In this month’s Fiction & Nonfiction Self-Publishing Salon, Sacha Black and Orna Ross explore the importance of establishing your author platform. They explain how to establish an effective platform in today’s digital publishing environment.
Topics covered include:
- What is an author platform?
- How platform gives you reach
- How to grow your platform organically, as part of your work
The topics explored in this session are all about expanding your influence and impact as an author.
Our fiction and nonfiction salon is brought to you by specialist sponsor Izzard Ink: helping you navigate the publishing world while you stay in control of your work. Izzard Ink Publishing—Self-Publishing is no longer publishing by yourself. We would like to thank Izzard for their support for the show.
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About the Hosts
Sacha Black is a bestselling and competition-winning author. She writes the popular YA Fantasy Eden East novels and a series of non-fiction books that are designed to help writers develop their craft. Sacha has been a long-time resident writing coach for website Writers Helping Writers. She is also a developmental editor, wife and mum.
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Read the Transcripts: Establishing Your Author Platform
Orna Ross: Hello everybody, and welcome. It always takes us by surprise, I don't know why, we press the go live button then somehow, we're still surprised. I’m Orna Ross, that's Sacha Black. Hi, Sacha.
Sacha Black: Hello.
Orna Ross: And we are here for the Fiction and Nonfiction AskALLi Salon, which is kindly sponsored by Izzard Ink.
This evening, we're going to be talking about the issue of author platform; what is it and what are the different kinds of platform you can have. Authors get really puzzled about platform and it causes a lot of kind of head scratching and naval gazing. So, we're hoping that we will take the mystique away from it because it really is something that's really quite simple, quite practical and very important in terms of developing your ability to sell books and to reach readers and to know what you're doing to kind of stay centered and stay core.
So, people are starting to come in. If you have any questions, folks about platform, particularly your own platform, any aspects that you're wondering about or that you’re not sure of, please do use the comment box for questions.
Sacha Black: Just a minor, slightly unrelated note, are you recording this? Just to make sure.
Orna Ross: Thank you, I was not.
Sacha Black: Neither was I.
What is an author platform?
Orna Ross: Okay, as well as doing this live video recording, we have to do a local audio recording for the wonderful Howard for our podcast. And we both forgot. Okay, well remembered, Sacha. Thank you. Okay, so we are here and let's talk a little bit about author platform. How do you think about it? How do you describe it to yourself?
Sacha Black: Oh, that's such a hard question. So, in my mind, platform is anything that I do using my, I guess, author-self, my author voice, that's public. So, it might be including my website. It might be including my podcast. It might be including articles that I write. Anything that puts my voice into a public arena and sheds light, or draws attention to my books, my products, my services, me as a brand; that is my platform. So, I think that's why so many people find it so complex and so complicated to understand.
I still struggle sometimes getting my head around platform because it is essentially everything that we are doing in a public arena and so, you can't really put your finger on one tangible thing that is a platform. It is the gestalt, in essence. The whole is more than the sum of the parts.
The parts being your social media, your YouTube, your podcast, your books, your speaking, or whatever it is that you're doing, creates something that is more than all of those little bits, which is your platform. But I'm interested in how you see this, because you know about this.
Orna Ross: I don't know. I agree. I think it's one of these things also, that kind of means different things to different people, maybe. I actually find it useful to look at the metaphor itself of platform and think about, you know, well, I'm a historical fiction writer, so I'm always thinking about the old days and, you know, in order for people to speak in public situations, they have to be elevated up onto a platform.
If you're kind of standing level with everybody and you're talking out as loud as you can, you're going to reach a few people, but if you get a platform and you get up high and you get a megaphone or a microphone, now you reach more people. And that's what the platform is. Anything that kind of lifts you up and booms you out, contributes to this thing we call author platform. And, you know somebody has a fantastic platform when a lot of people know about them. So, also we will talk about all the different things that contribute to platform, but in terms of understanding it, in the old days, again, before wide spread digital self-publishing, your platform as an author, and I mean, I lived through these times, your platform as an author was basically whatever your publisher managed to make happen for you. So, you know, what they told the sales reps who went into the bookstores and whether that message got across and convinced people that they should put in a decent sized order, that was a big part of your platform.
And then whether they managed to get it reviewed in the major media outlets, that was another part of your platform. Whether you got some chat show appearances or feature pieces in the press or whatever. It didn't really go beyond that and it was all scarcity, you know, getting those slots, there was big competition for them. It very much depended on what other book came out at the same time as yours. So, you know, for platform reasons, publishers were always juggling the schedule and, you know, making sure you didn't come out at the same time as Margaret Atwood or whatever, because you wouldn't have a hope of getting a slot anywhere, that kind of thing.
It was all about scarcity. Now it's the opposite problem. As we try to define our platform, it's all about abundance, there's 600 million thousand things you can do every day to elevate your platform, which ones are you going to choose?
Establishing Your Author Platform: Best Practices
Sacha Black: Yeah, and there's so many things that I could elaborate on there, but the thing that I love most now is that we are so empowered. There are so many options, but also, with that platform creation, the ball is in our court so to speak, because we have the ability to choose what we're going to do. You know, like you say, pick and choose between those 600 million things that we can possibly do, rather than being at the whims and fancies of a publisher and their marketing budget or not, so to speak.
But I just thought I might explain how I choose the things, and that is by sticking to three principles or values, I suppose. So, I run my platform very much on these three principles. And I think I've said this before on one of these podcasts, but I try to make sure that everything I do, when I put out my voice in whatever format, I match one or more, or all three of the following principles.
So, being knowledgeable, being motivational for others and being a little bit rebellious. And that permeates both my podcasts, my article writing or whatever, all the way through to my books.
Now, very much so in my nonfiction books, that is probably quite a good summary of the voice in those books. But I'm now pushing my fiction under that as well. And it's because it works better with my platform. That is my platform. Those three principles are what I put out. It is what helps to draw the reader and customers to me and therefore, I want my fiction to match that as well. But I know that's not the case for you, is it? And your platform?
Orna Ross: Well, it hasn't been, but I think, again, it's probably something. So, what's happening to me at the moment is I'm doing the opposite. I'm kind of separating out my platforms. So, I think if I have one word that kind of encompasses everything, it's probably inspirational. So, always trying to inspire change and, you know, whatever people want in their lives, kind of facilitating that empowerment is in everything.
And I think that is in the fiction as well, but my fiction tends to be darker, my poetry tends to be lighter, and then nonfiction, I guess, is very much around author guides and creative guides. So, there are definitely similarities but what has happened to me in the past is that everything was kind of all in together because I did see it all as my voice.
And then, in recent times, and anyone who's a regular listener will be probably bored hearing me talk about this at the moment, but in recent times I've been stratifying, pulling each of these out and using different social media for different aspects of the platform. So, for poetry, using Instagram. For the creative stuff, using Twitter and fiction for Facebook, you know, and just trying to make that change happen.
And I think then, when I have kind of separated it all out, then I'd be able to integrate it back together. Because, if you think about a Stephen King book you just know what you're going to get. You don't know the story and the stories are in all sorts of different settings, but you have an expectation around what you're going to get.
Same with Margaret Atwood, and a lot of this stuff is where you've got to understand where marketing and platform overlap, but then come apart. Platform and marketing are not the same thing. Your marketing feeds your platform, and I think a good rule of thumb when thinking about platform and strengthening it, which is what you’re talking about by getting these qualities that define us as authors and each get our books. A good thing to think about is that, each promotional campaign that you do for a particular book, that you think about platform. How, as well as getting that book out to the readers that you want to buy it, think also about how do I actually promote this in a way that also really expands my platform, elevates me up higher or booms me out further.
And I think when you start thinking about that, actually your promotional campaigns become richer and wider than just the obvious which, you know, take out an add and keep your fingers crossed kind of thing, put the book cover up and get it out there. All of that stuff we're doing, but I think bringing platform and thinking about yourself, it's all wrapped up with other things you and I have been talking about over the past few months as well, your value to the reader, your own values as a person and as an author. So, there is a lot in it.
So, folks, yeah. Do ask your questions if you have specific issues around your own platforms. We have people in from all over as usual Canada, New Zealand and everywhere in between, the long way round. So, great to have you all here, but do use the chat box if you have any particular questions for us.
What are the most important components of an author platform?
Sacha Black: So, what are the most important parts or components of a platform?
Orna Ross: Yeah, so I guess there are. The first one is the same sort of component that is key to every single aspect of being a good publisher is the first thing, you've got to have good books to play with. So, number one is working on your books until you feel, I'm really proud of them, they are really fantastic. Then it's about displaying your work and finding the way that you can put it out there in a way that suits you and suits your marketing campaign, your marketing budget, your weekly routine, and your promotional, whatever you're going to do for a particular book that you're working on. And then thirdly, back to what we were talking about, I think it was last time or the time before, the right reader, you know, getting the right kind of interest from the right reader. So, if you drop any of those, it's a three-legged stool, if you drop any of those, you're going to kind of wobble.
So, it's a matter of making sure that all of those things are in place. And to do that, you need to think about your work, not just as the person who makes the books, you know, puts the books together, you've got to think also of yourself as the person who puts them out there, the marketeer, but you've also got to think of yourself as the manager of the whole thing, the process, because you really will become overwhelmed if you don't narrow this down to what suits you, what suits your weekday routine, your monthly routine, your quarterly routine.
One of the things that works very well for a lot of authors is to have a quarterly campaign around a particular book. So, pick book, if you've got one coming out in that timeframe, great, that's the one you use, and you build your launch campaign around that. But you don't need a launch book to do a campaign on a book. So, each quarter to pick one of your titles and to put, you know, some juice behind it and to make a plan across that quarter as to how you're going to do that in a platform-building sort of way.
Should my author platform be all about me or my books?
Sacha Black: Adam has popped in with a question saying, it seems like building a platform requires really putting yourself out there. Any suggestions for spreading awareness about my new book or books, without making it all about me? Not to be too much of a tortured artist but I'd honestly like the work to stand on its own and not make it all about me.
I can throw in some things if that's okay. So, first of all, I would say that whilst we have been talking about the platform in terms of our platform as an author, when you are looking at your books, I tend to think about the reader, not necessarily about me. So, yeah, for my fiction, I will look at the themes, perhaps the tropes, and I will be talking about and promoting those.
So, for example, I could send an email or do a post or an article, 10 books that have a haters-to-lovers type trope. And, if that's what my book trope is, then obviously I'm going to put my book in there and that will help to promote it. So, I look at, what is it that readers want or will get from my book? What are the themes? Is it a romance theme, and is it the romance element that people will be coming to my book for? Is it something about a very niche form of fantasy or a niche form of right down to a magicians theme, perhaps that's the aspect or element in your book that you promote and you talk about things that readers would like about that genre rather than talking about yourself.
And then for nonfiction, I look at the problem that I'm solving for readers. So, you don't have to necessarily talk about yourself or your personal life on your platform. You can talk about the contents and the themes and the problems, if you're writing nonfiction, that you are helping people to solve.
So, I hope that has answered that a little bit. I don't know if you want to add something.
Orna Ross: Yes, just to kind of say, yay, to everything you've said, and to say that it's up to you, Adam. Some authors love to make it about them and that can be particularly people who have maybe a performance dimension to their work. So, you know, performance poets or people who love to read their work and read very well or have an acting background, something like that, or just are genuinely people who'd love to just kind of sit there and chat and be themselves and talk to their tribe of readers and are really, really comfortable in that position, looking into the green light of the video chatting away, and they are very comfortable with it being about them. That's great for them. You don't want to be like that. You don't have to be. And that's what we were saying about the 600 million things. It's really up to you to choose how. So, you know, we've told you what the elements of a platform are. Then you think about you, your own unique way, what made you write these books in the first place, and then how you create a platform out of that and to echo, and hopefully not labor the point, but to echo what Sacha was saying. If you think about your value to the reader, then that takes care of that in a way, and that's for fiction and poetry as well, what is it that they are looking for from you?
And I always think of Maya Angelou, I think it was, who said, they'll forget what you told them, but they'll never forget how you made them feel. So, if you think about what is the feeling that you want to evoke in the reader when they hear your name. So, when they hear that the new book is out, that feeling rises up in them because they've got some sense of what you're about.
So, that's why you need that clarity that Sacha was talking about at the beginning, those qualities to your work and your platform that eventually, after a time, they speak for you in a way, that's what people think of when they think of you. And it's great if it's close to you in personality, but sometimes actually writers have platforms that are really quite different to who, when you meet them, you go, oh, my God, they are so different to what I felt they were because you're getting the platform. When you meet the human being behind it, it's actually somebody, you know, it’s a Wizard of Oz moment, it's somebody who's completely different. Not necessarily always a disappointment, but very different to the platform. And that's fine too.
There are no rules here, I think that's the most important thing to say. If you're uncomfortable doing anything, it should not form part of your platform. You really should be comfortable with whatever you're doing and more than comfortable, you should feel good about it.
You should be bringing the same sort of creative spirit that creates the books, should be going into the platform. They are intimately connected and if there's kind of a gap between them, then that's a gap where you kind of fall down. You've got to integrate those two together.
Sacha Black: Lots of questions coming in.
Are live Q&A’s an effective way to reach readers?
Orna Ross: Okay, let's have a look at a few. So, hopefully that helps Adam.
Bob is wondering about somebody to do Amazon advertising, slightly different question, Bob, though I see somebody jumped in later on down in the chat who does. So, if you guys want to get together and have a chat.
Belamy asks, do you find live Q&A's are an effective way to reach out to fans? I'm considering doing that once a month on my fan page. I think it's great.
Yeah, absolutely, video or audio or even text actually. That's a great idea. If you feel comfortable with it and you like that idea, then go for it. Absolutely.
Sacha Black: One thing I will add with that is, I find them extremely effective for my nonfiction and I find them slightly less effective with my fiction, but I think that's only because it takes slightly longer to build for the fiction. So, I don't know if you write fiction or nonfiction, but just to say, don't be disheartened if it's sort of crickets at first. One tip that I always like to use in order to appease my nerves is to get questions in advance. So that you aren't waiting for questions on the day, and that also gives you the ability to prepare answers in advance. And then if on the day you feel comfortable, you can then open it up because people will start throwing questions in. And, yeah, I just find that that helps to give the Q&A some structure as well.
Orna Ross: Yeah, great, and I think back to that thing of crickets. Whatever you start to build your platform, it's likely at first that your platform isn't very high, and your microphone doesn't boom very far.
You begin with tens of people and you move into hundreds and then you move into thousands, and then you move into tens of thousands. And if you're lucky, somewhere along the line, and probably unplanned, something will spike and will just give you that bit of elevation that makes all the difference.
But you never know when that's going to come. And at the beginning, when you're trying to build a platform, you're basically an unknown, nobody knows you. And you know, another word for platform is fame really. You're trying to be known to people so that they know what you stand for as an author, and what your books stand for, you know, for the reader.
So, it takes time to build, it's not something that happens overnight. In my own personal experiences, when you're using social media for the first time, it takes a good six months before you actually settle in, you’re kind of experimenting and exploring and seeing what works and seeing what doesn't and getting comfortable with it.
You will have a period, I talked about not doing things that make you uncomfortable, I'm going to contradict myself slightly now and say that probably all of this will make you a little bit uncomfortable, but it's creative discomfort that I'm talking about here. So, it's the discomfort you feel of putting yourself out there, especially if there's no response, which is a different thing to, I'm deeply uncomfortable with doing video and I'm never going to be okay with it. So, you can expect to feel normal creative discomfort if you're trying to grow yourself, if you're trying to expand who you are as a person, as an author, as a publisher, then growing pains will happen. That's part of the process but that's a different kind of discomfort to what I was talking about earlier on.
How do I create a viable author business plan?
Orna Ross: Somebody was asking about quarterly plan, Renee, do you have resources you could point us to as an example of how to create a viable author business plan?
Yes. I'm actually running a business planning group, Renee, and I'll be in touch with you. If you drop your email address here into the chat, I'll send you a note about that and we're meeting monthly and I'm doing quarterly plans together. So, if you want to be in touch, I can tell you a bit more about that.
What does a quarterly business plan look like for an indie author? It looks very simple. It's really important to keep it really, really simple. Just what do I want to achieve, a rough idea of how you will express that in a measurable way, so you would be able to say, yes, I succeeded or no, I didn't succeed.
And a way of evaluating what's working and not, and how and why, so that at the end of the quarter, even if you haven't done exactly what you set out to do, you know so much more that you're taking in to the next quarter because you have good quarters and bad quarters.
Sacha Black: Absolutely. I was just going to add two things. As an ALLi member you have lifetime access, whilst you are a member, to the Self-Publishing Advice Conference, and I believe that we had a session, I think it was the last conference, it could have been the conferences before, on business planning. And so, there is an hour session. If you log into the member portal on the allianceindependentauthors.org, you can navigate to Advice Conference and then find the login details there.
Orna Ross: Sorry, just to follow up on that, it's in the business conference, which was the last one and it's Kimberley Grabas. I'd forgotten about that. Yeah. Good memory.
Sacha Black: The other thing, I think, that I was going to say is I try and do all of those things with my quarterly plans, but I also, and this may or may not be helpful at all, it's just something I personally find helpful, I separate out my plan into topics or themes. So, I do a creating, what am I creating this quarter, what am I marketing or launching this quarter, and then business, what am I doing to elevate my business this quarter, and that might be business foundations, it could be growth, it could be boring accounting stuff, whatever.
But yeah, those are the three categories and I try to have a balance across the three, because if I over heavy on the creative side, I get burned out for the next quarter and also, I'm just not going to be able to complete that. Whereas, each of those topics or themes accesses a different part of my brain. So, I can in a way add more to my plan.
Orna Ross: Yeah. Somehow it does, because you are using different parts of the brain, and because all of those aspects are essential parts of growth, not just growing your platform, but growing your profits and growing your sales. It really comes together very nicely when you realize that. It's when you're concentrating too much on the making part and thinking that the other stuff is going to happen by itself that you actually find yourself in a bit of a slump. So yeah, getting that three-legged thing together very often, so much in indie-author land is about the three dimensions of something, and that's another one.
Should there be Free Books When Establishing Your Author Platform?
Orna Ross: Seth has a really good question about free books and platforms. So, I'm just going to read it, I wonder how much you think giving away free books and having lower priced books affects your platform? When starting out its tempting to have lower prices but do you think you are implicitly saying something about the quality of your work when you do this? It's difficult to strike a balance between finding readers and attaching monetary value to your books?
Absolutely, and a great question. I think the way to manage this is, free is great if it's used strategically. You know, so you're using it for a particular reason. When you start off, if readers haven't heard about you and they don't know anything about you then giving them a free book is a way for them to try you at low or no risk. So, a very cheap book or a free book allows them to do that. Selling all your books at too low a price is a completely different thing. That's a de-valuing of your work and, by implication, of all our work, so we rely on each other to hold reasonable prices for the work that we do.
And arguably books are far too cheap for what they are for how long they take to create and put together and all of that. So, once you're using free in a strategic sort of way, I think it's fantastic. Also, managing your price, understanding that some platforms are much more price sensitive than others.
So, Amazon is the most price sensitive platform. It’s all about price on Amazon, they've got a big sort of principle that you can't buy your stuff cheaper anywhere else, and so on. Apple and Co. are far less price sensitive, and in fact, you may put readers off, which is what Seth is asking about.
You may actually make readers think your book is a certain kind of book. You know, you've got to be really careful. Pricing has to be part of the overall platform where you're pitching yourself in the market, who your readers are, are they hungry readers that read voraciously and therefore need books to be cheap because they're buying so many of them, or are they people who actually value a book more if it's more robust, more pages and higher price but, in their perception, a better value read.
Sacha Black: Yeah, and I also think, as well as it being platform sensitive, I also think it's genre sensitive. So, for example, with nonfiction, it's very unusual to find anything sort of at the 99p or free level, and it's much more likely that you will see things at the 4.99, 5.99, 6.99, because nonfiction is informational based and, for that reason, I can't give you any other reasons, it is seen as more valuable.
Whereas, somewhere like romance, which is heavily, heavily populated with a lot of content, you will often find books at 99p and readers have that expectation. But also, lots of, and I'm not saying everybody because obviously not everybody, but lots of romance readers have lots of books and also you generate lots of unit turnover in order to get people through your series. I can't think of the word that I'm trying to say, but hopefully, you know what I'm trying to say.
How can I get other people to promote my author platform?
Orna Ross: Great. So, I'm just going to, we were already out of time, just going to fly through some off these questions here.
So, Ebony has pointed out, she's asked, what are ways to get other people to promote platform, your fans, your critiques, et cetera. And I think that is actually something that we might look at next time as something in and of itself, because yes, you're absolutely right, it isn't about you just being one person constantly doing stuff yourself. Harnessing other people, essentially your platform is other people, it is people talking about you either organically or because you’ve helped them along to do that. So, we might look at the whole use of other people in our marketing in our next session.
Is a newsletter a good use of my time if I don’t have many readers?
Judy wants to know, am I being too ambitious doing a blog and newsletter for fiction and nonfiction? Feeling resistance with the fiction blog while in the finishing stages of nonfiction. When I’ve hardly any fiction followers, doesn't feel like a good use of my time when I only have one book out. I know, chicken and egg.
You can build a list, Julie, and give them something that isn't necessarily a newsletter. You know, if the newsletter isn't coming and as you say, you've just got one book and so on, there isn’t an awful lot to put into it, and you're not enjoying the writing and filling them in with where you're at then, yeah. Think about other ways that you can do or else have a newsletter that goes to…no, you can't actually, I'm thinking about… no, your audiences are too completely different. Yeah. So, just have one newsletter if it's too much at the moment. Until you have three books in place, I think you're probably right that it's a lot of work at this point in time for probably not a huge return. Do you have any thoughts on that Sacha?
Sacha Black: Well, the only thing that I was going to say is, once you've written the content, if you're writing evergreen content, it doesn't go away, so you can re-promote it or repurpose it and use it again, especially as your audience and your platform and your mailing list or your blog or whatever grows.
So, it's never wasted. That's just something that I wanted to add.
Should my author platform include Facebook and Twitter?
Orna Ross: Fair enough. Absolutely. Is it essential to have a Facebook page and/or a Twitter account? Ros asks.
It’s not essential to do anything, Ros. Don't have either of them, unless you've got a plan for them. So, you should know, before you open a social media account, you should actually know, here's how this account is going to help me to sell books, here is my strategy, and that doesn't mean I'm going to tell people about my books all day long, because that won't work.
You need to do some reading about social media, how it works and how it sells books and the ways in which you use it to do that before you have it. It isn't essential, but I will say, if you're not going to use social media, then what are you going to use? You need to have something. So, it is definitely a fantastic opportunity for authors to be able to directly reach their readers through social media. But it doesn't mean that you have to do it.
A few people saying they're interested in the planning group. I will definitely be back in relation to that to you all, so don't worry about that.
I have one free book, two (inaudible). Yeah, exactly. And free book definitely gets me sales. That's Morgan, just talking about her strategy and that's exactly it. Having a strategy where not all of your books are priced the same. You're actually, again thinking, what's my plan for this book, how is this feeding the platform, how it's going to grow with the platform, how does it feed into the other work.
And for all of this, your main job, of course, always is getting the words, as Sacha says and, you know, getting the words each day, getting them down, getting more product, more books and more lead magnets and whatever it is that you need in order to make your stuff work.
So, Julie takes your point and I think she's happy with that. And I think that is it, unless there's anything you would like to add Sacha?
Sacha Black: No, I don't think so.
Orna Ross: Okay. We had a few other bits and pieces, but I think we're out of time, so we will get to those next time.
So, thank you very much folks. Do add in further questions into the chat box later on, if you want to, we will get to them today and tomorrow, and this session will be out on podcast and the replay will be there if you want to list again, and we will be putting it out on podcast on Friday on the blog.
So, until next time, happy writing, and publishing.