Over the past few weeks, I’ve been looking at lots of time logs (I’m writing a time makeover bonus section for the paperback compilation of my three ebooks; called What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, the paperback will be out in September). One of them came from Mary Pritchard, a professor of psychology at Boise State.
She was doing perfectly well on managing her professional work, and even doing some rather out-of-the-box activities. The week we tracked, she went to a belly-dancing conference. I have never seen so much belly dancing on a time log! It was awesome.
The trouble? She wants to write a book. She has a great idea, and interested agents, but they say the same thing: you need to build your platform. There are, after all, many people who study body image, or have thoughts about it, even if not all of them are as colorful as she is. So you need a compelling case for publishers that readers will read your book. She was trying to fit in time for platform building amidst the rest of a full life. She was looking to find out what platform building techniques are the most efficient use of time.
It’s a question I’ve gotten in some form or another multiple times since 168 Hours came out. To be honest, prior to 168 Hours, I did not have much of a platform. I thought I did (writing USA Today columns, writing for many other major publications, heck, I’d even written some books!). But a platform really consists of your people who will buy your book because you are you. In the absence of such a loyal following, it is really hard to sell books. You may get great media attention — and I did! But media alone doesn’t sell books in the sort of quantity one might imagine. This is the reality of the book world. Not that many people buy and read books. Millions of people may see you on national television, and think “that was interesting” but they may leave it at that. Your readers, on the other hand, will buy your book. And they will tell their friends. That is what moves the merchandise, beyond a few spikes on media. (With exceptions. Oprah’s book club, for instance, was known for moving books).
So how do you get such a platform? Getting a good email list is a big part of it. You want to be able to email many thousands of people — who’ve indicated that they're receptive to your emails — that you have a book out. So people collect emails at speeches (having a thriving speaking career is also a good way to sell books). They offer free content to get people to give their addresses. They send out useful newsletters in exchange for those email addresses (hint, hint!). Blogging is also a big part of this. You can tell people via your blog that you have a book out. If you have lots of readers of your blog — because you’re offering regular, interesting, enjoyable content, and developing a relationship with your readers — then those people will be your people too.
Unfortunately, all this is time consuming and hard to rush. Some people are more aggressive about getting big-name bloggers to link back, which garners readers. I really should do more of that. Writing guest posts for other places that link back is a good strategy. Social media can send people over, but this has to grow organically, too, and be thought of as a conversation. No one wants to be your Twitter follower just to get links to your posts. You have to post other people’s stuff, and ask questions and go back and forth and all that. Just because someone follows you doesn’t mean they’ll be one of your people. People can like you on Facebook, and then never see your page again.
All this comes back to the question of increasing your exposure and broadening your scope. Ideally, you’re paying into your “platform account” every day for years, so when you need it, you have it. The key thing to keep in mind is that you need a way to reach your people. So even if you have a major article somewhere that goes viral, if you don’t have a good way to capture those people’s contact information or keep them coming back, it may not ultimately be that useful. So that's one big rule of platform building: be ready to ride the wave.
Photo of an entirely different form of platforms courtesy flickr user Tatiana12