Bare Bones: Platform Basics for Authors

Bare Bones Platform

At the San Francisco Writers Conference last month I had the opportunity to speak with many authors about their platforms. The variation was stunning, and inspiring. Even among writers in the same genre, there were no two identical approaches to building visibility and community around their work.

As most authors know, a platform isn’t just “I have a Twitter account.” It is as much about individual preference, goals and creativity as it is about the tools themselves. Yet seeing all the rich variation in fully-built platforms does beg the question: where do you start? What are the essentials, the bones, that all good platforms need?

I have written about this before, and that advice still stands: have your own website (or blog); create an email list; choose one social media outlet. What I want to add here is why these three steps are a good idea. How do these foundational elements build toward a book launch and beyond?


You need to have your own spot on the internet. Anything you post first on someone else’s platform—Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, even commenting on other people’s blogs—is content you may not exclusively own. But if you publish it first on your website or blog, your ownership of the content is more clear. You can then repost it on social media without that nagging feeling that maybe you should read all the fine print in their terms of agreement.

Aside from content ownership, a website is critical to your visibility on the web. If someone searches for your name or the title of your book, you want your site to be there at the top of their search. Why? So that they find YOU, and are more likely to join your…

Email List

There are lots of components to a successful book launch, but one of the most important is having a good mailing list. Why? SEO experts talk about “conversion,” the rate at which people click, like, and respond to your requests. Email has a far higher conversion rate than social media posts, because these are people who have actively subscribed to know more about what you are doing.

If you really want to generate advance book sales, turn people out for a launch event, or find enthusiastic reviewers, your email list is where you will find them. Which means that one of the main things you should have on that bare bones website is a way for people to join your list, and a reason why they should: a free giveaway for signing up, discounts on future events, or just the pleasure of your writing in their inbox.

Social Media

If email is a way you can stay in touch with readers, social media is how they can stay in touch with you. Of course it is much more than that, but one of the main reasons to be on social media site is so you are accessible to readers who may one day decide to attend an event or visit your website and sign up for your mailing list.

For a bare bones platform, choose one social media site and really get to know it. If you don’t know which one to pick, find authors in your genre and see which tool they use the most, and seem to have the most fun with. Who do they follow? How do they relate to their fans? Where are the interesting conversations happening?

Developing a comfortable persona on social media takes practice, but it is well worth the effort. Stick with one until you get the hang of it and have integrated that tool into your work flow. Your bare bones platform is now in place!

Learning More

There is always more to learn, of course, and lots of choices to make as you progress from bare bones to full blossom. Fortunately, there are some great places to develop your skills and get personalized help in growing your platform, no matter where you are in the process.

If you are in the Bay Area, check out my upcoming class, Good Bones: Start Your Author Platform Off Right. It is being held on April 6 from 10-1 at Book Passage in Corte Madera, a fantastic resource for authors and haven for book lovers. Whether you are just starting out and feeling overwhelmed, or you’ve got the bones in place and need to take your platform to the next level, please join me on April 6 for a fun and informative session. I promise!

Being an Author for the Long Haul

Jon Rawlinson, cc license

As inspiring as it is to read about indie authors who make it big selling ebooks on Amazon, such reports can obscure the fact that most authors work for years before they become an “overnight” success. There are two imperatives for writers who want to take this long road to publishing success: keep writing, and keep building your platform.

Platform-building means marketing not just  your books but  you—as an author, and (yes) as a brand. Marketing oneself requires a completely different mindset than writing a long work of fiction or non-fiction. Yet the two activities go hand in hand, and both must be sustained over a period of years, not months, to get the kind of sustainable income most writers dream about. Continue reading

N is for Niche

Finding Your NicheI can still remember the first time I walked into my college’s main library. Before me were six huge floors, each one filled floor-to-ceiling with bookshelves. Looking at all that accumulated knowledge, my heart sank. “Everything important has already been written,” I thought.

I was surprised by my own reaction. Why despair? I didn’t consider myself a writer then, but that moment set me on a long journey to find out what I had to say that was different enough, and special enough, to deserve a place on those shelves, too. I was searching for my niche.

Most writing on niche marketing and niche publishing assumes a professional adult audience, but the search for one’s niche begins far earlier than that. In many ways, it is a continuation of the adolescent drive to find our place in the world, to translate what is inside of us into a unique offering that is valuable to others.

Seen from this perspective, finding your niche is not just about streamlining what you do but about adding back some of those early interests you may have dropped along the way. Here’s how this two-part process works. Continue reading

Why I Will Never Break My LinkedIn Rule Again

LinkedIn is a fantastic platform for all kinds of professional networking. With over 259 million users in more than 200 countries, it is often the very best way to network with leaders in your field. Over half of LinkedIn’s revenue comes from the talent market, so if you are currently employed or would like to be in the future, there is no better place to have your résumé.

I use LinkedIn in a more low-key, professional way than Facebook or Twitter. When I meet people at events and want to stay in touch with them, I connect with them on LinkedIn afterward. LinkedIn groups (there are over 2.1 million of them) are also great places to approach people for interviews, ask and answer questions on important topics, and let people know about relevant articles and events.

LinkedIn ConnectIn using LinkedIn, I have just one cardinal rule: never accept a connection request from anyone who does not add a personal note to that request. Even if I do not know someone, if they have taken the time to study what I do and write a quick, well-stated reason for wanting to connect, I will generally do it. People who don’t go to this trouble are typically just interested in marketing to me, so I have gotten pretty good at ignoring their requests.

But this week I made an exception to my rule. Here is what happened. Continue reading

The Challenge of Author Education

With so much great information available on how to publish and build a platform, the challenge for authors is finding the right advice at the right time. Most authors I speak to struggle not with finding reliable information but knowing which advice is right for their particular situation. Adding to the confusion, even sound advice can become quickly outdated with the rapid changes in publishing, social media, and web technology.

One solution is to find a few names you trust in the industry, follow them, and filter out much of the rest. But curation requires that these trusted voices to be clear about who their audience is for each piece. This is key, because right now there is a wide range of both needs and expertise among authors.

Just how wide this range extends was brought home to me recently when I interviewed Kristen McLean, CEO of Bookigee, about author education and book marketing. Always articulate and insightful about publishing, Kristen identified five different groups of authors with very different needs: Continue reading

Social Media Tip: Turn Your Rants Into Pin Boards

Sometimes you don’t know how you’re going to use a social media site until you’ve been on it for a while. In my case, a lightbulb went off about Google+ and Pinterest one day as I was silently fuming about a full-page book ad in the New Yorker.

The ad didn’t make any sense from a marketing standpoint, and the more I looked the more questions I had: Who exactly was the ad targeting? Why did the publishers choose this magazine for this book? Where was the publisher’s brand, anyway? And how did they hope to sell the book or track the ad’s effectiveness without a single URL?

All I wanted to do was have some fun with the ad and jot down a few offhand comments. But where? This wasn’t Facebook or Twitter material because I had too much to say, yet it wasn’t quite right for my blog either. That’s when the lightbulb appeared. It was perfect for Google+! Continue reading

How to Blog and When Not to Blog

Blogging is a great way to find out what you love to write about. This may seem like good news, but it is not always welcome if you’ve started blogging for reasons other than love (i.e. to make money).

Here’s how the process works: you start a blog thinking that it will be all about Subject X. But somewhere along the way, Subject Y starts to seem like a much better fit for your interests and imagination, maybe even for your career goals. You find yourself flush with ideas on how to write about Subject Y, and how to market it to people who want to hear what you have to say.

What do you do then? Do you write about both things? Start a second blog for Subject Y? Repurpose your blog to focus on Y, while still hoping to keep readers who started reading you because of X? Continue reading

What’s the Best First Step in Platform Building?

At the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference last month I talked to both new and experienced writers about building author platforms. I expected to be asked why author platforms were necessary, but to my surprise the most frequent question I heard was: Where should I start? Writers young and old wanted to know the benefits of Facebook and blogs versus getting on Twitter. What was the most important place for them to be?

We are at a fascinating, hopeful moment for writers. Many people with highly successful platforms have shared their methods in detail. And yet, the greater truth is that the most effective platform strategies are ones that haven’t even been dreamed up yet. For anyone getting started now, mixing creativity with long-term strategy will have huge results.

There is no one way to build a platform. Yet there are some very strong opening moves that will serve you well no matter which direction you decide to go. Here are my top three suggestions for anyone who wants to take their first steps today: Continue reading

Writing Advice at the Wrong Time

As I prepare to teach next week at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, I was asked to think about the worst writing advice I’ve ever been given. My friend Suzanna remembered hers right away: “use semicolons.” What came up for me was a memory of third grade.

Our teacher, Mrs. Cox, told us one day that one of the words we should never use in our writing was “cannot.” My mind immediately flipped to several books I had read that used the word “cannot” in seemingly legitimate ways. My reverie ended right as Mrs. Cox finished her lesson and said, “Raise your hand if you still think you should use ‘cannot.’” I was the only one to raise my hand, and was now mortally embarrassed as well as confused.

The withering gaze of Mrs. Cox was enough to teach me that in her class at least, I would not use “cannot” in a sentence. To this day I have no idea what her reasoning was, but it probably had something to do with training eight-year-olds that “can” and “not” were two different words. For students just beginning to read and write English that was probably passable advice. But I was a precocious reader, and to me the advice was not just nonsensical but demonstrably false. Continue reading

M is for Message

To be successful, every business needs a compelling message. Call it a tagline, a slogan, or even an argument, your message is what gets people’s attention and keeps them listening to what you have to say.

In a message, every word counts. Unlike mission statements which tend to be long, circuitous sentences that try to say too much, a message has to be on point. Rather than describing what you do, it communicates what you stand for.

But a message is not just words, it is also who you are. This is the critical piece for those of us with wisdom to share: if you don’t embody that wisdom somehow in your physical presence, your work will never truly have the impact you seek. So messages are a two-part process: finding the right words, and then bringing those words into alignment with your actions. Continue reading