Building an author platform essentially means creating an audience for you and your books. Whether you are signed to a publishing house or self-published, you will be responsible for marketing yourself in some capacity. Many new authors are under the false impression that signing a book deal means they no longer have the burden of selling themselves or their book.
This assumption catches many newly-signed writers by surprise when they are told by their publisher to create a professional website, social media pages, and business cards. Often, the burden of marketing spend falls on the author too.
Even if you are self-published, you will, of course, want to give your book the best chance of success as possible. For some, marketing themselves comes naturally – and they may already have some marketing experience from their day job or business. For others, marketing is an incredibly daunting task that can strike terror into their hearts. More often than not, this fear is a result of them not knowing where to begin.
So, building an audience means connecting with your prospective readers too. And making sure your existing readers do things like leave you positive reviews, and tell their friends about your excellent book. Even in this age of technology, word of mouth is still the best marketing tool for authors.
Your book wasn’t written in a day, and likewise, your author platform will take some time to build and nurture. How long the process takes depends on how much time you and resources you put in. But the sooner you start, the quicker you’ll have a ready pool of followers to market to when the time comes.
Bear this in mind as you read this list of suggestions below.
1) Website – The Centrepiece of Your Audience-Building Efforts
Your website is the centerpiece of your audience-building efforts. This fact doesn’t mean you need to spend a small fortune having one built by a professional web designer. However, you may want to invest in getting your domain (web address) to ensure it looks professional – rather than, say, using a blogger site.
Many DIY website building sites now exist, and the results can be very professional looking – if you take the time to do them right.
You may want to speak to someone who can set your site up for you such as a website developer. They vary widely in cost and skill set, so the best thing to do is ask in author circles for a referral – especially if you come across a site you like.
While it can be costly and time-consuming to get your website up and running, once it’s done, you shouldn’t have to do too much maintenance. Although you will always want to keep the content fresh, and up-to-date, to ensure your audience has a reason to keep coming back to your site. Which brings us to our next point…
2) Blog – The Best Way to Connect with Readers and Build Your Writer Platform
While the thought of writing a blog may be the last thing you want to do after completing a book, reassure yourself that it is one of the best ways to build a writer platform.
Other than people buying and reading your book – having them read your blog is the most effective ways to connect with your audience. It allows readers to explore YOU before they take the plunge and explore your book.
So make sure your blog is as interesting and well-written as your book is – without giving away your entire book of course – otherwise they’ll have no incentive to buy it! One or two teaser chapter giveaways is fine – assuming your publisher is happy with this – but don’t go overboard.
You’d be surprised how interested your readers are in hearing about your life. Blogs can be as simple as documenting what you did in a given week.
You may wonder why anyone would want to hear about your meeting with your agent, followed by two chapter rewrites, followed by a book signing.
But your fans especially enjoy hearing this type of detail, because it gives them insight into who you are and your writing process.
You want to aim to keep your blog updated around three times a week. Web sites that do this get 50% higher traffic on average than those that don’t.
And, that traffic is likely to be good quality – because they are clicking through to read articles specifically written by you.
A follow-on point around blogging is to make sure you do plenty of outreach to relevant, niche blogs relating to your topics and sub genres. Even if they are not focused on books, the fact that you have written one already lends you a degree of credibility and shows that you can provide them with compelling content – free of charge. Some may even pay you a small fee for an article, but best to offer your work for a fee, to begin with until you build up a reputation. After all, you will be getting free exposure to their audience, and you can include a link back to your website in your bio at the end of the article.
3) Email and Marketing Lists – The Essence of Your Audience Platform
Once you have a reader engrossed in your blog, make sure you offer them lots of chances to subscribe to your blog, and also to sign up to your newsletter. Even if you don’t have a regular newsletter yet, you can still ask people to leave you their email address so they can keep in touch with you. Just don’t promise them a regular newsletter until you have one.
Don’t make the email signup form too long, as this will put people off. Their name and email address are enough. Use a free email marketing service like MailChimp to store the email sign ups that come through your website – you just need to install the MailChimp plugin, if your site is on WordPress.
You can also add floating signup boxes that pop up on the screen when the user is on your site. To encourage sign-ups, you may offer a discount off their first book purchase or an exclusive chapter of your latest book.
Other ways to grow your list include running competitions for new sign ups. You only have to offer one prize – say, an iPad, so it could work out cheaper than offering every new signup a discount.
4) Email Marketing – An Important Tool in the Author’s Platform Building Kit
Email marketing is still one of the most effective marketing methods. As an author, you will automatically be deemed more credible, because people won’t assume you are just trying to sell them something when they sign up to your list.
Just be sure to maintain your reputation by not sending too many promotional types of emails in too short a time frame. Also, mix up the type of emails you send. Some may be offers, but some should also be newsletters or announcements.
If you send too many offers, you may end up in spam or junk filters, and you will find your list degrading as people unsubscribe. And that’s the last thing you want after taking the time and effort to get them to sign up to your list in the first place.
Also, remember to use a degree of personalisation in your emails. Use mail merge features in email marketing programmes – like MailChimp – to include a First name (which you should have captured on your sign up form). This personal touch makes your reader feel like you are speaking directly to them, especially if you write the email in the form of a letter, and sign off as you.
5) Buyer Personas and The Perfect Reader
One of the most important things to pay attention to in building your audience is WHO.
If you haven’t already got a picture of your ‘perfect reader’ in mind, take a minute to write down what they look like. Here are some questions you’ll want to answer about them, but you can include anything you like:
Who do you want to read and buy your books?
How old are they?
What are their interests?
What age and gender are they?
Where do they live / what language do they speak?
What genres and subgenres do they like?
Who are their favourite authors?
What are some of their favourite books?
Marketers use buyer personas to create their perfect buyer. Use them to be smarter about who your audience platform is – or will be – made up of.
In reality, you will have several different buyer personas who comprise your readership. But you can label them as primary, secondary, and so on based on how frequently you think they appear. Buyer personas are not the same as profiling every single reader – that would be impossible. What you are looking for is similar traits and characteristics that help you make good decisions about how to market to them.
So, if your readers are married women, in their mid-30s, who live in the UK, and enjoy romantic suspense novels – you may want to play on the fact that The Girl on the Train was a massive hit in the UK. So you could compare your book to The Girl on the Train, or get it reviewed by some of the people who liked it on Amazon.
This outreach is easy to do, as some reviewers will include their public information and email address on their Amazon or Goodreads profiles. By reaching out to them – asking them to read your book because they loved Paula Hawkins’ – you are now inviting them directly into your author platform.
Even if they say ‘no,’ – at least they have now heard of you and who knows, they may well change their mind in the future once your book starts generating buzz.
Once you have your buyer personas, you’ll be able to come up with ad campaigns on Facebook and online in general that will appeal to them, ensuring you get a better response rate and return on ad spend (ROAS).
6) Facebook – More than Your Friends & Family
The great thing about Facebook is you probably already have a good-sized number of friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances in your network. You may not necessarily want to include the as your audience for your book, but it doesn’t hurt to post a few updates letting them know you’ve completed now. After all, they will probably want to congratulate you on your efforts.
I would suggest setting up a company page in addition to your personal one, however.
Two reasons for doing this are to:
Keep business separate from your personal life on Facebook
Promote your business page through paid Facebook ads (more on this below)
Remember, fill in your author page with as much information as you feel comfortable doing. As a minimum, it should have your bio, the types of books you write, a list of all the books you’ve written, and links to buy them which can be either your website or your Amazon page.
You can build fan numbers by invite all of your existing Facebook contacts to Like your new page. Then, because Facebook no longer allows for as much free promotion as it used to, you may want to consider advertising to build your audience platform further.
Once you’ve decided how much you want to spend on advertising, Facebook is one of the first channels you should test.
The good thing about Facebook is that you can start with a very small budget, and work your way up from there.
With over one billion users globally, Facebook has a massive audience, and it also has demographic information (age, sex, location, etc.) and interest information (books, romance, suspense, etc.) for most of its users.
These criteria can then be used to decide who to show your ads to. Filtering out irrelevant people from viewing your ads will save you a lot of money in the long term.
It also means you are building a more targeted audience to Like your page, so that you will be more efficient at generating sales from this channel later on – that is, once they’ve become a fan and begin to get notifications from you in their feeds.
7) Twitter – The Biggest Conversation on Earth
The key benefit of Twitter is that it is one, giant switchboard of frenetic conversations happening globally 24 / 7.
Not everyone is a huge fan of Twitter because they may be overwhelmed by the steady stream of updates. It can be difficult to know which conversations to jump into, or even how to find relevant conversations and places to promote your books.
Like Facebook, it’s important to have a profile that gives as good a picture of you – the author – as possible. So remember to use a high-quality picture, and take the time to fill in all of the sections with as much detail – and personality – as possible. Twitter isn’t a place for formal business language. It’s all about short, sharp, attention-grabbing messages.
If you’re a Twitter newbie – or if it’s one of the networks you’d neglected – here are some general rules of thumb to help you navigate the site:
A hashtag (#) denotes a conversation on a particular topic.
So, if you type in #books into search, you’ll see what books people are talking about at any given moment.
When you create a message and include #books, for example, you will be competing with all the other millions of Tweets at this hashtag. Your Tweet will only stay at the top of the conversation for a few seconds before being pushed down below the fold (out of eyesight on a person’s computer screen).
You can get around this by posting a Tweet that gets lots of Favourites and Retweets – which makes it appear by default on the Top Tweets page for that conversation – for a certain amount of time.
Or, you can repost the same or similar messages at staggered times throughout the day. You can even use software to pre-schedule Tweets, so you don’t have to worry about sending these out in real time.
Another option is to Tweet to the conversation that is less frenetic, so you’ll get exposure at the top longer – of course, this means that they may be seen by fewer people, so it’s a balancing act.
The @ or ‘tag’ sign denotes a user or Twitter profile. You may also hear it referred to as a ‘mention’ because on Twitter, can filter your feed by people who have tagged or ‘mentioned’ you in a tweet.
This Twitter function is the reason why it’s so important to use the correct spelling of someone you @mention because if you tag the wrong alias due to a spelling mistake or wrong guess, you will not only feel silly, you’ll also miss out on valuable interaction from that person.
This is also important to remember when creating your Twitter alias because it cannot be changed. So, try to keep it as close to your pen name as possible so that other people can find and tag you easily. Otherwise, you may have to start your account from scratch if you decide you’ve made a mistake with your original one. As with Facebook, we’d recommend keeping your personal and professional accounts separate.
What you will run into very quickly is Twitter’s famous 140 character limit. As a writer, this will feel very limiting to you indeed!
But don’t despair – the power of Twitter is harnessing it to drive people to other places. And you do that by including a URL or short link in your Tweets.
URLs and short links are other destinations on the web. For example, you may Tweet out your latest blog post, a review of your book, your author page, or any other place you’d like Tweeps to visit.
Short links also allow you the ability to track the number of times a link was clicked, so it gives you a good idea of whether you are using the right hashtags in your Tweets, and whether you are posting them at the right time of day.
Once you’ve mastered Tweeting to hashtags and keeping within the 140 limit, you’ll find that your follower numbers increase in no time.
8) Author Pages – What is Your Mission?
We’ve already talked about how important it is to keep your social media profile pages up-to-date and completed thoroughly. The same goes for your author pages across the different platforms where you will be selling your book – Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo, Apple iBooks, Google Play, and so on.
You may be surprised by how much of an influence you – the person – has over a reader’s decision about whether or not to buy a book written by you – the author.
If your author page doesn’t tell me much about who you are and why you wrote the book you did, I’m going to be less likely to buy your book. Likewise, if I don’t know anything about what makes you tick, why should I follow your author pages? Human nature and psychology tell us that we are drawn to people who are either similar to us or complete opposites.
We are also drawn to people who are on a mission of some kind – whatever that is. If you have a detailed but rather bland summary of who you are and what you write about – with no angle – then why should be interested in anything you’ve written?
On the flipside, if you tell me you are on a mission – to change the world, to empower women, to end racism, to raise awareness for a certain cause, etc. – then I am much more likely to buy into what you are selling.
Of course, your mission should reflect the types of books you write, so make it believable, relatable and sincere – even if you realised your mission after completing your books.
As discussed above, building an author platform means letting readers know who you are and what you are about. That way, potential readers can decide if you are an author they would like to follow, or even buy a book from.
The more I know about you as an author, the more likely I am to respond to you on social media – and buy a book written by you – assuming you are someone I can relate to.
Or, maybe you have a story to tell that is completely the opposite of something I have experienced in my life – but it has piqued my interest because of this.
Either way, I am more likely to buy from someone I feel that I identify with or even know.
That’s why putting videos on YouTube can be an excellent way to build a writer platform.
Now, not only do viewers gain insight into your writing – they can see you as an authentic, person who wrote the book – not simply the name on the book cover, which doesn’t tell me anything at all about you, the author.
Think about how expensive TV ads to run for a minute –
several thousands to produce and buy airtime for. But, there’s no denying how effective they are at getting the word out. You have that opportunity for free simply by making a YouTube video – you’d be crazy not to take advantage!
People respond to vulnerability – and as an author, you will already be comfortable with putting a piece of yourself into your work – and opening yourself up to anyone in the world to read it!
Well, then, putting together a one-minute video clip or five minute podcast shouldn’t be as much of a frightening task then!
Of course, it’s the medium that is different and is what makes it scary.
All I can say is, give it a try. If you’re not happy with the result, ask a friend or family member to help you. Or, if you don’t know anyone who does that type of thing, go online to places like Fiverr where you will find creative people at low rates who will be happy to help you make a video.
While we gave the commercial example for a comparison, we do not recommend videoing a commercial. So keep your script non-sales. Talk about you, your mission, and why you wrote your books. That way people will be able to relate to you without feeling like you are giving them a sales pitch, which will most likely make them switch off.
I understand your reluctance about filming yourself if it isn’t something you’ve done before or feel naturally comfortable with.
That’s why podcasting may be a better option – you still get to tell your story in your words and your voice, you just don’t have to have a camera on your face which can make people – myself included – clam up.
Which is the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve – we’re trying to open up to our readers and make ourselves vulnerable to a certain degree.
Marketing is a huge area and, contrary to popular belief, it does take some skill to do well. Especially when it comes to building a large enough audience for a book, which, may be the most exciting read since The Da Vinci Code, but if no one knows about it – it’s unlikely to gain the same levels of readership as the Dan Brown classic.
Branding and awareness is a major reason to build as wide an audience as possible. But numbers of fans and followers alone aren’t enough. Your audience has to be engaged. This is marketing speak meaning your audience has to be ‘buying what you’re selling.’
People won’t bother to buy from you unless they don’t first like you. This rule of thumb is especially true when it comes to book-buying. Unless you have a morbid curiosity, you are not going to pick up a book by someone you do not like, or even worse, are indifferent about.
It was word of mouth that turned The Da Vinci Code into the massive hit that it was. It ‘went viral’ before going viral was even a thing. Only Fifty Shades has come close to the success of addictive page-turner, and it took several years of slowly spreading to reach the tipping point that eventually made it into a hit.
Keep this in mind as you work towards making your book the next literary sensation to hit the shelves.