5 Strategies to Build Your Author Platform (Plus 1 Overlooked Bonus Strategy)

Are you an aspiring author who has been told you need a platform to publish? It can be tricky to understand what agents, editors, and book coaches mean when we talk about author platform. That’s partly because the best strategy for platform building depends on variables like genre, target reader, author background, and resources.

But it’s also partly because the publishing world is a bit of a closed club. Often terms like these aren’t defined well because they’re not really meant to be welcoming or inviting—just another reason publishing stays inaccessible to so many people!

So let’s talk about author platform and the strategies you can use to start building your platform today, whether you’ve already published, are working on publishing, or haven’t even started writing!

Demystifying Author Platform

First, let’s demystify what we mean by platform.

At its heart, your platform is simply your ability to reach people who are interested in purchasing your book. The reason this matters to publishers should be obvious—they don’t want to invest in your book if they won’t see a return on their investment. And authors who can easily reach their audience tend to have higher book sales and lower marketing costs.

If, when I mentioned “audience,” your mind went straight to social media followers, you’re not alone. One of the most common misconceptions I hear from aspiring authors is that they need thousands of social media followers to get a book deal. That’s simply not true. Not only can you have an active, highly engaged following without having huge numbers of social media followers, but it’s also worth noting that a huge social media following won’t necessarily result in higher book sales.

Look at Justin Timberlake, for example. At the time that Justin Timberlake launched his book, he had around 53 million followers on Instagram—that’s a lot of followers! If those followers were actively engaged, we might have expected to see at least 1-2% purchasing his book. Unfortunately, his book only sold 100k copies in three years.

To be clear, those are incredible sales numbers in many cases!

But they demonstrate that social media followers are wishy-washy—people who just follow for fun aren’t likely to get their credit cards out anytime soon!

As this case study demonstrates, social media followers alone don’t signal the book sales that agents and editors (or self-publishing authors!) want to see. That’s because many social media followers aren’t actually engaged. They just follow casually with very little interaction.

Let’s look back at our definition of platform: “your ability to reach people who are interested in purchasing your book.” The “purchase” aspect is key. Following someone on social media is free. Free followers do not translate to paying customers, and when you’re selling your book, you need people willing to reach for their wallets.

So how do you create a platform that reaches engaged readers? Read on for our top 5 strategies.

Leverage Your Organizational Memberships

The first strategy we suggest is to look at the organizations you already belong to. Are you, for example, a member of the American Psychological Association? Are you a member of the National Communication Association? Are you a member of any kind of professional organization that exists to serve members in a particular career or interest field?

This type of organization is a great place to start, particularly if your book is connected to that organization’s focus topic as with business or leadership books.

But even if your book isn’t about a business or leadership topic, you can tap into your organizational memberships to start building your platform. Are you a member of an alumni organization? Did you graduate from a large college or university? Some of these alumni groups reach millions of people with their email blasts, their magazines, and their events.

If you’ve got connections to a university alumni magazine, you’ve got an “in” to reach 1,000s of potential buyers!

For all types of books, I also highly suggest considering your local or state community organizations. Individuals in groups like Chambers of Commerce, local networking clubs, and groups like 1 Million Cups exist specifically to support and boost their members’ success. Often, if you’re willing to put in a little work supporting others, you can find amazing opportunities through these organizations.

For example, I know one author who was actively networking as part of her consulting business. She happened to be in a circle with some folks from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. When she brought up her book, someone in that circle asked for more information. Later, that person was putting together the program for the Kansas Women in Business Conference, they asked if she’d jump on a panel. By simply talking about her book, she opened herself up to opportunities to promote it on a larger scale.

The bottom line: get active in your organizations and let others know you’re looking to promote a book. You never know what kinds of opportunities can come your way!

Pitch a Guest Post or Article

For those who aren’t super comfortable speaking in front of an audience (or for those who aren’t able to take time out of their schedule to appear live), pitching guest posts and articles is a great alternative.

Start by making a list of 15 to 20 topics that you could talk about, either from an expert position because of the credibility of your book, or because you’re just passionate about that topic. That list becomes your pool of topics for guests posts.

Once you have that list of topics, you can start connecting your expertise with popular websites and/or physical magazines who might be interested in running your content.

One strategy is a continuation of the previous tip: you could look at the organizations you already belong to and pitch a guest article or post for their publications. Let’s say, for instance, that you attended the University of Alabama and that your book is about finding community in the South. In that case, you could pitch an article for your alumni magazine.

“Talk about your book, everywhere you can, even before it comes out.”

Alternatively, you might look at other websites whose audiences are similar to the one you want to attract. For example, imagine your book is about developing nutritious meal plans for teenagers with food allergies. In that case, you could create a list of parenting blogs that target the parents of teenagers. Then revisit your list of topics and choose a few that fit with each of the blogs’ general theme, vibe, style, and content.

Now you’ve got a list that matches potential guest posting outlets with potential guest posting topics.

I know it can feel intimidating to pitch guest posts. But keep in mind that people who have active blogs are usually eager to bring in other perspectives. Not only do guest posts help their audience by bringing in new ideas and perspectives, but they also help the blog’s owners—you’re giving them a day off from content creation!

Of course, you’re not going to land every post you pitch. But if you send out 10 well-crafted pitches, you can expect to get one or two yeses. From there, you can leverage your successful guest posts to get more.

Before you know it, your name is out there. People will start to be interested in what you have to say. Those readers who connect with your voice are much more likely to purchase your book than those who haven’t heard of you.

Your first steps: create your list of topics and potential blogs or magazines, craft a compelling pitch, and send out a batch of requests.

Try for Podcast Interviews

For many niches, podcast interviews are more effectively than guest posts. Particularly if you’re good on mic, you can create an instant connection with listeners, which is one of the most important elements in building a true platform (and not just a bunch of random Twitter followers!).

The process for this is very similar to the above process for guest posting. Just like with guest posting, you’ll want to make a list of 15 to 20 things you could talk about or write about. And just like with guest posting, you’ll make a second list of podcasts.

As you’re researching possible podcasts, keep three things in mind:

  1. You won’t land an interview on a podcast that doesn’t do interviews. (Yes, yes, this seems obvious, but in my experience, it’s worth noting!)

  2. Just like with guest posting, you want to look at the general topics covered in the podcast. But podcast pitching needs to go a step further—you should also think about the particular types of people the podcast reaches. Compared to guest posts, which are typically found through a simple Google search, podcast episodes are usually heard by people who subscribe to that podcast.

    So if you’re trying to reach women business owners, you may have better luck with Racheal Cook’s Promote Yourself to CEO (a podcast that specifically addresses women entrepreneurs) than you would, say, the Jocko Podcast (which targets a much broader audience and also tends toward more masculine conversations).

  3. Podcast hosts get tons of pitches for interview guests, so you’ll need to stand out. The easiest way to do that is through a friend-of-a-friend. What does that mean for this strategy? It means that, before you just start emailing your ideal podcast hosts, go ask your network—including everybody that you’re engaged with on social media, everyone you’ve emailed with, everyone you know from high school, old jobs, or other experiences—and ask whether anyone has connections to these podcasters.

In many cases, if you can get a warm introduction through a mutual friend, you’ll have much higher odds of getting an interview.

Just like with guest posting, the more interviews you land, the more luck you’ll have landing more. I’ve had authors who were able to snowball podcast interviews. They scored a couple through mutual connections and cold pitches, and that got them into the podcast world. They were excellent in interviews, so just a couple of appearances resulted in them getting invitations to other podcasts and speaking opportunities.

Take-away: Podcasts are a great way to build your platform, but be sure you’re strategic with how you approach your pitches.

Approach Smaller Local Groups

This fourth strategy is one that often gets overlooked—it’s not as flashy as big, mass appearances, but it can be very, very effective. If you can get your local community on board—the people you interact with all the time—they will buy your book. You’ll just have a much, much higher sales rate among people who actually know you and have known you for some time than you will among strangers. That’s just the way it works.

So even though your local, personal groups may seem too obvious, I promise you—they can be a very loyal segment of your overall platform!

When you’re trying to think about smaller, local groups, think about your church, any school clubs you belong to, and your high school class. You might also consider joining Rotary or the Knights of Columbus (even if you don’t want to join, they may be thrilled to host you for a lunch presentation!).

These smaller local groups can be a great place not only to build a platform, but also to get some experience with keynote speaking. If you have groups that you’re involved in, from your church to your local Chamber of Commerce, they can be a great place to build your chops as a speaker. This can help you get a lot of confidence for your podcast interviews, panel appearances, and other ways to get your book in front of groups of people who might be interested.

Bottom line: Don’t sleep on the smaller groups! If you can get in with a local lunch club, your church, or other very familiar group, it can be a great way to build momentum in your platform-building strategy.

Use Social Media (Just Not As Your Only Strategy!)

In the beginning of this article, I mentioned that social media is not synonymous with author platform—that’s true! But that doesn’t mean you should ignore social media entirely. If you can be strategic about your social media use, you can use it as part of your overall book promotion strategy.

There are two keys to effectively using social media in your author platform: audience analysis and helpful content.

1. Here’s what I mean by audience analysis.

Let’s say your book is about financial stability after retirement. This is an important, evergreen topic with so many possibilities, particularly for guest posts. But if you wanted to build your platform on social media, would you go to TikTok?

Probably not!

TikTok is great. BookTok is all the rage, particularly with YA and genre fiction, like fantasy and romance. You can even get some good traction in self-help and lifestyle nonfiction through TikTok.

But you know what TikTok doesn’t typically have? Retirees.

So if you want to get the most bang for your buck on social media—and if you’re writing about financial advice for retirees—it probably doesn’t make sense to spend hours on TikTok. Instead, you might head over to Facebook, which has a slightly older demographic.

2. You’ll also need to make sure you’re posting helpful content.

The biggest error I see new authors make is posting a lot of content that basically amounts to, “Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book!”

You know what won’t compel people to buy your book? That.

Instead, aim for posts that are actually useful. Give people just a little taste of what they’re going to get in your book. Can you offer a quick tip? An example you used in your book? If your book suggests a new way of thinking about particular topics, can you apply that perspective to trending events?

The easiest way to convince people to buy your book is by showing them how great it is. That can be challenging with fiction, but nonfiction authors have tons of material to draw from.

Take-away: Social media can be a great place to build an author platform, just remember to approach it strategically.

Bonus Tip: Talk About Your Book Early and Often!

Since you’ve read this far, I want to share one more tip that can boost all of the others I’ve discussed here: start talking about your book before you think you should.

A lot of times people think they need to keep their book a secret until it actually launches. That is a terrible idea. In fact, the second that you really start making progress on your book, you should talk about it as much as you can. Talk about it everywhere. Talk about it all the time. Anytime you have any kind of an entry point into bringing up your book, you should do it.

I have seen over and over with authors how this helps them get their foot in the door on their very first platform building.

In fact, I’ve even seen this work in the case of my own book! When my co-author and I first started writing our forthcoming book, we talked about it all the time. We talked about the things we were discovering. We talked about the points we planned to make. We talked about the artwork we wanted to use. We talked about everything we could think of to talk about.

And guess what? Our very first podcast interview for that book was an invited interview.

Now, we were writing about Black Lives Matter in the summer of 2020—the topic was everywhere—and we’d written about Black Lives Matter before. Those are all things that had actually already begun to establish our platform, so take that with a grain of salt.

“Social media followers alone don’t signal the book sales that agents and editors (or self-publishing authors!) want to see.”

Still, the point remains: if we had not talked about that book well before we were even ready to pitch it to publishers, we would not have gotten that interview. And that interview was the easiest publicity I’ve ever done. We didn’t have to do anything but show up. We talked about the things that we were experts in, things that we knew a lot about. We shared stories of the people who shared with us for the book’s content. We essentially talked about the same things on the podcast that we’d already been talking about.

And it was a great interview. We got a lot of buzz. We got a lot of people reaching out afterward and in fact, we continued to get interviews because we’ve been on that interview.

I’ve seen this with other authors, too. For instance, we worked with an author who had been holding back. She thought she should wait until the book came out. I suggested that she post on social media and let her friends know she was working on a book.

She posted once, and from that post, she got offers from agents who wanted to see her proposal.

Takeaway: Talk about your book, everywhere you can, even before it comes out.

Conclusion

The idea of building an author platform can feel so lonely and overwhelming. But when you really focus on the relationship aspect of platform building, you’ll find that it actually helps you feel more supported.

You’ll find that you get feedback from your readers when there’s still time to adjust or add in elements of content. You’ll find that you get a ton of encouragement from the people who want to read your book. And you’ll find that some of the work will start to happen organically as you build a habit of talking about your book whenever and wherever you can.

If you’d like support for building your author platform, publishing your work, and/or writing your book or proposal, I hope you’ll reach out! We’d love to work with you to find the strategies that you actually enjoy, so you can effortlessly boost your book sales (or your odds of getting a traditional book contract).

The video format of this post can be found here.

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Amanda Edgar

Dr. Amanda Nell Edgar is an award-winning author, ghostwriter, and book coach and the founder of Page & Podium Press. Co-author of the forthcoming Summer of 2020: George Floyd and the Resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Amanda has authored two nationally award-winning books and ghostwritten many more.

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