Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Can you really build an author platform?

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.


  1. My lack of interest in pandas might put me at a disadvantage. That, and the fact that I don't have an Auntie called Violet. However, I do have four or five old forklift pallets in the garden. I had planned to use these to upgrade my compost heap, but could these be used instead to make an author platform, do you think?

  2. A lack of an Auntie Violet seems to have doomed your website. But to be fair, it doesn't have to be about pandas, that was just an example.

    I'm afraid four or five pallets aren't enough for an effective platform, even in Norfolk. I'd keep them for the compost heap.

  3. I'm shortly going to an event which is billed as "Upgrading your Mobile Platform". This is a way of allowing your web site to be viewed and to communicate with a mobile phone or in your case an iPhone.

    The physical world is therefore not involved unless you think of the software and the odd few pieces of hardware to get it all to work, but more importantly a well respected old fashioned word has been taken up and reworked by a digital generation.

  4. Four or five pallets seems an excellent start to a platform. Step 1. Start compost heap. Step 2. Review existing sites about compost heaps, and identify the gap. Step 3. Start the site about the aspect of composting that sadly falls through the cracks of the existing sites. Step 4. ??? Step 5. Best selling book about compost.

    Somewhere along the way, you might look into marrying someone with an Aunt Viola, which would then mean, voila, you have an Aunt Viola too.

  5. Hmm. Platform is certainly used a number of ways, but in the sense of an author platform, we're looking at a way of making your books visible to a potential audience, which I guess makes it not an unreasonable use of the word.

    Cunning way to get an Aunt Viola, though I'm not sure if it helps get an Auntie Violet.