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The Ultimate Guide To Building A Solid Author Platform

The Ultimate Guide to Building A Solid Author Platform

We’re living in a digital age, which means no matter how you’re published, you need some kind of platform to connect with readers. Author platforms are made more important by international crises like Covid-19. Today, the Alliance of Independent Authors’  AskALLi team brings you the ultimate guide to building a solid author platform. With thanks to all ALLi members and team who shared their experiences, in particular Chrissey Harrison for her in-depth contribution and advice. 

What Is an Author Platform?

Orna Ross What is an authorpreneur

Orna Ross, Director of ALLi and author of Creative Self-Publishing

Authors get very confused about the question of building a solid author platform. What is an author platform anyway? How is one built? Is it worth it? How necessary is it? If the books are good enough, isn’t that enough to create a great author platform by itself?

Simply put by Orna in her book Creative Self-Publishing, your author platform “consists of any process or project that gives you leverage and visibility as an author”.

You can establish an author platform in many different ways but it’s always a composite of who you are, what you say, and who you can reach. Its legs are the right kind of attention from the right kind of readers. This is what holds up your platform, what deepens it, what makes it grow.

Platform is connected your need to express yourself as a writer and your need to reach readers as a publisher. It’s a play off between your artistic ego and your mission to serve  your readers. That’s what makes it tricky to identify and negotiate. You’re constantly balancing those two contrasting elements.

Your author platform is your permission to speak and be heard. It amplifies your message, extends your reach and magnifies your voice. How does this happen? Through influence.

And what gives a writer influence? Relationship. Other people. Platform is, essentially, people. Ways in which your ideas or voice impact on another human mind, or heart or soul, giving your work traction.

Working on your author platform is how you make your books and other projects matter to other people, how you change minds and hearts, and thus how you change lives. Author platform is what gives you reach.

Your Author Platform: The Key Components

Getting clarity about your platform early, is an important step for you a writer as well as a publisher. Your author platform is what gives you the ability to sell books and allows the right reader, and others, to discover and understand what you do–and what to expect from your books.

Today, setting a platform up is simultaneously more creative and more accessible–but also more confusing and challenging than ever. Despite the challenges, with technology like blogs, Instagram, and the ability to land in readers’ email boxes at the click of a mouse, authors can establish their own platforms.

For an indie author today, it’s a matter of working on three components:

  1. Make great books. Dedicate yourself to your writing and publishing tasks with the intention of continuous improvement
  2. Display your work. Show people your great books and also the author behind them–how you write and publish, our inspirations and motivations. Show what you sense your readers want and need.
  3. Generate the right kind of interest from the right kind of reader. This last one is where most authors fall off. Just showing your work or running a great social media account is not enough. You have to show your books to the right readers so that they take notice—and buy.

That, in a nutshell, is what a good publisher does.

Branding and Author Platform

Some authors also face the question of managing a platform when they write under multiple pen names. There’s no right or wrong answer, for how to manage this, but here are a couple  of options.

Multiple Names, Multiple Platforms

If you have the time, energy or perhaps can afford a virtual assistant, then a more ideal scenario would be to have multiple platforms. Each platform would be dedicated to one specific genre or author identity. This would eradicate any potential messaging confusion your readers may find. It would also enable a smoother transition through your reader funnel and into your author ecosystem.

However, the more pen names you have, then more time-intensive and complicated this becomes. You’d need separate mailing lists, separate social media account and platform-specific content to share.

If you’re currently time poor, then this might not be the best solution for you.

Pros — clear messaging, easy to get themed content to readers, simple and relevant funnel for readers into your ecosystem

Cons — extremely time consuming, complicated backend systems to manage multiple accounts.

Author Name Platform

If you’re time poor, or you prefer to brand all your books, regardless of genre under one platform, then branding under your author name is a good way to build your platform. This way, you’re not branding your platform under any one book or service you provide, but under your name only. This is a good way to build name recognition and reputation.

However, while it’s better for the author, it’s messier for your readers. If you write both nonfiction for authors and fantasy books, and you’re pushing out content for both these on your Facebook page, your fantasy readers might become disengaged if they constantly see writing advice and vice a versa.

Author Name Platform Version 2

An alternative option is to keep all your books on one author platform, but to separate them using initials or pen names. For example, Joe Bloggs and Joe F. Bloggs. This would keep the metadata and sales data clean on bookselling platforms. It would also mean readers see the correct genre of books in the also bought categories on sales platforms. The bonus for you is, you only have one platform, one website, one set of social media accounts.

Pros — simpler for the author, less time consuming, simpler backend systems.

Cons — potential for confusing reader messages, potential to lose readers if they get the wrong information/ targeting because you’re sending out content for different genres on the same accounts.

However you decide to set up your platform, you’ll need to create content for your readers. Whether it’s short Facebook posts, longer form blogs, podcasts or perhaps graphical images, you’ll need content.

The AskALLi team has created the Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing that you can find here.

Author Platform: An Integrated Web Presence

Novelist and ALli member Chrissey Harrison

Our thanks to Chrissey Harrison, novelist and ALLi member, for providing her guide to honing your web presence as part of your author platform, below. While writing her debut novel, Chrissey put much time into creating an effective author platform, so that when it came to publication time, she was able to leverage that platform into fully funding her costs, through a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. You can connect with Chrissey through her author website and on Twitter .

Chrissy has leveraged social media engagement, an email list and Kickstarter’s crowdfunding website into a platform that allowed her to earn money while she promoted her book.

“…Support has come from friends and family, [and] although “Mime” is my debut novel, I have been publishing short stories for some time. As such I’ve been able to build a mailing list and social media following using my shorter works (and through lots of engagement)… [Also, the unique and often untapped potential of Kickstarter is that it comes with its own audience. A good third of the backers have found the project through Kickstarter – search, mailing lists and notifications – and it is this audience that has accounted for some of the biggest pledges.”

Your Web Presence is the sum of everything on the internet that is about you and the goal of your web presence is engagement. You want readers who find you on the web to:

  • Buy your books
  • Stay in touch (by giving you their email address, ideally, or a social media follow)
  • Encourage other people to engage (by sharing content or leaving reviews, ratings and comments)

As an author seeking to grow a platform, your mission is to create an interconnected web presence and remove invisible barriers that lead to frustration, loss of interest, mistrust and ultimately navigation away.

There are some fundamental principles borrowed from web design, the way public spaces are laid out, and game theory. I call these three principles:

  1. Entry points
  2. Intuitive navigation
  3. Consistent communication

Put briefly, you need ways in (entry points) to your web presence.

Once a reader has entered they need to be able to navigate, quickly (intuitive navigation) and confidently (consistent communication) to other parts of your web presence to satisfy their requirements and, thereby, your goal of engagement.

  1. Entry Points

An entry point is anywhere a reader can encounter you. Take note of all the entry points where a reader might encounter you or your books.

  • Your book pages on Amazon
  • A Google search that leads to an article on your website
  • One of your tweets
  • An in-person event where you give out a flyer

The more entry points you have, the broader your platform’s reach. You will encounter a different population of potential readers on Facebook than you would on other platforms or at a book fair, for example.

chart author platform

Having lots of different entry points adds more circles to your Venn diagram of potential readers. (Illustrative values only).

Marketing strategies such as paid ads, publicity appearances, newsletter swaps, social media campaigns, sales and discounts etc do one thing and one thing only: Drive people to your entry points.

Maximize the chances for these strategies to succeed by removing invisible barriers between the readers they bring in and those precious engagements.

Links between sites also improve search engine visibility, so having more interconnected entry points amplifies your web presence and makes you more visible.

DO THIS: Write a list of all your entry points. Could you add more?

  1. Intuitive Navigation

The simplest way to make navigation within your web presence intuitive and simple, is to use your author website as your “hub”. If every entry point funnels people to your website where they will find direct links to buy, sign up or share your content, you’re covered.

But you can go further by making each part of your web presence link to ALL the other parts, creating a web with multiple paths. Having multiple ways to accomplish the same thing makes navigation more intuitive.

Avoid orphaning any of your entry points. For example, if your book page on Amazon connects to your Author Page, but your Author Page doesn’t then clearly connect to your website/social media, it is a dead end. Readers trapped in your little Amazon loop may buy your book, but imagine if some of them also clicked through, signed up for your mailing list or shared your Facebook page with their friends.

Draw a map of your web presence:

  • Put your website in the middle of the page as your “hub”
  • Around it, list all the parts of your web presence.
  • Draw arrows to show how readers can navigate between them. Look for gaps. Are there any parts with no links at all? Which parts only have links going one way? Would it be beneficial to make the link go both ways?
  • Look at the chains of links between different parts. What is the shortest route? Could you create a shorter one?
author platform

An example of a web presence map. Can you spot any opportunities to improve it?

  1. Consistent Communication

What does this third thing have to do with the first two?

It’s about trust and confidence.

On a well-designed website, like Amazon or Facebook it is usually very clear when you are EXITING that environment. You intuitively know which links and buttons will take you to another part of that site and which will navigate away. How? Because of branding and consistent design/language.

In contrast, imagine a time when you clicked on something you thought was a safe link within the site you were using, but it took you outside of it e.g. a spurious download link in a cleverly disguised advert. It made you wary, didn’t it?

Inconsistency is at best frustrating and misleading, at worst scary and intimidating.

Your web presence is not a single site, and you cannot control the entire environment that the user finds themselves in, but you can use some of the same strategies used by web designers to make your users feel safe and confident.

Author Platform: A Consistent Web Presence

  • Pick a color scheme for your website and extend this color scheme to every other place where you can control the design and appearance of your page.
  • Use similar wording in your biographies/about pages so it’s always clear you are the same person. Make sure certain keywords/phrases always appear. A long bio should include all the information from your short bio.
  • Use consistent header graphics, featuring your books or a logo. When you update it, make sure you update it everywhere at the same time.
  • Use identical or at least consistent/similar avatar images so people can recognize you. This creates an immediate trust factor.

Making your web presence feel, as much as possible, like it was all designed by the same person makes it comfortingly familiar and recognizable as readers negotiate the different entry points to your author platform.

Author Platform: Case Study Harper Bliss

Harper Bliss, Lesbian Romance Author

We spoke to Harper Bliss best-selling lesbian romance author about her lesbian romance platform. Among her most-loved books are the highly dramatic French Kissing and the often thought-provoking Pink Bean series. Harper lived in Hong Kong for seven years, travelled the world for a bit, and has now settled in Brussels (Belgium) with her wife and photogenic cat, Dolly Purrton.
Together with her wife, she hosts a weekly podcast called Harper Bliss & Her Mrs. You can find out more about Harper on her website here.

What tools or techniques did you use to build such a large lesbian romance platform?

My main tool for building my readership is my mailing list. As soon as I started publishing stories in 2012—novellas and short stories at first—I included a sign-up link to my mailing list in the book and offered a free story to people who signed up. These days I offer three, one of them linked to each one of my series. I’ve set up an automation for people who sign up where I try to establish connection by sharing information about myself, and asking subscribers a question too. People seem to really respond to that more personal touch.
I send one newsletter out about every other week with some news on my writing and my life. I also send one when I have a new book out or a special promotion. I try to be in touch regularly without overwhelming subscribers with too many emails. And I can clearly see the results. For example, if I’ve updated a cover for a backlist book and I mention it in a newsletter, I’ll see sales go up, no matter how old the book.
Another important part of it is publishing regularly. Building up a substantial backlist has allowed me a certain security for times when I don’t have a new book out and sales inevitably drop a bit.

What lessons or mistakes have you learned from along the way to building your author platform?

One of the lessons I’ve learnt is that for me—this might not be true for other people—social media is not that big of a tool. I used to be on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but not anymore. These days I have a private Facebook group where I interact with readers, and that’s about it for social media.
Another thing I’ve learnt is that, despite taking many courses on Facebook advertising, it doesn’t really work for a small genre like lesbian romance. It’s very hard to build audiences big enough to advertise to.

Any tips you’d give to new authors wanting to build an author platform?

Set up a mailing list! Build a connection with your readers so they feel invested in your career and success. And write the next book.

Author Platform: Case Study Sacha Black

To me, the most important aspect of creating a platform, is deciding the values that drive it. Having come from a corporate background, I knew I didn’t want to be restricted anymore. I wanted writing to be a beacon of my truest self and that’s what I’ve tried to do on every aspect of my platform. I think Orna Ross sums it up perfectly in a post she wrote on creative self-publishing.

“Find what you’re good at, what you’re probably already thinking about, what you’re possibly already doing, but what you certainly know that you love. Channel that uniquely-you aspect that’s already in your writing into your marketing and bookselling.”

From early in my platform building efforts, I knew I wanted to follow three principles. To always be:

  • Motivational
  • Knowledgeable
  • A little bit rebellious

I try to incorporate those principles across everything I do on my platform. For example,

  • I run regular Q&As on instagram where I answer questions and give writing, marketing and publishing advice which embodies the knowledge and motivation principles.
  • I try to capture these principles in the books I write too. My first nonfiction book claims villains are more important than heroes—rebellious to say the least.
  • My style on my podcast is sweary, sarcastic and, well, it’s called The Rebel Author Podcast, you get the picture.
  • I also run weekly accountability threads in my Facebook group which motivates members to deliver on the tasks they hold most important.

Like calls to like, that’s why it’s so important to decide what’s uniquely you. Once you embody your best self, you draw those like you towards you. Your reader community builds and so too does your platform.

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