What’s a Platform, and How Do I Get One?

It’s a word you’re likely to hear a lot these days, especially if you write nonfiction. When book editors talk about “platforms,” what they’re saying is, in essence, “how are you going to sell this book?”

Not we, note. You. Marketing a book is very much in the lap of the author. And one of the things that helps you market your book is your platform. After all, the eternal marketing question is, so what? Who are you to tell me about this topic?

The days are gone when having done something for ten or twenty or thirty years makes you an expert — at least in the eyes of the reading public, and therefore of those who cater to it. These days, you need to have name recognition, and the more instant that recognition, the better.

Here’s an example. John Doe has written a book about ham radio operation. Here’s what a mythical publisher might say to him: “What do you mean, you’ve been a ham radio operator for 40 years? Okay, do you write a column about being a ham radio operator? No… hmm. So have you been on any TV or radio shows, talking about being a ham radio operator? Un-huh. Let’s see… Do you have an advanced degree in ham radio operation? What’s that? There aren’t any? Oh… Well, at least you’ve taught classes in ham radio operation, right? Gosh, I’m sorry. Your book looks absolutely terrific, the outline really covers the subject area, you have a lively writing style, I’d love to publish this. Can you go and find a real expert we can add on as a co-author?”

Consultant Alison Peletier worked for some time at the major imprint of a major publisher. She says, “It mattered very much what an author’s background was when evaluating nonfiction for two reasons: it is generally assumed that potential readers will choose a book by an obvious ‘expert’ over a non-expert, and our marketing and publicity departments insisted that their media contacts wouldn’t bother with an author without obvious credentials in the field in which he or she was writing.”

Building your platform is essential to anyone who wishes to be published, and the earlier you start, the more successful you’ll be.

So how do you get a platform?

You don’t have to necessarily go out and get a terminal degree in your field of interest in order to have a platform. You can start small: as long as your efforts are consistent, truly everything you do will help.

The important thing is to have a plan. Don’t think you can have a scattershot approach that will work: you need to build your platform carefully and deliberately over time. Make sure that each of your efforts connects to the rest.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Start a blog dedicated to the topic. Add a post on a regular basis, at least once a week. Encourage readers to comment (bribe them if necessary with a free article download or something else they’d find valuable). The more people are involved with what you’re doing, the more your name will become recognized.

2. Ask your local newspaper if you can write a column on your topic.

3. Teach a course or workshop in your subject area. And then teach another. (If you live in an area with limited interest in your topic, you can teach a class online via webinar).

4. Be aggressive about getting speaking engagements. Write to every public library near you and offer to speak on your topic. Bring refreshments to get a decent crowd (people will always come for food).

5. Begin a monthly newsletter and collect email addresses. Give practical information and encourage participation. Cross-reference your blog, your LinkedIn profile, and your website.

6. That’s right: you need a website that’s all about your area of expertise that can show you off as an expert. Use SEO to get traffic. Your blog can be on your website so that it’s always got changing content.

7. Get consistently involved in social media:

a. LinkedIn. This professional network is excellent for building your profile as an expert on your topic. This is where you’ll list all the other efforts that you’re making: the classes you’re teaching, talks at your local library, reprints of articles you write, links to your blog. Your LinkedIn profile is like an interactive CV, and every expert needs one. Every time you do something — give a speech, teach a workshop, etc. — ask those involved to post recommendations to your LinkedIn profile.

b. Facebook. Don’t just use your personal FB account: what you need is a professional “page” for yourself as an expert in your field. And now that you have the page, post to it on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and stay to your topic. Post information about your topic, links to interesting articles on your topic, your opinion about some part of your topic.

c. Twitter. Twitter isn’t great for selling books, but it’s helpful in building your platform. Again, keep this one account reserved for your topic and only post about it. Follow people in the field and comment, like, and retweet their tweets.

d. YouTube. YouTube is second only to Google as a search engine, so ignore it at your peril. If you already have a book out, create a book trailer to introduce people to it. Record a webinar. Record one of your talks. The more you build your YouTube channel, the more you’ll be building your platform.

Get to be a recognized “expert,” even locally at first, and you’ll be building that platform. Use the internet to reach out to international audiences. Build up to regional and then national publications, and eventually you can start getting your name associated with your book’s subject. And then you can approach a publisher with a stunning book proposal!

Bestselling novelist of mystery and historical fiction. Writer, editor, & business storyteller at jeannettedebeauvoir.com.

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