Quick quiz: You’re told you need to work on your “Author Platform.” You:
- A. Smile politely, then go back to searching online for cute cat outfits
- B. Nod, smile, then furiously Google “author platform” hoping you’re not the last to know what the heck that is
- C. Think “Oh, yeah it really is time I update and interact with my social media” [Facebook, Twitter, Insta, blog and/or website], then dig right in
- D. B or C but definitely not A (unless it was a really good sale)
Correct answer: D
What is an Author Platform? And why do you need to care?
Let’s break it down. Author. Platform. It’s like a compound word. (Author Platforms or Writer Platforms, no matter what you call it, are the same thing, don’t get hung up on author vs writer. For the sake of ease, we’ll use the terms synonymously here. I’m also capitalizing the words here for effect, which is unnecessary elsewhere.) What does the phrase mean?
As defined, a writer or an author is someone who has written something. A platform is a raised surface, something you’d stand onfor better visibility. Like a stage. Put the words together and you’ve got an image of a writer standing on a, well, platform, a little taller than everyone around them. They stand out; you can spot them in a crowd.
That’s the writer you want to be.
You want to be the writer/author that people can find easily or can recognize…the one that stands out. And you’ll need a platform on order to do it.
“Author Platform: your visibility as an author, utilizing your personal ability to sell books through who you are, the connections you have, and the media outlets you use.” –Writer’s Digest
I think of the term as a less-commercial way of saying “author branding.” It means how you present yourself to the public, and how you are seen/viewed by readers, agents, editors, fellow writers/artists and anyone else paying attention. It’s a way of showing your unique qualities that “brand” you as a person, as a writer, or artist…with the ultimate goal of leading to book sales.
Don’t confuse it with image. Image implies something perceived. You’ll be putting the real, flawed you out there, just like you do for your main characters. An Author Platform should be based on truth. You’re not an actor hiring a publicity agent to get media attention. You’re you, showing who you are, with the ultimate goal that the likable you is worthy of following or noting or reading or acknowledging, and it will at some point lead to book sales. Isn’t that why school visits, book signings, special promotions, launch parties and all that exist: to sell books? Well you’re the in-person version of that, the walking billboard, the neon sign, the ever-friendly smile of customer service, open 24/7. Except when you’re asleep. Or driving. Or whatever. You know what I mean.
You are NOT shaking hands and asking people to buy your book all the time, oh no, you’re missing the point if that’s what you just ran off and started doing. No one is going to follow or buy the book from a guy that’s sending pestering Tweets or spamming Facebook posts or always standing up in groups asking people to buy their books after the meeting. Boy is that annoying or what? I hate that guy. What I’m saying is you are your brand. You represent you. So be respectable. Make me like you. Make me WANT to buy your book. If you do it right, you will probably never have to say the words “Buy my book.” I’ll decide I want to on my own.
Note this is a Writer Platform, not a book platform. This is about you, not your book. Why?
Because you’re more than one book. If you brand yourself too closely with one title, on the next book you’ll have to do it all over again. That confuses people. They can handle lots of books, but they only want one you. Brand yourself correctly and all your books will easily fall under that one umbrella…you!
Everything you post online becomes a part of your brand. Your Tweets, your FB posts, your blog updates. Your forwards, your shares, your likes. It all shapes the person people see. Those who have never met you can only form an opinion based on what they see. And that’s based on what you do. How you reply to comments. What you post or repost. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it. The way you talk to your friends. The way they talk to you, even. It all paints a picture.
Is it a picture you want the world to see?
If it’s not, start reworking some things. I’m not saying change who you are. I’m saying let the real you shine through. Be proud of who you are. Let that freak flag shine, guurl!
Here are some random posts and Tweets by me, some go back years. They are all over the map. And yet, you get a pretty clear picture of who I am. If this was the only thing you ever saw about me, you’d get me.
My writing style, not surprisingly, mirrors me. If you write gory horror, it would be weird if you have a video blog about adorable kittens. If you write humor, it would be unsettling to see your Facebook page dedicated to the ongoing memory of 9/11. Not that there’s anything wrong with posting about either of those. But it’s a disconnect to see an author grounded in one thing have a public face that is so very different than what you think they’re rooted in.
Does that mean someone that writes YA can only post about teen things? No no no. That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I’m saying is, no matter who you are, you need to be consistent. If you write horror and freaking love kitten videos, THAT’S OKAY, don’t pretend you’re not that kind of person. But give people a chance to resolve the image they probably had with reality. You could clarify at the start of your page or blog “Can you believe someone that writes bloody woodshed scenes for a living is a marshmallow in real life? When not creating blood and gore, I’m actually all about pet adoption, as my blog will show. Join me as we watch another darling rescue…” In three sentences, BAM, you just let you shine through.
If you’re not funny, don’t try to be funny. Love data? Share data. Into cars? Talk cars. Are you a jerk? That’s okay too. Personally, I like jerks. I mean, you always know where you stand. They are never going to blow smoke. But there’s a difference between being a jerk and being mean. There is no reason to be mean, ever, so stop it now. Never say something online you wouldn’t say in a public forum with a pic in your hand.
Sad, mopey type? You don’t have to be peppy and perky to be liked. Eyeores can be lovable. It’s all right to have a sad and mopey tone but too much and that gets old. Jerky or mopey, well, you’ll want to change your tune at some point or people will change the channel. Ya get me bro? It’s really not what you’re saying. It’s all about how you’re saying it. Make people want to listen!
The more people know and like you, the more willing they’ll be to take the time to hear what you have to say, and ultimately more likely to buy what you write/create. Remember, the (not so secret spy) goal for having that platform is to eventually get people to buy your books WITHOUT EVER SAYING “BUY MY BOOKS.” You won’t please everybody, no one does, but those that stick around will want to know more and more about you. That’s why you need to be consistent (and likable if not pleasant) with every form of public participation.
Personal Account vs Character’s
Does everything you do and say need to go on record? No. You have a personal life that deserves to stay personal. Some writers create a Twitter or Facebook account for their main characters instead of themselves, or use that more often. It’s a little weird, maybe, but it allows them to get away with saying stuff the real them couldn’t. It certainly helps with branding of the book! Would it brand you? To some extent. But not as effectively as your own account can. For the most part, only REALLY successful books/characters can pull this off (as in NYT best sellers, not Amazon best sellers) (oy, that’s another topic for another day). It’s more a numbers thing. It might not be worth Tweeting as your MC if you’ve sold 50 copies of your self-published title. Only 50-ish people will have heard of your MC and therefore have any idea how to put it in context. It would take a long time to grow a following. You could have an account for your book itself, but who wants to follow a inanimate object? It’s too direct, too in your face, too salesy. There no way around “I created this just to sell books.” And that feels icky, can we all agree on that?
Imagine if Johnny Depp (hubba hubba) had a Twitter account for Captain Jack Sparrow, his Pirates of the Caribbean character. That would be fun. You’d know that Johnny Depp is the man behind the curtain and would enjoy hearing what his character is thinking. You’d know Johnny is pulling the strings. But personally, I’d rather have Johnny Depp’s direct thoughts (and his direct contact information, but I digress). His “Actor Platform” is different than his “character platform.” And there’s a whole other Pirates of the Caribbean Twitter account dedicated to the movie itself. Do you see the difference(s)?
The movie franchise is successful enough to pull that off. You are not (sorry). They waited until the sales and fame went through the roof before creating the accounts. Well, they would have, I just made this example up. You’ll want to wait, too.
Again, don’t confuse your Author Platform with a book platform or your character’s platform. If you came across a Twitter account for an Indy film main character, you’d be much more invested in the main character and less invested in the actor behind it, because it would be a lesser known actor. People would be following it because they love the character, not just the actor that portrayed her or the screenwriter that created her. The people that follow it would be the people that already saw the movie or read the book, so it probably wouldn’t lead to sales. Branding and following, sure. But not sales. If the Indy movie had its own movie account, the following would be a tenth, nay a hundredth of the Pirates following. It’s just not as popular. In the Jack Sparrow example, Johnny Depp is already so intertwined with the character that all the accounts benefit both the movie franchise AND Johnny (ah, calling him Johnny is like we’re BFFs <emit school girl giggle>).
Back to you. You have a life outside your authoring and illustrating. Everyone has a home life. It’s perfectly okay to have a website or Facebook account for your friends and family, and a separate one for your readers/fans/professional peers. Even if your personal website and your author website have two different URLs, they reflect the same person. It’s still you. The sites cater to different audiences.
Many authors have one site/URL the splits into two, where you “Click here to learn about author/artist Josie Beans” and “Click here to learn more about real estate expert Josie Beans.” Can’t say I’m a huge fan of that specific example, since they are so very different industries, but it’s a thought. How else would real estate clients know Josie is an author/illustrator and how would readers know Josie is in real estate? (It begs the question why would readers need to know you sell real estate, but again, your call.) If you’re an artist that sells art-like pottery as well as an illustrator of books, it would be a perfect place to have one URL that splits into two. It’s the same basic skill set. It works.
So…who are you? You have so much to share, you are very talented, and I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing. It might be hard for you to narrow it all down. A defined focus will better help define your brand, and will ultimately help you in the end. I’d much rather buy books on coming of age from an author that fishes and restores cars that from one that fishes, restores cars, is an entrepreneur, networks at the Chamber, sells beauty products, works at the local coffee shop, teaches knitting to seniors, plays the trumpet, likes to travel, etc etc. It makes me wonder how committed they are to any one thing, and if writing is something they are just doing “for now.” I want to support an author that is doing this because they simply can’t do anything else, even if it’s something they do on the side. Heck, I do it on the side and I have 14 books! I’m a mom & wife first, writer & writer helper second. But I’m committed to writing, and no matter what else I may post or write about, I think my Author Platform proves that. So when you’re promoting yourself, highlight only a few key aspects of what makes you you. Don’t make me think you’re too scattered to trust.
Let’s summarize. When looking to start an Author Platform, keep this in mind:
- Remember everything you do online creates or supports the you everyone sees…so
- Be the person you want other people to see, consistently
- But make sure it’s the REAL YOU, not a fabrication
- Don’t align yourself too closely with any one title, because you’re more than one book
- You’re a really good person, you have great value, and we want to get to know you! Help me understand who you are by highlighting just a few key parts of you, not every single detail
I realize some of you might be chomping at the bit right now to go rearrange some things. Maybe erase some posts or rants? Great! Clean stuff up. Dust some stuff off. Clarify some things. Get ready to invite me over. Let’s have a cup of tea. (Or wine, it’s your house :-))
My next few posts are going to go into detail on how to best work social media, your website or blog, and things like conferences and author visits to support your Author Platform.
For now, be thinking of how to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward, in everything you do online.
Have you learned the hard way from anything you’ve posted online? Please share! I love a good “what was I thinking?” story!