I remember the first time I heard the word “platform.” An agent had taken the time to call me in response to my book proposal—a good sign. Indeed, she loved the idea, my writing, and the proposal. Then came the dreaded word: “But.” I had no author platform. I’d never heard the word before.
That was 10 years ago.
Today, platform is paramount for a nonfiction writer who wants to become traditionally published. If you want to take the indie route, it also ensures you sell books.
I’ve written about author platform extensively, and I’m always looking for good books on the topic and experts to share their advice here. When I saw that my colleague Chuck Sambuchino had recently released Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books, and Finding Success as an Author, I read his book and then asked him to weigh in on the subject.
You can find many books on author platform, but what I like about Chuck’s book begins with its title: Create Your Writer Platform. You must have a platform as a writer to become an author. “If you don’t have a proven ability to promote your work and sell books, editors won’t even consider your idea, no matter how clever or timely it may be,” writes Chuck.
Inside the covers of Create Your Writer Platform you’ll find an essential guide. I was particularly intrigued by the huge number of quotes from literary agents and the third section of the book, which features great interviews from authors in just about every genre who have successfully built platform. (You aren’t just learning from one author’s experience in this book.) Of equal value, you’ll learn not only what platform means but why it is increasingly more important if you want to succeed as a writer. And you get nuts-and-bolts steps for building your platform (both new and old), including 12 well-thought out principles of platform building to apply.
I found Chuck’s stress on websites and blogs spot on; a blog, which can serve a website, provides a hub with all your other platform-building activities branching out like spokes. His chapter on newsletters also is a must read for writers wanting to create a sustainable way to reach readers; although he says it is optional, I disagree and advise all my clients to have a newsletter sign-up form on their website or blog. The chapter on social media is chock-full of great information you can put to use immediately, and I found the “Side Doors to Platform” chapter offered unique platform-building options some writers might not normally consider.
Even if you are already a published author, you’ll find some advice in the pages of Create Your Writer Platform to help you increase your reach—and your success as a writer. The following Q & A with Chuck will give you a bit more advice and a few more tips as well.
I find when I speak to writers about building platform, their eyes glaze over or they want to run away. They tell me, “I just want to write.” What’s your response to their reaction?
If this happened to me, I would respond by first telling writers that the subject of platform building and self-marketing is the way of the future, and therefore very important. After that, I would get everyone’s attention by simply explaining that “Platform = money.” If you can help sell your book, it makes you a more valuable author—more likely to get published and more likely to garner a higher payment for your writing.
If you could give a nonfiction writer just one reason to build platform, what would it be?
Building your platform and spreading the word about your book gives you some sense of control in your book’s destiny and results. If you choose not to be involved in the marketing at all (no social media, no interviews, etc.), you are putting all your faith into others to sell your book. This oftentimes does not work out as well as writers daydream it will.
Is platform as important for indie nonfiction writers as for those who want to be traditionally published?
Oh yes—but for different reasons. With traditional publishing, you need platform simply for your idea to be considered. With indie publishing, there is no “gatekeeper” with platform demands, sure, but a writer without a platform is an invisible writer. Hundreds of thousands of books are indie-published every year. Without a platform, an indie author cannot get noticed through all that competition. I’ve talked to countless writers who have simply e-published through Amazon or CreateSpace only for their work to get buried and get no attention. This is the norm for people in their situation and not a surprise. The way for any book—traditionally or indie published—to get attention is to lift it above the fray so people can notice it, investigate it and buy it. This “rise” of your book is a good way to think about building your visibility. You create a platform to stand on so that your work is seen by more people.
Most writers feel overwhelmed by platform building. They think they don’t have enough time. What three platform elements should they focus their attention on to get the most bang for their “time buck”—to accomplish the most in the least amount of time?
First and foremost, a simple website. A website is key because it’s your landing page. When people search for you online, you must have a landing destination where people can quickly learn about you and your writing and how to connect with you.
Second, think “new school” platform: Be active on a blog or Twitter. Both are good bets, but I would say you must have at least one.
Third, think “old school” platform: Focus on groups and organizations and personal connections who can help you. Who you know still matters. You are not alone in your platform quest. Think about who can help you—a regional group that promotes the successes of its members, a charity that will help you spread the word in exchange for a donation, or a cousin who knows the producers of CNN personally, etc.
What is your #1 tip for building platform in a way that doesn’t eat up too much time?
Team up with others—it’s as simple as that. Let’s say you’ve written a book or novel. You want to promote it and build your platform, so you decide to start a blog. But the catch is that a blog takes 6 months or even years to gain a healthy readership—and there are no guarantees it will reach the level of success you desire. So consider instead regularly guest blogging for established, large sites instead. That way, you’re simply piggybacking on the work of others. They’re happy to get your good content (and the page views the content generates) and you’re happy to paste an ad for your book on these skyscraper blogs that are elevated above the masses. Everyone wins! You can contribute content to existing successful newsletters, blogs, radio programs, websites, print publications, and more. They need you, and you need them.
Building platform really equates to promotion of yourself and your work. For those writers who hate promoting themselves and their work or feel it somehow cheapens what they do as artists, what’s your advice?
Stay away from direct sales. Platform is not about being on Twitter and saying “Buy my book! Buy my book!” with every tweet. It’s about getting on Twitter and building a following by providing good, helpful content. Meanwhile, the bio at the top of your Twitter page has info about your books. In other words, you politely mention you’re an author here and there and then give people links they can examine if they want to know more. Another small example of this: On Facebook, instead of saying “Buy my book! Buy my book!”, try posting news of an interview you did with a website. That way, you’re promoting your book without directly telling people to buy it.
Anything else you’d like to add? Any advice? Tips?
I want to say real quick that Create Your Writer Platform features tons of advice from 10 literary agents and 12 platform-heavy authors. I interviewed all the professionals I could to make the book a collection of advice from all perspectives. I wanted to hear from agents who are on the front lines making decisions as well as authors who are in the trenches building their platform and selling books every day. I think their feedback will really help writers who wish to build their visibility and sell more books. Besides that, I would just like to say I have much, much advice to offer on the topics of getting a literary agent, getting published, and building your platform to promote your works. Find me on Twitter and Facebook, and follow my blog, as well.
About the Author
Chuck Sambuchino’s latest book is Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books, and Finding Success as an Author (Writer’s Digest Books, 2012), a guide to help writers build their visibility and market their books. Chuck is the editor of the Guide to Literary Agents (guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog) and the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, and is an author himself (chucksambuchino.com). Besides that, Chuck performs freelance editing services for writers, and maintains a list of writers conferences on his website. He loves playing piano, helping writers, and making new friends.