How to build your author platform in 2023

In speaking with writers every day, I get to hear about their challenges, their goals, their progress, and their fears. Last week I spoke with a wonderful group of novelists, digging into topics about growing their author platforms and preparing for a book launch. Some of these writers are familiar faces, those I have worked with in programs in the past or who I have seen on social media over the years. It was an incredible reminder that this work is a craft, a journey that can encapsulate our lives in so many ways. Step by step, we attend to the work of finding our voices as a writer, completing a book we’ve dreamed of, finding a path to publication, and of course, ensuring the books are read.

It always inspires me to see the faces of writers who are in this work. That is what I appreciate so much about Zoom workshops, because for the most part, I am seeing writers within the spaces they create. These spaces are sometimes ordinary — a kitchen table with a microwave behind them; sometimes extraordinary — a carefully constructed writing room where every detail has been chosen for inspiration or function; and sometimes out and about — a library, cafe, car, or other third place that serves as their place of solitude from home and family, to focus on writing. Thank you to the Women’s Fiction Writers Association for inviting me into the lives of your writers.

Last week I also had the chance to participate in an externship for a writer who is just getting started professionally. This was organized by author Angelina M. Lopez, who had set up a series of writers and publishing industry professionals to speak with a college student, helping her get started with her professional journey. The three of us met for an information session via Zoom. What was striking to me was how the woman’s questions as she begins her career were not dissimilar to the challenges that many writers face mid-career or even later in their journey as a published author.

So often, I think we hope that if we just figure out X problem in how to write, publish, and share, that it will all get easier. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from author Dani Shapiro:

“Not only does it not get any easier, it actually gets harder.”

She was reflecting on on the desire that nearly every writer and artist has: when you are working so hard to try to create work you can be proud of, and develop a career around it, you often hope to reach a place where everything isn’t such a struggle. Where it is easier to create, easier to feel validated, easier to reach your audience, easier to get your next book deal, or client, or exhibit, or the like; to where it is easier to earn money from your craft.
Dani’s quote is a cold splash of water on that desire. That, as you get more successful, it may, at times, actually becomes more difficult to create; to reach people; to get another deal; to feel that any of this is sustainable.

Dani talks about her own experience navigating this:

“There isn’t one single piece of writing that I have done in the last 20 years, that did not begin with my thinking, “Here goes nothing, this time this is not going to work. Whether it’s a book review, an essay, a blog post, or a book. That feeling that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew here.”

Yet, Dani has continued to thrive, finding more success with each new book, with each new project.

My mission is to encourage people to create and share their work. Because this not only has a profound effect on their lives, but it can truly change the lives of others for the better. For someone to read your story, your words, your ideas, and have it speak to them in their heart, reframe how they see the world, and influence the way they live.

As you consider how you will develop your author platform this year, or how you will lay the groundwork for launching a book, I want to encourage you to do three things:

  • Keep going. Create more, and share more. Find more excuses to raise your voice, not lower it.
  • Connect to people, not content. Focus on names and faces, not algorithms and technology.
  • Know that your work matters.

Every week I see writers worry about the right tactics to take. Should they ditch social media? Are newsletters overdone? Should they take out ads? Is that new book review service legit? Then they may have new worries, such the potential impact of artificial intelligence on the publishing world. It is a lot to consider each of these decisions all at once. A writer shared a wonderful term with me the other day for how she views Instagram: she refers to it as Angstagram. Which is genius. It perfectly encapsulates how social media can fill you with even greater angst about being public with your creative work.

Yet in sitting down and chatting with my wife at night, we tend to talk about art, since she is an artist, and I’ve spent most of my life in one creative field or another. What I notice is that the three themes above tend to come up in one way or another. That those who succeed are those who create as a part of their normal routine. That those who succeed are those who connect with others who appreciate art, and do so with joy, not as a chore. That those who succeed may struggle with their direction or identity as a writer/creator, yet they still share their work consistently. They know their work matters.

How can you do one thing this week to connect with another person around the kind of writing you love. It could be as simple as a gratitude email, celebrating the work of another author on social media, or simply starting a conversation or asking a question. This may seem simple, but I find that it is a powerful way to develop your platform as a writer, without worrying about technology or new trends.