Building an Author Platform
Updated: Jul 9
Updated July 2020 to include comparative review of current web building platforms.
I’m going to write a book, get it published and sell a bazillion copies - just like that! Sounds phenomenal, doesn’t it? Isn’t this every author’s dream?
This too was my misinformed ideal before I began my writing journey; however, I’m not apologising for my naive enthusiasm. Being part of the writing community on Twitter and connecting with publishers, agents, authors and a myriad of other publishing industry gurus, has helped me wise up to how unintentionally misguided my initial notion was.
I’ve got a great (and growing) platform on Twitter. That’s enough, isn’t it? Alas, it is not. I kept hearing and reading that authors should have a website and a blog, but I didn’t think it applied to me because I am not published yet. I’m not an author yet, right? Wrong, if you’re writing with the intention to publish, you’re an author, baby!
You're Not Alone
It wasn’t until I tripped (best stumble ever) across this excellent blog, by publishing industry guru Jane Friedman, that the relevance and importance of marketing myself as an author BEFORE my book is published hit home: Unpublished Writers and Websites: Should You Have One and What Should It Say?
About thirty seconds after reading Jane Friedman’s blog, the panic and self-doubt set in. Who would seriously want to read my About Author tab? What on earth could I say in my blog that would interest anyone?
I started digging around to see how other published and successful authors manage their author platforms. There’s nothing like taking on those who have gone before as mentors when they’re obviously doing something right. And a common factor I found with them all is that they offer help and advice to other writers.
Note-to-Self No. 1: An author platform is not primarily for book promotion.
Who Is Helping Who Out There?
There are hundreds of places to go to find helpful information—for free! I have a few favourite sources that I find particularly useful.
Take Delilah S. Dawson’s (@DelilahSDawson) #TenThings hashtag on Twitter. This NYT bestselling author shares insights into writing and publishing processes in a thread of ten highly informative tweets aimed at helping writers improve their craft and shining a light on the traditional publishing industry for new authors.
What about Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks), Literary Agent at P.S. Literary Agency and YA author, who is highly interactive and very generous with his time and advice on Twitter. He writes a mean blog packed full of insightful resources for up and coming authors, like this one on writing the perfect pitch when querying and the pitfalls to avoid – it’s just as important to know what NOT to do.
And for those who prefer YouTube videos, Vivien Reis (@VivienReis), YA fantasy author and writing coach, has this super easy-to-follow advice about kick-starting your marketing before your book is published. I personally think that posting videos on YouTube is the ultimate tier of bravery but Vivien Reis does it effortlessly.
Note-to-Self No. 2: Write or chat about what you know on your author platform, be it on Twitter, a blog, YouTube or whatever your preferred platform is.
Now I Am Informed, What Am I Doing About It?
Well, since you are reading this blog on my author website that I posted on Twitter, you can see that I got my butt into gear and took the advice of the gurus. Was it terrifying? Utterly! I had to dig deep into my vulnerability reserves to put myself out here like this.
I started slowly, setting up Twitter first. I actually had a dormant Twitter account for years but I resurrected it as my author account in November 2018. It was exceptionally fortunate that in my first couple of days on Twitter I came across Steven Viner’s (@StevenViner1) post, rallying the troops of Twitter’s writing community together.
Steven Viner’s selfless efforts to rally writers gave me the boost I needed in followers to start being able to be seen out in the Twitterverse. He also set the precedent of how vital it is for more established writers on Twitter to help the newbies gain followers. I know, I know, I hear the protests of ‘it’s not a numbers game!’ And you’d be right—to a degree.
Which is why I like to boost those who have fewer than 1000 followers. I found that after I reached 1000 followers, I had enough of a platform that my interaction with my followers gained traction. I wrote a five-part blog-series about how I navigated Twitter as a newbie called Twitter Tips for Newbies.
My top 3 Twitter successes so far are:
Helping boost writers with fewer than 1000 followers (so Twitter's algorithms start to push their posts onto folks' feeds).
Offering helpful hints to newbies about navigating Twitter.
Keeping things light and fun with gif wars or predictive text games or even polls about favourite ice cream flavours or movies—keeping followers entertained is not too tricky and can be a whole load of fun.
Baby Steps: Author Website
After researching the easiest website building platform, I decided on Wix. It offers a free website building option, but I chose the paid option. For an utter technophobe like me, it was supremely easy to learn and navigate and I was soon ready to hit the publish button. I wanted to melt in a puddle of awkwardness—I knew I needed my website to be seen but I didn’t really want anyone looking at it! Does that make sense? It’s that vulnerability factor coming into play again.
Lars Lofgren's fantastic review, Top 4 Website Builders for 2020, compares the prices and features of some easy-to-use web builders: Wix, WordPress, Squarespace, and Ucraft.
Anyway, I took courage from my research on building websites that they don’t get much traction in the early days, which was a good thing to get it established before too many people saw any of my mistakes. I took a deep breath and announced my new website on Twitter and I asked for constructive, but gentle, feedback and boy, oh boy, did the writing community deliver.
I even had several website gurus giving me free advice about how to tweak and improve and modify my website for ultimate visibility and professionalism. What an uplifting experience that was! I received 150 hits in the first couple of weeks—not huge numbers in the website world but 150 more hits than I had expected—so a colossal win in my books. It’s important to celebrate these little victories!
My top 3 website successes so far are:
Using a photo of myself generated a fair amount of feedback from people that it was welcoming to have a real smiley face to personalise my author website.
Several kind souls commented on my About Author blurb and how it was interesting to read more about me and see my voice come through with a bit of humour.
Having visitors message me to say that after reading the blurb about my upcoming novel that they can’t wait to read my book. Winning!
After my website received a such warm reception, I was prompted to consider starting my blog after I had a couple of queries. Where’s your blog and how can I sign up? Um, it’s still inside my brain. Not really the professional kind of answer I was aiming for.
And so, here I am now blogging about how I started my blogging journey to encourage others along with theirs. And what have I decided to blog about? Well, I’m most comfortable starting with what I know, and that is sharing my journey as a new author and pointing my readers to the incredible wealth of resources and helpful folks out there in the publishing world.
When I published my first ever blog about beta readers, I again laid myself bare to the writing community on Twitter, and once more, I received encouragement of the highest order. I have gained such strength and confidence as a writer from the generous words of support from other writers.
My top 3 blogging successes so far (oh, alright, they’re just some great comments I received on my first ever blog about Finding and Using Beta Readers:
I’m glad to have found this. I was never completely sure what purpose bete (sic) readers were supposed to offer. Thank you for this post.
Great 1st entry! Like the additional resources for follow up. Good topic too – comes up frequently in tweets – and great to have an extended passage about it rather than a tweet.
I’ve never used a beta reader before, but maybe I will now.
Note-to-Self No. 3: Supporting and uplifting others on your author platforms is the ultimate marketing tool.
Skipping into Facebook Land
Six months after launching my Twitter author profile, I branched out to having an author Facebook page to reach a whole different audience than my followers on Twitter. Twitter for me encapsulates connecting with other writers and publishing professionals in the #WritingCommunity. My Facebook page is for my readers.
My top 2 Facebook successes so far:
Using my super Twitter following to kick-start my Facebook numbers. Like any social media platform, you need numbers and interaction for the algorithms to start spotting you and pushing you out there. Letting folks on Twitter know that I was launching a Facebook author page for readers connected me to 600 followers in my first couple of months. Yes, many of those folks are also authors, but we authors are readers too!
Taking the terrifying leap of letting my Facebook friends (most of whom are part of my everyday community) know that I was creating an author Facebook page and inviting them to join. I had been keeping my writing journey under wraps until that point. While this news surprised many, I also received floods of encouragement, which is always a great boost.
My one Facebook flop so far:
I had researched about how successful Facebook advertising is so I decided to run an Amazon gift card giveaway and pay for an advertising boost on my post. Well my numbers certainly exploded—I got 250 new followers in 10 days! However, when I dug deeper into people’s profiles I realised that there is a whole community of folks out there who have social media accounts solely for entering giveaways and competitions—who knew? This means that there is no engagement on their posts and the only reason they connect with you is to win your prize.
I have no issue with folks doing this but it taught me that this was not the best approach to gain genuine followers who are readers. Though on the up side, of those 250 followers, about 100 are real people who do engage! At an investment of AUD180, this equated to a cost of $1.80 per new follower. Not too much of a financial risk for a good lesson learned!
Note-to-self No. 4: It's okay to try new leads and have them fail. Now I know what not to do!
This has not put me off paying for Facebook advertising but it has taught me about what content I should not boost. I believe this will be great for when I actually have a book to promote and sell.
Reeling in a Mailing List
I really pushed back on producing a newsletter at first. I did not want the extra time or commitment. But I did have a mailing list pop-up window on my website that gathered the email details of half a dozen kind souls who expressed interest in wanting to know more about my upcoming book. If you want to know whether you should bother with a mailing list, check out literary agent, Janet Reid’s blog, Yes, you need a mailing list, even if you’re not pubbed.
Floating a Newsletter
This is where the rubber actually meets the road for turning your social media followers into readers and fans. Anyone can click a follow button on social media but folks need to genuinely connect with you and trust you to hand over their email details.
Last month was the launch of my inaugural monthly newsletter, By the Book. It was a super exciting couple of weeks preparing my first newsletter and promoting it on Twitter and Facebook.
That natural scepticism, which has plagued me before any new leap in my authoring journey, is always there and I did not expect more than a handful of subscribers in my first month. Needless to say, I was THRILLED to have over 50 subscribers for my inaugural edition! That’s more than 50 folks who WANT to hear from me! Pinch me now! To be honest, I’m the one who has done the happy dance a couple of times when folks who I’m particularly fond of on social media have signed up to By the Book—it’s quite a humbling experience.
These may seem like laughable numbers right now but when I relaunched my Twitter account as my author profile less than a year ago, I had 36 followers. I now have nearly 20k.
Note-to-self No. 5: Consistent effort, helpfulness and kindness attracts folks like bees to a field full of flowers!
I subscribe to Wix as my website platform and they have a great inbuilt system for email marketing that takes you through it step-by-step.
Claire Bradshaw’s Ultimate Guide: Establishing an Author Newsletter shows all the first steps you need to take to launch your first newsletter.
Author-centric marketer, Shayla Raquel, also shares these 20 Email Tips & Tricks for Author Newsletters.
Just be mindful if you’re going down the traditional publishing route to take care not to ‘publish’ any of your upcoming book on any platforms just yet—even enticing snippets.
My Techno-dinosaur Blunder
If it sounds like I’ve got it all together and I know what I’m doing, let me just share one final little story that will show you I’m still just stumbling along this road.
I set up my website six months ago. It was an exciting though rather overwhelming process! But I eventually hit the PUBLISH button and things have ticked along quite nicely ever since. Then only a couple of weeks ago, a pop-up on my Wix dashboard informed me that I had not completed the SEO for my website. Now, I’d seen this little message before and not understanding the first thing about the technicalities of it, clicked it closed. I knew my website was live.
I was happy my blog was being read. So, all was good—right? Wrong!
I’m not even going to begin to try and explain the technicalities of Search Engine Optimisation—have a read for yourself. But the short of it is that I had not completed my website set-up and pressed the ON button that let my website be searchable by Google! Doh!
So, all those months I had my website and blog, I could have had hundreds if not thousands more hits to my website rather than me just plugging it away on my social media sites.
When my four teenage sons found out what I’d done, they almost laughed me out of my own house for being such a techno-dinosaur!
Needless to say, my author website is now fully optimised and searchable, so pop on over and say, “Hi!”
Sprinting: I’m Not There Yet
I don’t pretend to be something I’m not. I’m no expert. I’m simply an as-yet-unpublished author, looking out at all the wondrous possibilities that could be and sharing my story as I write my way towards my ultimate goal of publication one day.
Is my journey going to be the same as everyone else’s? Absolutely not! Everyone’s journey is different for numerous reasons.
Am I going to make mistakes? Yes—I already have! But I’m learning to not let my fear of failure or insecurity about putting myself out there hamper my efforts. I’m giving this my best shot!
Note-to-Self No. 6: Don’t underestimate how far your voice and words on your author platform can reach in guiding and encouraging others.
Update: This original blog was written in early 2019 at the start of my author-platform-building journey. At the end of 2019, I wrote a guest post for (my publishing guru mentor) Jane Friedman's award-winning blog to share my mind-blowing experiences of why having an author platform is so worth the effort: How and Why to Build a Twitter Following While Unpublished.