Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Branding and Career – Part Five: Promotion and Platform

Sorry there was no post the last two weeks. My father died. This post is extra, super long to make up for it.

What is a platform?
A lot of people are confused about what a platform actually is. A person who has a good platform has a means to communicate with a lot of fans whom they have built a relationship with. So they might have a popular blog or a popular youtube channel, they might have a big mailing list they build running seminars. A platform is not sending out emails to hundreds of people who don’t know you and don’t care about you. Platform is also not the tools you use (youtube, facebook, etc), rather it is the connection you have with people.

There are four elements to platform: Visibility, Authority, Proven Reach, and Target Audience.

- Visibility is how easy are you to find and access. How many people are talking about you? Linking to you?

- Authority is how well respected are you when it comes to your area. Do you have the accolades to back you up and do you talk on your chosen field with confidence and accuracy?

- Proven reach is the number of people who are accessing your materials. If you post/upload, how many people will see/read it? Not a guess, but hard evidence, such as the view counter on youtube.

- Target audience is how many of the people accessing your platform are interested in the book you are writing. If you have a highly successful youtube channel on yoga and exercise and you write a steampunk gay romance, you might have a great platform, but it’s not going to translate to book sales. Because people are coming to you for yoga and exercise, not gay romance.

So the goal of an author’s platform is to build a relationship with a group of fans. That is done by providing people with something they want. Always remember, building a platform is necessary for you, but it isn’t about you. It’s about providing something your fans want. They are not coming to you to worship, they are coming to you so you can serve them. And you should serve graciously and joyfully.

So when you are planning your platform, the biggest question you have to ask yourself is: ‘How do I want to serve? How am I going to add value to the lives of my fans?’ I, obviously, chose to write blog posts like this one, supporting writers. Are all of my readers writers? Sadly, no. However I bet 99% of them say they want to write a book one day. I love interacting with other writers, and I love helping people. So this works for me.

How to choose your medium.

There are many tools and ways to build your platform. It’s better to do one well, than eight poorly. Initially I tried to do facebook, twitter, a blog, a mailing list and a pintrest. It was stupid, and it didn’t work. Now I focus on facebook (because a lot of people I like are there and I can chat with them) and this blog. In the future, when Meg and I are building our co-author brand, we plan to start short youtube videos which we will make together.

When you are choosing your medium, you have several things to consider:

1. Where are your fans?
Different age groups congregate on different social media. Where you go to connect with teen boys will be very different to where you go to connect with women in their thirties. Know where your audience are. Pro tip: if you think teenagers are on facebook, you have a lot of research to do.

2. What do you enjoy?
What do you actually enjoy doing? If you hate writing blog posts, don’t run a blog. If you can’t stand twitter, don’t use it. However if you spend all day on twitter anyway, why not make that your platform hub?

3. How much time/energy do you have?
Some social media sites require more time and energy than others. Some people who use blogging as a platform say you need to blog every day. I only post once a week, because that means I can work on a single, high quality post for seven whole days. If you are using twitter, you must be able to post a few times a day, because it is very fast paced. If you don’t want to log on to your account every day and keep up, it’s going to become pretty stressful. But if you have small kids and can only check the internet in 15 minute bursts, it may be perfect. Whereas youtube videos would be a nightmare.

4. What reflects your brand?
Your platform and content need to reflect the brand you are trying to build. If you are writing romance novels, a blog where you focus entirely on how to build latex props for gory horror films will not help build your audience. A pintrest board with cakes and clothes would be much better.
Likewise, if you write YA novels and tweet about parenting all the time, teens are going to stay far, far away, because teens do not want to know about parenting. Nor should they.

What do your target audience want from you?

So you know your genre, you know where your fans are and you know what they like. What do they actually want from you? How do you serve your fans and add value to their lives?
Here are the five main things fans want from authors:

- More books.
- Information about upcoming titles.
- Entertainment.
- Information about areas of mutual interest (EG: publishing, writing).
- Inclusion and a relationship with you, information about your ‘process’ as a writer.
- Exclusive material (EG: pre-publication sample chapters and snippets).
- Other products (EG: bookmarks, mugs, mousepads).

You don’t have to do all of these things. You can pick and choose what works for you. But you need to build a relationship with fans, not just hawk wares like some guy selling phones at a kiosk in the mall. Decide what you want to offer and be consistent. There have been a number of authors I started following because they gave interesting information to start with, but then it slowly devolved into them moaning about their personal life. Some people enjoy that, but it left a bad taste in my mouth, because it wasn’t why I had started following them.

You, the product.

You do have to share some personal stuff though. A big part of platform is letting people see you are a real person. A person they like. My blog posts about chronic illness tend to get a huge response. They are very personal and very raw, however they are not whiny.

Think of yourself as a character in a book. What traits do you want to present? What weaknesses make you a likable protagonist? If you want people to feel like they have a relationship with you, you need to be honest. But you also need to know how and when to edit. Think hard when preparing to comment on religion, politics or other controversial issues. And think hard before including the other people in your life in your social media. I quite enjoy reading updates about some fellow author’s kids, but at the same time, I worry about security.

Remember, your platform is not about you. If you need a private facebook to whine about your husband/wife/bills, make one and keep it private. Be very clear on the image you want to present and stick to it. Never post anything in the heat of the moment.

And don’t be an asshole unless you are very, very certain that is the brand you want to sell.

What sells books?

So what actually sells books? What converts best to actual sales? Current data, which could be completely inaccurate in 12 months, says that reviews are the single biggest influence of sales numbers. This probably has a lot to do with amazon’s ranking algorithms. However reviews are a bit like word of mouth, which has always been a very strong sales factor.

Why have a platform at all if reviews are what sell books? Well, there are several reasons. However first you should realise that the purpose of a platform is not actually sales. That said, if people follow you, they probably like you and if they like you, they are more likely to respond to a call to action and write reviews for you.

A platform also reminds your fans you exist in those periods between books. It gets them excited about your upcoming books and keeps them on the fore of their mind when they are recommending books to other people. This is the visibility we were talking about earlier.

Paid ads can also make you visible. Blog tours. Anything that reminds people you exist and funnels them toward your work. So you can see why a platform, while not translating into direct sales, can certainly help with indirect sales.

Stuff not to do:

A lot of people have really fucked up their careers by misbehaving on social media. If you are the sort of person who can’t stay away from internet drama, maybe skip the author platform thing. Because one terrible comment can lead to several thousand 1 star amazon reviews if you piss off the wrong person. Here is a short list of things not to do on social media:

- Over share.
This includes personal problems, your home address, details about your children, etc.

- Preach.
Don’t be that guy.

- Hard sell.
Don’t be this guy either.

- Be an asshole.
Really. Don’t do it to be funny. Don’t do it to be clever. Don’t do it because someone really, really deserves it. Always take the high road in public. There are SO MANY professionals who are perfect saints on social media, who then have the most epic and hilarious bitchfests with me via PM when someone pisses them off. If you think butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth, they are probably peeling paint off the walls with their language in a private conversation somewhere.

Final Note:

There is one thing that all fans want from their favourite authors that is 100% guaranteed to sell more books. And that is writing more books.

Never let social media and platform get in the way of that goal. Platform is second to the work. You can have a successful career as an author without ever logging onto the internet. You can’t have a successful career as an author if you don’t write books.

Words first, always.


  1. In the 'should not do' list you forgot to include responding to negative reviews. I've seen a few authors go down in flames thanks to trying to explain to a one star reviewer why their opinion is wrong (it kinda falls into the 'don't be an asshole' point, but I've seen such magnificent train wrecks from that sort of action it needs a special mention IMO).

    Another great post, thanks :)

    1. I think the right person can handle negative reviews properly. Apologizing, offering a refund (if it isn't amazon, which offers refunds) and thanking the reviewer for taking the time to comment as you would in any other business can help.

      But it depends on the kind of negative review. It all falls under the 'be professional and don't be an asshole' umbrella.