This concludes a three part series of posts exploring the issue of author platforms and how to get one. The Steve Laube agency will offer a downloadable document that will include the three posts plus additional information and resources.
The last two weeks we have covered the need for all authors (especially aspiring authors) to develop a “message platform” and some suggestions how to determine what sort of message you should capture for yourself. Unless an author has a clear message platform, they will be frustrated and discouraged when trying to assemble a large number of devoted social media followers.
This differs from an “author platform” which would include the social media used to spread the message. In short:
Message Platform + media = Author platform
I hope I’ve made the case for the need to have a message platform and you are on your way to determining yours. Today, we will look at the third leg of the message platform, which is how you interact with readers or followers.
The framework I will use to guide the discussion will be that of becoming a “customer service representative” of your message. And where better to get some pointers than the company that is renowned for their customer service, Nordstrom.
Toe-stepping alert #1: If you consider people who follow you in social media and write to you as a distraction and something you would rather not engage, you should seriously wonder if commercial writing is for you. This is tough for introverts, who “just want to write.” The days of quietly writing and slipping the finished manuscript pages under your door for someone else to deal with are over. Authors are creators, marketers and customer service agents. Embrace it.
Nordstrom has a “Golden Rule” for customer service, which is:
“Always think: How will this affect my customer? If I were the customer, how would I feel?”
Associates at Nordstrom are told what is right for the customer is right for Nordstrom.
The point here is to factor your followers and readers into your decision-making about your message platform and author platform. What is best for them is best for you. When you become an author, you take on many roles, only one of them involves writing books.
Toe-stepping alert #2: Taking a social media “hiatus” as some people suggest is generally a nice-sounding effort that does not consider those people you are connecting to. There are numerous tools to allow you to continue posting content when you are not actually engaged. If I look at your blog and you haven’t blogged in three months or more, then you have lost your platform. You need to start over. The key is to establish an author platform that is sustainable for the long term.
Nordstrom’s continues with ten relationship-building principles as keys to success: (Note that Nordstrom calls something a “project”. The rest of us call it a problem.)
- Give clients more than they expect.
- Leave clients something to remember you by.
- Think through the project.
- Ask yourself, “If I were the client would I pay for this?”
- Don’t give reasons why it can’t be done. Tell how it can be done and the consequences.
- Don’t wait to do it if it can be done now.
- Service the client, not the project.
- You don’t know if you don’t ask.
- Start a conversation with one new person every day.
- Write ideas being discussed in front of the client.
There are direct applications for each of the above to dealing with your followers and readers. The point I am trying to make is that you need to decide how you want to engage with followers and readers ahead of time. Decide what type of customer service you want to employ and do it consistently and with discipline. Most authors don’t spend all their time writing. Writing is part of their lives, weaved in between a myriad of other things, often a full time job elsewhere. But don’t ignore the customer service part.
Toe-stepping alert #3: Once you start your author platform, avoid the “spits” and “spurts” model of managing it. If you are serious about it, discipline yourself to working on it for some time every day. You will be surprised how quickly followers and friends leave your social media for other things if you are not engaged regularly.
Finally, as the customer service manager for your followers and readers, you need to:
- Be a real person: Have a way for people to contact you and if they do, write back. Use auto-generated replies as a last resort.
- Manage your time to respond quickly: Set a standard for response and stick to it. Get help in order to keep up.
- Follow through on commitments: Commitments don’t take holidays.
- Serve your readers: What is right for them is right for your career.
Authors are called upon to wear a lot of hats these days. You are not only writing, but also marketing, growing professionally and following through on all the other life commitments. Anyone who has explored writing as an avocation or career knows that it is complex work, but not unlike most other professions, which require training, preparation and long-term dedication in order to succeed.
Decide what your core message will be about and then start the process of getting the word out on that message.
Author platforms are like writing a book…a marathon, not a sprint.
Author Platforms 101 – Part One
Author Platforms 201 – Part Two
Thanks for this great series. I’ve learned so much, and I appreciate your advice.
I agree with Jackie – it’s been a great series!
A couple of things I would suggest…they’re implicit in what you’ve written, but I may as well write them down.
1) Don’t over-commit, and take on too many platforms for your platform…that is, don’t try to maintain a blog, and Pinterest, and Facebook, and Twitter to a high level. Concentrate on one, and use the others as support.
2) Remember that when you go commercial, your customers own a piece of you, and while you many want to do different things, to keep that loyal customer base you have to service their stake in you first. So don’t genre-hop, don’t skip wildly around in blog tone and content, and, if you’re a Christian romance writer, don’t suddenly announce that you’re moving to an ashram in Nepal. (If you’re channeling Richard Bach in your writing, though…you can pretty well do whatever you like…except maybe bird-hunting.)
3) Don’t try to be all things to all people. If you take a strong stand against “Fifty Shades Of Grey” on the grounds that it’s pornography and thereby supports an industry that exploits women and children in literal slavery (as I have), don’t try to placate those who disagree with you. When you have a platform, it has to be sturdy and strong to support everyone you want to join you there. Don’t make the piers that hold it up out of reeds.
Sandy Faye Mauck
Andrew, thanks for #1. I just didn’t see how a person can juggle it all in high gear…she says wiping the sweat from her brow….(<;
Great additions Andrew.
Each of the three points you make are traps easy to fall into and hard to stay out of!
A very timely series for me. I assume directions to obtain the downloadable document will follow in the next post.
I, too, have enjoyed this series, Dan. The illustration of Nordstrom’s customer service was spot on. I temp’ed there in my college days, and even temporary employees were trained in these practices.
Maybe this shows the extrovert in me, but on the occasions when someone DOES comment on a post–on Facebook or Twitter–I get a little excited. Commenting back is fun. 🙂
Thanks for the reminder that we have “customers” to serve. I need to think through how I can best serve them. Great post!
Absolutely top-notch series – we are indebted to you. I am looking forward to being able to download the series and extras!!
Sandy Faye Mauck
Thank you for the great series, Dan. Extremely helpful for me. For me the “customers” would be those I might or would minister to—in one way or another. Because of that, ignoring them would be not doing my work as it is after all—unto the Lord.
If a writer has a solid book proposal but doesn’t yet have the message platform nailed down, is it too early to query an agent?
Non-fiction proposals need a solid platform behind it, fiction can survive lack of platform without it at the beginning.
Great post again! I do struggle with the “social” part of “social media”. It is very much not my nature to engage with strangers. However as I continue to push myself “out there” I do find it gets easier….and I have picked up a few friends from those former strangers, as well. I can see how it is all necessary for an author these days. I find it discouraging, sometimes, as it seems “everyone” else is doing it all waaaay better than me. But I keep plugging away, regardless. If I want to be published I need to do my part as best I can, right?
The best part of blogging is that it keeps you writing consistently. Looks like you are doing the right things, so just keep going.
Progress is never a straight line…usually more like stairs!
Thanks for the great tips and ideas you’ve presented in this series. It’s interesting to think of marketing and platform building from a customer service perspective. I have noticed that many of the authors and bloggers with the biggest followings tend to be the ones who make a point of consistently interacting with visitors in the comments section of posts and in other social media channels. I hadn’t really thought of that as “customer service” before, but now that you’ve pointed it out, I really like the analogy.