Building a Platform: An Agent’'s Advice
Prepared for the Jambalaya Writers’ Conference - 4-11-15
Just to be clear - I'm not a publicist but I spend a lot of time learning about how to build a platform for my authors - and then pushing my authors to get going - because it's so important to have a platform at every stage of publishing. So I go to meetings, read info, and in general try to be up on the latest thinking about what works for authors. I even started Tweeting and posting on Facebook and Pinterest.
What is a platform? It's a place from which you can effectively reach out to many others - and in my business, that means authors reaching readers.
The idea is to build a community so that when it comes time to publicize your book, you have lots of people dying to see it - true for fiction and nonfiction.
Agents look at platforms to size up an author's possibilities. So much of a book's success today depends on the author so when we have to decide whether to take on an author or not, platform counts a lot in the decision. It shows you are savvy and aware and likely to be a productive author. It helps too if you have reach - if you have a lot of followers.
Publishers look at platforms too - for the same reasons. But they are also looking to see if you have a built-in audience, ready and waiting for your book. Some - probably many now - will help you build your platform but you have to have one to get in the door. Either that, or a blockbuster idea.
But your platform may be the first thing a publisher looks at - before the idea. That's why so many books have come out of blogs - the author clearly has a subject that resonates with an audience - it's a proven commodity.
The minimum: a website, a Facebook Business page, plus Twitter.
What should be on your website:
First you need to identify your key messages that aren't being said elsewhere - and keep hitting home these messages - not too many, one or two messages.
List events on the site - shows what you can talk about. Archive older events.
Add any anecdotes that fed your writing career - people love to learn about you as a person.
Another good idea is to blog about the writing of your book as you go along. The problems you face, the ideas you've had, the people you've met. Take videos of people you interview - videos are great on a website. (Get a release from the person, though, to allow you to use it.)
The visual component is very important on a website - these days, people are really interested more in visuals than in words.
Be sure to include contact info, and icons for Facebook and Twitter, and, if you have a book, icons connecting to booksellers - always include B&N as well as an Indie seller like Powell's as well as Amazon.
The website should be in your name, not in the book's name. Add pages for different projects.
Check out other author websites. Simon Winchester is a good one to look at - fun and lots of content. Also, I like Andrea Warren's website, one of my authors. Very carefully done. Also Paul Holinger's site.
Include a signup box - every email contact you can collect is worthwhile for future publicity. Keep a list for an email blast when your book comes out. Give something away, or do a newsletter.
Once you have a website you have to drive people to it.
Twitter - I’'m a new tweeter and I love it - gives me an opportunity to shape my image and reach out to people I would never come across otherwise - they notify me when someone “likes” my tweets, or retweets or comments.
You want to gather followers.
Important to retweet other tweets so people get to know you - you get to be part of the community.
Think as a headline writer - be provocative.
Hook your Twitter up to Facebook so you get a twofer.
It's a timely service - up to the minute.
Search for like-minded folks - organizations - it's amazing what you can find - great for niche subjects.
You can even communicate directly with a tweeter via a messaging service on there.
Pinterest - create a bulletin board on a subject, on which you “pin” items. You can have many boards. You can follow other boards, and people will follow yours. Purely visual but even recipes work on Pinterest.
Instagram (really popular with kids - they don't text any more I hear but use Instagram), Tumblr (more for blogs). Good to explore them all.
Hootsuite - allows you to write posts in advance and schedule their appearance automatically.
Good reads - a ready-made community of readers - become active on it - VERY IMPORTANT!
YOUTUBE - have your own channel - video yourself and you with others on your topic - authors doing interviews, showing how to, and so on.