Writing your novel or nonfiction book is only the beginning. If you want people to buy your book, you need to develop an author platform as part of your marketing efforts and to build a relationship with your readers.
Speaking to the Indie Publishing Austin meetup, Tom Corson-Knowles (the bestselling self-published author of 20+ books including The Kindle Publishing Bible series, founder of TCK Publishing, and host of The Publishing Profits Podcast), offered up excellent tips on how authors can build an online presence and an audience for their books.
As he defined it, the author platform is the combination of methods, tools, and resources that an author uses to connect to readers and build an audience.
(Digital media and publishing expert Jane Friedman offers another definition of author platform on her blog.)
To build your platform, you can utilize a number of different traditional and digital media outlets, including radio, TV, social media, forums, video, podcasting, and blogging. All of these outlets allow you to connect with your readers and let them know what you’re writing, when to expect your next book launch, and other information that helps keep you in your readers’ minds.
The primary question you must answer as you build your platform is: who is your audience?
Is your audience middle-aged educated women? Teenagers? Retirees? Science fanatics? Fans of historical romance?
As you define your audience (your most likely readers), you need to also ask yourself how you can find them. Where do they go online? Are they engaging on certain blogs or in forums? Do they use social media—and if so, which channels? Are they more likely to be on Facebook or Pinterest? Once you’ve defined your audience, you next have to figure out how to connect with them.
Once you’ve identified your audience, then, one of your goals is to build a following in the online (and real-life!) space they inhabit. For example, assuming your audience follows blogs, you will need to figure out the most popular blogs for that audience (check Alexa rankings), and build a relationship with those blogs through regular and insightful comments, and possibly guest blogging. You might also do guest appearances at genre bookstores or at conventions or meetings that members of your audience might attend.
Main takeaway: you want to build relationships with your readers, as well as other bloggers and authors in your genre, and that will help build your audience.
When to Build Your Author Platform
Authors planning to pursue independent publishing can become overwhelmed with marketing, and Tom touched on how the author platform fits into the production of your book.
Even if you’re still writing your first book, he suggested that it’s a good idea to start creating your author platform now. Create your social media channels—your Facebook author page and Twitter accounts, for example—so that they’re ready to go when you need them. In fact, even before you get your first book published, you can start building your followers via social media.
At the same time, you should really only start worrying about marketing your book once you have your second book published. Before that, you should focus on getting the first two books out.
Main takeaway: Publish your book and then invest the time in building your platform.
Indie Book Publishing Tips
In terms of the actual production of a book, Tom had several interesting tips.
Cover art: Tom recommended spending money on getting a professional cover done. At the same time, that doesn’t mean spending a lot of money. He uses fiverr.com, a site where you can commission work for five dollars, and gets a bunch of bookcovers made. Then he chooses the best one. As he pointed out, you can always change your cover later if you feel like you need to.
Finding an editor: he suggested getting three references for an editor before hiring one, so you don’t end up paying a lot for substandard work. It’s also important to make sure your editor has experience editing in your particular genre and with your kind of work.
Book launch: even if you have multiple outlets where your book is being sold, you should always funnel your sales to Amazon.com, which controls approximately 70% of US ebook sales. Very few books sales come from a link on a website, so while having links on your site is great for your back catalog, it should never be the primary way to launch a new book. Instead, he recommended the website leadpages.net as a resource for building a landing page for a book launch.
Intellectual Property: We talked a little bit about protecting your intellectual property. The general consensus is that protecting your books with DRMs (digital rights management, code that in theory prevents piracy) and issuing takedowns to stop piracy isn’t worth your time, and can actually backfire and make you look bad.
On the other hand he said you should always go after people who are claiming your intellectual property as theirs by republishing your content under their own name.
Pricing: Tom suggested that the ‘sweet spot’ for ebook novel sales is between $.99 and $3.99. Once you have multiple books, you can reduce the price of your first book, or even give it away for free, particularly after you have at least three books out in the series. Under that scenario, if your first book is free or $.99, your other book should be full price ($2.99/$3.99).
Time Management Tips
Tom says everything he does is based around 15 minutes. Every day he sets aside 15 minutes to write a blog post; 15 minutes to review a social media channel; 15 minutes for writing; 15 minutes in forums. Obviously if he has more to say, he can spend more time, specially on the actual act of writing. The idea is, rather than get overwhelmed by a to-do list, committing to 15 minute blocks means everything gets reviewed and updated on a daily basis.
Main takeaway: It’s all about productivity and efficiency, and getting it all done.