Traditional publishers want to know if new authors (particularly in the nonfiction arena) have a “platform” that they can tap into when it comes time to sell their book. (Yes, that’s why celebrities get book deals — they have a built-in audience.) If you are self-publishing, you need a large, established platform even more than a traditionally published author.
So what exactly is an author’s platform? Jane Friedman, writer, award-winning blogger and publishing industry veteran, succinctly defines an author’s platform as this: “An ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.”
I have given only a brief nod to this topic before and it came across my radar again this week due to a consultation I had with a soon-to-be published author. She has a publisher, a small press which seems like it leans more to vanity or hybrid rather than traditional publisher. Her book is slated to be released within the next three weeks. She’s not sure when because she hasn’t been contacted by the publisher recently nor has she seen any galleys or been given any form of an author’s proof. Something tells me she won’t get them. The publisher will also sell copies of her book to her at a 30% discount. (I didn’t have the heart to tell her she was getting ripped off in that particular spot which is red flag she is getting ripped off elsewhere.) But they did the cover and interior layout, got her an ISBN and Library of Congress number and took her manuscript through the self-publishing steps, a service to be sure, especially for a newcomer.
No Established Platform = Failure to Pre-Launch
The author called me because she wanted to know how she could market her book. Her book is about dogs and their history. She’s a veterinarian (good credibility), working in someone else’s practice (may or may not be able to display her book there). She has a website that a friend put up for her on FourSquare or Squarespace, one of those free sites. It’s pretty and looks modern, but the text is hard to read and it is not geared to selling anything, much less promoting her book. The site needs re-working.
- She has no mailing list and no way to capture emails on her site. She probably can’t use her veterinarian practice mailing list.
- She has no social media following to speak of nor does she participate in any groups on social media.
- There are no local Meetups for dog owners in the area.
- She does not do a local newspaper column or speak on local radio.
- She does not have a blog on her site nor does she have a podcast.
- She doesn’t really have a target demographic to shoot for because she doesn’t think in those terms.
She has no idea how publishing and book sales work and her publishing house did not help her in this. I found a list of “Author Expectations” on their website which concentrated on the author sharing their media list, any awards they may have won, and to make themselves available for branding brainstorming sessions – of which there have been none. The only solid piece of advice on the list was to set up and maintain an author website.
Maybe this publisher has lines of distribution and has a promotional plan in place for her. I hope so. But the truth is that whether you go with a traditional publisher, hybrid, vanity press, or self-publish with print on demand, the bulk of marketing and promotion falls on the author. Writing the book is just the first part of the process. Selling the book is an ongoing effort.
You need to start building your platform when you start writing your book. As soon as you know what your book is going to be about, you need to think about who is going to read your book and create your ideal reader avatar. This is the person you are writing to. This is the person who will become a raving fan. Yes, you will gather other readers and not-so-raving fans along the way, but you write your book for and you target your messaging to your ideal reader/client.
What I Didn’t Say
Here’s what I didn’t tell our new author. As hard as it can be, the writing is the easy part.
I met with close to a dozen nonfiction authors and publishers at an event a few weeks ago. (It was for entrepreneurs, not writers, which should be a major clue as to what entrepreneurs should be doing to market themselves.) For the most part, these were NOT business owners writing a book to market their business. This subset of attendees were entrepreneurs whose business was writing and/or publishing, mostly for entrepreneurs and small business people. Some were ghostwriters. All were freelance. Most had been published more than once. I asked a lot of questions about their businesses, the problems they run into as authors. Every single one said that writing the book was the easy part. Launching the book to respectable sales (and for most, hitting somewhere on the Amazon bestseller list) took effort but was do-able.
The hard part is creating sustained sales of the book. It’s the ongoing marketing and using that book to market their services. That’s the tripping point—unless you have an unlimited budget.
Building your platform is part of the process to creating sustained sales and ongoing work. In the next few weeks, I’m going to talk about the various components you can use to build your platform so you don’t launch your book (or your next book) to the sound of crickets. If you’re thinking about writing a book to promote your business or are in the process, stay tuned.