Building a Minimalist Author Platform
“How do I build an author platform?” Many new authors ask themselves this question while writing their first book. They hear about platforms and know that having one will help them sell books but struggle with the vague term. After all, there is no one definition and no standard formula for building one. In 2020, Jane Friedman defined an author platform as “an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.” Masterclass, meanwhile, defines it as “a writer’s ability to market their work, using their overall visibility to reach a target audience.” So, what does “platform” mean? Fame? Marketing prowess? Or a definitive set of assets?
Fame is probably the closest answer, but alone it doesn’t make for a strong platform. A powerful one that sells books requires fame and influence. So, marketing prowess also plays a part. So do the assets you control and the influence of the people in your personal network. Without all these components, an author cannot capitalise on their reputation. Consider the “average” Joes who’ve gone viral by mistake — trended worldwide or appeared in a meme. They had fame… but did they have a platform? Often, no. And that’s why few make meaningful money. A real platform requires you to be recognisable and have the power to change people’s actions.
So, what actionable steps can you take to build a reputation and influence? You could build a trusted blog, develop a social media presence, use paid ads, grow a mailing list, work with influencers, build relationships with retailer executives or leverage their algorithms for exposure. As productivity expert David Allen once said, “You can do anything but not everything.” If anything, a better question to ask is what to avoid so you don’t dilute your impact. Indeed, focusing your attention on a minimal list of high-impact strategies will often get you further. But where should you begin when you’re starting from scratch? Read on to find out in today’s article.
Focus Your Brand
Lots of newbies think that being “everywhere” is the reason why some prominent authors succeed. Often, however, the opposite is true. Rather than trying to do it all, those who succeed often start by narrowing their scope. They don’t try to write multiple series, cover lots of genres and split their time between pen names. Nor do they profess the wisdom of diversifying their income streams from day one, unlike many struggling authors. Instead, they bypass the strain of maintain 20 income streams, totalling maybe $300 a month, and zero in on one pen name and series. That way, they can rapid release their way to a $10,000-a-month business.
What’s more, they apply the same focus to retailers. Rather than trying to crack 5 stores at once and diluting their impact, they focus on one platform that delivers them disproportionate results. For many authors, that’s Amazon. For others, it’s Apple Books, Barnes & Noble or Kobo. Channel all your efforts into “breaking out” on one retailer and you’ll likely see more success. Is this a good long-term plan? No. A minimalist approach will put you on shaky ground as a full-timer but at least it will get you there, which is more than can be said for those who spend years hedging their bets. You can always work to diversify once you have a meaningful readership.
Create an Email Sales Funnel
Authors often talk about marketing like it’s a chore akin to shaving or maintaining a car. Given the choice, they would rather not do it, but they know they couldn’t maintain their job without the extra effort. It’s likely that these same authors, though, don’t enjoy marketing because they feel overwhelmed. Each discipline — whether it’s SEO, BookBub ads or group giveaways — comes with a learning curve and, due to being unsure of where best to spend their time, they never go into depth on any one skill. A lack of mastery causes friction and they wonder, what’s the point anyway? As soon as they gain clarity, something changes and they’re back to square one, right?
Look closer and you’ll realise there’s one exception: email marketing. When it comes to email, the actions required to succeed remain ever similar: attract readers and keep them engaged. Simple. What’s more, with email, you own your list. No tech billionaire can sever your connection to your readers. Hence, if you have little time to spend on marketing, prioritise building an email list. All you need to get started is:
- A slick, on-brand landing page
- A mailing list provider like MailerLite
- Freebies to attract subscribers
- Landing page links in the back of your books
Could paid ads accelerate your progress? Sure – and SPF’s courses can help you master them. But creating a sales funnel in this way will enable you to build a platform on autopilot until you have more mental bandwidth.
Keeping subscribers engaged is essential, otherwise those who join your list will quickly lose interest. Onboarding sequences are useful in this respect. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, an onboarding sequence is a staggered, automated series of emails you send out to new subscribers after they join your list. Usually, at least three work well — one to deliver a downloadable freebie, one to introduce you and one to showcase the rest of your work. More work even better. While these automated emails won’t keep them engaged forever, they are a set-and-forget solution that warms readers, making them more likely to engage favourably with future emails you send.
How regularly you choose to email after they deploy is up to you. Some opt for once a week, others quarterly or when they have a new book to sell. Ideally, you want to strike a balance, interspersing sales emails with ones that offer entertainment, inspiration and insights that make your readers look forward to your newsletters, rather than viewing them as that cousin who only shows up when they need money. A minimum of one a month that offers real value is enough in most cases. It may take a few hours to craft and format this sparkling correspondence, but that’s still a lot less time intensive than becoming an omnipresent figure on social media.
Pick One Social Media Platform
Successful authors prioritise email, yes, but they don’t neglect social media. Without the resources of a large corporation, they just limit the platforms they cover. As a new author, trying to be everywhere will only drain time from your day you could spend on your next book. Hence, it pays to focus on only one platform. Choose one that suits your personality but also attracts your ideal readers. Then simply create accounts on others you want to cover, but don’t post. Instead, write a message in your bio directing readers to your preferred platform. Using this strategy, you can creative wonderful content in one place rather than mediocre content everywhere.
Once you’ve chosen a platform that works for you, develop a strategy that minimises your commitment. Then you’ll spend less time scrolling and more time writing books, which will ultimately grow your readership faster. You could, for instance, pre-schedule content using a service like Hootsuite or Buffer and limit scrolling to strict “office hours” where you’re available to interact with followers. These batching tactics will help you balance being present and authentic with being efficient. Whatever you do, remember, social media is addictive. It can suck an entire day if you aren’t intentional about time management. Beware the cost of mindless scrolling.
Master Facebook Ads
Ask successful indie authors working today what the biggest contributing factor has been to their success, aside from writing books their readers enjoy, and many will tell you it’s learning how to create and optimise pay-per-click (PPC) ads. It’s worth noting here that PPC ads can be expensive and challenging to make profitable if you haven’t already nailed down the basics of publishing high-quality books and engaging your readers. That said, once you have those ducks in a row, little can make them fly faster than well-targeted PPC ad campaigns. But which once should you focus on first? Amazon? Facebook? Google? BookBub?
The short answer for most indies is Facebook. While all other options excel under certain conditions, none offer authors the same power and flexibility that Facebook ads can deliver. Indeed, according to Written Word Media’s 2022 Author Income Survey, a huge portion of authors earning $10,000+ a month chose Facebook ads as their primary PPC option. Why? It’s their reliability, scalability and long-lasting effects. They’re the only option you can repurpose to sell books or build a mailing list and depend on to sell books at a moment’s notice. Hence, if you only have limited time to dedicate to PPC ads, Facebook ads are the best option for building your platform.
Make no mistake, building your author platform will take a serious time and energy commitment whether you go out all guns blazing or choose a minimalist approach. The latter, however, will help you remain sane and stay the course without burning out. There’s plenty of time to add complexity once you have more time or resources. Today you might only sell 5 books during a launch but stick with the tactics this article discusses and one day, exerting the same level of effort, you could sell 5,000. Getting there need not be complicated. It just takes consistency, effort and patience.
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