How Big Should Your Author Platform Be?

When it comes to a writer’s social media following, how much is enough?

How Big Should Your Author Platform Be?Unless we’re a big name A-list author, publishers want us to have a humongous platform from which to sell books. They expect us to have a large following. Even though the publisher will make some effort to sell our books, this largely falls on us. And if we self-publish, the marketing and promotion of our books is all up to us. We need a platform to do this, the bigger the better.

I’ve heard publishers talk about how many Facebook likes or Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Google+ followers they want their authors to have. The figures are staggering. The amount of zeros they tack on to the end of these numbers overwhelm me.

The marketing guru at one publisher once said she wanted authors to have 50,000 Facebook likes and 100,000 Twitter followers. For those who did public speaking, she wanted them to be in front of 100,000 different people a year. That astounded me. (By the way, she has since left the industry.)

I don’t do much in the way of public speaking. I’m a writer for a reason.

And though I have a presence on each of the above social media platforms (plus Goodreads), my numbers are miniscule. However, I’ve recently gained some traction on Twitter. I’m following people and they’re following back. I’m tweeting and retweeting. And I’m having some personal interaction with my followers.

My number of followers grows by a couple hundred each week. This isn’t easy, however. I spend at least an hour a day on Twitter, sometimes closer to two. And that’s using certain tools to help me. (Hootsuite and Manageflitter, if you’re interested.)

As I stumbled onto a Twitter methodology I inched my way past 1,000 Twitter followers toward the end of last year. I set a goal to have 10,000 by the end of this year. This week I hit 5,000 and am on pace to reach my goal by the end of summer. When that happens, I’ll probably just keep at it.

Given all this, I asked myself a question: How much is enough?

Someone once asked John D. Rockefeller this question about money. He said “Just a little bit more.” I feel this same compulsion with social media. Yet I still don’t know if publishers will be impressed or if it will help me sell books.

What are you doing to build your platform? How concerned are you over the size of your following? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Put the Reader First or Risk Losing Them

Write for your audience, and don’t try to impress others with your skill

Put the Reader First or Risk Losing ThemI recently read a nonfiction book. My assessment was that the author wrote to impress more than to educate. Though I did learn from her words, I’d have gained much more had she gotten out of the way and put me, the reader, first. I didn’t care how educated she was or about her sometimes sassy style. I wanted her to teach me.

Regardless if we’re writing a book, article, or blog post, we need to put the reader first. Our words need to serve them, not call attention to ourselves with our clever use of words or the way we weave a phrase. The same applies to sales copy and marketing efforts for our books.

Whatever our promotional activities, we must carefully consider each campaign from the perspective of the prospect. Before we launch our promotion, even before the test marketing, we should take a step back and look at our creation as if we were the prospect.

Consider an email I received. It was set up like an email newsletter. The first item caught my attention. The email only provided a two-line teaser, so I clicked on “more” to read the rest.

That took me to a website (as opposed to the full text, lower in the email). Unfortunately, that page only provided the first four lines of the text, so I couldn’t read further until I clicked on “read full article.” I was six lines into it when the screen grayed out and an ad popped up, covering the entire piece. Then I had to “skip” the commercial so I could close the ad.

As this happened an intriguing video played to the right. My curiosity was piqued, and I wanted to hear the audio, but there was no volume control or “on” button. Incredible!

By then I had lost interest in the article and was peeved by the entire ordeal. I closed the window and opted-out from receiving further messages from the company.

I doubt that was their intent.

What steps can we take to put the reader first? What do we need to do to get out of the way of our message? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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How to Build a Fan Base

Every writer needs avid supporters to help get the word out about his or her books

How to Build a Fan BaseWhen it comes to marketing our book we need a group of loyal followers. They are apt to buy our books and will be excited to tell others about them. We need a platform.

Most writers cringe at the word platform. That’s probably why some people use other words. One person says tribe and another prefers community, while others say street team. I prefer the word fans, which is short for fanatic. Yes, we all need fervent followers who are committed to our writing, our work, and us. But how do we find them?

Model What We Seek: To have a fan, we need to be a fan. Think about it. Look to serve instead of being served. Give without expectation. If they reciprocate that is a bonus, and we have found a new fan.

Share Freely: We need to give to our fans. This might be our time and attention. It might be personal messages via email, Facebook, and Twitter. We can offer them a nice discount on our book or even share advance copies for free.

Avoid Insincerity: No one likes a sleaze. Don’t become the used car salesperson of books. Avoid high-pressure tactics, false pretenses, and artificial limited time offers. We should avoid doing to others what we hate being done to us. It’s that simple. And if we are to error, lean towards humility.

Thank Profusely: We need to show our appreciation. We can do this with words and with gestures. We salute them: privately and publically. We let them know how much we appreciate them.

Reward Generously: We can recognize our fans in the acknowledgment section of our book. We can mention them on social media. We can let them read our next book before anyone else. How about sending them an autographed copy with a personal note?

Many book promotion gurus claim we only need a thousand ardent fans for a successful book launch. Though that’s a lot, it feels attainable. However, I’ve heard success stories from authors who only have a couple hundred. And I listened to a podcast interview of one successful author admit she focuses on about forty true fans. She lavishes them with attention, and they propel most of her releases into best-seller lists, and she makes a full-time living from her book sales. Finding forty followers is doable.

Cultivating fans is all about being nice. Everyone can do that – and every author should.

What do you do to find fans? How do you keep them? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Should You Use Video to Grow Your Platform?

Video may be the next step in connecting and engaging with an audience

Should You Use Video to Grow Your Platform?With advances in technology, and the power residing on every smartphone, it has never been easier to record a video and start a vlog. A vlog is a video blog. I’m a huge proponent of blogging and in the past tried the audio version of that: podcasting. (See The Power of Podcasting and My Experience With Podcasting.)

Moving a blog to video is the next evolution in communicating with our audience. Some people, such as Michael Hyatt, videotape their podcast sessions so they end up with a two for one deal: a podcast and a video.

Though a growing number of people consume information in video format this is mostly for short-form video: content lasting only a few minutes. Video increasingly pops up in social media, and starting a YouTube channel is a great tool to share and disseminate video content.

Longer form video, however, has one key disadvantage. It requires viewers to sit in front of a screen in order to consume the content. While video can be most engaging it requires commitment on the part of the viewer to dedicate the time to watch it. With our short attention spans, few people are sufficiently patient.

As one adverse to being on camera, I know that vlogging is not for me. Yet for those who are comfortable being videotaped and enjoy the experience, vlogging may be the way to go.

A second consideration is our audience. Does our audience consume content via video? If so, this is another reason to pursue it. But if they prefer other forms of communication, then vlogging is a waste of our time.

While producing video to grow our platform and connect with our audience may be an ideal opportunity for us, don’t jump in without considering the ramifications. First, are we ready for it? Second will our audience watch it?

What is your experience with video? How could a vlog grow your platform? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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How Building a Platform Almost Ruined My Writing Career

The more I focused on platform building, the less I enjoyed writing. I almost quit.

A few years ago, when I was still looking for an agent, I received some unexpected feedback. The agent liked me and my writing. He thought my book had merit. But despite all that he chose not to represent me. His reason was direct: “You have no platform.” Ouch!

How Building a Platform Almost Ruined My Writing CareerHe didn’t say, “Your platform isn’t big enough,” “We want to see a bigger following,” or even “Your platform is too small.” Each would have been a true statement, and I could have accepted that. But no. He said, “You have no platform.” His words smacked at the core of my being. It’s as if he stuck a knife in my heart and twisted it.

I doubt he meant to cause me pain, but he did. Words have impact. I know. I write for a living.

So with renewed focus I dove into growing my platform. I studied books, took online classes, and listened to podcasts about platform and branding. I followed blogs and copied what the big-platform people did. I put greater effort into blogging, looked at each social media platform I used to make it better, and developed a consistent message across them all. I sought to engage with people online and build community.

I followed the steps of the gurus, the holders of grand, successful, platform-building outcomes. Eventually I realized the truth of the oft-spoken disclaimer: “Individual results may vary.” Indeed few of their followers ever achieved their if-I-can-do-it-anyone-can-do-it results. That included me.

With so much emphasis on platform I had little time to write. I wrote infrequently and enjoyed it less. My fixation on platform drained me of my passion for words. The size of my following became a burden, one harder to bear as time moved on.

Then one day I’d had enough. “If this is what it means to be a writer, I quit!” I gave up. But instead of relief, I grew even more miserable.

That was when I realized I could never not write.

I scaled back my mostly unsuccessful platform efforts to what was doable without being overwhelming. I cleansed the evil of platform fixation from my soul and reclaimed my joy of writing.

I suspect I will always consider platform building and self-promotion as the dark side of writing, but as long as I keep the former in check, I can continue with the latter – and thoroughly enjoy it.

Frustration with my platform almost caused me to stop writing. But it didn’t. I’m still here, and I’m still writing – regardless of the size of my platform.

What do you think about the need for a platform? How do you balance platform building with writing? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Avoiding a Spectacular Podcast Crash

Avoiding a Spectacular Podcast CrashTwo weeks ago we talked about the benefits of podcasting to grow an audience for our books. Then we discussed possible downsides of podcasting and how podcasting isn’t right for everyone. Today we’ll look at one more consideration: the crash and burn.

I listen to a lot of podcasts, about ten altogether. Some are monthly, others twice a month or weekly, and a few are more often. Three of them had spectacular fails. As a loyal listener they let me down, and because of the increased connection that a podcast affords over a blog, I felt my disappointment in them more profoundly.

Peters Out: The first podcast started out aggressively, with daily podcasts. It actually provided too much information too often. After about one month it went to weekdays only and later to three days a week. Months later new episodes appeared haphazardly and eventually stopped altogether. After four months of silence, the host launched a new podcast, with a different format but the same theme. He’s doing them three days a week. Since the host lost my trust with his first podcast failure, I’m not so interested in following him anymore.

Goes Dark: Another podcast started with one podcast a week and kept it up for several months. Then some things happened in the host’s personal life and she missed a few weeks. She never did get back to once a week and hasn’t posted anything new for a couple of months. I have no idea what happened.

Takes a Long Break: The third podcast was also once a week. It had an established track record but stopped abruptly with no notice. After no new episodes for six months, a couple of random ones showed up, with an explanation that the host took time off to write a book. Now the regular weekly schedule is re-emerging, but my enthusiasm still lags.

With each of these podcasts the host build an online rapport with me and then effectively abandoned me. I feel betrayed and let down. I don’t trust them as much as I once did.

Although the second podcaster gave some initial explanation for missed episodes, all three of them stopped without notice. Had they issued even a short podcast to explain what was happening, I’d have understood but to just go away feels disrespectful.

To avoid falling into the same trap: have a sustainable schedule, be consistent, and keep listeners informed. This demonstrates respect for your audience and reveals your professionalism.

Have you ever been disappointed by a podcaster? What do you think is a good podcast frequency? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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My Experience With Podcasting

Last week I mentioned four benefits of having an author podcast to build our platform. The reasons are compelling. But before jumping in, we need to consider if podcasting makes sense for us.

My Experience With PodcastingI was an early adopter of podcasting. Though I don’t have the dates, it was shortly after I started blogging, so around 2009 or 2010. Those podcasts are no longer online so I can’t even verify when.

My process was simple. I’d interview people at conventions. I used a digital recorder with a cheap mic, didn’t prep for the interview, and made no edits afterwards. I just posted the raw files. Overall it wasn’t bad – as long as my subjects were extroverts and didn’t clam up in front of a microphone. However the results were far from professional and wouldn’t meet the much higher expectations of people today.

So before you jump into podcasting, consider the following five questions:

Do You Enjoy Public Speaking? Some people can stand in front of an audience and offer an interesting monologue with little prep and no anxiety. Accomplished orators usually make for good podcasters. However, if public speaking terrifies you, podcasting won’t be much better. Yes, a podcast doesn’t have people staring at us, but we also don’t have any visual cues from our audience to know if we are connecting with them.

Are You Blogging? Are you currently blogging? Are you doing so consistently, according to a schedule? Do you have enough content ideas? The reality is that if you’re having trouble blogging, you will most likely struggle even more with podcasting.

Do You Have Time to Prep? Six years ago I got away with doing no prep work. That won’t fly today. For interviews you need to research your guest and formulate twice as many questions as you will need. If you’re not doing an interview but a monologue, the prep time is even greater, the same as for a speech.

Are You Willing to Do Post-Production Work? You will need to edit the recording. No matter how much you planned or how good you are, you will need to edit the file. You’ll also want to add an intro and an outro. Though you can outsource this, that costs money.

Will You Invest in the Right Equipment? Though you don’t need much of an investment to produce a decent podcast, you do need a quality microphone, as well as software to record and edit the results. Then you’ll need a site to post the files. (Putting them on your website or blog could crash your site if too many people try to listen at once.) You’ll also need a computer with a good Internet connection and a quiet place to do the recording.

Starting a podcast can be enjoyable. It can also be taxing if you aren’t the right personality for the task or ready to do what needs to be done to do it well.

Weigh the benefits and costs before you begin.

Do you think you are the right personality to be a successful podcaster? Do the benefits offset the detriments? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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The Power of Podcasting: Four Reasons to Have an Author Podcast

It seems people are jumping on the podcasting bandwagon. They want to grow their audience and build their platform in order to sell their books (or whatever other product or service they have to offer).

The Power of Podcasting: Four Reasons to Have an Author PodcastThis makes sense. Look at the recent surge of interest in audiobooks, with people who “read” books by listening to a recording. They do this during their commute to and from work, as they exercise, or when they attend to projects around the house. They have become voracious “readers” without ever opening a book or turning on their e-reader.

Podcasting extends the audiobook mindset. A podcast simply becomes another audio expression for these folks to consume.

Here are some of the benefits of author podcasts:

Another Channel to Reach Readers: A natural communication channel for writers is the written word. Blogging connects nicely with that. Readers read books; readers read blogs. It makes sense, a lot of sense. However readers who listen to books won’t likely read a blog, but they will likely listen to a podcast. With podcasting writers have two ways to reach their audience.

Another Means to Connect with Readers: When we read a book or blog post we use the sense of sight to see the words. When we listen to a book or a podcast we use the sense of sound. With audio we use voice inflections, interject emphasis, and add timing to each sentence as we speak. These benefits of audio all allow us a better means to connect with our audience.

Another Creative Outlet For Authors: Writing is a creative art; so is speaking. Both communicate but in different ways. Both provide creative outlets, but which tap different aspects of our creativity.

A Fun Break From Writing: No matter how much we like to write, we all need to take a break. After all, once we spend a full day working on our book, do we really want to spend another hour writing a blog post? Not likely, but spending that hour on podcasting provides a nice alternative to writing. Then we can return to writing with a refreshed perspective.

Given these great benefits you might be ready to jump on the podcasting bandwagon. Not so fast. First you need to consider whether podcasting is right for you. Next week I’ll look at my experience with podcasting, which should provide some more insight into this intriguing communication option.

Do you listen to podcasts? Have you ever done a podcast? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Do You Want People to Buy Your Book or Read Your Book?

We all want people to buy our books and then read our books. That’s the ideal. But what if we can realize only one of these two outcomes? Would we rather have people buy our book or read it?

Do You Want People to Buy Your Book or Read Your Book?In the first scenario a lot of people would buy our book but they never actually read it. It sits around unread and later moves to a book shelf and later still ends up in the trash. No one ever reviews the book or lets us know how much they enjoy it.

In the second scenario readers download our book for free, read someone else’s copy (that wasn’t paid for either), receives an advanced copy, or finds a pirated version. We receive a boatload of positive reviews and everywhere we go it seems someone says how great our book is. A lot of people read our book and love it, but we never make one penny from it.

Both these situations are extreme, but if we had to select one, which one would it be?

If we pick the first, then our primary goal in writing a book is to make money. If we pick the second, then our primary motivation to write is for the love of the art. Neither one is wrong, but by themselves, for the long-term, neither one will fully satisfy.

We need people to buy our books, and we need people to read them. The first need is practical and the second need is emotional. We must have both to sustain ourselves as writers. Without the money we starve physically; without the feedback we starve creatively. Don’t be caviler about either; we need both and shouldn’t dismiss one as unnecessary.

We must write books that will make money and that people will want to read. The money doesn’t have to be a lot, but we need to make something. Our readers don’t need to be many, but we need to have at a least a few.

Of course we’d prefer to sell lots of books and have lots of readers. Isn’t that what we all dream for – even if we don’t say so or are afraid to admit it?

If you had to choose which would it be? Which of these two outcomes should you take more seriously? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below

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3 Ways to Create Top of Mind Awareness

3 Ways to Create Top of Mind AwarenessMarketing can have one of two goals: make sales or create awareness. Although any marketing effort can do both of these, it will only do one of them well.

This post will discuss ways to create awareness – and when done right, top-of-mind awareness. That is, having our author brand be what a reader first thinks of when he or she considers what book to read next. Awareness, which some would call branding, is built slowly over time. Here are three strategies to consider:

  1. Articles enhance awareness both online and in print but especially in print. Publishers appreciate a well-written article that’s interesting and provides useful information. It will establish the author as a credible source and a knowledgeable resource. It creates awareness.
  2. Blogging is a great way to develop a following and increase awareness in those who read our blog. And as a post is shared more people will be exposed to us and our writing.
  3. Online efforts including guest blogging, commenting on blogs (real comments, not “buy my book”), and interacting on social media. These take time and require effort, but when done wisely they produce great results – and backfire dramatically if done badly. Each is its own art and requires time to develop.

There are other creative tactics that authors can do to increase brand awareness, but these are some of the top ones. Just remember, branding is building for the future. For the most part it’s not going to immediately sell books, but if it does that’s just a pleasant bonus. Book sales requires a different approach.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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