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What is an author platform, and why is it important?

If you’ve done any research into book marketing (traditional or otherwise), you’ll have certainly heard the term “author platform” by now. But what is it exactly, and why does everyone keep talking about it?

Essentially, an author platform encompasses all the ways in which an author is engaged with their audience. By necessity, there are many elements that make up a platform (not just social media presence, although this can certainly play an important role). A good author platform will include some of the following elements:

  • Previous publications and book sales
  • An existing readership
  • Previous and ongoing media coverage
  • Endorsements and connections with relevant influencers
  • A large social media presence
  • A website or blog with good traffic
  • Industry expertise or demonstrated thought leadership
  • Event appearances and speaking engagements

As you can see, a well-developed platform involves far more than an active blog or an entertaining Twitter feed. We can’t pretend that managing all these elements is easy. Building and maintaining an author platform is a lot of work and can become its own full-time job. But it’s also essential to becoming a successful author, which brings us to our second point: why it’s so important.

Importance in traditional publishing

The publishing industry has gone through a lot of changes in recent years. Book sales have decreased and have moved away from brick-and-mortar stores to online retailers, such as the all-encompassing Amazon. Increasingly, traditional publishers are becoming more and more reliant on a few bestsellers to carry them through the year. They have less freedom to take risks on new and untested writers, since they’re covering all the up-front costs (and therefore taking on all the risk). This means that traditional publishers are now hesitant to take on writers who don’t have an established author platform.

The platform basically functions as the testing ground and allows a publisher to count on sales before the book’s even been edited. This is why you’ll see so many celebrity-written books getting published: they already have a built-in audience, guaranteed media coverage, and event appearances under their belts.

The bottom line: if you’re planning to pursue a traditional publisher, you can significantly improve your chances of getting a contract by building a solid author platform.

Importance in hybrid and self-publishing

Now that we’ve covered traditional publishing, let’s talk about hybrid and self-publishing authors. Just because you’re not after a traditional publishing contract doesn’t mean that an author platform won’t help you. In fact, an author platform is going to be what generates your book sales.

Simply having your book available for purchase will not generate sales (as much as we wish it would). Authors need to be working constantly to make sure that people are aware of their brand, engaging with their writing, and interested in purchasing their books. Just think about the number of times you’ve purchased a book because it was written by an author you already knew about versus the number of times you’ve opened up Amazon and purchased a book that you’d never heard of and didn’t discover through one of the site’s recommendations.

The bottom line: A well-developed author platform means that you’ll have an active audience who follows your work and will buy your book.

In our next sections, we’ll talk about how to get started in building a successful author platform.