Myths of The Author Platform

The word platform on black keyboard with blue key

There are three myths about “Author Platform” that I want to address today.  Since I started my publishing career in marketing, I’ve seen the issue from a number of different angles and hopefully today’s post will be helpful.

Myth #1
Author platform is a new issue in the last few years created by the use of social media.  

There has never been a time when author platform was not important to a publisher. Did successful books on parenting or marriage ever come from someone who wasn’t already actively helping parents or marriages?  Theological books not written by respected theologians?  Novels written by people who weren’t students of their genre? Haven’t there always been celebrity books?

The original “platform” for a successful non-fiction Christian book was the pastor of an influential church, such as Peter Marshall or Norman Vincent Peale. They wrote newspaper columns and magazine articles. The addition of television and radio created recognizable names.

Today, “Author platform” is simply a way to quantify the credibility and noteworthiness of one’s words.  If I say something, although true, but I am not viewed by a significant number of people as an expert in that area, my words carry very little weight.  But have someone that is well-known with credibility write those same words, it is a message that will sell.

None of this is new. What is new is the term “author platform”.

Myth #2
There was no such thing as social media before Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

The original social media utilized by Christian authors were newspapers, magazines, radio and television for the outbound messages and letters written in response. The process was slow, but it was social media.  There was interaction between author and reader.

The principles have always been the same…garner a constituency that likes what you have to say and when it is time to write a book, a publisher knows your “people” are ready to buy your book.

The current focus on certain social media platforms is simply a way that you show a publisher that you can get the word out to a lot of people and give the book a good start. It is available to everyone.

Same concept, new tools.

Myth #3
All social media followers are eagerly awaiting an author’s next book.

In some cases, author platforms built on social media can be deceptive.

These days, there are techniques to generate a lot of Facebook “likes”. If it takes 20,000 Twitter followers to impress a publisher, you can follow 20,000 people and maybe they will follow you. There are ways to increase your numbers. But are these devoted followers?

Look at it this way, realistically, how many people can you effectively follow? One hundred? Five hundred? More? 20,000?  No way.

Facebook and Twitter are becoming the modern equivalent to a purchased mass mailing list from the pre-internet/email days. If an organization got a 5% response from a direct mail effort, they were dancing on their desks, holding hands and singing “Kum Bah Yah” as a staff. Mostly responses are significantly lower.

Social media followers generated by a technique other than an actual desire to follow will yield low single-digit responses…meaning if you have 5,000 “followers” and send a message, you should be happy if 150 people reply.  A list of devoted followers will respond closer to 20% or more. So, a thousand devoted followers are better than 5,000 casual followers.

Getting Positive 

Here is what author can do with all this.

Develop Real Platform – Take as much time establishing and growing your author platform as you do writing your book.  Build it the right way, with devoted followers who like what you do and who follow you because they want what you have to offer. Those followers will spread the word about your book, which is exactly what you want.

Also, since many of the email spam filters have done such a good job killing off a lot of malicious spamming (Gmail for one) the use of opt-in email newsletters are making a comeback as an effective tool.

A real author platform has all the pieces working together (website, email, social media, personal appearances, books, articles, blogs) to build an author’s credibility and noteworthiness.

When all is said and done, the goal of an effective author platform is that when you do send out a message to your followers, something tangible and positive happens.

If we don’t take this to heart, the term “author platform” will become “The Emperor’s New Clothes” story for this era in publishing…with everyone thinking it was so important when it was all just an illusion.

Thoughts?

6 Responses to Myths of The Author Platform

  1. Shelly Miller May 13, 2014 at 5:54 am #

    Great words of wisdom here Dan, I appreciate your thoughts. Building platform seems to be a long obedience in the same direction. But then again, we don’t have friends (or followers) without some investment in them. Relationships take time and intentionality and it is the same with platform building.

  2. Andrea (Wood) Nell May 13, 2014 at 5:55 am #

    This approach to social media makes so much more sense to me and it’s closer to what I already do. I’m active on facebook. I have a blog, although it doesn’t seem to reach many people. I don’t spend as much time on social media as I do on writing, but I’m going to have to get more serious about it as I get closer to being ready to submit to publishers. Do you know if there is an old blog post I can look up that details how to create an opt in email newsletter list? I’ve also been trying to decide how to approach a website. I don’t have the funds to contract Author Media to design the site I have in my head and don’t have the skills to design it myself. Will it hurt me to create a basic WordPress site now and can it be converted into a customized site later? Thanks for the great info, Dan!

    • Dan Balow May 13, 2014 at 9:55 am #

      Regarding opt-in emails, you can search for articles on the internet and get some options. Reading Michael Hyatt’s book on Platform will help. It will not hurt to get a start with a basic site, but make sure you don’t leave it “basic” for too long. The best part about websites is also their worst part, that you can constantly update them, but it also means you MUST update them.

  3. Jeanne Takenaka May 13, 2014 at 10:09 am #

    I so appreciate your words here, Dan. There seems to be a contrast in what I hear publishers want (big follower numbers=big platform) and what tends to be effective: purposeful relationship building with devoted followers. Either way, it takes intentional time and effort to build an effective platform. Relationships are key.

    Your tips for building a solid platform are helpful. Thank you, Dan!

    • Dan Balow May 13, 2014 at 10:42 am #

      Publishers do want big numbers on social media, but my post today probably had a message for them as well: Don’t look at the numbers without also knowing what is behind them.

  4. Nan Rinella May 15, 2014 at 11:57 am #

    Absolutely informative piece, Dan, from a writer who’s worked on her “platform” for 23 years & speaking on it even before the craze began. Hyatt’s book is essential. Andrea, I was blessed to have Author Media create my 2 sites. What its president, Thomas Umstattd, says is critical—that you offer your readers something to benefit them and not just to sell yourself. And, yes, Jeanne, Relationships are fundamental to success. I’ve come to know Steve Laube over the years by attending and directing conferences. We both met Thomas at the same event in ’09 before Author Media was born. Want to build valuable relationships & make good friends? Not only attend conferences but volunteer and work them.

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