“Build your author platform,” say the marketing honchos. Heck, I say it. But what does it mean and how do you use it?

Your author platform is the influence you can exert

You want to exert that influence to drive an audience to buy your books. But it’s not that direct.

Your platform is your meaningful marketing presence, as much online as in the real world. It’s the sum of all your audiences and your authority, and might include components such as your:

  • Website
  • Personal mailing list of fans
  • Active social media outlets
  • Speaking or teaching engagements
  • Blog
  • Television or radio presence
  • Podcast
  • Network of influencers
  • Fan club
  • Existing reader base’s enthusiasm

For aspiring authors, most of these are pipe dreams: “If I had all that I wouldn’t need to worry about finding an audience.”

Which means you have to prioritize.

Writing more and better books is the best use of your marketing time

Building all this takes time—time you’d rather use writing. And if your author platform is a marketing tool, how important is building it in the first place? Wouldn’t it be better to just write more?

Yes. Yes it would.

The most important marketing you can do is to write.

Practice the craft you care about most: get better and write more. It’s why you’re here at Career Authors anyway.

But after that, you still need a platform

Potential agents and publishing houses will demand it; you’ll certainly need it in spades if you intend to self-publish.

But what are the most important parts of your author platform? And how should you view each component?

The hub and spoke model can help

Your author platform needs an owned hub, the place you drive all of the conversations for people who care to know more about you. It also needs numerous spokes, the venues where your ideal audience is already comfortable. Find them where they are and create awareness; bring them to you and create trust.

What matters most

What matters most is your growing shelf of top-quality books.

What matters second most is your mailing list curated to treat your most devoted fans like gold, to make them feel like they’re in the cool kids’ club, to energize them to help with reviews and launches, and to tell them when you have new books coming out. Have a mailing list and use it to heap love on your fans and to give them the opportunity to buy your books.

What matters third most is the infrastructure you need to grow that mailing list. That’s mostly your author website. The website also provides the basics that tell the world who you are and what you’re up to. The site needs to show your books (with buy links), have an About page and a contact form, and drive interested visitors to sign up to your email list. Part of that infrastructure is also to support having links at the back of your books to make signing up for your list or buying your next books easy.

What matters less than these? Every social profile. All that guest blogging. Every offbeat live promotion you might invent. Book signings. One-off commissions at local indie bookstores. Do these if you want, if they bring you joy and create connections that you value for all the other reasons. Do these to round out your online persona. Do them to drive traffic to your hub.

But don’t do them to sell books.

Engage at the spokes; sell at the hub

Your mailing list is where you sell to existing fans; your website is where you sell to new fans. These are the hub. Your owned real estate. These are where you sell.

You sell at no other place.

Not on Facebook, not on twitter, not in your podcast or your radio appearances or on your blog. Not when you are teaching. These are rented real estate. These are the spokes. You do not sell at the spokes.

You haven’t earned the right to ask for a sale yet. You’re still courting.

Connect in this order: know, like, trust

The purpose of spokes is to get people to know and like you. At your spokes, you are genuine and engaging and helpful. You give. You delight in common interests. You share the love. What you promote at the spokes is the place where people who now like you can learn more about you. What you promote at the spokes is your website.

On your website you generate enough trust for people to take action. Ideally, that action is “buy my book,” but for most visitors that doesn’t happen on the first visit. Not until they trust you.

Don’t shout in your own store

Having a professional site is one way to build that trust. Having a complete list of your books, well presented, adds to the trust. Not being too sales-y is another. You’re a professional; you don’t have to shout. Especially not in your own storefront.

Be restrained and strongly branded. Visitors will follow through if (and only if) you deserve their trust. Once earned, that trust will translate into them putting their names on your email list or clicking to buy your books. Which are the only two actions you want.

What matters next?

After what matters most (good books) and second most (mailing list) and third most (website), what matters next? Given that what you really, really would rather do instead of marketing is just write, how many spokes do you need? Which ones should you concentrate on? What’s enough social media engagement? Where do you find your audience? Is an influencer’s reach more important than your own? Should you advertise?

Part 2, coming soon, addresses all that. But here’s the good news and preview: they all matter much, much less than these three components of your author platform.

Do what matters most and do it well.

Mostly, that means write. So get writing.

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