Authors get very confused about the question of building a solid author platform. What is it, exactly? Should we take active steps to build it or let it form organically? 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, especially Chrissey Harrison for her in-depth contribution and advice.
What Is an Author Platform?
In her book Creative Self-Publishing, Orna Ross explains why author platform is so hard to explain. Everyone seems to define it differently, depending on their publishing perspective.
- For David Gaughran, historical novelist, author activist and digital marketing expert, “an author platform is a writer’s collective presence on the internet.”
- For Jane Friedman, a business strategist for authors and publishers, “an author platform is the ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach”.
- For author and author services provider, Harry Bingham, an author platform is “the audience you can own”.
Here is the Alliance of Independent Authors' definition of author platform, from our Self-Publishing Glossary:
Author platform is the sum of a writer's authority and visibility that enables them to sell books.
Author platform is a combination of who you are, what you do, and who you know.
In the 19th century, speakers who wanted to influence a crowd would elevate themselves by standing on wooden crates originally used for shipping soap or other dry goods: hence the term “getting up on your soapbox”.
Your author platform is a kind of soapbox, serving same function. It enables you to be heard.
A solid author platform means that when you publish a book, readers will hear about it and have good reason to read it.
Different Kinds of Author Platform
Harry Bingham tells a story of coming to understand the concept of author platform when an editor he worked with told him about Ben Goldacre, the author of Bad Science and Bad Pharma, a science activist and non-fiction author, who exposes fraudulent scientific claims approaching Harper Collins for a publishing deal.
“To paraphrase my (somewhat stunned) editor,” says Bingham. “Goldacre effectively walked in and said, ‘Here’s the manuscript. I’ve arranged these online promotional activities. I’ve got this many science editors from the major international newspapers agreeing to review it. I’ve got endorsements from all these famous people. Now can you please get this thing printed up and into bookshops.' That's author platform.”
To take two other examples: why do TV celebrity books of any kind, and politician biographies, get front-of-house billing in publishing houses and bookshops? Author platform.
Politicians have a platform through parliament, newspapers, and the many news channels that cover politics each day. TV celebrities have a platform through their reality show and social media followings.
An indie author generally creates a solid author platform through:
- social media reach and engagement;
- email and other contact lists;
- connections with literary influencers
- publishing content through other media outlets.
- people you know
- events you can host
- curators you can influence
These are just some options. There are many others. Even drawing on your personality in a particular way can boost your author platform.
Author Platform is Not Marketing
Book marketing helps to establish and build your platform, but author platform is much more than marketing. Platform grows out of the quantity and quality of all your work: your writing and book production, as well as your marketing.
“A lot of people confuse platform building with marketing, promotion, and publicity,” says ALLi Advisor, Jane Friedman. “While those types of activities can build your platform, let’s be clear: being an extrovert on social media will not, by itself, lead you to a platform that interests publishers or readers.
Platform is not about bringing attention to yourself, or by screaming to everyone you can find online or offline, ‘Look at me! Look at me!' Platform isn’t about who yells the loudest or who markets the best. It’s more complex and organic than that.”
This organic process will be different for each author, depending on your unique story, characteristics and talents, the message you want your books to convey, and how much your books and your book marketing and promotion resonate with your readers.
And also how you choose to reach out to literary influencers and curators like 3rd party publishers and other rights buyers, librarians, book stores, literary festivals, awards and others.
Getting clarity about your platform early is an important step for you as writer, as well as publisher. It helps you to better discover and understand what you do–and can spur creative ambition for your writing.
- Make great books. Dedicate yourself to your writing and publishing tasks with the intention of continuous improvement
- Show your work. Show people your great books and also the author behind them–how you write and publish, your inspirations and motivations. Show what you sense your readers want and need from you and your books.
- Generate interest among influencers. 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 channel your books to the right readers so that they become discoverable.
That, in a nutshell, is what a good publisher does.
Your platform amplifies your message, extends your reach, and magnifies your voice. How does this happen? Through people.
People Make an Author Platform
Your author platform is, essentially, other people.
- readers and fans
These are the three pillars that uphold your author platform. Together with the resonance of your book's message and language, they dictate your book's impact and influence.
Working on your relationships with one or more of those three groups is how you build and expand your author platform.
Book Branding and Author Platform
Branding and building an author platform is relatively simple if you write one kind of book, and particularly if you write in a distinctive niche. But so many authors write and publish a variety of books, across genres, categories and niches. How can we create a coherent author platform when we write different kinds of books?
Multiple Genres: Multiple Author PlatformsIf you have the time, energy and resources, you can create more than one platform, with different pen names for each.
Each platform is set up around a different author identity, eradicating any potential confusion with readers, and enabling a smooth transition through marketing funnels and subsequent newsletters and representation to influencers.
If you choose this route, book promotion is usually free first in series book, digital advertising, promotional pricing, discounts and deals, leading to segmented mailing lists which each have a different author persona.
However, the more pen names you have, the more time-intensive and complex this becomes. You need separate mailing lists, separate social media accounts, and platform-specific content for each pen name.
- Pros — clear messaging, easy to get themed content to readers, simple and relevant funnel that is easily advertised.
- Cons — time-consuming, complicated backend systems to manage multiple accounts.
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 keeps metadata and sales data clean on bookselling platforms. It also means 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.
Multiple Genre: Single Author PlatformPerhaps you balk at that challenge, or feel you don't have time for this complexity, or you feel all your books, regardless of genre, are unified by theme or treatment and you want to include them under one platform. Then you need to build your author platform through author, rather than book, promotion.
Spend less time promoting individual books or service you provide, and more on giving interviews, setting up events, getting your name out among influencers, building name recognition and reputation.
You need to think about how your readers will receive your messages. 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 versa.
You'll still have to do some element of separation. For example, Orna Ross uses Instagram to build her poetry platform and Facebook to build her fiction platform. She also separates her literary work from her non-fiction by using an initial in her name, with fiction and poetry under Orna Ross, and non-fiction publishing guides for authors under Orna A Ross.
This keeps her metadata and sales data clean on bookselling platforms and means readers see the correct genre of books in the also-bought categories, while not losing out on the brand recognition of her name.
- Pros — less time-consuming, simpler backend systems, brand recognition across books and genres.
- Cons — anything that makes readers stop and wonder can divert from engagement.
Author Platform: Integrated Web Presence
Our thanks to Chrissey Harrison, novelist and ALLi member, for providing her guide to honing your web presence as one strand of your author platform. While writing her debut novel, Chrissey put much time into creating an effective author platform, so that when it came to publication, she could 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:
- Entry points
- Intuitive navigation
- 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.
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.
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?
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?
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
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 my author platform was 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:
- 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.