In my previous post I discussed why an author needs to establish a way to communicate with his or her readers, or build an author platform. In this, 8th post in the series, Advice to New Writers, I talk a little about how to go about building such a platform.
What Does Your Author Profile Look Like?
First you need to decide what your author profile is. What kind of writer are you? Are you genre driven, i.e. are your books detective stories, fantasy, young adult, romances? If you already know exactly what your genre is, fantastic. I have to admit that I struggled quite a lot to find where amongst the millions of titles published worldwide my writing fitted. But eventually I found out that I write contemporary romances set in Finland. I often call myself an author of Nordic romances, even though it’s not even a proper a genre (if you look it up on Amazon, you get a lot of books featuring semi-naked Nordic Gods or Vikings – something my books definitely are not). Sometimes I use the Women’s Fiction umbrella. Still, even I found my niche, so trust me, every book and author will fit into a genre. Here is a link to the BISAC fiction categories used by Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).
The best way to find where your book fits the marketplace is to look at books, or authors, that are similar to you. Sometimes it even pays to think what novelists you enjoy reading, and compare your style to theirs.
Next, think what separates you from other authors in your chosen category. Are you a different nationality like me: a Finnish author writing in English? Or perhaps you write stories set in one locality. Do you have a different style, unusual characters in your book(s)? Something as small as having a white cat, which you can incorporate into your profile, can be enough to make you stand out. Think of authors who have very successfully made their author profiles stand out: Jilly Cooper (raunchy, posh romances), Jo Nesbo (Nordic Noir), William Boyd (literary fiction). It’s worthwhile spending some time thinking about your author profile before you build your platform.
Set up a website
Once you have decided what kind of author you are, you need to set up a website, even if it is a static one, i.e. you don’t update it very often. A website is like your calling card on the net, and it is where you can start building that fan base. The website alone will inform readers what kind of author you are, and what kind of books you write. Most importantly you can begin to set up an email list of your readers through your website. The sooner you do this, even if your first book is still in the making, the more successful your writing career will be.
Joanna Penn has a free guide on her The Creative Penn site on how to set up an author website very quickly and easily. But before you do that, I’d advise you to look at websites by authors in your genre. Without copying them, you can see what the style needs to be. A romance author needs a completely different look from a fantasy thriller author and so on. Based on your website, you can then go on and build your other online and off-line projects and platforms, making sure all of your online output has the same look.
Build a mailing list
One of the first tasks after you’ve set up the website is to start building a mailing list. Think of the emails that you collect as a direct line to your readers – your super fan base. This is the list that will ensure that your next book will do well – anyone who has agreed to sign up for your newsletter will be willing to buy your next book. A large mailing list equals many readers, equals many fans, equals book sales. Simple. Nick Stephenson runs an excellent course on how to market your books and build your mailing list. Go and have a look at his Your First 10,000 Readers website.
Other online platforms
It’s useful to have a presence on other online platforms in addition to your website; sites like Facebook and Twitter can be used to drive traffic to your website. If you can’t decide where you should invest your time, one way of determining this is to look at other authors in your genre, and see where they hang out. Are these authors active on Goodreads, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook or Instagram? If you get emails from your readers, try to find out which platforms they use.
I’ve found out that many of my fans are on Facebook, but I’m a bit of a social media junkie and spend a lot of time on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads. I also try to post a few times per week on Linkedin and Google+. There are ways of automating the content, so you don’t have to spend all of your time online. This is something I’ve yet to get to grips with. There’s always something to learn in this very fast moving industry!
Real life events
A good way to build your author platform is to attend events. If you are new to the writing game, attending as a guest and asking questions is a good way to get noticed. Before I published my books, I went to a lot of festivals, attended writer events, MeetUps, joined in Alliance of Independent Authors meetings and generally got myself about. (And I still do). But make sure that you have a business card, or leaflets or something to give to people when you network so that they can find you online. When you’ve attended a few events, someone will ask you to speak, or read from your book. And if you keep being active, and you prepare well and are good at what you do, this will slowly but surely snowball.
As a summary, I’d say having at least a website and an author Facebook page, reflecting your author profile, are the minimum requirements if you wish to build an effective author platform.
In the next post in this series, Advice to New Writers, I’ll talk about whether authors should blog or not.