The Author Platform: The Basics

There is a lot of talk in publishing circles about the all-important “author platform”. But what the term means varies depending on who you ask. Yes, it often includes social media influence, but your follower numbers are only one component of a viable platform. In this first of a new blog series, we will explore the meaning of “platform” and its importance for publishing.

Why is it so important to publishers that an author have a platform? The short answer: they assume that a certain percentage of your “followers” will buy a copy or two of your book. It’s a built-in market. With the competition heavy, this can be the difference between life and death for the sales track of your book. Your platform’s chief purpose is to attract potential book buyers.

Outside of social media, platform is also your sphere of influence. What connections do you have that will help promote your book and persuade others to buy copies? What associations and groups do you belong to? Do you have a lead with a producer on a popular talk show who can help get you a guest spot to plug your book? If you are a writer in the non-fiction space, your platform may be based on being a specialist in your field. If you are the top expert in that industry, even better—you have automatic credibility that will help make your book stand out to readers.

While many people have great ideas for a book, that alone will often not be enough to get you a deal. For example, if you have incredibly well-behaved kids, but no credentials as a parenting authority, you will likely not garner much interest from publishers. However, an original hook or a fresh angle that helps captivate audiences will potentially turn a publisher’s head. A good example is Karen Le Billon’s French Kids Eat Everything, which explores the author’s relocation to France and her fascination with French children who seem to love trying new things, from oysters to olives. The book, a mix of memoir, practical tips, and recipes, apparently converted her own children into mini gourmands, and was a runaway success. Every exasperated parent of picky eaters was sure to grab a copy. But really, this is the exception to the rule on platform in publishing.

So how do you build a platform? Having active social media accounts on which you post consistently and often, as well as interacting with the community and organically growing your followers, is one way to extend your reach. Owning a current website, especially if you have some expertise-driven area, is another. Having a weekly blog or podcast, and engaging with other writers, experts in your field, and publishing professionals will also bolster your numbers. Remember, growing a platform takes time, most often years, so don’t be swayed by sexy stories of “how I grew my following to 3 million in 30 days”. Promote your work and other people’s, stay informed on the developments in your field, and give something of value to the people in your sphere.

Platform building is larger than today’s discussion, of course. Join our workshop on building a platform to learn more!

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