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:
1. Your platform begins with your website. Register your own domain, ideally in the form of “www.thisisme.com”. Put something on it now, even if it is just a single page with your name and a little information about what you write. You can always build it out later with a blog or more pages, but having something up now will help with search engine “authority” in the long run—and that’s a very smart investment.
2. Start a mailing list. Email is still the most effective way to build your audience. Sign up for a service like Mailchimp which makes it easy (and free) to stay in touch with people via email. Follow their instructions for creating an opt-in list. Download their mobile app for collecting email addresses at events and readings and add an email sign-up form to your website. You now have a basic system in place that will grow as your visibility grows.
3. Take social media one step at a time. Your website and email list build active engagement and sales, but social media is for easy conversation. So it’s important to find one that is fun for you, because otherwise you’ll never last for the time it takes to find readers and build a following. Choose one of the “usual suspects”: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, Goodreads, Pinterest, LinkedIn. Then play around on it and explore. Join conversations, notice what other people are doing, find your “authentic” voice on that platform. Contribute regularly for several months before trying anything new.
You do not need to be on every social network to be successful. In fact, having a very strong presence on one or possibly two is just plenty for most writers. Remember to post links to your website when you have new content there, and periodically remind people that they can join your email list. Then spend the rest of your time writing what really matters.
Platforms are a process, not a static creation. They are a long-term strategic move designed to grow slowly over time, and support your overall career and publishing goals. It is easy to lose sight of this fact but it is crucial to keep in mind, especially when you hear stories of other people whose platforms have suddenly taken off.
The ideal platform-building workflow is one that makes sense for you over the long haul, no matter what others are doing. So stick with it, be open to learning from others, but stay confident in what you know works for you. Who knows? You might discover a wildly successful method that nobody has even dreamed of yet!