Author Platforms 101 – Part One – Message Platform

Over the next three weeks, I will be exploring the issue of author platforms and how to get one.  At the conclusion of this series of blog posts, The Steve Laube agency will offer a downloadable document that will include the three posts plus additional information and resources.

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The “101” in this blog title indicates it is an introductory piece, the beginning or prerequisite to what follows.  If you skip this step, it is like starting out driving on vacation with very little gas in your car and no clear idea where you are going. You won’t get very far and where you end up is probably not what you had in mind.

If you already have a large, growing author platform and what you are doing is working well, then there might not be much in today’s post for you. But since so many aspiring or new authors are not in that position, this post is mainly for them.

The foundation of an author platform is not about websites, social media, blogging or speaking engagements. Those are communication mechanisms that require a customized approach to use each one, but something comes well before that. It’s the the prerequisite.

You must have a something to say…a message platform.

This sounds easy, but it is not. Reality television has given the opportunity for some people to be famous for no reason at all. They are famous for being famous. Authors, on the other hand, need to build their fame for something. Your style and approach must first be discovered and then use that approach and style in everything. The business terminology is “brand management”. Call it something else if that sounds too cold.  (“Being consistent” sounds less like a buzz-phrase if that works for you.)

Toe-stepping alert#1: If you don’t like the phrase “building your fame” or are uncomfortable with marketing yourself in general, then maybe you shouldn’t be pursuing commercial authoring. There are plenty of opportunities to write that don’t require it. This is similar to someone who wants to be a pastor, but doesn’t like to work weekends. “That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.” (Thank you Esurance)

Every author has a unique personality, is gifted by God in a specific way and has different things that motivate them. But when an author builds a message platform the greatest differences occur in the category in which they write. And because each category of books needs a different message-platform approach, maybe you can see why it is such a rarity for one author to write fiction, non-fiction, kids, poetry and cookbooks, even if they have the ability and desire to do so.

So, lets look at each general category of message platform and the basics of each.

Non-fiction

The beginning of the non-fiction message platform is credibility. Some topics need personal experience to give credibility to the author, but others need letters after your name, like PhD, MDiv or CPA. Just because you understand a certain topic and have an opinion about it, does not mean a publisher will pay you for those thoughts, even if they are well crafted and entirely accurate. I have told a number of potential authors that their words are correct, but they aren’t perceived as an expert in that subject apart from their friends’ opinions.

Once the credibility bridge is crossed, maintaining a consistent message in social media is the next step. This is your “consistent approach” or style that will underpin everything you do. If your personal approach is to use stories to illustrate your message, then make certain you do that, every time.

Toe-stepping alert#2: Unless you are a restaurant critic, no one builds an author platform telling people what they had for lunch. If you are already famous for something, then your fans will care that you got your hair cut, but until you get to Taylor Swift-level fame, it is a waste of words and can actually inhibit your platform growth.

Fiction

Credibility counts for fiction as well. You need to have some connection to what you are doing. I recall a prominent author express frustration about writers who don’t know what they are talking about and think they can simply be creative without some amount of accuracy. For instance, you can’t drive two hours due east from Boston. No land, no roads.

For your message platform, explore the time period in your historical, the military in your military suspense, and the lives of the Amish if you write about them.

Starting out, do not genre-hop. You will never establish a message platform for your marketing if you have no consistent core.

Children/Kids

This is a combination of fiction and non-fiction requirements. You need to have credibility from working with children as a teacher, advisor, parenting expert, or something similar. Then you need to have consistent approach in what you write. Just because you were a child once does not mean you understand kids.

Your message platform consists of insights, practical and inspirational things for parents, since your target audience needs to go through an adult. They need to be convinced of your validity before they expose their children to what you write. This is why many authors of books for children (in the Christian market) are originally credible authors for adults. Parents like safe things for their kids.

Kids books are one of the few exceptions to the “category-hopping” rule.

Special Note for Pastors

Pastors have a unique challenge in that the very nature of their work is to address the needs of their flock. That might be a spiritual issue one week, but something very practical and down-to-earth the next week. In a sense, they are exempt from being branded as speakers on a specific topic. They have a branded/consistent approach, but cannot be limited to one topic or category.

Pastors have a hard time with message platforms. They find it difficult to brand a message when their work demands they be responsive to needs.

One final comment about message platforms.

They are never, ever done in a vacuum, on your own, out of your own thoughts, with no input from others. Surround yourself with people who hold you accountable and pay attention to those who respond.

Toe-stepping alert #3: If you are not connected to a group of writers for encouragement, craft-growing and accountability and are trying to develop your message platform on your own, at best you will be continually frustrated and at worst, you will eventually burn out and give up.

Next week, I’ll discuss the issue of consistency in your message platform.

An expanded version of this content will be available in a few weeks in our agency whitepaper.

44 Responses to Author Platforms 101 – Part One – Message Platform

  1. Jackie Layton February 3, 2015 at 5:21 am #

    Hi Dan,

    I did an informal poll last fall about what my readers would like to see more of on my blog. Most were interested in travel, and now I try to include posts on travel.

    I picked ‘hope’ as my word for 2015, and I’ll do some posts on that.

    I’m not published, and I thought blogs were supposed to reflect ourselves and our writing style.

    The stories I’ve written so far are either set on the coast of North Carolina or in Kentucky. Should I try to write mores posts on these areas?

    Thanks for your help.

    • Dan Balow February 3, 2015 at 5:44 am #

      Blogs should reflect you and your style. Consistency is the issue. For instance, maybe you should be the go-to person about coastal N. Carolina and Kentucky folklore, festivals, best places to buy antiques, places to stay, eat and visit.

      By narrowing your focus and utilizing your unique writing style, you grow your number of followers…and they are following you because of your focus and style. Those are devoted followers, not just a bunch of faceless numbers in social media and agents and publishes will pay attention to that.

      • Dan Balow February 3, 2015 at 5:48 am #

        I need a proofreader…”agents and publishers will pay attention…”

        It’s too early to be typing and thinking at the same time.

        • Judith Robl February 3, 2015 at 6:21 am #

          Dan, the best editors need proofreaders. Always.

          Thank you for this clear, concise, definitive foundation for growing a platform. It is been my nemesis for years.

          My interests are wide-ranging, so it is difficult for me to narrow to one. But I’m getting there. I really am.

      • Jackie Layton February 3, 2015 at 4:56 pm #

        Thanks so much Dan. I appreciate your help.

  2. Kathy N. February 3, 2015 at 5:27 am #

    Quite possibly the most useful information I’ve ever read on platform. Thanks for the toe-stepping. I’d prefer to get it here than in rejection letters.

    • Judith Robl February 3, 2015 at 6:23 am #

      Kathy, until you said something, I didn’t realize “toe-stepping” was a negative. I thought it was an invitation to the dance. 🙂

      • Kathy N. February 3, 2015 at 7:50 am #

        Oh, that is rich, Judith!

      • Dan Balow February 3, 2015 at 7:59 am #

        Obviously neither of you have ever seen me dance. It is always a negative.

        • Wendy L. Macdonald February 3, 2015 at 9:57 am #

          Dan, thanks for making me laugh. And for another helpful post.

          Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

      • Shadia Hrichi February 3, 2015 at 7:44 pm #

        Lol, Judith 😉 love it!

    • Debra L. Butterfield February 3, 2015 at 6:46 am #

      I agree, Kathy. I’ve never heard this about platform and I’ve bookmarked the page. I’ve got revamping ahead of me.

      • Kathy N. February 3, 2015 at 7:51 am #

        Yes, I see some do-overs ahead.

  3. Len Woods February 3, 2015 at 6:43 am #

    Dan the Man! Great reminders (though now my feet are bruised and sore). Wish I’d have read your post before I wrote that chapter about my protagonist lying on the beach, listening to the roaring surf (in Estes Park, CO).

  4. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 3, 2015 at 6:56 am #

    I backed into my platform…Christian marriage and relationships…as a platform for fiction by accident.

    Initially my blog had been pretty scattershot, mostly apologetics, but some stuff I thought cool (“How To be A Vulcan” is still my most popular post.

    Then I did a series of “Sex and the Married Christian”, readership shot up, and I realized I had a theme.

    If fit in with what I write (contemporary Christian romance), and more important – it’s something in which I believe, and for which I have a writing heart.

    There were other options…

    I have a PhD in structural engineering, so how about a blot about seismic and blast-resistant design of reinforced concrete? (Yeah, and have a potential audience of about three, all egomaniacs who want to tell me where I’m wrong.)

    Security contracting and Jedi stuff..that would be popular, and I’ve got the experience! (And I would rather NOT teach a generation of Rambo wannabes how to make mercury switches, thank you.)

    How I deal with a painful illness that the docs say will kill me…there’s the sympathy card I can play! (Well, maybe not, as my attitude is cowboy up and deal with it. Pain is weakness being forced from the body and the mind. End of story, totality of platform, and it makes for a short blog.)

    But, marriage! two marriages…to the same woman…lots of therapy…and still believing in love and romance and the importance of courtship (vite the first divorce, and we ARE still married)…it’s a natural.

    No letters after my name (except PhD and PE, but wrong field), so it’ll have to be a lay ministry.

    it is gaining traction. Readership has increased by 70% through December and January, and I’m getting references for Real Life Marriage Gurus.

    So the key, I think, is, in the end…

    Patience and Consistency.

    (Sorry for the length of the comment…I hope it helps someone, hearing these experiences.)

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 3, 2015 at 7:06 am #

      If I may leave a PS –

      Sometimes areas of expertise can be mixed..the post I put up yesterday, “So I Married A Sniper”, garnered my one-day hit record…before 10 am. And marriage-and-PTSD posts are always popular.

      http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/2015/02/so-i-married-sniper.html

      • Sondra Kraak February 3, 2015 at 7:23 am #

        Andrew, I love your comment, “I backed into my platform….” Just goes to show how God uses our stories in his grand story and how we are called to be faithful to the platform he backs us into. We all have some sort of platform–influence–in the lives of others. That’s the beauty of the body of Christ, how we can encourage others with the message Christ lays on our hearts.

    • Shadia Hrichi February 3, 2015 at 7:43 pm #

      Thanks for the chuckle, Andrew!

  5. Carol McClain February 3, 2015 at 7:24 am #

    Dan, I need this message big time. My roughest area is building a platform. What I’m good at, all authors are good at–I need to figure out a slant my readers need.

    I’m looking forward to all parts of this message.

  6. Sondra Kraak February 3, 2015 at 7:26 am #

    Thanks, Dan. I’m looking forward to this series, including the downloadable document at the end. What a great resource. I appreciate the Steve Laube Agency’s commitment to providing authors with resources and knowledge for a career in publishing.

  7. Beverly Brooks February 3, 2015 at 8:01 am #

    Good morning Dan – thanks for being human with your proof-reading needs!

    I agree with those who have gone before me – this is a much needed beam of light to our paths as writers.Thank you for taking this on!

  8. Shauna February 3, 2015 at 8:51 am #

    I have been looking forward to this series since you mentioned it a week or two ago. I appreciate the timely level 101 guidance.

  9. Bryan Sands February 3, 2015 at 9:06 am #

    Thank you so much for this post! I look forward to this series!

    One question I have always had: is there a number of Twitter, Fb, Blog, etc followers/friends that agents and or publishers are looking for?

    • Dan Balow February 3, 2015 at 9:18 am #

      Depends on the publisher. The largest ones are looking for numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Smaller publishers will still look at those with followers in the 10’s of thousands.

      My opinion is that it is better to focus on developing “devoted followers” rather than numbers. Focusing on devoted followers will eventually lead to good numbers, but the reverse is almost always not true. All social media have ways to pump up numbers if that’s all you are wanting to do.

      The goal is to have a following that when it comes time to publish a book that your “tribe” will spring into action, buy and recommend.

      • Bryan February 3, 2015 at 10:55 pm #

        Thank you! Appreciate your feedback!

  10. Jeanne Takenaka February 3, 2015 at 9:18 am #

    Dan, what a practical post. I feel like I can’t learn enough about establishing a platform, so I’m looking forward to the other things you’re going to share.

    I’ve been blogging for a couple years, now. I’ve kept my focus centered around the topics that speak to my heart. And that apply to the books I write–theme-wise and life-wise. It’s been a growing process. Now, to figure out how to be more consistent in my social media approach. 🙂 Not quite there yet. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom!!

  11. Rebecca LuElla Miller February 3, 2015 at 10:17 am #

    Dan, thanks so much for your excellent insights and clear writing style which makes these ideas easy to grasp.

    I thought it might be helpful to share something I learned from another industry pro at the Mount Hermon conference some years ago, this for the first group whose toes you stepped on: those uncomfortable with marketing themselves. The teacher, Rebeca Seitz, pointed out that we live in a celebrity culture, that this is the time and place in which God has put us, and that if He has given us the urge to write, it’s with our culture in mind. In truth, God uses the very thing we may be hesitant to cultivate. And in the end, it is He who brings people to us and increases “our tribe.”

    Looking forward to the rest of this series, Dan.

    Becky

    • Shadia Hrichi February 3, 2015 at 7:41 pm #

      Great reminder, Becky! Thank you! (That God has placed us here and now, celebrity culture and all)

  12. Sandy Faye Mauck February 3, 2015 at 10:31 am #

    Thanks Dan. I am listening!

    So years ago, my platform thoughts would encompass a few things now I am full of things in many directions. Life happens.

    They say, “What’s in your heart?” I say, “A whole lot!”

    So is it just narrowing it down? Or like Andrew said…marriage and then marriage and PTSD, etc.?

    I am weaving things into my fiction but I am seeing a lot of things coming into vision for non-fiction down the road, too.

    You have my head spinning. Takes me back to the art world again. I was continually nagged at to find my thing and stick to it. But there is a rebelliousness in me that winced and said, “But I am a creative person and I HATE assembly line work!”

  13. Sally Bradley February 3, 2015 at 11:44 am #

    Love this post, Dan. Good stuff!

  14. Malcolm Cowen February 4, 2015 at 3:46 am #

    Thanks Dan, looking forward to the next one.
    Good point about research and driving East from Boston. I remember a Clifford Simak book being ruined for me because Simak (American) put a range of mountains between London and Oxford. Mind you it didn’t seem to damage the Robin of Sherwood film where he went from the South Coast of England to Nottingham via Hadrian’s wall (think New Orleans to Washington via Seattle).

    So in your terms my platform would be Science Fiction and Fantasy with emphasis on the people and the moral dilemmas they face, not on the fancy CGI and the even buggier eyed monsters

    The question that raises is : is there a market for that kind of thing. There was for John Wyndham last centuary, but is it still there?

  15. Lisa February 4, 2015 at 11:17 am #

    Interesting, thank you Dan. It’s all so difficult…not only the figuring out what your focus should be for your platform but also doing the work of building the platform and, oh yes, actually writing. I am bumbling along on all of that, just started a blog, am on Twitter and Facebook, etc but I find it all quite draining, I have to admit. I guess because I feel like I’m not getting too far on it all. Blah. Feeling discouraged today, I guess.

    • Dan Balow February 4, 2015 at 11:22 am #

      Sounds like you are trying to do this alone. Authors need to be part of “platform” groups as much as they need to be part of writers groups. Find a couple people who are good at marketing and buy them a cup of coffee once a month. Doesn’t need to be authors.

      • Lisa February 4, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

        Dan, you are probably right. I’ll have to think about that. I don’t know anyone in my immediate circle that would fit that bill. It’s a struggle to find those communities to fit into, I find. Which is why I find the whole social media thing a struggle. Okay, no more Eeyore. Do, or not do, as Yoda would say, right?

  16. Lisa Taylor February 4, 2015 at 1:16 pm #

    Well done Dan.

    I particularly had to chuckle at the ‘lunch’ and ‘haircut’ comments. Dare I say it (actually I already wrote an article on this for a recent edition of the Aussie writers’ publication: Words With Wings) that we women are particularly prone to fall into the trap of ‘chatting’ via social media.

    An author is a brand as much as a book is. You can’t build a brand around burning last night”s pork chops (unless, as you say, you’re writing cook books).

  17. Kerry Flowers February 6, 2015 at 10:56 am #

    Dan,
    Quick question…do I have enough credibility to speak on Church Leadership and Culture if I spent nearly a decade as a corporate VP in this realm? And having written two books on how to establish the right culture in church and in business? Thanks – Kerry

    • Dan Balow February 6, 2015 at 11:20 am #

      Of course you do. But in addition, publishers will want to see someone still engaged in the expertise which I assume you are,

  18. Kerry Flowers February 6, 2015 at 11:38 am #

    Yep – moved on to my own consulting firm in the same realm. Many thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge!

  19. SherryT February 8, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

    You offer some great advice here–some of it similar to that of other professionals in our field. Unfortunately nothing works for everyone. I began writing my first fantasy novel in 1979. Gryphonwood, an indie press, published my first and second books in 2008 (Seabird) and 2010 (Earthbow). Neither book has sold well In spite of good reviews.

    I’ve tried to establish a viable platform for well over a decade but not one has attracted readers. I feel like I’m wearing an invisibility cloak and that my books are just a Fig Newton of my amalgamation.
    Maybe I need to create a pseudo-platform to attract prospective readers to my real platform?

    You write that the input and support of fellow authors are invaluable. I agree! However, I can’t figure out how to get this. I’m partially disabled and rely on Paratransit to go anywhere. Three years ago, the writers group to which I had belonged for a dozen years shifted the time and place of our meetings. I had no choice but to resign.

    What if –not by choice–an author has virtually no contacts willing or able to offer input? Not just re author platforms but even input about manuscripts?

    My only goal is and always has been having my work read by more than a handful of people. I began writing when I was 33 and I’m now 68. I see no reason for anything to change in the future, now matter how many websites or blogs I own or how many people I ask to just try reading what I write.

    Recently I considered posting every chapter of my published books and my manuscripts on a website. There’s just one problem. Would anyone even find them and read them, if I don’t already have a viable platform to attract readers’ attention to the website?
    SherryT

  20. Michelle - Happy Heart Books March 28, 2017 at 12:32 pm #

    Dan, thank you so much for using your gift to write clear and down to earth understanding posts! I never planned on being a writer, but when the Lord places a message on your heart, you either write it or you’ll think about it for the rest of your life!
    Your information on platform, branding, etc. has/is very helpful in getting me to understand my message a bit more (still wrapping my brain around it) so I can move towards one general theme with my kids books & art. Beginning to grasp that narrowing is liberating! Again, thank you…and thanks to all the others who have shared comments!!

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