A few years ago, I was asking this question. Had I known then what I know now, I would have been focusing more on building my platform and a little less on writing my manuscript.
Writers write, but if they don’t have a platform they don’t publish or sell the book that they have spent so much blood, sweat, and tears getting on paper. Because of my other commitments (single parent, day job, ultrarunning), it took me two years to get my first manuscript written and ready to be send to a professional editor. During those two years, I didn’t understand what a platform was or how to go about building one.
The importance of a platform didn’t really sink in until six months ago. Then I made some excuses about how I didn’t have time to write and build a platform. Now, I am trying to achieve the balance of building a platform and writing. At this point, my time is about 50/50 on these two tasks because I’m behind. Once you have your platform built you can ease back on it and let it grow of its own accord. Initially, it does take a lot of time because you are just getting it going. If you put the work in upfront then it will take off and you don’t have to put forth the same effort if you do not want to.
What is a platform? A platform is an audience, followers, fans, or readers. People, other than your parents, who want to read what you have written. People buy books because they are recommended by friends, reviewers, or some other form of media. Occasionally, people do pick up a random book in the bookstore or from Amazon read the back and buy it.
Readers have to know that you exist or they cannot buy your book no matter how amazing and life altering it will be for them. You can self-publish the book and wait for people to find it, decide to buy your book, read it, and then decide if they want to tell others about it or write a review of your book. I don’t recommend going this route. You will likely end up in some dark depression staring at computer screen displaying your book on amazon with zero reviews and zero sales (okay two sales your mom and dad).
There are superstars out there, who have been able to get huge sales despite no one knowing who they are, but I’m not relying on the idea that I’m a superstar and neither should you.
How do you build a platform? Social media such as Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook are the best way to build a platform. Pick two or three primary social media sites that you enjoy interacting on and build your empire with them. It’s important to pick the ones you like to use. If you don’t enjoy it, your dedication will falter and you will stop updating them. It needs to be something you can dedicate some time to each day at least 30-60 minutes.
The numbers slowly go up as you find other people who are interested in the same things you are. You want to use social media to build relationships not to advertise. Connect with people. Readers buy books and remain loyal to an author they have a connection with. Your numbers are not going to grow to thousands overnight. It is going to take six months to a year to get some decent numbers going. So relax.
The best advice I have heard about how to use social media is to create connections to others and provide useful information. Its fine to post what you are doing every once in a while, but if you do this all the time, the only people who will follow you are your friends and family.
In my opinion, having a blog is the absolute best way to build a platform. People get to know you on a deeper level when you blog (connection). Choose your topic wisely, because it has to be one that you can maintain over a long time. We are talking years here. It needs to be broad enough that you don’t feel restricted and contained. Choose something you are passionate about. It doesn’t matter what it is, other people are passionate or interested in the same thing.
The topic is likely to change a little from when you first start blogging and that is fine. Your style and topic will develop and grow as you realize what your readers like to read. Consistency is also important. You need to post on your blog at least once a week, but daily can be a bit much for busy people. Personally, I find multiple posts during the day overwhelming and sometimes I will unfollow the blogger.
You won’t have many followers/readers for your blog during the first few months, but numbers grow exponentially. You have to hang in there for the long haul. A great way to get other people to follow your blog is to follow and comment on other blogs on related topics. This again goes back to making a connection and being useful.
You don’t have to be famous or have a book published to start building your platform. You need to start building it sooner rather than later.
Even writers planning to publish traditionally, should build a platform. Most agents and publishers will google your name when you send in your query letter. If they don’t find anything, they are probably not going to agree to take on your book no matter how awesome and life changing it is.
Other ways to build your platform include: podcasts and youtube videos.