Something authors hear more and more about is the need to build a platform. While the image this conjures up may involve putting the author on a pedestal in Trafalgar Square, the idea is rather that publishers are beginning to realize that the pitiful budgets they have available for promotion simply aren't enough to get a book visible. In most cases, it's now down to the author's own visibility to pull people towards the book.
There's an element of truth in this, but there's also an assumption. Can you build a platform, or is it something you have (or don't have) anyway?
Obvious platforms include being a celebrity, or doing the kind of public speaking job that puts you in front of tens of thousands of people each year. Yes, we can see the value of a platform then. But what about the ordinary person who happens to have written an excellent book? Can you start from scratch, or are you doomed?
The message is mixed. There's good news and bad. The good news is you can build a platform to a degree. The bad news is that it may take a long time, and you may never get very far.
In the end, there's a lot of luck involved. Forget those who tell you they have a magic route to visibility. They're like the people who told you they would magically increase the value of your money (or your house) every year, without fail. They are riding on luck. Instead, I'm afraid, it's a matter of backbreaking (or at least carpal tunnel breaking) work - hammering away at as many means of exposure as possible.
So it means taking up every opportunity for publicity, constantly looking for new ways to appeal to the media. And making the most of your internet exposure. Blogging, yes. Using Twitter if you like (though don't expect wonders). And best of all, if possible, finding a way to get exposure that gives added value. Few people (apart from your Auntie Violet) are going to be interested in a website that's about you. At least to begin with. But if you can set up a really good website about (say) pandas, the best panda website in the world, you are going to draw people in - and then you truly are starting to build a platform. (Assuming you want to write about pandas.)
Your blog/web site/whatever has to be interesting in its own right, and just incidentally happens to give you exposure. Perhaps more important still, you have to really want to communicate about pandas (or whatever). It's not enough to stick in a bit of panda material around a core of 'I'm wonderful'. You should truly care about pandas, or find something else to help build your platform.
I'm not saying you can't do it. I'm not saying don't do it. But be aware, be very aware, that this could take a huge amount of time and effort... and in the end it's luck that will probably swing things your way, or the other.