How to Build An Author Platform
There are two important aspects to writing that are becoming more and more evident across the board: platform and community. In the first segment of this informational packet, I want to address the importance of author platform and share some insights I’ve gleaned while working on mine!
FOREWORD: What is an “Author Platform”?
“Author platform” is a term that encompasses all the different mediums through which you are visible and available to the world as an author. It’s who you are (face to face), your network (the connections you’ve made), and the tools (social media, AuthorTube, blogging, Patreon, Kickstarter, etc.) that you use to sell books. Your author platform across social media is important. It defines how you present yourself, the parameters within which your future reader base can contact you, and sets the boundaries for how you interact with them via social media. Here are a few things to consider when building up your social media presence and author platform:
It's good to set boundaries early on for how your future readers will contact and connect with you. Having a consistent standard of accessibility can really help you have peace of mind particularly in interactions that might become uncomfortable. A few preliminary questions to ask yourself are:
Do you want to interact through comments only? Are DMs allowed? Will you give out your personal email address, or create a specific one for "writing work" and tie all your social media platforms to that? How about using your home address vs. a PO Box – what are you comfortable with?
(Something to consider: newsletter services like MailChimp will include whatever address you tell them to at the base of every email you send through their service. If you do not want your personal address going out to your subscribers, consider a PO Box which you can also use for entering giveaways, receiving Book Mail, etc.)
Taking accessibility a step further, consider where your personal boundaries lie in terms of when, where, and for how long you will be available to your audience. Are you accessible 24/7, 365? Will you shut off your phone when eating meals, reading, or writing? What about on holidays? There’s no one-size answer for this—it all depends on where you want to set that boundary.
Having a clearly-defined accessibility standard when it comes to your interactions on social media can help you not to become overwhelmed, and it helps minimize the tension of discerning where the line is between you and your social media audience. If someone wants to contact you during times you’ve blocked off away from social media, or if they want an email address/mailing address, rather than having to decide on the spot what to say, you can refer back to your boundary for peace of mind and an easier interaction.
Different writers take the concept of branding to different levels. What seems to be a fairly universal standard is that branding is important because it allows your readers to know it's you they're looking at.
I've found that in my case, using the same profile picture (and banner where applicable; blog, Twitter, FB page, etc.) across my social media platforms makes me "easy to find" and leaves no doubt in my audience that they're looking at my brand when I link them somewhere or they search for me on different platforms.
Branding also involves how you carry and present yourself, which is tied both to your accessibility and consistency: whoever you are and whatever your brand is, stick to that. That's not to say you can never branch out and try new things - like a YA author writing Middle Grade or a romance novelist trying their hand at horror - but especially when testing new waters like that, your presentation of self should stay consistent. This will help readers to feel comfortable following you into a cross-genre "rebranding", because they will hopefully have come to like and trust the person as well as the stories they write.
Whatever social media platforms you have decided to use, consistency is key. There are many networking gurus who can tell you the optimal way to reach an audience, from branding to posting days to even posting times! But ultimately that advice is useless if you don’t have the time, freedom, or energy to do things the way these gurus say you should. Keep in mind that consistency doesn’t have to look like however someone else does it, even if they do it successfully!
When it comes to posting on social media, you need a schedule you can stay consistent with. If you can only muster up a blog or newsletter once a month, then do that. If you can only post on Instagram every other day instead of once daily, then go for it! The key is to make sure that whatever schedule you do set, you can and will stick to it. Stats have shown that consistency to a standard retains audience, and that the more you skip posting, the more the audience engagement tends to decline. For that reason, consistency is better than a whole dump of quantity and then silence.
Similar to consistency and accessibility, responsiveness helps build confidence and relationship with your reader base. I’ve followed many authors on social media since I began this journey in 2017, and the ones I’ve become super invested in – and the ones that I even consider my friends! – are ones who have taken the time to “like” or respond to comments, to interact, ask questions, and engage. People love books and the authors who write them, regardless of if that author ever acknowledges the person’s existence, but there is something special about an author who takes the time to acknowledge their readers and fans personally. It makes the audience feel connected and like they are a part of the process.
Let me reiterate that setting boundaries for accessibility is KEY here: depending on your individual needs, social preferences, etc., you may decide that one-on-one interaction within your platform is not feasible, as many authors do. They’re simply too inundated by fans to interact with each and every one of them. This is all fine, but it’s good to make that a consistent boundary and make it known to your audience.
It’s also wise to set a precedent for how long you will let a message or comment sit before responding to it if you choose to do so at all. Quick response times are not always feasible, but they do help engender more confidence. Again, this is a blend of consistency and accessibility that only you can set, based on your personal decisions.
Social media is also a great place to meet other authors and build community (more on that in Part 2)! There are a couple of foundational do’s and don’ts when it comes to social media networking:
Cultivate a culture of support. Celebrate with others. Be authentic and approachable. Offer to help out (if you can). Support, engage, and be genuinely interested in other people’s stories. Take the time to get to know other authors, be invested in what they have to offer, and point other people toward them who you think will benefit from what that author provides. Learn their boundaries and respect them in conversation.
Follow for follow (unless that’s all your platform is built around); comment just to steer them toward your content; cross boundaries into subjects that are clearly stated as off-limits with them; follow and then immediately start asking for favors; promote, promote, promote without also using your platform to engage with other people; falsify your interest in their product just to hook them into liking yours.
Networking is more than just trying to find supporters within the writing community. A true relationship, a friendship, goes much further than a one-time promo or street team partnership over a single book. Always remember that the writers and readers you’re reaching out to are people too, with their own priorities, boundaries, offline-lives, deadlines, etc., and that respect goes a long way toward building a lasting relationship within the industry that can be mutually beneficial in a host of ways.
Don't Do More Than You Can Do
With so many different social platforms you can use to reach your audience - and with advocates in each camp telling you why that particular platform is the BEST - it's so, so easy to get overwhelmed! You can start to feel like you need to do it all - be an Authortuber, run a newsletter, have a presence on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. write a blog, run Kickstarters and Patreons - and while every single one of those platforms has its merits, understand that it may not all be beneficial for you.
One of my close friends is a large business consultant who helps build professional teams within struggling business ventures. He taught me that one of the keys to being truly successful in the long term is to "Do few things and do them well."
If you are overextending yourself trying to dabble in everything, you won't be able to give your best in any of it and you'll be presenting a fraction of the value you bring to the table; or else some of those things will naturally have to fall by the wayside.
So as you're building your author platform, take a good look at what will work for you based on your comforts, constraints, energy level, creative capabilities, etc., and then pursue those things hard and diligently. You'll have more success doing, say, just Instagram and Twitter really well, than you might have dabbling every single platform with minimal investment in each one.
A Few Tips for Starting Your Author Platform
1. Take some time to sit down and figure out how you want to network based on your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re not interested in visual-based marketing, you may do better on Facebook or Twitter than on Instagram. However, if you actually prefer visual over written mediums, AuthorTube and Instagram might serve you better than running a written blog. Even if you have been doing social media for some time, it’s never too late to reinvent your platform. Take a look at what’s been working and what hasn’t and decide what to keep and what to step away from.
2. Make sure you follow a broad mix of people. Relationships and inspiration come from a variety of sources! Try to connect with aspiring authors, published authors you know and love, indie authors, writers who just write for the fun of it, etc. The broader your connections, the more you can learn, the more people you can help in different ways, and the greater your understanding of the intricacies of the industry and community will be.
3. CREATE IN BLOCKS. This one is huge for both new and veteran writers on social media. Once you have your social media schedule mapped out, if you draft blogs in advance, make batches of AuthorTube videos all at once, schedule FaceBook page posts, plan out your Twitter and Instagram posts, etc., you take a huge amount of stress and pressure off yourself. Rather than struggling in the moment to think of something to say to serve the schedule, you can make the schedule serve you. With an idea in place of how and when to post, you can prepare ahead of time. (Note: If you haven’t yet launched your author platform, consider taking the extra time to block out anywhere from a month to three months’ worth of content ahead of launching your brand, so that you aren’t pressured right off the jump.)
4. Don’t be afraid to adjust your social media schedule. Life happens, and sometimes you’ll find you can’t keep the same output as you once did, or that your schedule has opened up and you want to up your output. You may want to increase, decrease, or shift things around. The key to not losing engagement and followers in a change-up is to be honest and transparent about it, if not necessarily about any personal reasons behind it: let people know you are revamping, rebranding, or taking a hiatus, rather than disappearing or launching it on them unexpectedly. This kind of interaction and honesty makes your audience feel like they are part of your journey, not just consumers you throw content at, and it also gives them a heads-up not to assume you’ve quit social media entirely or that your band has been hijacked if you reface your content or stop blogging or posting for an extended period of time.
Like what you’ve learned here? Check out the follow-up on "How To Build Community Around Your Platform"!