Newbie Author Realization: I Need A Platform

New author Camela Thompson has stopped by the blog today, to share her realizations of creating an author platform. It’s not all hearts and flowers. In fact, it’s really hard work. But just like understanding Twitter, approaching your social media platform doesn’t have to be scary! Check out Camela’s thoughts, and let us know what works best for you!

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I am embarrassed to say that it didn’t occur to me that building a brand was essential for every author until after I had successfully pitched my book. If I’m brutally honest, I didn’t even think of my book as a product. It was the object of my love and hatred as I agonized over every little detail and then tried to stuff it into easily summarized fragments for agent and editor consumption. That alone was like constructing a giant tent only to be told to cram it back into its original packaging. The moment I realized my book was a product to be marketed, packaged, and presented was like something out of a cartoon. I could practically see the giant light bulb illuminate over my head.

At this year’s Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) Conference, authors and agents made it very clear that even authors published through the large New York publishing companies do not receive much of a budget for marketing. Getting a book title in front of consumers is largely dependant upon a writer’s existing platform. If you are a first time author, this is a big hurdle to overcome. A platform is the set of actions you take to get your name and brand — not your individual book — in front of others. Even more importantly, the resounding opinion was that authors should start building their platform before they are ever published.

Being a perfectionist (and yes, neurotic), I felt frustrated that I was behind the game and had so much catching up to do. I began by scouring blogs and content linked through social media. Websites like Upgrade Your Story are fantastic resources for us newbies where we can listen to author interviews and read posts to see what other people are doing and what appeals to you as a reader. After a little bit of research, my personal “to do” list included establishing a website, blogging, and creating a presence on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads. If I had a younger target demographic, I would have traded out Pinterest for Tumblr and Wattpad.

With so many things to do, I realized I had to start small and experiment. I highly recommend creating a social media account, following a bunch of people, and lurking. It is a great way to learn. For example, I discovered that watching a single person’s tweets tick by every five minutes shouting “BUY MY BOOK!” made me drop them like they were on fire. My eyes glaze over when authors talk about nothing but their books. I have no incentive to buy a book just because I am given a link and a couple hashtags. Someone who posts interesting things about their life inspires me to interact with them and proactively learn more about their product. If I see they are active in a particular cause, have a cute pet, or post interesting blog content, I find myself asking about their writing and interested in helping promote them.

My own preferences regarding advertising through social media are not unique. The majority of social media experts and resources I have consulted confirm that people should focus primarily on personal interests and causes related to their writing, but they should only post about their product sparingly. Personal interactions are effective, which makes sense in an industry that sees the majority of sales sourced from word of mouth recommendations.

I know you are asking, “What about my book?” It may seem counterintuitive, but the book is secondary to establishing your own brand. Most of us do not plan on only writing one book. Imagine signing up for a Facebook page, Twitter account, and website under the title of your first book. What happens when you publish the next book? Signing up for new accounts under a different book title means you are starting over. On the flip side, advertising under your own name is something that will last. As long as you continue to publish books under that name, your platform efforts are only building on what you have already established.

If I could share one thing I wish I had known sooner, it is this: don’t be afraid to start working on your platform now. I am not a social media expert, and I have a lot to learn. My website is not perfect, and my strategy needs work, but I am out there trying. Despite being an introvert, I actually enjoy it. I get to talk to interesting people, learn new things, and make contacts. No matter where you are in your writing process — just starting a novel, just finishing a novel, or already published many novels — get your online presence working for you and start making connections.