Building Your Author Platform

Spend five minutes with anyone in the publishing industry, and you’ll inevitably hear how important author platform is for selling books. Even the largest publishers—with the largest marketing budgets and the most well-connected publicists—rely heavily on the author’s own platform and connections to make a book succeed. In fact, the larger the publisher, the higher the standard for author platform.

But if you’re a new writer, starting from scratch with your platform, the task can feel more than daunting. How many followers on social media do I need? Should I be on TikTok? Should I start a Substack? Do I need bylines in high-circulation newspapers and magazines? The answers to those questions vary widely. So much depends on your goals, your strengths, and your niche.

For now, let’s start with a few basics. I hope these tips help you to get your platform off the ground!

Start with a simple author website.

Before you do anything else, you need to be easy to find online. If I google your name, I should be able to find your bio, relevant links to your work and/or social media, and info about how to get in touch with you. A basic author website is the best way to ensure all of that information is readily available.

Please know: you do not need to spend a lot of time, money, or resources on your website. If web design is your passion and you want to go all-in, by all means do so! But a very simple templated website is really all you need. My own website, for example, uses a basic WordPress theme, for which I pay a modest yearly fee. Other similar website builders include Squarespace, GoDaddy, and Wix.

Be sure you have a nice author photo.

It’s a good idea to feature a photo of yourself on your website, and you’ll certainly need an author photo when your writing gets published. If you don’t want to hire a professional photographer for a formal headshot, there are still ways to create a great-looking author photo yourself. Grab a friend and a smartphone and take a bunch of photos to give yourself options. A few tips:

  • If you are indoors, stand or sit near a window, with your body/head facing toward the light, and turn off all overhead light. If you are outside, position yourself in 100% shade (you and your background).
  • Ask your photographer to hold the camera at your head level or higher (pointing the camera slightly down if shooting from above).
  • Make sure your background is orderly, muted, and not distracting, and do not wear overly bright clothing or busy/bold patterns.

Don’t put all your eggs in one social media basket.

Social media will almost unquestionably be a part of your author platform. It is a fast, free, and easily accessible way to get your content out into the world and engage with an audience. But it’s wise not to rely entirely on social media, and especially wise not to rely entirely on a single social media platform.

The relative popularity and stability of different platforms changes all the time. New platforms pop up, others disappear, and the platforms themselves often change their policies and practices in ways that might make it harder for you to connect with your followers. Social media content creators actually have very little control, and we’ve all seen creators panic when their accounts are “shadow banned” or suspended, cutting off their ability to connect with their followers. Be sure that you have multiple ways of getting your writing and content to your audience.

On the other hand, don’t try to maintain a presence on too many social media platforms.

Now that I’ve convinced you to diversify your social media, I must also urge you not to try to engage with every social media platform. You won’t create great content and deepen your engagement if you’re spread too thin. Pick two (or at most three) platforms where your particular strengths can shine. Is pithy smart writing your thing? Focus on Twitter. Feel super comfortable on video? Focus on TikTok and Instagram. Prefer longform writing? Consider starting a Substack, blog, or other newsletter. Thrive on back-and-forth conversation? Consider hosting a podcast or pitching yourself to be a podcast guest. Don’t force yourself onto a platform that doesn’t feel natural to you, and don’t waste time trying to master them all.

Focus on engagement rather than follower counts.

I’m often asked by writers what number of social media followers they need to hit before their platform will be viewed favorably by a publisher. But, as cliché as it may sound, when it comes to social media followers, quality matters much more than quantity. It is easy to boost social media activity in artificial ways, and many authors with large follower counts aren’t able to convert those followers into book buyers. What does lead to book sales, however, is a smaller group of superfans who are eager to pick up whatever you’ve written and tell their friends about it. You’ll attract these kinds of fans by being authentically yourself and consistently putting your unique stuff out into the world.

Lastly, if you aspire to be a writer, you need to be writing, and sharing that writing.

Social media, podcasts, and the like are fabulous tools for building an audience, but what I most look for in a potential author is whether, how much, and where their writing is being shared. Whether you’ve got a manuscript in progress or not, you need to be writing regularly. A blog or newsletter is a great outlet for ongoing writing, but you can also consider pitching pieces you’ve written to newspapers, magazines, and other online publications. Write op-eds, review other books, pitch thematic essays to your favorite literary website. Just get writing.

After all, what’s the point of an author platform if you don’t have any writing to share?

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