Your author platform can include a variety of things, but there’s one thing that every platform needs.
What is an author platform?
A common misconception is that an author platform is simply a website.
While a website or blog is certainly part of the platform that’s not all there is to it. A platform only starts with a website. While some people will find you because of your website, most will find you other places and be led back to your site. So, you need more than just a website.
Another misconception is that a good social media presence can be your author platform.
While a Facebook Page or social media profile with big numbers can certainly play an important role in your author platform, it also is not the be-all, end-all. But, relying on it alone could be the end. You don’t own your social media spaces, and you could lose them, your followers, or your reach tomorrow. The platform could go away, change its algorithms, or decide you broke a rule and ban you.
Yes, it’s true. MySpace is technically there, but for all intents and purposes, it’s gone.
At one time your Facebook Page’s followers saw almost everything you posted.
We’ve all seen people get banned from something. Sometimes legit, sometimes a misunderstanding. Even when they ‘got their account back,’ the damage had been done, and they had to find lost customers all over again. And who are we kidding? You might replace a customer, but a lost customer is probably lost forever.
No, you need something that you can control, because you will be found, and you need to stay found, despite what happens on platforms owned by others.
Congratulations, you’ve been found!
Fifty million books on Amazon, and a new one is added every five minutes
And, somehow a reader found YOU and followed you back home. Be ready for when that happens.
Your website, your Facebook page, your Twitter account, your Instagram profile, and to some extent your Amazon Author Page. These are all places on the internet. Places to be found.
That’s important, of course, but being found is just the first step.
With fifty million books out there on Amazon alone, the odds of them finding you a second time aren’t all that great.
You can’t rely on them to remember you or find you again, so you need a way to find your reader again, not the other way around. One day you’ll be ready to announce your new book, and you need a way to reach out and tell them. For that, we come to the most important part of the author platform – Your email list.
Briefly, very briefly, let’s talk about another misconception; that email is dying. It’s not.
I don’t have time to write the article about that right now, but suffice to say that a simple Googling will show you that email is going strong.
It might not be as effective as it once was, but it is still more effective than most other channels.
Best of all, email (and your list of email addresses) is the one channel you own and control, and it’s not going anywhere.
But, Dave’s doing great with no list
While there are some authors who are successful without a mailing list, relying on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media posts to reach readers, that is becoming increasingly more rare.
Year after year, the organic reach of a post on Facebook has dropped dramatically. There was a time when almost all of your followers would see your post, but today you’re lucky if 5% of your fans see what you share. And don’t get me started on Twitter, where you’re lucky to be seen even when somebody is looking for you. Right now, Instagram might be an exception, but that’s unlikely to last much longer. And even then, Instagram users are scrolling to look at pretty pictures, they’re not there to buy a book.
I’m not saying that social media is not important, but I am saying is that once you have their attention on social media, it’s important to find a way to stay in touch. A way that’s more than just being a follower or friend. Those all rely on a list that someone else maintains. A list, like I pointed out above, that could disappear tomorrow, leaving you unable to reach those readers ever again.
Besides, just because Dave is doing fine doesn’t mean he couldn’t be doing better.
And, what is his version of fine, anyway? Dave could be fine selling ten books a month, which is fine for Dave, but not fine enough if you want to make a living as an author.
This is where email comes in
At its simplest, an author platform is a collection of entry points that attract, inform, and entertain your ideal reader, entice them to join your list. Your email list.
Note, that when I say “entice” I’m only half-joking. You don’t want to lure somebody in who doesn’t really want to read your books, but once you’ve attracted the ideal reader, you need to give them a good reason to join your list.
I’ll go into more detail in a future post, but for now, consider all the times you signed up for an email list. You almost always get something in exchange for your email address — A short story, free chapters, bonus material, or even an entire free book.
Freebies are the ideal way to get readers to join, but don’t let not having one stop you from building your list. It will grow slower, but you might be comforted that people who join you ‘just because,’ truly want to be there. Whatever brought them to your signup form impressed them enough that they want more.
Seth Godin wrote a whole book about the power of permission marketing, which is when someone ‘let you in,’ trusted you, and gave you the blessing to talk to them.
They trust you enough to give you their email, which for many people is sacred. Don’t abuse their trust.
Once you have their email address, you are able to start a conversation and keep it going. There will be more from me on that, later, but in a nutshell, give them exactly what they joined for.
- For a novelist, they most likely want news of your book, a heads up on the next one, or some behind the scenes info.
- For a non-fiction author, they want the same, but they also want to learn from you. Do you write health and wellness books (like my wife and I do)? Then most likely they want health news, tips, and opinions.
- Most authors don’t write fast enough to keep a reader entertained between their own books, so I suggest you get ready to share those of your author friends who your readers would love as much as yours. Readers read a lot, especially novels, and recommending books that tide them over until your next book is a way to build trust and want your books even more.
The bottom line is that with email — because you own your list — you have a way to reach your readers and no longer have to rely on them finding you again.
Building your author platform
I’ve described to you the basics of an author platform.
Yes, you can get super fancy and spend a lot of time and money, but the Minimal Viable Platform is plenty to get an author started. You can add to it, later.
If you were in the camp that thought social media was enough, you might be a bit overwhelmed right now.
“I need a website? An email list?”
Yeah, you do, but this doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but part of you must have realized that a professional author has to be somewhat professional, right?
Order of implementation
Some of this might feel out of order, but you need to build a few parts of your platform in parallel.
You might also have the urge to go cheap, which often works, but causes problems later.
For instance, you can buy a domain name (which you do need) and point it to a free landing page or social media profile. This is fine in practice, but limiting right now, and impossible to grow.
It also doesn’t necessarily come with an email address that uses your domain, which you also WILL need.
Instead, consider getting hosting for your own site and buying your domain through your host. You’ll probably also get at least one email address, free. Possibly many of them.
Note that you might already have some of these things, so you’re ahead of the curve!
I’ve kept each of the below items simple, but I’ll flesh them each out in future posts. In the meantime, get started, and reach out if you have questions.
Website, domain name, hosting, email address
I lumped these together because they pretty much have to happen together. Having a domain that goes nowhere is just saving the name for later. Get on this thing.
Note that it’s both possible and easy to get all of these at one place. I use SiteGround for hosting, and they provide a free WordPress setup and sell domains, plus give email addresses to match. One stop shopping.
Not everyone is a WordPress fan, but I prefer it for its flexibility. My buddy Kevin, on the other hand, loves Squarespace.
It’s like the Windows and Mac thing. Each side acts like one’s hard and the other easy. One’s cheap and the other expensive.
Do what you want, but somehow get a domain name, hosting, website, and an email address.
I feel biased, so maybe I’ll have Kevin write up the Squarespace version down the road.
In the meantime, if you’re willing to go with WordPress, here you go!
Note – Do not get a WordPress.com site. Those are a dead end and they look unprofessional. They might be great for a casual blog, but they also tell people you’re casual. If you’re going to be an author, pay for hosting and use the WordPress framework that you get free with your site.
WordPress, running on a hosting site you pay for, is open source, so the bones are no charge, and there are many free themes and plugins to make you happy.
Keep it simple to start
- Pick a simple, free theme. Your host might even have installed a basic one for you.
- Create a simple home page, an about page, a contact page. If you have books already, make a page for each one. If you have more than one, be sure to create a page that shows and links to all your books.
- Make sure your menu at the top has Home, About, Contact, and Books
- Install the Mailerlite plugin – This will enable MailerLite to gather your emails
- Install the Prettylinks plugin – This is like Bit.ly, but uses your domain name instead of theirs. Unlike Bit.ly, you can change where they point after you create them.
WordPress has a lot of plug-ins, so you can get overwhelmed. Just start with the basics, and know you can come back, later to play around.
MailerLite is the cheapest and easiest for most authors. It’s free to start, and free up to 1,000 subscribers. It has more flexibility than many other systems and is far more powerful than the free version of Mailchimp. Even paying, Mailchimp is typically better for authors than Mailchimp.
In order to use MailerLite, you need to have your own website with a paid domain and your email address matching this domain.
Thinks that’s bogus? Free domains are not acceptable to reputable emailing services. They don’t ensure good deliverability and land in spam a lot more often than a custom domain email.
Assuming you have your website, domain, and email, it’s time to sign up for MailerLite. You will have to show them those things, so don’t try to skirt the process.
Once your MailerLite account is active, you can go back to your website, plug your MailerLite info into the MailerLite Plugin, and create your popup and sign up forms.
You must be found everywhere, even if you’re not there often (or at all).
Most people have a social media presence already. If not, focus on the platform you love at first, then pick the platform where your perfect reader is most likely to be found.
After that, go to the others — that you don’t really use — and create what author Chris Syme calls ‘outposts.’ These are functional social media profiles that are not in use much, but point readers to where you can be found and active.
A Page, not just your personal profile. You need a profile just to log in, but you aren’t allowed to run a business from one.
- From your profile, create a Facebook Page named as your name or pen name, not your book or series name.
- Make your page look good, but don’t go crazy.
- Make sure your ‘about’ info leads back to your website.
- Your page should come with a button right there on near your cover image, Set it to sign up to Mailerlite.
- If this is an outpost or you’re not very active on the Page, create a pinned post for how and where to find you
Twitter gets a bad rap as being hostile, but you should have a Twitter account, even if you don’t use it.
- Create a Twitter account with your name or your pen name. Don’t make it something clever like when you’re trying to be anonymous on a forum. You want to be found, remember?
- Whether you’re going to active on Twitter or not, your profile needs to tell them who you are, what you do, and clearly lead back to your website.
- If this is an ‘outpost,’ create a pinned post for how and where to find you.
Instagram can be intimidating for people who can’t take pretty pictures, but you should still be there. You want to be found, right?
- Your profile needs to tell them who you are, what you do, and clearly lead back to your website.
- If Instagram is just an outpost make sure you have at least one picture that tells them about you and reminds them where you are most active and how to find you.
- Instagram doesn’t have clickable links in captions, so be sure to say the magic words: “Link in profile” so they know where to go to click your link.
You might not be able to take good pictures, so this is a great time to have a friend or family member help you with one good picture, minimum.
Bonus points for putting up nine good ones. Nine pictures will populate your whole profile page, making it look its best when someone visits.
Instagram is all about the visuals, so feel free to take pictures of your books, books your fans would love, and places that influence your stories and characters. Oh, if you have dogs or cats, be sure to post those, too. People love furry things.
Other social media
Clearly there are more social media platforms than the above three, but those are the ones that most authors should start with. When it comes to the others, decide whether you should use them, ignore them, or at least have an outpost there.
- LinkedIn – Some non-fiction authors might want to be active (or at least be found) here.
- Pinterest – More a search engine than a social media platform. Can be good for non-fiction authors.
- YouTube – Again, good for non-fiction. Novelists would have to be pretty creative to make YouTube worth it.
- Snapchat – Think of it like Instagram. It can’t hurt to have an outpost here.
- Medium and Tumbler – These are like blogs that you don’t own. It’s fine to be there, but they should not be your primary blogging platform. If you use them, reblog your actual blog content on them.
New social media platforms are popping up all the time, and when they do, go ahead and claim your name, just so no one else does.
You’re here, you’re there, you’re everywhere
It’s not as much work as you thought, right?
Now that your Minimal Viable Platform is complete, your presence is ubiquitous.
Whenever a reader finds you on the internet, they will be led back to your website and onto your mailing list.
You’ve set up all your outposts, so you are free to use social media as much or as little as you like.
Since you probably want to be on social media to some extent, focus on the one that you love the most or on the one where you’re most likely to find your ideal reader.
I suggest you spend most of your writer time on actual writing, not social media, since it’s very time-consuming to find new readers on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Let them find you via new author platform, and join your list. When your new book is ready to launch, you’ll have something very exciting to tell them!
I’ll be writing more to fill in the gaps and flesh out the details. To learn more about how to make your Author Platform work for you instead of the other way around, download my 10 tips you can do TODAY to put your platform on cruise control.
I’d love to know where you need the most help with your own author platform.
Leave a comment below, or just head over to my contact page and shoot me a message.