By Joe Moore
As the responsibility of marketing and promotion falls more and more on the shoulders of the author these days, one of the questions that agents and editors ask novelists is “What is your platform?” With the economy putting extra pressure on publishers, they expect writers to come to the game bringing a ready-made audience. They not only want but expect authors to already have established a fan base or at least a group of potential fans—and for new writers, this is BEFORE your book comes out. Even veteran, multi-book authors must have a solid, established platform. It’s part of the “new” business plan.
So what is a platform?
In a single word, your platform is your “brand”. Having a platform helps your relationship with your publisher, and it can assist you in selling more books.
So how do you establish or build your platform? The quickest way is to start with the Internet. Here are a couple of methods to begin nailing that platform together.
Website. There was a time when a website was only for the rich and famous. Those days are long gone. A writer without a website is about as logical as an author without a telephone. Outside of the bookstore, the author’s website is the “first impression” a potential reader gets of your brand. It’s truly a no-brainer. Your website is your billboard, your advertisement, your calling card. And the potential for delivering a creative message is only limited to your imagination. Essential elements on your website must include: a method for contacting you; a method for purchasing your book(s); a method for the press to gain information (digital press kit); an incentive to linger or return such as a contest or free sample chapters; a method to track your website traffic. Other considerations include continuity in your site colors and design that are in sync with your book covers or other branding elements, and a reasonable amount of interactivity such as a method of leaving comments or subscribing to newsletters and publication news.
Blogging. You obviously know about blogs or you won’t be visiting this one. A blog is an online method of expressing your thoughts with a means for visitors to leave a comment or opinion. As a writer, your blog will probably be about your writing, your books, or some other connection to your craft and career. Some authors like to venture away from their books and discuss other topics such as politics, religion, economics, etc. A word of warning: You’ve worked hard to establish and build your “brand”. Don’t blow it by pissing off your readers. At some point they just might reject your next thriller or mystery because they don’t agree with your position on unrelated issues. A blog can easily turn into a slippery slop.
Newsletter. As previously mentioned, your website needs a method for your visitors and fans to subscribe to a newsletter or news bulletin. If they’re a fan, they want to know about you and your books. When is your next book coming out? When are you going to do a signing in their area? Will you be at a particular writer’s conference? They want the news. And the best and most economical way to get them what they want is an electronic newsletter. There are numerous email-generating newsletter sources that you can use to put together a value-filled publication. A few suggestions are Constant Contact, MailChimp, and Vertical Response.
Write some stuff. Any writing credit is a good writing credit, and it helps build your platform. No matter what you write, whether it’s for the local paper or a national magazine, you’re byline will contain a mention that you are a novelist. So if the reader likes your article or how-to piece, and they see you also write thrillers or mysteries, that’s a potential plank in your platform.
Book forums. There are a ton of forums out there dealing with readers and writers. A good resource to begin finding them is groups.yahoo.com/. Others include WritersNet, Helium, Backspace, and Absolute Write. Make yourself known on these and similar forums and you’ll be adding to your brand and platform.
Social Networks. Sites like MySpace.com, LinkedIn.com, Facebook.com, Twitter.com and countless others are perfect for building your brand. The only potential risk is the time you might spend on these sites instead of writing your book. But they are a terrific source of finding your dedicated or new fans. A word of caution: see the note on blogging above.
Additional platform building tools include professional publicity photos of yourself and a strong press-ready biography. Also, memberships in writer organizations such as the International Thriller Writers or Mystery Writers of America help build your brand and platform among your colleagues and fans. The networking and connections made within these organizations and their subsequent writer conferences are invaluable.
How’s your platform coming? Any other suggestions on building a strong brand?