5 Steps to Building Your Author Platform
“Do I really need an author platform? What is an author platform, anyway?” I get asked these questions at least twice a week, and in today’s post, I’m sharing all the details!
But the short answer is you don’t need an author platform. Nobody’s going to force you to build one. If you just want to write and sell books, for a very specific target market, you can optimize your book sales page, use paid ads, and see what happens, you totally can.
But there are reasons why an author platform can be useful and worth building over time. So, keep reading and I’ll share those as well as the 5 steps to building your author platform in a way that’s not overwhelming or stressful!
What Is An Author Platform?
An author platform encompasses all the ways you can reach readers, whether now or in the future. In other words, your author platform includes things like your website, your email list, your sales pages on Amazon and other retailers, social media, etc. It’s the foundation for all of your future marketing efforts.
And here’s the thing… You can start building your author platform no matter where you're at in the writing, editing, or publishing process. You don’t have to wait until you’re done writing your book to get started.
But once you’ve built your author platform, it can help you:
- Attract an audience and community of readers who want to hear from you
- Network with a professional community of like-minded writers
- Find unexpected opportunities with industry professionals
But beyond that, you might actually enjoy carving out your little corner of the internet and connecting with readers. It can be fun, too!
So, now that you know what an author platform is, and why it’s important, let’s talk through the 5 steps to building your author platform.
Step 1: Define Your Target Audience of Readers
Your target audience is made up of readers who are going to love your book just as much as you do. These are the type of people who will:
- Buy your book, enjoy reading it, and recommend it to their friends
- Leave you glowing five-star reviews on Amazon or Goodreads
- Like or comment on your social media posts or respond to your emails
In other words, they’re the potential readers your author platform needs to speak to!
Therefore, you must understand who they are, what they like, and what they might want from you (other than good books) before you can speak to them.
To get to know your target audience, consider what books they’re already reading. What 3-5 books do your target readers love? Why do they like these books? What feeling are they seeking from the books they choose? You can also use the questions in this article to get to know your ideal reader if you haven’t done so already.
Once you’ve defined your target audience, it’s time to move on to step 2!
Step 2: Design Your Author Brand
In a nutshell, your author brand is the impression people get about you and your books. It’s the aesthetic or vibe that you and your books (plus your social media, emails, etc.) give to readers. So, in other words, it’s a promise to potential readers about the type of experience or feelings they’ll have while interacting with you.
If your website is full of dark and moody pictures with bloody hand prints and articles about the end of the world, and if you talk on social media about loving true crime podcasts, it probably doesn't make much sense to sell children's books.
If your author brand consists of pink, red, and ivory colors...and if you have a book on your website that shows two people holding hands and looking lovingly at each other while walking along the beach at sunset, you'd better deliver a romance.
To start designing your author brand, answer these questions:
- What vibe is commonly associated with the kind of books I write?
- What feelings do I want to evoke in my target audience?
- What words resonate with people who might like my books?
- What images will attract people who might like my books?
- What colors will I use for my website and social media?
Now, you might be wondering… “What if I write in different genres?”
Many writers write in different genres under the same name. But just as many use different names for different genres. There’s no right answer to creating an author brand if you’re writing in multiple genres, but there are some things you can consider before deciding how to move forward.
First, can you get away with being one brand? Is there any overlap between your two audiences? If so, it will be much easier for you to build and maintain one brand.
If not, consider where you want to be in five years. For example, if you write both crime and romance and let’s say you know you only want to write crime in the future, it’s probably a good idea to build your author brand to suit crime readers.
When in doubt, do what feels right to you. If you must develop more than one author brand to accommodate the books you write in different genres, that’s fine! But know that it will take more work and planning to develop and maintain multiple brands.
If you’re not sure how to get started with your author brand, look at what other writers in your genre are doing for a jumping-off point. You can also browse Pinterest for “brand boards” if you need a color palette or general inspiration.
Once you’ve designed your author brand, it’s time to move on to step 3!
Step 3: Create Your Author Website
Writing is a long-term career, and if you want to take it seriously as a business, you should own and control your own website. This is where people can learn more about you and your books, so it’s pretty important!
At the bare minimum, your website should include the following pages:
- Home Page
- About Page
- Email List Sign-Up Page
- Book Page
- A Contact Page
You might choose to include all of these elements on one page—that’s fine, too. It’s up to you, how much time you have, the design of your website, and things like that.
As you grow your career (and write more books), you might decide to add more pages to your website. For example, a press page or media kit, a page for book club discussion questions, a page for events and appearances, a blog or vlog, additional “book” pages like a page for each book in a series, etc.
Whatever you do, don’t obsess over design!
If you’re just starting out, consider this phase one of your author website. Just get something up to start getting people on your email list. Like your story, your website will develop over time, so don't get stuck trying to make it perfect.
Need some inspiration to get started? Visit 3-5 of your favorite authors’ websites and write down what you like about their website, what you don’t like, and how you feel when you visit it. Use your findings to help you brainstorm your own website.
Once you’ve built out phase one of your website, it’s time to move on to step 4!
Step 4: Set Up Your Email List
Having an email list will allow you to build a relationship with readers over time, so they get to know who you are and you can build that know, like, and trust factor.
This is why your #1 goal—in all of your marketing efforts—should be to grow your email list.
So, first, you’ll need to choose an Email Service Provider and get all of the tech set up (including adding an email opt-in box to your website and things like that).
Then, you’ll want to brainstorm a few different things:
- A lead magnet (aka something to offer a potential subscriber in exchange for their email address—for example, a bonus chapter, a free ebook, character interviews, a behind-the-scenes look into your writing process, etc.)
- An autoresponder series (aka the email/s that will get sent automatically when someone subscribes to your email list—for example, an introduction to you and the kind of books you write, a discount code, etc.)
Whatever you do, don’t over think this part of the process!
We all start with zero subscribers. Your list will grow over time as your readers find you or as you’re actively promoting your books.
If you need some inspiration for setting up your email list, creating a lead magnet or an auto responder series, sign up for 3-5 author newsletters in your genre to see what they’re doing. Jot down what you like and don’t like about their emails. You can even create a folder in your inbox for "email inspiration" to save any author newsletters or emails that you like for inspiration.
Once you’ve set up your email list, it’s time to move onto step 5!
Step 5: Develop Your Communication Strategy
Your communication strategy describes the type of content you will use to communicate with your audience. And content is everything you put online, including things like:
- Email newsletters
- Social media
- Blog posts
- YouTube videos
- And more...
The purpose of your content strategy is to build that know, like, and trust factor—and to stay top of mind with your ideal reader.
Think of it this way...
Each piece of content you put out there is another way for people to find you.
By being consistent and by varying your content across different types media, you'll target a variety of audiences.
So, the first step in developing your communication strategy is to choose what type of content you want to commit to.
At the very least, commit to sending out an email newsletter. One of the worst things you can do is to only engage your audience only when you have something to sell. So, you will want to communicate when you’re not selling, too.
Here are some things you can include in your newsletters:
- Writing updates
- Events and appearances
- Reviews of books you’ve read
- Book releases
- Personal updates or notes
- Blog posts
- Giveaways or competitions
- Flash fiction
- Character interviews
- Short stories
- Chapters (WIP or finished)
Once you're comfortable with that, you can branch out to social media, blog posts, YouTube videos, or whatever you want.
After that, determine what “consistent” looks like for you—and be realistic!
Don't say you're going to send out weekly newsletters if you know that's going to be hard for you. Start small. For example, maybe you know you can commit to sending out a quarterly email to your subscribers. If so, that’s great!
And remember… The goal is to build out your communication strategy over time. Don’t try to do too many things or be everywhere at once. If you do, you’re going to burn out and it won’t feel good anymore—and then you’ll stop. And if you stop, you won’t be able to connect with your target audience. So, again, start small!
So, that’s step 5, develop your communication strategy. Now, let’s quickly talk about social media.
Do Authors Need to be on Social Media?
If you’re like most of the authors I work with, you’re probably wondering, “What about social media? Do authors need to be on social media to succeed?”
And like most things, my answer is that it depends on your goals.
You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, but consider this… If you don’t use social media, how are you going to find people to get on your email list?
Instead of closing the door on social media, consider how social media can be used effectively in a way that works for you. For example, on social media, you can:
- Choose how you show up and interact
- Be at home alone, but still be “out there” connecting with people
- Schedule things in advance with social media schedulers
- Build relationships with people (including your target audience)
- Network with people you might otherwise not meet
But here’s a piece of advice…
If you do want to be on social media, don’t try to be everywhere at once. Pick one chanel to start with and be consistent with posting on that channel before you branch out. Keep it simple, then get fancy later.
Now, here’s something really important I want you to know…
You don’t own anything you create or any of the followers you have on social media. Your posts and connections could disappear or be inaccessible at any point in time.
This is why you should focus your time and energy on building your email list.
If you do want to use social media, that's great—but build the base of your author platform on your own hosted website and then use social media as a way to drive traffic to your website and onto your email list.
Most of all, I want you to consider your email list as part of your long term “safety net” strategy. Having an email list gives you an audience that you can reach out to yourself, no matter what happens.
If social media disappeared tomorrow, you would lose all the content and connections you've built over time. If you get traditionally published, and then decide to walk away from a publisher, you would lose your connection to their audience. So, just something to consider!
So, there you have it—5 steps to start building out your author platform! Now, you might be wondering, “This seems like a lot of stuff. How much time will this take?”
And my answer, of course, is that it depends. Building your author platform is a cumulative effort—doing a little bit every day will add up over time.
But trust me when I say that all your hard work will be worth it once you start connecting and communicating with your target audience. From a personal perspective, marketing is all about people getting to know, like, and trust you. It’s about delivering value to someone’s life through your books and content, not just making a sale.
Never forget that there’s another person on the other side of your marketing efforts—and that they genuinely want to engage with and hear from you. So, keep it simple and have fun!