Everyone knows that you, the author or author-to-be, most likely can't get a top agent or publisher without a so-called "platform." And that what began as a simple way for those writing or planning to write books to market their wares has become an industry-wide panic button for them, instead. Let's just call it Platformania!
First, a definition. Platform is your reach or following online and off. It includes the number of people on your mailing list; your social media reach; traffic to your website and/or blog; traditional publicity in print, radio and/or TV (especially relevant if you have a column and/or radio or TV show); the number of people you reach via speaking engagements, teleseminars and webinars, and any other way you get in front of people.
For the bestselling author in all of us -- a simple Platform Primer:
1. Who needs a platform? Platforms lead to a lot more than a top agent or publishing house -- they get you jobs, they get you clients, they help sell products. So let's begin with who doesn't need a platform. If you never plan to write a book or need public attention for anything at all ever, don't bother.
2. Start now. A client of mine spent more than a year building enough of a platform -- mainly high profile blog columns and an active, engaging Twitter presence -- in his competitive niche (relationships and dating) to attract the attention of a top agent and publisher. It's like saving money -- start saving as a kid, not ten years from your desired retirement. As a result of his platform, a top ten publisher contacted him before his agent sent his book proposal out!
3. It's the engagement -- not the numbers. Platform is not only about numbers -- it's about how engaged people are with you. For instance, writing comments on your blog posts, re-tweeting you, calling in to your radio show, putting your YouTube videos on their Facebook page and website, buying your information or book-related products.
4. Know the elements. Begin by creating an up-to-date checklist of Platform Elements and how engaged others are with them (see definition above for additional elements): a) do you have a website? What kind of traffic does it get (in unique visitors per month)?, b) do you blog?, c) and social media? What do people see when they Google your name? Is it what you want them to see? And again, how engaged are people you connect with?, d) have you received media attention? If so, where? (see definition above for additional elements).
5. Choose a start point. You can't be everywhere at once and do everything well. Focus on the biggest possible results by a) determining your target audience (let's say lovesick singles); b) figuring out where among the platform elements they hang out (Online? Off? Facebook? LinkedIin? Are they magazine readers? TV watchers?); and add in c) what interests/excites you (i.e., you hate being online and love watching talk shows.) Begin with rough estimates, i.e., singles in their 20s and 30s are on Facebook; they also read fashion magazines. Fine. Let's begin.
6. Invest in education: Ask, "How can I get training to do this well or better?" If you identify having others -- i.e., journalists -- interview you as a platform element detail, get some media training. If you've never blogged, find an expert to help you develop a blogging strategy and a results-driven editorial calendar. Always ask people you know for references before investing in training, especially in social media (much of it can be a waste of time unless you do). You can also look for someone who does platform building well and either find out where they trained or train with them.
7. Outsource. While you want to "own" your platform presence, you may be able to outsource aspects of it, especially if you know how to oversee it well. For instance, have someone put together your newsletter, run a Facebook contest or pitch you as an expert for media opportunities. You may not be able to afford a company to do it for you but there is a solid talent pool out there, especially for beginners. Finally, if you have any adjunct goals to your primary one of attracting a major agent and/or publishing house/contract -- i.e., having residual income from the platform itself; and/or creating a certain community response -- feel free to seek assistance there, too.
So build your platform now -- without that industry-wide mania!