What is an Author Platform

I Pretended to Know

Our literary agent said “platform” once in a phone conversation. I silently listened but thought to myself, “Platform? What does she mean by that?” I still find the word awkward. Of course, I get it now (I got it 5 minutes after we hung up and I Googled). As it turned out I had been aggressively helping my author/husband build his platform (or thought I was; mostly I was marketing) for the last seven years but somewhere along the line, the term passed me by. Seriously, I probably heard it but either ignored the term or was simply busy DOING it!

You Can Build One Without Even Knowing the Word

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Platform Layers

“Platform” seems like a very industry-specific term to me. I’ve dropped the word with a few authors. They got a glazed over look on their face or came right out and said, “What is that?” Unless they’ve got an abundance of time, and most say they are doing well just getting their book(s) written, how would they know what the word “platform” means? Who is going to tell them? Their publisher? That’s assuming they have one and are not self-published. If a publisher agrees to sign them on, that’s usually because the writer was able to prove that they have visibility and authority with a proven reach to a target audience, in other words, they already have a platform. I experienced this last week. I spoke with a newly published author who was elated about her box of books arriving. All her hard work was finally in print. I asked her about her author platform and marketing. She had no clue what I was talking about. But guess what? She had been building her platform for years! By the time her first book went to print, she was leading a conference related to its subject matter, and almost immediately had 2,000 Likes on her Facebook Page!

Peter, Best Selling Tech Author, and my #1 client aka my husband, had been building the layers of his platform for years, without even knowing the word which leads me to wonder, is “platform” just the latest buzz word in the publishing industry? If a writer doesn’t already have a platform, can he/she get one by reading a book? And if so, how quickly? If there’s anything I have learned, by being a part of a very strong author’s platform, it is that it was not built overnight. Time is essential.

Definition

I like the way Jane Friedman defines it in this post. Here’s an excerpt:

  • Visibility. Who knows you? Who is aware of your work? Where does your work regularly appear? How many people see it? How does it spread? Where does it spread? What communities are you a part of? Who do you influence? Where do you make waves?
  • Authority. What’s your credibility? What are your credentials? (This is particularly important for nonfiction writers; it is less important for fiction writers, though it can play a role. Just take a look at any graduate of the Iowa MFA program.)
  • Proven reach. It’s not enough to SAY you have visibility. You have to show where you make an impact and give proof of engagement. This could be quantitative evidence (e.g., size of your e-mail newsletter list, website traffic, blog comments) or qualitative evidence (high-profile reviews, testimonials from A-listers in your genre).
  • Target audience. You should be visible to the most receptive or appropriate audience for the work you’re trying to sell. For instance: If you have visibility, authority, and proven reach to orthodontists, that probably won’t be helpful if you’re marketing vampire fiction (unless perhaps you’re writing about a vampire orthodonist who repairs crooked vampire fangs?).

What a Best Selling Technology Author’s Platform Looks Like

…or How the Author Builds His Own Platform

Again, here is Jane’s list but this time, I will include how a Best Selling Technology author’s platform has been built:

  • Visibility. Peter’s visibility was strongest in his reputation among co-workers and colleagues in his industry. He knew his stuff and they knew that he knew it. He had written a few books when we had met , and had written a few articles for magazines but not regularly. What he was doing semi-regularly was blogging. He had a fair following but had no social media accounts. I know Jane includes “social media” in her list of things that a platform is not; however when I set up things like a Facebook page and Twitter account on Peter’s behalf, I was able to make connections with people like radio and magazine interviewers which resulted in more visibility. Peter started communities in Yahoo Groups. He took a part-time teaching job at the University of WA. Eventually, that led to a publisher accepting his proposal to write an academic book and being in front of students every Fall quarter gave him more visibility.
  • Authority. Peter has worked in his industry, as an Information Security Professional, for many years. He has a background in everything necessary to make him an expert in his field. This is where growing with a particular industry (initially in computer and electrical engineering) has paid off, instead of changing careers every few years. When writing on technology topics, consumers want to hear from someone who has been in it for a long time and knows what they’re talking about.
  • Proven reach. Peter volunteered his time for things like being a test monitor for one of the certifications required in his industry. He made a concerted effort to connect with coworkers and colleagues on LinkedIn. He started groups to help people study for their certifications. He attended local functions and did volunteer work. He met a lot of people who had not been in the industry as long as he had so he was able to have an impact on them. He was a fantastic team player at every place he was employed which is reflected in the many positive reviews that people wrote for him over the years. This also helped prove his reach.
  • Target audience. In Peter’s case, his target audience was very specific. People in that industry, or hoping to get into the industry, were his target audience and we met them in all the above mentioned places.

What Platform Building is Not

Jane’s list goes on to say what building an author platform is not. This is where the lines between “platform building” and “marketing” can get a bit blurry and confusing.

Back when I started as Peter’s Business Mgr., seven years ago, it seemed that everybody was hard selling themselves. It was encouraged. Bragging and grand standing came to be expected so I did it, on Peter’s behalf, and it was…embarrassing. He didn’t like it and it wasn’t his style.

Peter is a very humble guy and not one to blow his own horn but he wasn’t promoting his work either (in all fairness part of it was due to a lack of time). The consumer will let you know whether your stuff is good. No amount of self-promoting and hard selling will compensate for lousy material produced by someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about or that nobody endorses. In Peter’s case, he was producing material that was in demand but he didn’t always see how that created new opportunities. Together we created a strategy of support and teamwork that took him from writing 5 books in 10 years, to over 25, in 7 years.

Summary

If I could say what 3 of the top qualities are, that have helped Peter build a strong author platform it would be:

  1. He is a skilled writer, and is a constant learner.
  2. He has been an expert in his field for a long time (20+ years).
  3. People like him because he’s a nice guy and has integrity. He doesn’t burn bridges.

This is what works for him in his industry.

I love the way Jane summarizes platform building:

“It is more about putting in consistent effort over the course of a career, and making incremental improvements in extending your network. It’s about making waves that attract other people to you—not about begging others to pay attention.”

Good advice! Another great article on the topic was written by Dan Blank. He emphasizes “communication” and “trust”,  something Peter has been working on for years which made my job so much easier.

Posted on October 14, 2013, in Blog and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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