If you’ve even dipped a toe into the waters of publishing, you’ve likely heard the word “platform” being thrown about. Publishers don’t buy books anymore, we’re told. They buy platforms.

So what exactly is a platform, and how can you, an aspiring author, build a strong enough one to convince a publisher to buy your book?

“Platform” is an umbrella term for all the ways in which you, as an author/expert, can directly reach your audience and intended readership. It represents your already existing ability to sell to your market. Your platform is not your plans (“I plan to get on Oprah”); it is your established channels to your audience (“I’ve been on Oprah and she invited me back,” or “My best friend is a producer on Oprah and will make a personal introduction once the book is published.”) Some examples of platform include:

  • The size of your email list
  • Any media exposure you have already had
  • Public Speaking experience – especially if you have drawn sizable audiences
  • Existing relationships with high profile experts in your field who may endorse and promote your book
  • Your website or blog – how much “traffic” do you get?
  • Your existing client or customer base
  • Social media: Blog readers/subscribers, Facebook friends/fans, Twitter followers, YouTube subscribers, podcast subscribers …
  • Promotional partners – do you have connections with individuals or organizations in your field who might partner with you to promote your book?

Why do you need an author platform?

If you are seeking a publishing deal with a traditional publisher, you need a platform to convince a publisher that you are a worthwhile investment. Publishers’ marketing budgets are limited, so authors are expected to be the primary promoters of their own books.

If you are planning to self-publish, you need the platform to sell your books. So whatever publishing direction you plan on taking, make platform-building a central part of your strategy. And don’t wait until your book is written to start! By the time you reach that point, you want to have your platform in place.

Size matters …

If you plan on approaching a traditional publisher, numbers are important. Three hundred friends on Facebook may seem like an awful lot if you’re anything like me and weren’t that popular in school. But it won’t impress anyone who is considering investing in your book. Concentrate your platform-building efforts on a few key areas in which you can reach four or five figure numbers. (See below for some resources and tips for how to do this.)

But it’s not just about the numbers …

If you’re willing to spend the money, you can just go out and buy a million-person mailing list, but it won’t necessarily help you sell your book. Your platform needs to be targeted, and at a glance it should demonstrate that you are reaching not just enormous numbers of random people, but significant numbers of the kind of people who are highly likely to buy your book. For example, if your book is aimed at healthcare practitioners, access to the mailing lists of the professional associations for doctors and nurses would be worth a lot more than a general mailing list ten times the size.

It’s all about relationships

As you start building your platform, don’t make the mistake of plugging your book in every conversation, blog comment, or Facebook post. Platform is about relationships, and the most successful self-promoters are often those who barely talk about themselves at all. Rather, they engage with others in conversations about the subject of their expertise, share advice and free content, and establish themselves as legitimate experts in the field. If you can do this successfully, then when the time comes to sell your book, people will want to help you and be happy to tell their friends.

How can you build your platform?

The good news is, there are more ways than ever before for an enterprising, self-motivated author to build a substantial platform. Check out my suggestions for five ways you can get started today here: 5 Ways To Start Building Your Platform Today.

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