Wednesday, October 25, 2017

How Beginning Writers Can Build a Platform - P.1: Purpose of a Platform

"What is a platform, and why is it important?"

"I'm a writer. I don't need to devote my time into building an online presence."

"Does having a platform really help aspiring authors catch the attention of a literary agent or publisher?" 

"How is it possible to build a readership even before my book is published?"

These are questions I hear frequently from aspiring authors -- whether it's in an email I receive from a potential client at Hartline Literary, during an appointment with a writer at a conference, or asked by a writer friend of mine. 

When we were kids and dreamt about becoming an author someday, many of us envisioned becoming the next [insert your favorite best-selling author here]. Back then (before 2010), it was only important for non-fiction authors to have some sort of platform. Now, though, publishers are becoming more selective. They can't publish every book that comes across their desk. So how do they weed through these submissions? 

By analyzing the author's platform. 

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They might search the proposal -- and will sometimes do an online search -- to find answers to these questions:

  • does this author have a website or a blog?
  • can this author be easily found through a Google search?
  • where is this author online (Twitter, FB, Instagram, YouTube)?
  • does the author know his/her audience?
  • are they a speaker? 
  • what kind of media coverage have they received in the past?
  • are they consistently posting content geared to this audience?
  • has the author easily branded him/herself?
  • do they interact with their audience?
  • do they have a mailing list? 

In the "old days", authors relied on a large publisher's marketing team to help them find the spotlight. Sure, the marketing team does still help with publicity efforts -- but now, they expect the author to already be engaged with their audience online. Social media has given us the opportunity to create our own spotlight. We no longer have to rely on a publisher's marketing team to do this for us. 

This cuts the publicity costs for the publishing company. Besides, since it's so much easier now for us to find the audience on our own, why shouldn't we want to take advantage of this?

"Building a platform" shouldn't be something we dread; instead, it should be something we enjoy doing! Through taking simple steps daily, we can find our ideal readers. We can make a personal connection with them even before our books are published.

Sure, it might take time and effort; but over time, our platform will become built. Then, when it comes time to pitching the book to an agent/publisher, we'll know that our submission won't be deleted due to a lack of readership.    

On the other hand, when an author has zero platform, this means the publisher will have to work that much harder and spend more $$$ to publicize their book. I don't blame them for wanting to find authors who have a built-in readership already in place.

If you're a beginning author who loves to write and is clueless about how to build a platform, don't be intimidated by this! I bet that, as you begin to blog/post on social media/film YouTube videos (whatever you choose), you'll realize how much fun it is. You may even find it addicting, like I have. Why?

Because it'll give you the same opportunity to do what you already enjoy doing in your books: Inspire people (if you're a Christian fiction author). Or share nerdy technological advances (if you're a sci-fi author). Or share findings from your historical research (if you're a historical fiction author). 

It'll also give you the opportunity to find "your people" -- readers who enjoy reading the same kind of books you do. Readers who may just be interested in purchasing your book when it releases as well. 

So if the word "platform" has a bad rep in your vocabulary, bear with me. Let me teach you step-by-step how you can build a platform that impresses an agent/publisher in the simplest way possible.

In this new blog series, I want to help you understand ...

  • the purpose of a platform
  • how to effectively build a platform and target your readership through taking simple steps daily
  • what kind of content you should share and how often
  • how building a brand will boost your platform
  • how to use your platform to help you catch the attention of an agent/publisher and eventually market your book

Are there any questions you'd like me to answer in this series? Leave them in the comments below!

~ ~ ~ 

Do you enjoy building a platform? Or do you view it as an interruption to your writing? 


  1. I've been seeing platform as more and more important, especially now I write serial fiction. And I agree, it's really fun!

    1. Yes, it’s definitely more important than it used to be. Thankfully, it’s also easier to build a platform these days than it used to be, too!

  2. I always thought of a platform as some impersonal marketing thing, but since starting my blog I've realised it's more to do with making friends and supporting people.

    I'm looking forward to your series!
    - Jem Jones

    1. So true! Platform isn’t self-focused; it’s reader-focused.

      Thanks so much!

  3. I love it. And since I write for businesses, I have to do it. So I might as well enjoy it, right? By the way, any professional benefits from an online platform these days. It'll get you hired long before a resume submitted through an online portal will. Writers who learn to build their own platforms can make money helping non-writing professionals do the same. We can share!

    1. True! I think that’s the secret: Learning to enjoy building a platform. And yes, I love that we can share platforms also!

  4. I've always found it fascinating, and now I'm creating some space to build my platform on my blog. I'm still daunted by the social media aspect of it, though, because the only one I really like is Pinterest. DO I need more social media platforms?

    1. Where is your audience? If I were you, I’d try to find out where your audience is located online—which social media platform—and then try to develop a platform there. Pinterest, for example, is geared toward middle-aged women. If you’re confused about Twitter or Facebook and don’t find them enjoyable, I highly recommend the book “Connections” by Edie Melson. She helps writers to learn how to build their social media from the ground up in a way that’s geared toward their target audience. This can be accomplished through scheduling posts about 20 – 30 mins a day, four days a week. =)

  5. I'm working at building my platform, but it's slow. Can't seem to click with my audience.

    1. It does involve a lot of trial and error. Keep analyzing what you post and make sure it’s geared toward your audience. I’d also advise studying how other authors in your genre approach social media. It does start off slow, but as you persevere consistently and by posting the right content, you will begin to see a pay off!

  6. How do you stay safe while putting so much of yourself out there?

    1. Great question! You’re not obligated to give out personal information. However, readers do like to feel as though their favorite author is an actual human being—and social media gives us the opportunity to do this. I don’t advise giving away the exact location of where you are at a certain moment. Some authors choose to keep the name/age of their spouse and children private as well. Again, it’s based on personal preference. You might want to do further research on this subject if you’re really concerned, though.

  7. I write for YA- & find it hard to connect w/YA readers. How do I find them & get their interest without coming across as an old creeper or even stalker!?!? (lol). Seriously, though- my connections seem to be mostly other writers. I'd love ideas on how to reach YA. Thanks Tessa!

    1. Lol! Thankfully, the teen audience can be easily found on social media—especially Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat. (Although you don’t necessarily have to be present on all of those platforms.) Teen readers love to connect with YA authors, so I don’t think they assume they’re a creeper/stalker. I’d advise posting content that piques their interest and serves them. You’d only come across as a creeper if you start obsessing over their accounts, asking them too many personal questions, etc. Then they’d probably get concerned, haha. =)

      You may want to consider reading “Connections” by Edie Melson. She lays out how writers can find their target audience online and what kind of content they can post to intrigue them. Another good idea is to study the accounts of other YA authors, especially on Instagram. How are they connecting with their audience? What kind of content do they post that their readers specifically enjoy? For example, as a YA author, you may want to consider posting pictures of your favorite teen books on Instagram.

      Ask yourself: What are the interests of teens today? What do readers of YA fiction enjoy? Then, how do your passions intersect? (For example: Do you love coffee as much as they do?)
      I hope that helps!


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