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Self-Publishing Tips: Should You Build Your Author Platform or Publish First?

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.

Being an author is about so much more than publishing books.

Being an author is about so much more than publishing books.

What Is an Author Platform?

An author platform is a type of stage. It's a stage that exists both online and offline, through which you connect with your reader audience. You author platform is made up of your:

  • Website
  • Books
  • Blog (your own blog or guest blog posts)
  • Email newsletters
  • Speaking engagements, workshops, events, book signings, etc. (live, recorded or virtual)
  • Social media channels
  • Online videos (including book trailers)
  • Appearances on or in the mass media (television, radio, newspapers, podcasts, etc.)

Publishing a book will not automatically connect you with eager readers. A writing career is a marketing career. You are always selling stories.

Having an established presence in the market demographic, niche, or community you want to reach can be a great selling point if you decide to pursue traditional publishers for a book deal as opposed to self-publishing. But regardless of how your book gets published, you will need some type of author platform which connects you with your reading public.

A writing career is a marketing career. You are always selling stories and ideas.

— Heidi Thorne

What Readers Really Buy When They Buy (or Read) Your Book

To focus purely on book sales is like selling a book as if it's a can of peas. Customers don't search through bookstores or Amazon and decide whether to read something purely on the book's physical size or price. You would likely never boast that your book has 620 pages versus your competition's book which is only 575 pages. There's no comparison.

Readers buy you, your message, and your backstory. Your book is merely another channel through which you reach your fans. Plus, true fans are less price sensitive. They want what you're selling, regardless of price.

But it is nearly impossible to sell you and your book to potential readers who do not know you, don't care about you, or who cannot find you.

Readers buy YOU, your message and backstory. Your book is merely another channel through which you reach your fans.

— Heidi Thorne

How to Build an Author Platform

Whether you have a book completed yet or not, you want to start building a following of "friendlies" that will be interested in you and your writing. You need to establish your presence in communities of target readers for your work. Example: if your passion is writing Christian fiction for women, you want to get known in and participate in faith-based women's communities. But this requires knowing who your readers really are.

Caution! If you're only participating in a community to get sales or speaking gigs, and then plan to exit until your next selling need, you will be seen as opportunistic and inauthentic. Building an author platform is a continuous give-to-get effort. Plus, you want to be seen as THE expert or best-in-class for whatever it is you write. Genuine and consistent involvement, authority, and visibility in a target community help make that possible.

This is what I call in my book, Business Competitive Advantage, the "3 Fs" to being competitive: Always be looking for ways to become friended, famous, and found.

Building an author platform is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. You usually need to have written something to start building a fan base. But ideally, you want to have an audience of fans already hungry to consume your book because they know about you and your message already.

Some authors post parts of their books as blog posts to give readers a taste of what's going to be in their books, in addition to getting a pulse on whether the work is resonating with an audience (by measuring traffic, comments, etc.). Alternatively, they might offer free sample chapters to readers who opt into their email list.

Pro tip: always be looking for ways to build your fan email list. Social media is great, but results can be impacted by every little change in a social network's feed algorithm. But almost everyone gets email. Plus, having your own email list doesn't lock you into using any particular social media site.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: I am 92 years old and have written stories of my life as memoirs. I have only book signings to sell my books. I would like to know what I should talk about during the "speaking" part of the book signing. I have two book signings coming up, and I want to be prepared. I also plan on bringing copies of my books--what should I do if I run out during the book signing??

Answer: Telling a story or two from your books would be a way to give visitors a "sample" of what else is in your books, but don't give it all away!

You should also discuss why you wrote the book. For example, what motivated you to tell these stories?

Regarding how many books to bring, it will be a bit of trial and error, but it will depend on who's organizing the book signing. Is it you or the book signing venue? If it's the venue, have a chat with them about what they anticipate and then estimate from there. If it's you, don't expect that everyone will buy a copy. If you do run out of books, have some way for them to place an order for a copy.

I wrote a couple of articles on book signing events. Search for these on my profile: "Book Signing Event Tips for Authors" and "Book Signing Event Challenges: Protecting Your Sales and Profits."

© 2016 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 29, 2020:

Hello MG! Congrats on your publishing efforts. Glad you found this helpful. Thanks much and have a great day!

MG Singh emge from Singapore on July 28, 2020:

I have published quite a few books and your article was helpful and interesting.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 28, 2020:

You're welcome, Robert! Thanks for stopping by and reading!

Robert Sacchi on July 27, 2020:

Thank you for posting this good information.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on April 15, 2016:


We're planning a week in Wellington the week after next. A visit to Weta workshops (the outfit that did the CGI for Avatar, Lord of the rings and a few others) so some awesome R+R with the family is planned.


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 15, 2016:

Happy Friday Lawrence! I call that "juggling and struggling." We've all been there at some point. And with a 60+ hour week, sounds like you're doing a lot of that. But glad to hear you are squeezing in some time to follow your writing pursuits. Also glad my hubs have provided some help. Thank you for your kind comments and additions to the conversation. Hope you get some time this weekend to enjoy your writing (and some R&R, too)!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on April 15, 2016:


This is great. Only trouble is I never was good at juggling!

Having said that I think if I look at it as 'juggling' I WILL FAIL (like you say I'd be seen as an opportunist) so maybe the answer is to really connect and make friends along the way.

My networking is 'ad hoc' as I'm trying to work out what I can and can't do with the resources available (let's face it, time is a resource and presently with a 60+ hour work week there isn't a lot left) but Rome wasn't built in a day so I'll keep going and follow the signposts people like yourself put up for us.

Thank you by the way for them.


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 08, 2016:

Hi Laura! So glad to hear that when you got clear on your marketing game, your book sales improved. True, writing is a LOT of trial and error. Getting this message, and success stories like yours, out into the writing community is definitely a way we can help our fellow writers. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us! Have a great weekend!

Laura Smith from Pittsburgh, PA on April 07, 2016:

I totally agree. It wasn't until I started to market to a target audience and build a bigger social media following that my books started to sell. Exposure is important too but not just any exposure. My writing career has been a lot of trial and error, and the more advice like this there is out there, the less time writers will waste trying to sell their work. Thanks!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 07, 2016:

Blond Logic, it's astounding how many writers (and other small biz folks, too) try to build their careers without building foundations such as their customer/fan base. True, sales (the parting with money bit) is a challenge. But that expert status can help increase the value customers receive when they do eventually buy. Thank you for adding your insight to the conversation! Have a lovely day and weekend ahead!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 07, 2016:

Hi emge! Glad you found the post helpful. Thanks for your kind comments and have a great day!

Mary Wickison from USA on April 07, 2016:

Excellent advice. You can't build a house without foundations. The 3 F's could take some time. Connecting with people is easy but getting them to part with money is something else. As you say, becoming an expert in the field helps boost your career.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on April 07, 2016:

This is great advice and something that can be followed

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 07, 2016:

Well, billybuc, I'll do my best "I Dream of Jeannie" imitation by folding my arms and nodding. *Poof* Did it work? Aw, sorry about that. But you're on the right track. Patience, my friend. Thank you for adding a comment and a smile to my afternoon. You have a great Friday and weekend, too!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 07, 2016:

Thank God I did it correctly!!!! Now, when can I expect o retire a rich author? Answer me that one, Genie, and I'll sing your praises for the rest of my life. :)

Have a great Friday, Heidi!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 07, 2016:

AliciaC, I'm glad you agree with the "writing is marketing" assessment. Wish more writers did. Thanks for reading and kind support, as always. Have a great day!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 07, 2016:

This is such great advice, Heidi. "A writing career is a marketing career" is so true.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 07, 2016:

Hi FlourishAnyway! Aw, thanks for the kind words. Hope all is good in your world. Enjoy your day!

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 07, 2016:

Great example with the peas. I also like the 3 Fs. You are so catchy and full of great advice!