Prepare your author platform for success

Today I want to talk about how your author platform prepares you for success in sharing your creative work, and reaching big milestones in your career. I want to start with a specific example shared by author Teri Case in her recent newsletter:

“After a series of events that I can only call serendipitous, I have a literary agent to find a publishing house and home for my precious third novel, Finding Imogene. The agent immediately asked me for a bio, comparable titles, and an elevator pitch. Because I’ve been a self-published author, I was ready. In 2014, I took WeGrowMedia’s “Get Read” course, and later, three mastermind sessions, where the founder, Dan Blank, encouraged us always to have a current bio on our website. Done. And he suggested that we have our thirty-second pitch ready. He asked us something like, “If you’re in line to get a hotdog and someone asks you what your book is about, what will you say?” Done. In his book, Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging Your Audience, Dan Blank discusses how finding comparable titles will help you find your audience—an exercise I did when I finished the first draft of Finding Imogene last July. Comp titles? Okay. Done. So, when I received the email from my agent (oooh, I like the sound of that), I already had the bio, pitch, and comp titles ready. Thanks, Dan Blank, for this gift of preparation.”

“The agent suggested changes to my website. Again, thanks to “Get Read” with Dan Blank’s WeGrowMedia in 2014, I designed and have managed my website from the beginning. With my author-publisher hat on, I had shared a cover and book description for Finding Imogene on my website and social media months ago. Since this will change now that I have a team, I was asked to remove the cover and description from my website. It took me less than one minute to take care of on my own. I then visited my social media accounts to remove the same. Within fifteen minutes, I emailed my agent to say I’d cleaned everything up.”

Teri is incredibly kind and generous, and she clearly put in so much work over the years to not only develop her platform, but a powerful network of colleagues in her writing career. [Note: I no longer offer any of the courses or mastermind groups that Teri mentioned above.]

Too often, I find that a writer approaches author platform from the standpoint of getting followers or subscribers. Author platform is whittled down to numbers:

“How many followers do I have?”

“How many subscribers do I have?”

But I don’t think it has anything to do with numbers. An author platform is instead about two other things: effective communication, and developing a sense of trust with your ideal audience. Perhaps a third component connecting these things is preparation for the moments we dream of.

You have likely heard of having an “elevator pitch” to describe your newest creative project, with the idea being that you have a short and interesting way to describe your work in the span of 30 seconds or less. The problem is: we never know when we will be on that elevator, and who it will be with. So much of success comes down to moments that are unexpected. For a writer, it could be a chance meeting with an editor, agent, bookseller, literary festival organizer, or so many others who could possibly share your work with the readers you feel will love your writing.

Be prepared for that moment.

That is what I find developing an author platform brings: a literacy of how to talk about your work in a way that is natural. To be able to describe who your ideal reader is and where to find them in a way that is specific and full of energy. In knowing the marketplace inside and out so that when you engage in someone, you can speak from a place of knowledge and experience, not vague guesswork.

What gets in the way of developing an author platform? Waiting.

  • Waiting until you have the time. Spoiler alert: life is complex, you will likely always feel busy.
  • Waiting until you finish writing your book, because you justify that it is silly to worry about platform before you even have a book. But that’s akin to only learning how to run after you sign up for a marathon. As I describe below, these things take time. Give yourself that gift of time.
  • Waiting until you have a specific opportunity, such as interest from an agent. At that point you may find that they are asking questions that you are not ready to answer. Where you hoped they would figure this all out, you realize that this is instead a partnership where they look to you for guidance as much as you look to them.
  • Waiting because you read a really convincing article about how the trends are changing, so it would be a waste of time to make an effort now. One thing I have found is that there are always convincing articles about trends that can cause you to spend a lifetime on the sidelines, never getting in the game. If you look up famous predications about the internet, you will find a trove of quotes from very smart and experienced people who were wrong about what the future would bring. Don’t pretend that you alone can perfectly time trends so that you have to do the minimum effort with maximum results.

Why do I encourage people to develop their author platform early and consistently? Because the longer you wait to get involved, the further your road to success will be.

I know that often it can feel like you your platform as an author can be looked at like a road trip. You are about to get started, and you get to the highway and you see cars whizzing by at 80 miles per hour. You look down at your car, a 1992 Volvo wagon whose top speed is 60, but with wild shakes and rattles as you approach that speed. You justify: “I won’t even make it outside of my county by nightfall. Look at all these other people, they have accomplished so much, they are going so fast.. I don’t want to be that car on the highway, the jalopy that is just in everyone’s way. It’s embarrassing. Why bother?”

But I want you to go on that road trip. To embrace the fact that you are starting fresh, and that your car may not perform the way other cars do, but it has a character that is uniquely you. And as you travel, you will get smiles and beeps from people who love old station wagons, and encourage you along the way.

How can you work on your author platform today, so that it prepares you for how your next book will get published and reach readers? Some tips:

Build Your Author Platform Now. Or, if you are already working on it, recommit yourself to it. Infuse it with a new sense of life in the same way someone (me!) will buy a new pair of running shoes and workout outfit to reinvigorate a flagging fitness routine. The earlier you begin building it, the better off you will be. I was speaking to a writer the other day and she asked whether it was best to do this kind of work sooner or later. I always say sooner because the more time you have to research and build trust with people in your industry, the more it becomes a process filled with discovery and joy. The more you wait, the more you are rushing around in a panic to figure things out when you feel they matter most.

Talk to Those Who Read Books Like Yours. Not to promote your book to them, but to understand what they read and why. To turn this vague idea of “audience” into faces and voices who are complete human beings. Those you can not only better understand, but who can fill your life with those who love books and the arts. This means you likely have to do some primary research to consider who reads books who will be placed on a shelf next to yours. If you are unsure of where to start, spend time on Amazon or Goodreads looking at book reviews, or go down to your local library or bookstore and ask them for help.

Don’t Focus on Numbers; Instead Focus on Meeting Like-Minded People. Who are these folks? Other authors, booksellers, librarians, Instagrammers, podcasters, those who run and attend conferences. Or if you want to simplify it: anyone who reads! Develop a network of people who you can talk to about books, writing, and the themes that resonate most with you in books. This has a myriad of benefits, but perhaps this biggest is to no longer be trapped by the idea that talking about your writing is “marketing” and should be avoided. Our creative work is who we are, develop your authentic voice around it.

Identify Where to Find Ideal Readers. If I were to ask you to give me the names of 5 people who would love to read your next book, could you do that? What if I instead offered you $10,000 if you can tell me those names? Suddenly, that question becomes even more compelling. Where would you go? What groups online or offline would these people belong to? What conferences would they attend? What other authors do they read? What do they love talking about? Who in your community could help you answer this? Who could you email? These are the basic questions that lead creators on the journey from total isolation to feeling a part of a larger community around their writing. The sooner you ask those questions and pursue them, the more prepared you will be when it is time to share your work.

I work with writers and creators every day, and interview them on my podcast as well. Each of these people has a different journey to the publication of their work. Some get an agent right away, others get one after 70 queries, and still others self-publish. For a single author, the publishing path for each individual book may be wildly different. So much of this work is about finding the right path for you.

I find that joy is infused in this process when you are prepared. When you do the work to consider how to share what you create, that those unexpected conversations with readers, publishers, booksellers, podcasters, and so many others becomes a moment you are ready for — and a moment where powerful connections are made.