One reason platform-building is a such a problem for some authors is the feeling they must place everything important in their book, leaving little or nothing left to say for platform purposes.
This puts an author in an awkward position where they either deviate from their core book-message for their platform (social media and other efforts) or they treat their platform only as a “teaser” or commercial for a book.
Neither path is an effective way to create a loyal reader following, where connections look to you for a certain type of writing. One extreme will confuse your followers with material you are not known for, and the other will drive them away as they feel you only need them for marketing.
Like it or not, an effective author platform provides both good additional content and an appropriate way to point followers to your book.
Press pause on this post for a minute…
As an agent, I am far more interested in working with authors who have multiple books over many years rather than someone who wrote their one and only book and desires to find a publisher. My opinions take more of a 5 to10-year perspective on developing the career of an author rather than to “just get my book published.” This is why I want to know if an author has a broader perspective to writing as a career, or whether it begins and ends with one book.
Back to our point today.
It is very important for authors to be self-aware of the core message which permeates everything they do. In the Christian publishing world, because an author might be writing about huge, eternal, infinite things, they actually might become quite unfocused in their work if not aware how God directs them as believers, giving them a unique message, often based on their personal faith-life and spiritual giftedness.
Arriving at a successful core “message platform” is of paramount importance before you go too far. An effective author platform is always a mix of consistency and creativity. It is not simply collecting names, so you can advertise your book.
If your book is about developing a deeper walk with God, then maybe the content for platform building is a regular weekly devotional tracking along with your own walk.
If your book contains practical advice for an aspect of living, then for sure, you can apply certain practical principles to a wide variety of additional situations.
If your book is a Bible study on a certain section of Scripture, then use the same study approach to unpack another section.
Even novelists have certain recurring themes permeating their stories. Write about those themes, applied to real-life situations.
If you are an author desirous of successfully publishing multiple books over a period of time, logic would lead one to believe you have multiple concepts to draw on.
Everything you know should not be in your book. Save some for your second, or third book…and your platform.
A significant difference between an author who self-publishes and one working with an agent in the traditional market is the agented/traditional approach will require the author be more focused or “branded” as an author, sticking to the core message, something creativity often fights.
Being known for something is an effective way to increase sales for any kind of author, whether self-published or traditional, rather than simply writing whatever comes to mind.
Public speaking is a key part of the author’s platform-building. The most effective author-speakers stick to their core message, but bring new examples, new applications, additional insights and stories, along with some material from their book. Then, when it is time to mention their book for sale at the back table, potential buyers know it will add to, organize and remind them of what they heard from the author in person. When you speak, don’t put everything from your book into the public presentation.
Effective platforms complement and augment the messages found in an author’s book and visa versa.
I think of it as Brand + Voice. On my website, in my books (the one done, the ones yet to come). Over the years, God’s refined both brand and voice, but it’s still a work in progress.
Sharon K. Connell
Thank you for this information, Steve and Dan. It’s nice to know that I’ve been doing this with my writing, even if I didn’t know it was what I should do. LOL
I do have a question for both of you, though. Although my underlying theme is God’s mercy and grace in my Christian/Romance/Suspense novels, is it okay to branch off into some short stories that are an entirely different genre like Fantasy or scary legend themes. It’s not going to hurt my “platform” or “brand,” will it?
For authors of fiction there is a little more latitude to show creativity, but I wouldn’t stray too often. Once in a while OK.
In general, platform followers need to know what to expect from you.
Thanks for this thought-provoking article about the necessity for authors to carefully consider their long-range plan–whether they do it with a literary agent or another group of writers or alone.
Straight Talk From the Editor
Rebekah Love Dorris
Thanks so much for this. Your regular posts on this subject have concentrated my message from a fine mist to a focused jet, or at least it’s headed that direction. My daughter and I even started a podcast that launched this morning, and I’m thinking it works with the overall message.
So thanks for your instruction through these blog posts! They’re working. God bless 🙂
Thank you, Dan. So far I’ve followed the mantra to give my best, using whatever material I have, trusting more ideas will come. They have. But other times I’ve thought a particular piece needs more marinating or it’s just not the right time to share it yet. Thanks for explaining the “why” behind these things!
Rebekah Love Dorris
And your best never disappoints, Pearl! God is using you!
*note to writers seeking constant encouragement: Click on Pearl’s name and check out her writing! Golden pearls! Lol
Great thoughts, Dan.
My platform’s been quite a trip. It began with a sureness that I wanted people to read my words, but an utter lack of understanding of what I was really saying…until I got sick, and learned that the illness would be fatal. (And many thanks here to James Elroy Flecker for the coming poetic punctuation, from “The Gates Of Damascus”.)
“To Mecca thou hast turned in prayer with aching heart and eyes that burn:
Ah Hajji, wither wilt thou turn when thou art there, when thou art there?”
There’s definitely a long-range plan controlling my platform, but I can see now that it’s not mine.
“God be thy guide from camp to camp: God be thy shade from well to well;
God grant beneath the desert stars thou hear the Prophet’s camel bell.”
I started writing about the process of terminal illness from the patient’s perspective with the idea of helping the caregiving spouse through some of the rougher and more puzzling passages.
But it turned into something less, and more, a kind of analogue for my own spiritual journey from facing a dread future and fearing the loss of control to being in the midst of a fell present and knowing that control was there for the having all along, if I only chose to be intentional.
“And God shall make thy body pure, and give thee knowledge to endure
This ghost-life’s piercing phantom-pain, and bring thee out to Life again.”
When nearly everything that defines life, including its on existence, is stripped away…only then can Life be found. What my readers learned was that at the end of all things lies the Beginning of All Things.
“And God shall make thy soul a Glass where eighteen thousand aeons pass.
And thou shalt see the gleaming Worlds as men see dew upon the grass.”
Platform has not been a statement, nor an education…more a threshing floor or a wine press, taking screaming, resisting wheat and grape and turning them into something that will become body and blood, in memory of and in communion with Him.
“And sons of Islam, it may be that thou shalt learn at journey’s end
Who walks thy garden eve on eve, and bows his head, and calls thee Friend. “
Andrew, your comments are always thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you so much, Tisha; you have just brightened a night of pain and despair so appalling that I can scarce describe it. I’m so grateful, that you took the time to say this, truly.
You’re welcome, Andrew. Pray it’s a little better for you today.
Thank you, Dan. I always learn so much from your posts.
Thank you for this, Dan. I always learn so much from your posts, and am encouraged at the same time.
This was the best description I’ve heard on platform. Some of the other classes I’ve taken on the subject made me feel like I was back in sales, luring in unsuspecting readers and using them for my own purposes. I was never comfortable with that, so I never tried it.
But your explanation has the proper balance. Platform is simply allowing people to get to know me so that they trust me and trust my words.
And, as a speaker, it is helpful to have the talk and the book come as a set. I used a little bit of a story from my recent manuscript last week when I was filling in for the sermon at another church. It’s the first time I’ve done that, and it went over very well. I guess I’ll have to get it published so I have a package deal to offer!
This was comprehensive and definitely food for thought. Jaime has summed up platform-building well: “Allowing people to get to know me as an author so they trust me and my words.”
I’ll again forward this post to my writing friends and encourage everyone to sign up for this blog.
I’ll also try to sign up with another one-on-one consultation meeting with you at Taylor University Writing Conference in Aug!
See you in August in Upland, Indiana!
Kayleen, last year the sign-up sheets were in front of the water fountain. I hope they move them this year. 🙂 Awesome, glad you’re coming to Taylor’s PW conference! Hope to meet you as well. 🙂
Good points for nonfiction, Dan! I write fiction, and the main plank in my platform is almost the inverse of the ideal for nonfiction writers. I give away all my information to get on the radars of people who might like my novels. I made my main author web platform a Roman history site that keeps everything PG-13 or less so teachers and teens can use it for history or Latin classes (Want to work a Latin crossword or wordsearch about chariot racing? Or slavery?) It’s crammed with things I learned to get my books historically accurate, and it’s turned into my international sales platform, too.
I write long articles for it (many pages with illustrations and full bibliography) with info that would overwhelm someone who was only interested in a romantic historical read. But the short historical note I put at the back of each book is useful at the website, too.
Want to learn about the daily life of gladiators when not in mortal combat? My brain is crammed with many more details than I needed for my latest novel that just came out this week, but I posted the 3-page historical note from the back of the book with a promise of the full article that I’m writing now. Someone looked at it even before the Google webcrawler indexed the page. Probably 90% of the visitors come through search engines only for a specific Roman topic, with about half being outside the US. But I believe most of my international sales are to people who came for Roman info and found my books while they were there.
So, for a novelist, giving away everything is proving fruitful for letting readers I wouldn’t even know how to target find me.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Thank you so much for this posting, Dan. It was so helpful that I printed it out and will keep it near my computer. Bless your heart for giving us such great advice.
Thanks so much, Dan, for sharing this. Branding is a hard concept to grasp because the message has to be broad enough for an audience but narrow enough for book theme, etc. But after about three months of hashing it out and trying it with a few focus groups, I found my overall message. So that’s good.
And as for sharing content across social media, I found it a bit more challenging. Sometimes my posts don’t get any response, and other times, I’m flooded with response. And neither makes sense. 🙂 I can share a video post about a healthy food recipe, which a few of my network love to see, but it has nothing to do with my brand, and people eat it up. Then I share an article about emotional resilience, which is part of my brand-theme, and no one even looks at it.
Could the way we approach sharing our different content make a difference between what works and what doesn’t work? More videos, as they say, in this digital age is best? Or is it merely trial and error?
That’s my blog experience, too, Trisha. I write about the power of agape love and forgiveness to open hearts closed to God in the context of a romantic historical theme. My best ever blog/linked-Facebook post was the picture of my daughter and her new husband a year ago at their wedding reception dinner table with a reflection on the kind of love that can go the distance. It drew 5x more response than anything else on my theme.
But the thing that draws the most visits every single day is my long article on crime and punishment in the Roman empire. Is that an indication that violence and vengeance have a much stronger draw than agape love? I fear so.
Weddings attract so much attention! 🙂 So pretty, and we like to get excited for a couple beginning their lives together, not to mention all the gorgeous photos!
As for the crime and punishment in the Roman empire, I’d like to think it is the unknown topic—not the violence and vengeance—that draw readers. It’s the conflict, the question of, “Oooh, how does this work? And who wins?” There’s also a huge invitation to bring in agape love, in that conflict and love mirror each other and are necessary for survival… What do you think?
I think for most it’s curiosity/fascination with a culture that was so good at military conquest, entertained itself by watching people die, and thought penalties should be truly horrible for extreme punishment of the criminal and deterrence of anyone who might think about doing the same crime. But it was also superb at engineering and based much of its operation on written law that set standards in Europe for centuries.
It’s a great time period for writing about those whose faith is strong enough that they take big risks as they treat other people, even enemies, with love, knowing full well they might end up dying for it. I love writing about how forgiveness and love can crack the hardest shell.
My daughter commented on how sick that culture was for enjoying the gladiator games so much, but the games satisfied the same human desires that make people love really gory movies and first-person-shooter video games. Our culture just uses technology to give the thrill without people actually dying, but that is a big improvement if you’re the entertainer.
Carol, that’s powerfully written. And yes, forgiveness covers all, doesn’t it? Thanks for writing about that truth with the era that best illustrates it.
Excellent post. Branding and platform are difficult concepts for new writers. I write crime (or forensics)/romance/ and an ‘issue’ with a Christian point of view.
I had to kill half my darlings, but I saved ’em in other folders as my #2 is crime/forensics/romance. And my third, crime/HEAFN.
hoping I am doing it right…
Claire, forgive my ignorance, but what is HEAFN? I think I can piece it together, but don’t want to get it wrong! 🙂
Thanks, Dan, for this approach. As I’m starting to build a platform, this information will help me keep the most effective balance.
Thank you for this great advice. Building a platform has been my biggest weakness and I think this helps me focus on what I need to do and do it better.
Bailey T. Hurley
This is so true. We don’t ever want to lose our readers because our voice or message changes too drastically. Some really good tips and pointers here! Thanks, Dan!
Thanks Dan and Steve for posting. Building a platform seems to be this exponentially evolving phenomena that sometimes … OK, most of the time hurts my brain. I will try to remember that, although the medium may change often, my message and voice must stay above the noise and contain part of my best ideas and inspiration. Now back to figuring out which platform best reaches Inspirational YA readers. Any advice there?
Hi Tara! I’m not Dan or Steve, but I’m sure most anyone in the publishing industry—and especially YA authors—will share this bit of advice: Reach YA readers on their platform. And right now, that platform is either Snapchat or Instagram, sometimes both!
And just to help your hurting brain … think of “platform” as relationship building, a conversation with one reader at a time. Find the platform that works best for you and run with it! Have fun, share, take, and inspire others.
Hope that helps!
Thanks for the encouragement and advice Tisha!
My pleasure, Tara, and it’s great to have a wonderful group of writer-friends! Keep me posted on your progress!