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

Updated on April 27, 2016
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Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants and solopreneurs.

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What is an Author Platform?

You can think of an author platform as a stage. (A stage IS a platform, right?) It's those places and things, both online and offline, where you connect with your reader audience. Examples of platform elements can include many or all of the following, depending on your market:

  • 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.)

Authors who hope that simply having a book will automatically and magically connect them with eager readers are fooling themselves. A writing career is a marketing career. You are always selling stories or ideas.

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
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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 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 helps 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-in to 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.

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

© 2016 Heidi Thorne

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    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 11 months ago from USA

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

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 11 months ago from Chicago Area

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

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 11 months ago from Chicago Area

      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!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      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!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 11 months ago from Chicago Area

      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!

    • emge profile image

      Madan 11 months ago from Abu Dhabi

      This is great advice and something that can be followed

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 11 months ago from Brazil

      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.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 11 months ago from Chicago Area

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

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 11 months ago from Chicago Area

      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!

    • Laura335 profile image

      Laura Smith 11 months ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      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!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 11 months ago from Chicago Area

      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!

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 11 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Heidi

      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.

      Lawrence

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 11 months ago from Chicago Area

      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)!

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 11 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Heidi

      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.

      Lawrence

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