How to Turn the Author Platform You Have Into the Author Platform You Need

By Sue Campbell

Let’s start with defining what we mean by the word “platform.”

Here’s a good basic definition from Jane Friedman:

“An ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.” 

For example, if you’re an author of nonfiction business books, maybe you’re already on the speaking circuit, or write a column at a large business website like Forbes.

If you’re a fiction author, maybe you’re ridiculously witty and have a huge following on Twitter as a result of some viral tweets, or maybe you have a popular podcast.

Those are all examples of platforms. With each of those, you can reach people who may want to buy your book. (If you don’t have a platform at all, start with this post.)

Why you need A platform

These days, if you’re hoping to get a traditional publishing deal, especially for nonfiction, you need a platform. Your publisher wants to know you have a built-in audience. That’s why Kim Kardashian gets all the books deals she wants. Also, the bigger your platform, the bigger the advance.

(Side note: Some will tell you that fiction writers don’t need a platform to get published. That may be true, but a good platform increases your chances of getting published. Not to mention that if you want actual real live people to read your fiction, you should start building a platform as soon as you sign that contract so you have readers ready when your book is.)

If you’re an indie-publisher, you still need a platform because as Cory Doctorow pointed out, it’s awfully hard to monetize obscurity. You’re not going to sell books if nobody knows you exist.

A better definition

Now that you know why you need a platform, it pays (and I mean literally pays) to hone our definition a bit more, because when it comes to selling books, some platforms are better than others.

I use my mentor Tim Grahl’s definition of platform:

“A direct connection to your audience that allows you to predictably and reliably sell books.”

So, if we use Tim’s definition, we can see that changes things a bit. If you’re on the speaking circuit, you only have a “direct connection” while you’re in the same room with your potential readers. Yes, you can sell books at such speaking events, but you can’t do those day in and day out.

There’s also the “predictably and reliably” clause. If your platform consists of your massive Twitter following, good luck converting those to substantial book sales predictably and reliably. Social media is a terrible tool for selling books. Engagement rates are low, and types of engagement vary. Maybe they click a heart icon, but you need them to click on the link to buy.

So what does that leave us with? You need to own the platform and it needs to reach people where they are.

Enter, the email list.

With a list of email subscribers, you can directly reach someone’s inbox. And when you give people a chance to buy your book after weeks or months of sending them great content via email, you’ll see conversion rates up to 20 times better than social media.

how to move people to your email list

To start, you need your own website. Your website needs to offer a free piece of valuable and/or entertaining content related to your book in exchange for a reader handing over their email address. Then you need to keep sending cool stuff to those subscribers so you stay on their radar.

So, how do you convert your current platform into a big fat email list? Any way you can! Be creative! And be ethical — this is about building long-lasting relationships, after all.

Here are some ideas to convert email subscribers for some common platform types:

If your platform relies on in-person events:

  • Bring a clipboard to every speaking event and encourage people to sign up and get your bonus.

  • If you exchange business cards with someone, send them a follow up email and ask them if they’d like to be added to your list.

If your platform is built on social media:

  • Regularly remind your social media followers about the cool stuff they get if they hop on your mailing list.

  • When you get new followers on a social media platform, send them a private message asking if they’d like your bonus material and asking for their best email address.

  • If you have a big YouTube following, add a hyperlinked end card to your video inviting viewers to subscribe and get your bonus.

If you have a podcast or are invited on a podcast:

  • Create a special page on your website with an easy to remember url for those listeners to join your list and get your bonus.

If you write for websites you don’t own:

  • Your bio should include a link that sends people to your sign-up offer. Some publications may not let you link directly to your list offer. Then simply provide your website address and make sure your sign-up offer appears prominently, and in multiple locations, on your website.

And let me be clear, the idea is not to drop your current platform! Don’t want stop doing speaking events or discontinue your podcast — those are wonderful ways to build your platform. You simply want to use those venues as a chance to build an email list as the center of your platform. Email will give you a strong, direct channel to communicate with your audience and make them eager to read your book.


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