Whether you are publishing a book through traditional means or by self-publishing, the main driving factor towards the success of your book will be your existing author platform. An author platform is a representation to the public of whom you are and why they should care. This representation consists of your reputation in all forms of media and a local physical presence. Some authors, such as actors, have existing platforms which makes their author platforms strong almost overnight. It can take years for the rest of us to build an author platform. There are some tips to boost the validity and reduce the construction time for your platform.
1. Write a good book. No amount of self-promotion or elbow rubbing will cover up bad writing. You must be honest with yourself in regard to the quality of your writing. Keep tweaking and editing your book until it has received praise from multiple objective sources.
2. Learn from other authors. Do a web search for the top selling authors in your genre and see what elements of their author platforms you might be able to incorporate into yours. This could include web design, social media tactics, groups they belong to, and subjects on which they have lectured. Don’t steal; just emulate.
3. Build a website. Go ahead and get this step out of the way early. Your website is the basis for which all your online communication will be organized. Creating a website is easy with modern tools and can be accomplished in a day or two. The site does not need to be fancy but it does need to conform to web usability best practices so do some research in that area. Your site visitors don’t care that you love cows and won’t appreciate being distracted by your cow pattern background.
One way where you can get a little creative is in relation to your genre. If you are a sci-fi writer then going with a more modern feel and incorporating some standard sci-fi design elements into your logo might be a good idea but keep it simple. Don’t tile flying saucers all over the background or use an unusual font just because it has a science fiction look.
Definitely make sure to have a landing page on your site where visitors can purchase your book. You can either sell through your own ecommerce setup, which is not as difficult as you might think, or just include a link to Amazon. Just be sure that this page is focused solely on the sale of your book. Do some research on what constitutes an effective sales page and go with what works. This page is where you will direct most of your paid advertising efforts.
4. Get busy on social media. If you are intelligent and productive enough to be a writer then you are probably above being sucked in to the endless drivel on social media. With the exception of meaningful communication with close friends and family, social media has the potential to become a major time waster. Unfortunately, you will either have to make time yourself or hire a personal assistant to be consistently active on social platforms. Social media is an effective and low cost way to reach a lot of potential fans.
Interact with users as yourself and not just as your author persona. Show some highlights from your personal life such as pictures from family get-togethers or parties. Post some pictures of your pet or the last vacation you took. People love this stuff. Aspiring writers will enjoy seeing a visual depiction of your writing process and daily routine.
Half of the posts on your website and on social media should be from the perspective of a fan. This, of course, will be a great way for other fans of the genre to relate. Again returning to sci-fi as the example, post some of your favorite books or some photos of a sci-fi convention you recently attended. Get into conversations with fans about why you think a well-known sci-fi writer is one of the best. Most people will never write a book and will not be able to fully relate to you as an author so give them the chance to relate to you as a fellow fan.
Remember the five tenants of social media. They are to inform, educate, inspire, entertain and promote. Inform by posting a notice that there will be a showing of Star Wars at the retro movie theatre this weekend. Educate by posting writing tips for science fiction writers. Inspire by posting a story of perseverance and triumph pertaining to you or an author you know. Entertain by posting that video of cats dressed up as Star Wars characters. These four content types should comprise 80 percent of your posts. The remaining 20 percent should be various forms of self-promotion. Let fans know that your book is now available for a reduced price or that you will be at a local bookstore for signings.
5. Build an email list. Put an offer page on your social media accounts and your website. Offer people a free gift in exchange for an email. This could be an eBook that relates to your book or genre, a discount, or a free PDF of your first book that nobody bought. Then at least once a month send a mix of useful and promotional material to these email addresses. This email list will be beneficial when you write your next book.
6. Always be closing the deal. Regularly present to fans snippets from your book, interviews you have done, coupons, engaging contests or any type of content that will build hype and hopefully result in more sales. Run ads that go to your website sales page, Amazon sales page or to an email sign-up form. True for any form of publishing but especially so with self-publishing, you will have to learn how to be somewhat of a P.T. Barnum type or, and I hate to say it, a car salesman. Find the online equivalents of those people that stand on the street and spin signs.
7. Become an influencer in your genre. This is especially true if you are a non-fiction writer. If you are a writer of fiction then the likely best course for achieving influencer status would be helping other writers in your genre to become better writers. Think of yourself as a mentor. There were probably times when you were writing your book that you wished someone would reach out a helping hand. Remember that feeling and offer to genuinely help other aspiring authors.
Some offline actions you can take to increase your standing as an influencer would be lectures, teaching a course, volunteering and giving interviews. Some online tactics might be writing for other sites in your genre, posting insightful comments on the blogs of other popular authors, and being helpful in communities like forums and Q&A sites.
8. Be a friend to authors. It is important to not only establish your platform with readers but also with fellow writers. Just as with every other industry, authors benefit immensely from a vast network of connections in the business. You never know where a short chat at a party or convention might lead. If you help spread the word about the work of others they should return the favor. Link to other authors’ sites and social profiles and most of the time you won’t even have to ask for a reciprocal link. Don’t think of it as competition. Books are cheap and readers love to read. There is plenty of room on fans’ bookshelves for everybody’s book.
9. Generate word of mouth buzz. In the past I was of the opinion that free giveaways should be limited. Now I’m not so sure. There are many varying opinions in this area. I do know that for an unknown self-published author, achieving some traction can be difficult in such a crowded market. Maybe your first book should be free on a semi-permanent basis. Give it away like candy. If the book is good and you are diligent about requesting reviews in exchange for a free copy, it will hopefully only be a matter of time before the best form of advertising, otherwise known as word of mouth, has your book towards the top of the Kindle bestseller list. At this point you may be able to start charging 99 cents to cover your production cost but I would not be concerned with profit from your first book. Of course, Amazon has limits on the duration of free promotional periods but offer the book for free wherever and whenever you can. Only concern yourself with the construction of a solid author platform. Then your second and third books can start making you some real money.
You also may want to consider selling some branded products. These could be t-shirts, coffee mugs, bookmarks, pens or anything cheap that people might carry around where others will see. Set-up a simple ecommerce store on your site and connect the store to your social media profiles. You probably won’t sell much at first but the process is not difficult so it can’t hurt.
As with a skyscraper, invest early in a strong platform and your writing career will stand the test of time.
James A. Rose is a writer for InstantPublisher.com, a self-publishing company that has been helping authors bring their visions to life for the past 15 years. James has worked in the publishing industry since 2010 and during that time he has seen pretty much every problem that authors encounter during the self-publishing process. It is James’ goal to utilize his experience at Instant Publisher to help budding authors avoid common mistakes and self-publish the best book possible.
Thanks for your practical and fantastic advice James. Please drop by again with more advice when you can. Thank you.
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