When Is It Time to Start Building an Author Platform?
I spoke on Saturday here in Florida for the STAR folk in Melbourne, and I had a new writer comment that she couldn’t start building her platform because she had no finished books and nothing for sale. I don’t believe in Self-Help-Kitten-Glitter. I believe in hard work. But hard work needs a solid foundation or we’re no better than Skippy the Hamster running in his little wheel. We should strive to work smarter, not harder. That’s the WANA Way. WANAs also plan for success ;).
As writers, preparation encompasses a lot of things—craft books, classes, practice, workshops, writing, etc. Yet, today I’m going to narrow it to social media and author platforms. The day we decide to do this “writing thing” for real is the day we should begin building our platform. I cannot count the number of times authors have contacted me in frantic e-mails and said things like, “I have a book coming our next month and I need a platform.”
I’m Kristen Lamb not David Copperfield.
Tough Love First
Many of you have heard me say this, but it bears repeating. Screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. Takes guts to be a writer. When we define ourselves as “aspiring writers” and not “professional writers” we can fail to do a lot of the early preparation that will be a foundation for a successful career.
Being a professional is a mind-set not a pay grade. Fail to plan and plan to fail.
A lot of new (pre-published) writers are hesitant to start building a brand an author platform because they don’t yet have anything for sale. Yet, strong platforms that are resistant to major technology shifts (*cough* MySpace*) and that have the capability to eventually drive book sales? Those don’t pop out of the ether. They take time to build.
Baby Steps are Steps
If we wait until we have a book deal or a published work for sale, we have to put far more energy into building a brand/platform, energy that is better served writing more books.
Think of it like losing weight. Say my high school reunion is coming and I’m fifty pounds overweight. I long to look my best when reuniting with my former peers. If I begin the year before the reunion making incremental changes and I slowly adopt steady, good habits, I can lose weight in plenty of time. I can cut out sodas, add in water and better foods, go for morning walks and lose 2-5 pounds a month and reach my goal.
But, there is always the option of waiting until three months before the reunion and having to hire a former drill sergeant to make me do cross-fit three hours a day. I can live off rabbit food or liquid diets to peel off the pounds. And sure, perhaps I could lose most of the weight, but is this a long-term lifestyle most of us can maintain unless we hold Jillain Michaels hostage in our basement?
When we begin building a platform early, we can make small steps over time that create a thriving community organically. We build slowly, creating deep roots. This makes it easier when the book is finally ready for sale, because we already have a thriving base of support. This takes off a lot of pressure and permits us to focus on writing more books. Also, we have regular healthy social media habits that are now simply part of daily life.
Having Nothing for Sale Can Be a Good Thing
When I started out on social media, I didn’t do it to sell anything. I knew I’d have books and even classes or consulting for sale at some point in the future, but just wasn’t there. Because I wasn’t trying to “sell” something, interactions felt far more natural and others probably were more comfortable in my presence because they knew if I was chatting with them, it was to chat and connect. They weren’t bracing for the awkward, “buy my book” pitch.
Thus, when we are new, this is a great way to make friends, network and create community with far less emotional pressure all around. Also, if people have been connecting with us for a period of time and been along for the journey? Many are eager to support us when that first book is finally ready, because they feel they’ve been part of the process.
There is NEVER a “Bad” Time to Build a Brand and Platform
If you’re an author who’s published and has books for sale, you are fine. Just remember it will take some time for your platform to gather strength. This is why WANAs work together. We help one another, much like an Amish barn-raising. Together, we are stronger. Yes, we need to build a platform, but no one ever said we had to do it alone.
Yet, on the other side of this spectrum, don’t buy the lie that you can’t start building a platform until you’re published. Those who start as early as possible have major advantages. Social media is fantastic for pre-published writers because you can 1) network with other writers 2) learn the industry 3) learn to meet self-imposed deadlines.
Case in Point
I often talk about Piper Bayard and how her original book was a nightmare when she hired me to edit (back when I used to do that kind of work). While we were repairing her book, Piper listened to me about social media. She began to blog and learned to use Twitter. She whined a lot, but did it anyway :D.
*waves at Piper*
When she finally was picked up by a publisher, she was offered a far more favorable deal because she had a strong platform. Also, through networking on Twitter, Piper was able to meet big-time authors and befriend them (she had nothing for sale). Later, when it came time to find blurbs for her first book, she didn’t even have to ask. Authors she knew were already offering.
Her book Firelands has hit multiple best-seller lists, received rave AP reviews, and she now has a three-book deal. Much of this was possible because Piper adopted the attitude of a “professional” early and laid the groundwork for future success. She understood the business of the Digital Age Author involved more than merely writing a book.
Thus the answer to my question, “When is it time to start building an author platform?” The answer is NOW, no matter where you happen to be in your career. E-commerce is exploding as brick-and-mortar businesses are experiencing record contraction. Also, with social media, we have the ability to tap into emerging markets of eager readers and e-commerce is better suited to fill their demand for new books and good books.
My new book can help you, no matter where you are in your career or which publishing path you’ve chosen to take. You can even peruse this blog of all kinds of free advice. My sole goal is to help you succeed and realize your dreams.
What are your thoughts? Did you believe you needed a book before you started building a platform? Do you feel more at ease? Did you wait to the last minute and wish you’d done some things differently? What are your successes? War stories?
I LOVE hearing from you!
Since it was such a HUGE success and attendees loved it, I am rerunning the Your First Five Pages class SATURDAY EDITION. Use the WANA15 code for 15% off. Yes, editors REALLY can tell everything they need to know about your book in five pages or less. Here’s a peek into what we see and how to fix it. Not only will this information repair your first pages, it can help you understand deeper flaws in the rest of your manuscript.
My new social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.
WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU. If you REGISTER NOW, you get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE (and all recordings) for $119 (regularly $149). Sign up today, because this special won’t last and seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.