If it is interactive and personal - like the fun posts - with a twist of author-life insights, it may be a way to entice potential readers. All from the comfort of your home!

      One thing is for sure, we have new territory to explore as authors.

    • ecellenb says:

      I've been to several author events in different areas of the United States and had similar experiences with attendees' fear of being asked to purchase. Once as a visiting author at a public library there were patrons who saw me as they entered the building and deliberately skirted around. It was almost comical.

      The experience with schools is different though. I've worked with school librarians and done author visits in a few States. Those visits are a lot of fun, and the exposure is good.

      Generally, online events have been better for communication with potential readers. I was on a Zoom meeting last week and was recognized by one of the participants as author of The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon series. She said, "Didn't you write the Charlie books?" That was a wonderful surprise. Apparently the family is still reading them, which is awesome.

  2. Jenny Hansen says:

    I hear what Laura is saying about live events and they are largely down in attendance and enthusiasm, especially right now. But there are a few places I think are still promising. If you have a robust local library or indie bookstore, you can leverage THEIR audience. Those relationships are usually formed in person.

    I don't think it is ever wrong to put yourself in front of your locals - writing groups, meetups, bookstores, libraries, local conferences, schools, senior centers. They all offer great exposure and the opportunity for organic book sales.

    • Eldred Bird says:

      I also think as restrictions lift and we're all allowed back out into the real world those of us with cabin fever are going to be looking for more opportunities to get out of the house and mingle with real people again. Hopefully that will help bring the numbers back up.

      • Kris Maze says:

        Absolutely - I completely agree. I don't know anyone who isn't itchy for people-time. Especially with an author!

  3. Vernon Turner says:

    After waiting 11 years and enduring over 1,500 rejections from agents without a single read request, two different publishers sent me contracts (which I signed) to publish my first two novels.
    Now the hard work begins at getting these stories packaged and promoted. Any suggestions will be appreciated.

    • Kris Maze says:

      Hi Vernon,
      Congratulations on your success! Bob's post has many suggestions for face to face promos that might be helpful. I think finding ways to connect with your authentic readers is a good start too. For example, if you've written a Middle Grade Book you may consider finding teachers who would like an author to talk to their classes about the writing life and to share SWAG with those kiddos. Bookmarks and visual items are usually appreciated. Promoting your books can be the fun part!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Congratulations on your contracts, Vernon!!

    • ecellenb says:

      Wow! Wonderful news, Vernon. Bookmarks are inexpensive and get used. I've contemplated refrigerator magnets but haven't tried them yet.

      Online meetings will work well. You can use Skype and Zoom for larger groups. Messenger can work well for small groups. Thankfully there are several options as in person is difficult right now.

    • Eldred Bird says:

      Congratulations Vernon! Way to keep trying and not give up!

      It can be hard to figure out how to promote before you have an actual book on the market. The trick is to promote yourself and build name recognition so you have an audience wait to buy when the book comes out. You may want to hit the link in the first paragraph and check out my post on the Online Author Platform. It should give you some solid ideas on how to get your name out there and start building a following now. Let people know about you as an author and give them insight into your process.

      Also check with your publisher for suggestions as to how they promote new authors and how they like you to promote yourself. They may have some procedures in place, but may also have restrictions as to how much and what kinds of things they want shared about the actual manuscripts.

    • Holy moly, Vernon! 1200 rejections?? I can't decide if that makes me feel discouraged or hopeful, but you win the persistence award of the decade. Wishing you much success with your novels!

  4. Thanks for the great discussion, Eldred. It helps me both manage my expectations and keep an open mind to wherever possiblities for connection lie.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      And Karen, it's fantastic what book stores and book bloggers are doing with online book launch events. Refer back to Barbara Probst's post on this - she sold far more books through the virtual launches than she would have live.

  5. dholcomb1 says:

    You have to be careful at some workshops and conferences for authors--it's not always okay to handout business cards unless asked specifically for them. There are protocols to follow. This is where it's important to do your homework and know your genre before attending the events. Fortunately, there's usually a helpful list in the fine print of the dos and don'ts for the events.

    denise

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      In my experience, business card exchanges tend to be an organic thing. If we have a great chat at a conference, or if someone gives a great presentation, the business cards get whipped out! 🙂

  6. […] posts here on WITS I talked in general terms about building your author platform, both online and offline. Today I’m going to dig a little deeper into building a long-term relationship with your readers. […]

  7. […] posts here on WITS I talked in general terms about building your author platform, both online and offline. Today I’m going to dig a little deeper into building a long-term relationship with your readers. […]

  8. […] posts here on WITS I talked in general terms about building your author platform, both online and offline. Today I’m going to dig a little deeper into building a long-term relationship with your readers. […]

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