Brand and Platform
You can differentiate yourself from other authors by developing a unique brand and building a platform to be recognized for it. Once you start doing this, people will get a sense for who you are and the types of books you write. It is a slow process, but if take control of it early, you will avoid people drawing their own conclusions about your expertise, personality, and ability to sell books.
We're all familiar with the general concept of branding when it comes to our everyday lives. We immediately know what to expect when we see or hear mention of the Nike, McDonald's, or Amazon brands, for example. Branding for authors is the same concept. For authors, your brand is your name—when people hear it, you want them to immediately think of your product—your books.
Brand is how others perceive you based on the words you write, your style, the colors and theme you choose for your business cards and website, and how you present yourself in public. Your brand is reflected in your books, through your social media posts, on your website/blog, on your business cards and promotional items, and in your personal presence.
When thinking of your brand, ask yourself how you want to be perceived and then act accordingly. For example, if you want to be perceived as a serious mystery writer, don’t choose a frivolous theme for your business cards and website. If you write children’s books, cater to them and their parents.
A few years ago, I participated in Chicago’s Printers Row Lit Fest, at which I displayed my books in a booth shared by three other authors. One author spent his time in front of the booth, practically grabbing people off the walkway in an effort to get noticed. A second author sat demurely behind the table inside the booth, often looking down at her phone. The third one spent more time chitchatting with people on the sidelines than he did paying attention to the passersby. And then there was me: I stood behind the table and tried to make eye contact with the people passing by the booth. I sold out by 2:00 p.m. and had to start taking orders. The others didn’t fare that well. Okay, so it may have helped that I had a dish of Godiva chocolates readily available, but still… The point I’m trying to make is that my approach seemed to attract viable book buyers compared to what the others were doing—the manner in which I branded myself at this particular event suited my intended audience.
There are many ways to create awareness of your brand, and they are all about exposure. The more exposure you get, the more recognizable your brand will be. And the more recognizable your brand, the more sales you'll enjoy.
Expert marketers say that it takes seven to ten impressions for people to recall your brand. Here are some ways to get your brand out there.
· Write good books—this is always #1!
· Hand out business cards.
· Use a signature block on e-mails that includes links to you and your books.
· Hand out promotional items.
· Participate in interviews.
· Do speaking engagements.
· Participate in webinars/podcasts.
· Promote your website/blog.
· Use social media pages to their fullest advantage.
· Participate in book club discussion groups.
· Participate in online discussion groups.
· Write articles.
· Guest-post on blogs.
· Exhibit in book fairs.
Caution: Like any other brand name, yours is an implied promise to the consumer that they will consistently receive a specific kind of product from you—if you deviate from it, you risk losing credibility.
Platform is an author’s ability to sell books ability to sell books based on their background, the connections they have, and the distribution channels they use to reach an audience—it conveys an author’s expertise and credibility to others in an effort to build a career. Platform gives authors visibility so that others know who they are and how to find them and their books.
If your goal is to become a successful author, you will need to build a platform, and if you begin the process before you have a book to sell, you’ll be that much ahead of the game when your book is launched. NOTE: If you’re a big celebrity, you can stop reading now—you have a built-in platform.
The true value in an author platform is in deepening connections with readers. It’s not about book marketing and promotion…although the goals may be similar. The whole point of a platform is to market yourself as an author.
Building an author platform is a gradual process. For most of us, it involves education, experience, and hard work. It rarely happens overnight. Before I retired from a traditional office job to write novels, I worked in the corporate world. My last position was regional director of administration for a $75 billion company. It took years to attain that level position—years of gaining expertise, fostering relationships, and establishing a credible reputation—years of building an effective platform. Building an author platform is no different.
An effective platform should affirm an author’s uniqueness—what sets him or her apart from competitors. To begin to establish a platform, think in terms of the following components:
· Proven abilities
· Websites and blogs
· E-mail subscriber list
· Social media
The quality of your platform will have a direct effect on the success of your book.
Showing the world that you are a successful, credible author will naturally follow the successful, credible books you’ve written. But until you reach that point in your career as an author, there are things you can do to pave the way. One of the things I often preach to new authors is to proofread everything you write…yes, even text messages and social media posts. Typos, confusing/cryptic sentences, and bad grammar are not qualities of a good writer. You can demonstrate your writing skills in your blogs, website, articles, and comments to other people’s blogs and articles. Let the world know that you know how to write.
Personality—derived from the Latin word persona, which means “mask,” as used by early actors when they changed their appearance—is the combination of an individual’s thoughts, characteristics, behaviors, attitudes, ideas, and habits. Personality is what makes you interesting; being interesting is how you grab people’s attention and distinguish yourself from other authors. An interesting personality can help you progress in your writing career.
Your personality can shine through in many ways, not just face-to-face encounters. Your online presence will reveal your personality as well and can be helpful in attracting potential followers, fans, and book buyers.
Websites and Blogs
Having your own website is a prerequisite for launching a book—it serves as a home base for establishing relationships between you and readers. When people visit your website, it is because they want to know something more about you. What better opportunity to connect with a possible future book purchaser? Your author website is all about you—a showcase for your work, who you are, what you do, and what you want to be known for. And, unlike social media, you have total control—you don’t have to fight for space or worry about some new social media posting term that limits what you can say, how much you can say, and to whom. But it can work in tandem with social media—when people are trying to find someone online, they’re likely to try to find their website, and from there, they can be directed to the person’s social media pages.
One of the easiest ways to establish your platform is with a blog. I’ve heard many stories about authors having met publishers, agents, and screenwriters through blogging. An active blog that gets hits and comments will get noticed. It may take months or even years, but eventually it will get Google’s attention; then, when somebody Googles you, you’ll be on the first page of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP.) With consistent content and lots of patience, an author blog can take your career to the next level by connecting you with the right people.
Websites are great, but blogs offer an even better opportunity to deepen relationships with your followers in that they are interactive. Blogging is writing—it’s what you do and a great way to present your skills. People are judgmental, and if visitors view your website/blog as well written and well thought out, they are more likely to consider you a serious, professional author.
Your website/blog can be an important means for readers to get to know you better and form a valuable relationship that leads to sales. Moreover, it is the perfect tool for curating your e-mail subscription list.
E-mail Subscriber List
Imagine having at your disposal a list of people who are interested in you and your work—dedicated followers who have asked to be on the receiving end of updates about what you’re working on and when a new release is about to come out. Could it get any better than that? Well, that’s the beauty of an e-mail subscriber list—an easy and free way to communicate directly with real fans, a powerful way to engage with your readers.
Finding subscribers is directly related to the quality of your platform—the more exposure you get, the more relationships you develop, the more you’ll discover interested readers, and the larger your subscriber list will grow. And the best way to do this is with a compelling website. (See Chapter 29 for more on website development.)
Unlike your social media pages, your e-mail list is owned by you, which gives you control over what you post to a captured audience. Be sure to offer something of value in exchange for their e-mail address. This can be done in the way of a short story you’ve written, a few chapters from one of your books, or an entire book. I invite people to join in exchange for a chance to win a free copy of any one of my books. For authors, I add a list of over 100 helpful links related to writing, book publishing, and promotion. This concept works in part because people who have received something of value from you appreciate the bond they’ve created with you and are more likely to talk about you and buy your books.
It’s a long process to build a list—but if you start talking about book one with your subscribers, you will have at least a handful of people to tell about book two. Your list will grow with each new book and as readers find you.
The key benefit of social media is engaging with people and getting exposure with posts and shares. The problem is that you can get so caught up in it, it can keep you from doing more important things. So rather than spreading yourself thin across multiple social media platforms, I suggest focusing on the two or three that are most beneficial to building your platform.
Let’s start with Twitter. While this social media site has a very active author community, it does not have the same for readers. But because it is so easy to use and the least time-consuming of all social media outlets, I recommend using it for the exposure and potential one-on-one interactions with readers.
Facebook has billions (with a b) of monthly active users. The key to benefiting from your
Facebook page is to address a niche audience—one specifically interested in your books. This means sharing content that only this audience will enjoy (so no cute cat videos unless, of course, you write about cats). Focus only on that which has the potential for establishing a connection with someone who can improve your career as a writer.
Unlike other platforms that are all about connecting, Pinterest is a place where users can share images that link to articles that interest them. Some people use it to find books to read, making it beneficial for authors. And Pinterest allows you to interact with other Pinterest users to build a community that can add value to your platform.
If your work lends itself to video, try YouTube to increase your overall Web presence. YouTube is not just a place to watch far too many interesting videos (don’t even get me started on the baby animal ones). It also contains a wealth of useful advice for authors as well as opportunities to enhance and grow your platform. Possible videos you can create are:
· Book trailers
· Q&A sessions
· Live book launches
· Interviews with other authors
· How-to sessions
"Nothing that's worthwhile is ever easy." Nicholas Sparks claims ownership of this quote, but I think he may have borrowed the premise from one of Teddy Roosevelt's famous quips. Either way, it's true. Building an author platform can be trying work, and there will be times you wonder why you’re putting so much effort toward it. But it’s also rewarding when you see the occasional spike in sales, new followers, or awesome review, and you can attribute it to your platform building.
A strong author platform will result in improved or increased:
· Meaningful contacts
· Influence over others
· Target audience
· Fan base
You can put as little or as much time into building a platform as you deem appropriate. If your book is being traditionally published, the publisher will likely have a good deal of control over what you do to build your platform. If you are self-published, you will have full control over your destiny. You’re in charge. You’re the one in the driver’s seat. Wait a minute. That’s also the scary part.