YOU’VE HEARD IT MANY TIMES. If you have published or are planning on publishing a book during your lifetime, and you want people to actually find and purchase and read your book, you must have an author platform.
What It Is
Simply put, a platform is a stage — a mechanism for raising yourself above a crowd so you can be seen and heard.
Once upon a time, an author platform could be a literal, physical platform. And it sometimes still is — for example, when you stand on a platform to read, or on a stage as a public speaker. But these days, when we talk about an author platform, we are mostly referring to the digital kind — an online stage that helps you gain visibility, attract your target audience, and sell your books and other writing-related products and services.
The most common components of an online platform include:
- A website and/or blog
- A mailing list
- Contributions to other successful websites, blogs, and online media or periodicals
- Presence on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on.
- Membership in author-related organizations and organizations that are related to your books’ subject matter.
- Connections with influencers in your target market
- Public speaking and radio/media interviews
Why You Need an Author Platform
Having a healthy platform in place is imperative if you’re a nonfiction author and want to be traditionally published. This is because publishers want to know that you and your books will be a good investment. For fiction and memoir writers who want to publish traditionally, your platform can help your book get noticed by an agent or small publishing house.
Whatever your genre, if you have self-published or plan to self-publish your work, then having a platform is necessary for book sales of any kind. Without a platform, how will anyone find you or your book? You might as well put your manuscript in a closet and leave it there.
Do you have to do or have all of the items listed in the bullet points above to be successful?
And does doing or having all these components guarantee success?
For your platform to be effective, you must attract and engage with a large and growing number of readers. Building such a platform takes time, patience, and persistence — along with a willingness to work hard and be on a continual steep learning curve.
If this sounds overwhelming, it’s because it can be — IF you try to do too much all at once. This is why an author platform must be built little by little, nurtured, and allowed to grow organically.
When to Begin Building Your Platform
If you have not already begun, the time to begin building a platform is always now. You want to have your platform in place before you contact an agent or publish, not after. Because then it’s too late.
And while it’s best to have a large online readership and lots of engagement, even a smallish readership can give your business a boost when starting out.
But, whatever you do, if you want to attract and retain loyal readers, your platform needs to be an authentic extension of who you are and what your work is about.
As marketing expert Jane Friedman notes in her book, The Business of Being a Writer, “Platform grows out of writing and publishing in outlets you want to be identified with and that your target audience reads, as well as producing a body of work that brings followers to your own turf, such as a website and blog, email newsletter, podcast, or video series. Your platform also grows as a result of online and offline relationships: engaging with others on social media; speaking at, attending, or organizing events important to your target audience or community; and partnering with peers or influencers to produce creative projects or extend your visibility.”
How to Get Started
First Order of Business: Create Your Website
If you haven’t already done so, create your main online platform — your website — with a blog or podcast (both are optional), perhaps an e-newsletter, and digital downloads of your work that will bring together a community of followers who are interested in what you have to say. Without a website, you don’t exist, and NO ONE will ever see you or read your work, except your family and closest friends.
And you should own this primary platform, because you don’t want to go to a lot of trouble building it in a “rented” space, such as Facebook or Twitter and then have them change the rules on you, making it impossible to be seen. And you don’t want any online service owning your material. You want to maintain copyright for all your work.
If you are technically inclined, enjoy working with computer software, want to save money, and are not afraid to jump in and try things, you may want to create the website yourself. I usually recommend WordPress, but if you’re interested in exploring other platforms, Lars Lofgren provides a review and comparison of what he considers to be the top 4 website builders.
If you are not a do-it-yourself sort of person, you will want to pay someone to design and develop your site. However, it’s important to stay close to the development process. Your website is your online home, after all, and you want to be the one to “decorate” it and make it inviting for your guests.
Either way, your website is at the heart of your writing business and online platform.
At a minimum, here’s what you need on your website:
- An “About” page. This is where your author bio goes, along with a professional headshot. It also helps to include some casual snapshots and more intimate information about who you are and why you write what you write.
- A Contact page — usually with a form so people can contact you directly without giving out your email address.
- An email sign-up list
- A page with published work. This can be a “Books” page, or a linked list of articles that have been published online or in print.
- Links to any social media profiles/pages you are actively engaged with.
Summary of steps to create your website.
Getting into the technical nitty-gritty of designing and operating a website is beyond the scope of this post; however I’ve included some links at the end of this article to several resources to help you get going.
- Buy your domain name, usually the same as your author name. See the “Some Considerations” section below for exceptions.
- Select your software platform and hosting service. I highly recommend WordPress. It is the most popular platform and also has the most support. One of the easiest ways to get started is at WordPress.com. They have free and paid plans. For the most control and flexibility over design, you will want to self-host your WordPress site. I use and recommend Hostgator (they’ve been very reliable and their customer service is excellent). Bluehost is another popular hosting service.
- Select your theme. A theme is a template or design for your site. The best themes are flexible, allowing your to customize colors, headers, banners, and page layout. Browse other authors’ websites for ideas, note the ones that you like, and then look for themes that most closely match theirs. An important consideration when selecting a theme is whether you plan to blog or not. If not, then you will have a “static” home page, which is like a billboard with information about you, your books, etc. If you do plan to blog, it is typical to have a dynamic home page with your blog posts front and center. Again, spend some time in research. Look at a LOT of author websites. Once you know what you like and want, it will be easier to find a theme that will work for you. Again, if you are not technically inclined, you may want to hire a web developer to help with this process.
- Set up your navigation and add content. This will take time and thought. And even if you do have a web developer, you’ll be responsible for providing and maintaining all the content on your site. You’ll need pictures and you’ll need to write copy for your pages. Again, using other authors’ websites as models will help with ideas and provide a basis for your own site.
- Set up an email list and add a signup form to your website. There are a number of reputable email list services, including Aweber, Mailchimp, and Constant Contact. I use aWeber and have been very happy with their service.
What is the ultimate goal of your platform? Is it primarily to gain attention and build your network as an author, or do you want your work as an author to help build your career in public speaking or as an expert in your field?
If your goal is to build your career as an author, you’ll want to create your website based on your writing identity. Buy your name URL (i.e., amberstarfire.com) and make the website all about you, your books, and your writing.
If your goal is to build your career as a subject matter expert, then you might want to create a website based on your business name. Back when I was considering my goals, I chose to build my platform with WritingThroughLife.com, because I wanted to connect with an audience interested in my expertise on topics such as journaling, memoir writing, and the craft of writing.
There’s nothing saying you can’t have both an author website and a business website. I know people who do. But that’s double the work. I recommend getting clarity on where you want to be in your writing career in 10 years, and then creating your platform to help achieve that goal.
- WordPress.com – Create Your Own Website Today
- Building an Author Website on WordPress: How to Start Smart
- 12 Author Websites that Get it Right
- How to Add Mailing List Signups to Your Author Website
- How to Build a WordPress Author Website