This Saturday, August 14, 2021, I’ll present a breakout session titled “Creating a Bird’s-Eye View of Your Book” at the HippoCamp Conference in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. As a four-time HippoCamper, I’m a huge fan of this event.
The conference was supposed to be a jubilant homecoming celebration filled with hugs—oh the hugs!—meet-and-greets, and long talks over meals where writers can network. Sadly, the Delta variant has put the kibosh on the touchy-feely aspects of our weekend meeting.
I’ll arrive vaxed, masked, and armed with hand sanitizer and the results of my first-ever COVID test.
While I’ll certainly do some socially distanced mingling, it won’t be the same. Our world has changed. This affects not just our gatherings, but how we build our author platforms.
Last week, I defined author platform.
But how do you know if you have one?
If you’ve told one person you’re a writer, you have an author platform. It’s that simple.
The two questions you need to ask yourself are how big do you want it to be, and how would you like to grow it?
So far, I’ve received some excellent questions from our writing community.
Over the next two months, my goal is to help you:
- understand what a vibrant platform entails,
- discover your values, interests, and the skills you can employ,
- and find out-of-the-box ways to grow yours with the fewest internal grumbles.
Let’s begin by shedding a few platform myths that might be holding you back.
Myth One: A big publisher will market my book. All I need to do is write my masterpiece.
Truth: Unless you’re the darling of your publishing house or a big client who’s a proven seller, it’s likely you’re going to spend a significant portion of your time (and maybe some money) to market your stories. And you have a vested interest in doing this. Poor sales for your first book can make it harder to sell a second one.
Myth Two: Platforms are just for creative nonfiction writers.
Truth: While the size of your platform matters most for creative nonfiction writers, authors from all genres need to understand how they’re going to reach their readers. For example, I know a very talented poet who published her chapbook through a small press. In order for her book to qualify for a print run, she had to obtain 50 pre-orders. How do you get preorders? Platform.
Myth Three: I don’t need a virtual presence to be successful.
Truth: While there are many ways to build a vibrant offline platform, you’ll still need a virtual presence. I’ll share more about what’s essential in a future post.
Myth Four: To build my virtual presence, I need to be online all the time.
Truth: You’ll need to find consistent ways to nurture your online presence, but platform success doesn’t require you to become an Internet superstar or set up a webcam in your home.
Myth Five: If I self-publish, I don’t need a platform.
Truth: The difference between a self-published book and a traditionally published book is who’s taking on the risk. If you’re the one financing the deal—engaging editors, hiring cover artists, paying for print runs, covering all the marketing costs—it’s in your best interest to have a sound platform and marketing plan. Failure to do so can lead to disappointing sales numbers—like less than 100 sales across the lifetime of your book.
Now that we’ve gotten the myths out of the way, let’s talk about a few key concepts you need to consider.
The number one platform killer is fear. We fear we have nothing to say or that no one will listen. While it’s possible to overshare or make mistakes that require course corrections, most platforms are built through trial and error as we build our courage and learn to become our authentic platform selves.
To do this we must capitalize on our interests, talents, and skills.
At the end of last week’s newsletter, I suggested you answer a few questions. Click here if you forgot to fill them out. Once you’re done, it’s time to move on to the next concept.
Effective platforms are built on sustained effort. That means the creator frequently hangs out in spaces where readers can find them—whether that’s attending the readings of the poets in your area, speaking at conferences and teaching webinars, or belonging to specific social media groups.
As a platform builder with limited time and competing priorities, you want to focus on platform-building activities that align with your passions, skills, and talents so you can have fun as you build authentic relationships with potential readers. Once you know what those activities are, categorize them by effort and potential reach. While it’s likely you’ll need to engage in occasional high-effort activities, balance them with tasks that require less energy.
Here’s a chart that illustrates my point.
|High Effort||Low Effort|
|High Reach||Delivering a webinar to 250 people||Writing a successful Instagram story with 3% engagement|
|Low Reach||Delivering an out-of-town reading for 5 people||Writing a tweet no one reads|
Classes, presentations, and speaking engagements can demonstrate you’re a subject-matter expert and trusted member of the community. While they’re certainly worth the investment, they frequently require large time commitments. Most instructors complete 3 – 5 hours of prep for every hour they teach. The typical prep for a webinar or conference breakout session is 10 – 15 hours, though 20 – 25 hours is not uncommon. And that doesn’t account for travel time or potential days away from the office.
For some people, the confessional nature of social media is a major turnoff.
Here are some things people have said to me:
“I hate taking selfies.”
“I don’t want to share what I had for dinner or create videos filmed from my bed, just so someone will read my damn book”
“But it’s easier to connect with real people. Online, I’ve got nothing to say.”
I hear you. I get it. And I promise you don’t have to share your dinner with the world.
But, you do need to recognize that the world has changed.The in-person events we once relied on aren’t guaranteed to expand your reach. Plus, even if you’re more comfortable with building in-person connections, think about how you search for information.
Whether it’s real estate or a book recommendation, it’s likely you’re Googling it.
The effort required to reach an offline audience is one of the reasons successful platform builders try to scale their reach as quickly as possible. It’s why many speakers opt for high-capacity webinars and keynotes over small classes with a workshop component.
It’s also the reason why so many people choose to build their platforms online.
In a virtual world, COVID is less likely to cause problems. And if an event gets canceled, you might feel disappointed, but you won’t fret over whether your airfare and hotel will be reimbursed.
IRL, fire marshals can post building limits, but on the Internet, the capacity is endless.
While it can feel scary to post your first tweet or Instagram story, the effort required is relatively low and so are the stakes. You can try on several identities and voices to see what works best. If something isn’t effective, you can drop it.
Next week, we’ll take a closer look at the types of platforms you can build and how you can use them to your advantage.
In the meantime, do you have a burning platform question? It’s likely others have it too. Send me an email so I can add it to my list.
While you consider your platform, keep writing on.