by Colleen M. Story
If you’re like most writers, the word “platform” may inspire visions of soul-draining promotional activities that you wish you could pawn off on a full-time publicity department.
But the reality is that most of us are “stuck” tackling this marketing beast on our own.
I used to drag myself to the computer to do “platform-building” activities until I realized an author platform can do a lot more than help you sell books—though it can do that, too.
Below are five other reasons why you might want to adopt a new point of view when it comes to your platform, for the benefit of your books and your writing career as a whole.
Jane Friedman has a great definition on her blog, stating that an author platform is your “ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.” In other words, your ability to attract readers.
If you’re a celebrity, you have a built-in platform as your fame gives you a ready-made audience. The rest of us have to find a way to create a readership.
That’s what you’re doing with your author platform—allowing people to get to know you and your reputation. The thing is you have to do this over and over again before your readers start to trust you.
Sometimes as writers we think that if we’ve written a good story—and there are a lot of really good stories published every year—that we deserve to have people read it. But you’ve got to put on your marketing hat and remember that to your customers out there, your book is a product just like that pair of shoes at Zappos or the new bicycle at your local bike shop.
Before readers will agree to part with their money in exchange for your work, they have to have a reason to trust that what they’ll be getting will be worth the money and the time it will take to read it.
You establish that trust through your author platform and through the repeated contacts you make with readers through that platform. But your platform can actually do a lot more for you than that.
In addition to providing you with a way to make repeated memorable contacts with your potential readers, here are five other ways your platform works to help you establish a successful writing career.
You decide what your niche is, then build an author platform around it. Right?
Sometimes, but more often, the process goes something like this: you come up with a niche, then give it a try on your various platform outlets—your blog, your social media, your podcast, etc. Over time, you gather information on what’s working and what’s not.
On your blog, for example, you use Google Analytics or another similar program to determine what posts are getting the most attention. Then you start creating more posts around those topic areas.
Gradually, you find out more about what your audience needs and wants and you adjust and change until your niche not only fits you and your creativity, but it also serves your readers and regularly brings more of them your way.
Before I built my author platform (which I consider to be a work in progress even now), the thought of speaking at writer’s conferences never even occurred to me. Now it’s a regular part of what I do.
It started when one of my platform connections invited me to speak on a topic I often cover on Writing and Wellness—productivity. The workshop went really well—I enjoyed it, and I got a lot of really good feedback on it. More invitations followed, and now I speak on a wide variety of topics that all fit within my niche.
Without my blog, which is the largest part of my platform, I never would have gotten this opportunity.
Yes, a blog takes a lot of work. You have to be consistent with it, and you probably won’t see results for a long time. But stay with it, carve out your niche, and you could be pleasantly surprised at what it might do for you and your career.
If you’re a fiction writer, have you ever considered non-fiction? Have you thought about offering some online courses? Considered coaching services?
“But I just want to write!” you may say, and if so, that’s fine. If you want to build a career with your writing, though, it’s wise to consider what else you may be able to offer your readers and potential clients.
Most writers add other money-making activities to their resumes. Maybe you’re not sure what other services you might be able to offer.
This is where your platform can really help you. If you use it to find where you excel—what posts or videos your audience enjoys most, for instance—you’ll naturally evolve to the point of offering more of those types of products to your customers.
Children’s writer Sandy Fussell talked about this in her Writing and Wellness feature. When health problems in her family kept her from writing, she was able to keep her head in the business because of her platform.
She had established a reputation as a welcome visitor and mentor in schools, so even though she had to put off writing her next story, she was still able to encourage her creative self by enjoying feedback from her fans.
“With family support,” she wrote, “I focused instead on social media, workshops and school visits, which kept my writer profile active. Kids and their teachers and librarians are particularly wonderful inspiration and motivation. They made me feel like I was still an author, even if there wasn’t a new book in sight. That helped me get through the tough times.”
When we start out writing, we think mostly about the stories we want to share. But then we can come up against discouragement when the rejections pour in, the sales turn disappointing, or the recognition we hoped for fails to arrive.
When you start connecting with people through your platform, something special happens—your thinking expands. You want to help those people, or simply find more ways to be a positive presence in their lives. You realize that you have more to offer than you thought, and that you can truly benefit others with your efforts.
Your platform can give you this feeling if you are patient with it, and continue to put the time into it. Little by little, it will reveal more about where you belong as an artist, and what sort of rewarding career you may be able to fashion for yourself.
What is building an author platform? It’s making regular contact with readers. You can do that in all the following ways and more—the only limit is your imagination.
Colleen M. Story is a novelist, freelance writer, writing coach, and speaker with over 20 years in the creative writing industry. Her latest release, The Beached Ones, was released with CamCat Books on July 26, 2022. Her novel, Loreena’s Gift, was a Foreword Reviews’ INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, among others.
Colleen has written three books to help writers succeed. Your Writing Matters was a bronze medal winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards (2022). Other award-winning titles include Writer Get Noticed! and Overwhelmed Writer Rescue. Get free chapters of these books here.
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