The Ultimate [Actionable] Guide to Building Your Author Platform in 2019
If ever there were 9 words strung together to evoke a visceral response, the most cutting are these:
“You need to have an author platform to publish.”
Nothing kills my enthusiasm for writing more than that phrase—and I know I’m not alone. I remember the first time I was slapped in the face by this phrase. I hadn’t even finished my debut novel and already, I had this amorphous obstacle I had to overcome, which at the time, seemed more impossible than keeping a reader interested in a book about a man and a robot lost at sea.
[The jury's still out on that one, but I’ll keep you posted! 😉]
But honestly, when are we supposed to have time to build an author platform when we’re also supposed to be:
Reading books about writing
Reading books in our genre
Editing previous works
Workshopping our writing
(and of course, my personal favorite)
Worrying about whether we’ll ever be part of the “Published Author Club”
My writing group spent hours lamenting this new requirement for the modern writer. Seriously, can’t we just be dark, mysterious, and anti-social and publish our books because of our natural proclivities?
Having never published anything more grand than a series of ebooks, based on my research and experience, the best advice I can give you on the matter is this:
Dedicate your best energy to writing your book, and focus on your platform after.
Because as artists, writing is the end and the means. If you’re anything like me, if you’re not creating something, you’re lost. Your mind starts screwing with you. You begin doubting whether you can even call yourself a writer. You wonder…well, let’s not slide down that spiral staircase of doom.
Alright, if you’ve slapped your name on the cover of at least one book—CONGRATULATIONS! Keep reading.
If not, put this down and go write your book.
I’m serious. GO!
Now that they’re gone, let’s get down to it.
Have you ever been to the Winchester Mansion in San Jose, California? If you haven’t, look it up. For those that have, imagine your writers platform as that house—it will never be finished. Oprah is still building her platform and she’s…Oprah.
With that said, the best thing you can do is get started. I’m going to walk you through, step-by-step, how to create your writers platform so that you can:
Develop an online presence—your BRAND
Interact with people with similar interests — get them interested in your book
Get your work seen — and hopefully published!
The minutiae is slightly different for fiction than for non-fiction writers, but the essentials are the same. In fact, if you’re a fiction writer, you don’t necessarily need an author platform to get published, but it does help to have somewhat of a following to help get the word out that you’ve got a book coming out.
Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your Writers Platform
Don’t worry if this all sounds Ukrainian to you—I’ll explain in more detail later.
Create a website
Purchase your domain name (ideally, your name, or nom de plume)
Purchase a web hosting plan
Create a sign-up form to build your email list
Start your own Blog
Post at least weekly on your Blog
Create a Social Media Profile on at least 1 Social Media Platform
Post daily on your Social Media Platforms
ENGAGE with your followers/tribe/minions OFTEN
Interact with members of your creative community
There you are—11 easy steps. I’ve always liked the number 11 (and all numbers divisible by 11).
Yes. I’m weird. Thank you for noticing.
Alright, I know what you’re thinking—can I really have minions?!?!? I can barely log into Facebook without having an anxiety attack.
Like I said, don’t worry—I’ve got you covered.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Creating an Author Website
Think of your website as your personal billboard. It is here that you can shout to the world what you’re about, what’s going on in your world, and how they can learn more about you and your obsession with Harry Potter memes (I’m not here to judge).
There are a variety of ways you can have a website developed, ranging from DIY to entirely hands-off, just-do-the-darned-thing-for-me. Odds are, you are (a) not super-tech savvy and (b) on a budget, so I’m going to give you three options for sites that you can do yourself, or have moi design for you, and that you can manage on your own or with a little help.
All three of these platforms offer:
Pre-made themes (or templates)
Right there, you’ve just crossed off the first three items from your list. Fist Bump! 👊
All of these can be customized using some form of drag and drop functionality. I’ve listed them in the order I find are easiest to work with. Your brain may be wired differently. The good news is that they are free to try out, so take them each for a spin and see what’s intuitive for you.
Why did I choose these and NOT Wordpress?
Because Wordpress is:
Open Source - which means it’s vulnerable to hackers and is ALWAYS under attack
Hard to Use - yes, you can buy custom themes, but invariably, there’s going to be something buggy that will cause you to curse your very existence.
Tedious to Maintain - every time Wordpress updates its code and every time one of the gazillion plugins you added change their code, you have to go in and update your site.
Stick with my top 3 and you’ll do fine.
Designing Your Author Website
Your website is your foundation. You’ll want it to reflect your personality, show off your work, and market you even while you’re sleeping.
At a minimum, an author website should include:
A clean, responsive design (Responsive = looks good on mobile devices)
Pics of your book(s)
Your Bio, complete with your lovely mug
Any awards or publications
Links to your social media profiles
A sign-up form to grow your email list
A Media Page
A basic author website can be as little as one or two pages (to start)! Remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day and Oprah is still working on her platform.
Quick SEO Fact — The more pages you have of quality, appropriately-structured content, the more search engines will find you and place you closer to page 1.
Building Your List
To build an email list from your website, you must have a form. The form can take any form (who doesn’t love a homonym?).
It can be as simple as a “Join my Newsletter” call to action that appears somewhere (prominent) on your website, or as a popup. You’ll have more likelihood of people giving up their email address by giving them something for free. This is particularly common among non-fiction writers, who can often trade an ebook, infographic, or video, for an email.
How do you create these forms?
Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly all have native functionality that will enable you to create these forms. The email addresses can go directly to your email account, into a Google Doc, or into a mailing list you create using a third party source, like Mailchimp, Drip, or AWeber. Through these services, you can create periodic author newsletters or special announcements and send them out on a regular schedule — probably not more than once a month—you don’t want readers to tune you out.
Remember, your email list represents potential book sales, so do your best to add any contacts you meet offline to your master list.
Writing Blog Posts and Posting to Social Media
Here’s the thing—don’t start a blog if you don’t intend to stick with it. It looks bad. Agents and publishers likely won’t take you seriously because they want to see that you can pull your weight when it comes to marketing your book. With that said, let me point something out:
Writers are some of the most procrastination-prone bunch I’ve ever met. I can say that, because I am guilty as charged. Got writer’s block? Cool. Write a blog post about writer’s block. As Charles Bukowski wrote, “writing about writers block is better than not writing at all.” Write what you know. Write what you’re curious about. Write about your characters. Just write something. Your fans will relate. And they will love hearing from you.
And, you know what? You may just find your next amazing book idea from blogging, so do it at least once a week.
That brings me to posting to social media. I know the question on everyone’s noggin is:
What do I post?
Well, for one, post an excerpt of your blog article and link back to your blog. This gets people visiting your site, which makes the search engines happy and, who knows? They may even share your literary brilliance with their tribe. It's a start, at least.
Let’s keep them engaged.
10 More Ideas for Posting to Social Media for Authors
Quotes from your Blog (get fancy and overlay them onto a relevant/cool/cute/inspirational image with Canva)
Quotes from your book (you can get fancy here too!)
Pictures or facts about a location where your book is set
A selfie of you writing
Images of you on a road trip to research your book
Inspirational tidbits you’ve found to help you overcome…whatever it is you need to overcome
Helpful tips from conferences you are attending, a book you are reading, or an article you just read
Announcements about cool things that are happening (hopefully book-related!)
A collage of titles you want to read next
Of course, there are plenty of other ideas out there, but these should get your well on your way.
Want extra credit? Pick one of these for each day and plan out a month’s worth of posts in advance.
Some More Thoughts on Social Media
Keep things simple. You don’t need to be on 130 different platforms trying to be seen. It will drive you insane(r).
Pick 1-3 platforms, ideally where your readers hang out, and stick with those.
Recommended Social Media Sites include:
Post daily and engage with your tribe. This means commenting on other people’s stuff and answering when people comment on your posts. Offer useful information if people are seeking advice. Encourage fellow writers when rejections happen. Celebrate successes when those happen.
In short—be real!
Generating Publicity for Authors
This is generally reserved for those who have (or are about to) publish a book, but it can also be relevant to writers of non-fiction. It’s always prudent to create buzz before a launch and to keep that buzz going as long as possible. Here are 5 ways to generate some buzz around your work, regardless of your genre:
Book speaking engagements (think conferences, independent book stores, local libraries or even coffee shop reads)
Approach local radio shows
Inquire about interview potential on a Podcast relevant to your genre
Drip-feed a chapter of your book or short story on social media
Make a video trailer of your book, publish it on your blog and link from social media
The Big Take-Away
Fiction writers need a web presence, not necessarily a huge platform with a following Oprah would find intimidating. For all genre writers—keep it professional, but personable and just be yourself. Non-fiction writers need a respectable following—and none of this happens overnight. It’s a long journey, and it all happens one step at a time, so for now:
Get your site up.
Post daily on your Social Media platform of choice.
Blog at least once a week.
Talk to people, both virtually and IRL (in real life).