A writer I follow on Twitter recently tweeted about a rejection she received from a literary agent. Apparently the agent loved her story but didn’t feel she had enough of a platform to take her on as a client. While there are authors who wow agents and publishers with the quality of their writing, then build that platform after they receive a contract, the vast majority of mere mortals need to have an author platform in place before pitching their manuscripts. It’s also handy when you do have a book to promote. But how do you begin when you’re starting from scratch? And won’t it take valuable time away from writing?
After completing my first manuscript, I began to research the path to traditional publication. As an outsider, I had no understanding of the publishing industry, but before long I recognised the need to establish an author platform. At that stage, I was the sort of person who shied away from social media. I didn’t even have a Facebook account, and although I did have a Twitter handle (complete with a silhouette profile pic and two whole followers), Twitter’s constant stream of content bamboozled me. The thought of creating an authentic social media presence was terrifying and seemed impossible. To top it off, like the querying writer on Twitter, I clearly needed to have established this platform yesterday.
Building an authentic online presence takes time, but if you attack it systematically, you will soon have an author platform for agents to find, as well as a network of friends to support you through the inevitable disappointments. The key is to attack the challenge in bite-sized pieces, to be strategic, and to try to enjoy the process, because in the end, the benefits of having an online presence far outweigh the effort required to establish one.
Tips on establishing an author platform:
- Begin as soon as possible: If you wait until you have a book to pitch or promote, it’s too late. Hashtags like #WriterLift on Twitter can boost follower numbers, but building an effective platform has more to do with authentic relationships than follower stats, and these take time to develop.
- Build a website: I resisted the idea of creating a website at first. After all, what’s the point if you don’t have any books to sell? I cringed at the idea of fleshing out a bio and finding content for a website when I was only just starting out. It felt false, egotistical, pathetic. But this is the most important step you can take towards building an author platform. And in some ways, securing your domain name and setting up a website early gives you a chance to learn what works and what doesn’t before anyone with clout is likely to see it. This is your home on the internet, your space to sell yourself. It can be as simple or as lush as you like, but it needs to exist.
- Blog if you can find the time: Again, blogging felt ridiculous at first—little more than a way to fill the empty space on my website—but it soon evolved into an enjoyable habit. Although these days I can only spare the time to blog once a month, it’s a treat to instantly publish my words, to connect with other writers and bloggers, and to create content to share on social media. Who knows, it might also open the door to other opportunities. Last year an agent contacted me via my website after reading one of my blog posts and another post scored a mention on one of my favourite podcasts!
- Join several social media sites: Make sure you sign up for all the social media platforms you might want to use one day, preferably with a handle that’s just your author name, not some cute or x-rated pun. You may not have time to build them all yet, but you should stake a claim.
- Systematically engage with one site: Although Twitter can be confusing to the uninitiated, it’s popular with writers and other publishing industry professionals, so I chose to focus on Twitter first, following five people per day. I primarily targeted other emerging writers, and initially only a few followed me back, but I continued with five new follows each day. If you use this strategy, after a while, follower numbers will increase, especially if you interact with the accounts you follow. Comment, retweet, congratulate people on their wins. Behave in a supportive, genuine way, and don’t be afraid to let your personality show. But keep your eyes on the prize—if your purpose is building a platform, do you really want to inflame those trolls?
- Add in more socials when you are ready: Only when you are ready, begin to explore other social media platforms. I like Instagram, much to my surprise, and occasionally dabble with Facebook. Social media can be a time suck if you let it. In my opinion, it’s best to focus on the platforms you enjoy and not angst too much about follower numbers at first. They will come with time and engagement.
- Submit short pieces and enter competitions: Blog content is well and good, but when you’re yet to have a book to promote, nothing makes an author platform shine like publications. They’re great content for your website, a convenient way for browsing agents and publishers to read some of your work, useful for sharing on social media, and good for fleshing out that author bio. I’m a huge fan of flash fiction for this reason, but poetry or freelance non-fiction work can be equally impressive. And best of all, you’ll be developing your craft in the process, After all, the whole point of a platform is to showcase your writing talent.
The thought of establishing an author platform from scratch can be overwhelming, but with a little planning, before you know it you too will be blogging about doing just that.