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.
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.
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.
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.
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.