So you need to build a platform…

7895821538_1ecbed9347_mOver 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

8 thoughts on “So you need to build a platform…

  1. Thank you so much for this post, Laura! I’m working on platform-building myself and having very limited success. I’ve been blogging steadily for over a year and a half, but until recently I only posted links on Facebook. A few weeks ago I started tweeting and stumbling my posts as well, and that has increased traffic, but I want even more. I’m on the fourth draft of my historical fiction novel and working on a set of children’s books, so I hope to have a need for a platform soon. I want to believe that if I put good work out there and continue to improve, I’ll receive attention. But it’s hard to start from scratch making contacts in the writing/publishing world when I’ve spent my college, grad school and last 9 years doing something completely different (music education).

      1. Thanks Leanne! Yes, platform building is a long, long process. Fortunately it does get easier over time. Just keep celebrating small wins.

  2. This is not just true for writers – it’s also relevant advice for folks selling handcrafted or fine art items online (Etsy, etc.). Social media plays such a big part in attracting people to one’s work. There are lots of people selling things similar to what I make, so I need to find ways to get a “following” for my own work and the best way to do that is to form relationships. And you can only do that by spending time on it.

    1. Oops, hit send too soon. I have also had the same experience re: media exposure. My work has been featured on lots of blogs, a few magazines, and most notably on Good Morning America, and you’d think I’d be set for life, but all of those yielded a spike in sales around the time of the feature, and then afterwards I still have to go back to the hustle 😉

      1. @ARC – exactly. All creative fields have a certain marketing component. And while traditional media can be part of that, it can’t be all of it. There’s a fascinating article in the WSJ today about how some business book writers used a company called ResultSource to buy their way onto the bestseller list. I guess that’s one approach — and I understand why they did it, in that having a “bestseller” to your name can vastly increase your speaking fees — but it was also heartening to see that just getting on the list did not necessarily have any impact on further sales. One book (Leapfrogging) highlighted in the story dropped to selling fewer than 100 copies a week immediately after the spike. You really do need a good following to keep sales going, and it’s worth the effort to do it the right way.

  3. I started my blog as a hobby to help keep me sane in the early days of motherhood when my old hobbies no longer seemed to fit in my life, and mostly it remains a hobby. But I’ve got a decent size readership now, and since I’ve got a couple of books coming out, I guess it qualifies as a platform! I have no idea how to build readership, though. I think I picked up most of my readers via comments I left on other people’s blogs. I occasionally think I should put some effort into increasing my readership, but I never get around to doing it.

  4. Laura – I agree wholeheartedly with your advice. Building a platform is hard work, and the tactics that really pay off often surprise you. I had the same experience you did: for my eighth book, media exposure gave a little bump in sales, but not nearly as much as other platform building activities.

    Enjoy your perspective, as always!

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