What is an Author Platform and Why You Need The Best You Can Build

I’ve referred to author platform a lot on this blog.  Especially lately, with the industry in such a state of churn and evolution.

But I’ve never properly defined what an author platform is.

So today, let’s nail down exactly what I mean by “author platform”, and pull together all the reasons why you need to build the most robust and inclusive platform you can.

What is an Author’s Platform?

In days of yore—and even these days, if you happen to wander through Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, London—speakers who wanted to be noticed stood upon a box. A platform. The Greek orators stood upon a short pedestal. 

Most public speakers still stand upon a dais (platform) so they can be seen by everyone at the back of the room.

An author’s platform is exactly the same thing.  It’s the way you’re seen and heard by readers. 

These days, the ways you reach out and communicate with your readers are usually digital, but they don’t have to be.  If you attend a lot of reader conventions, or spend a lot of time signing books at bookstores, for example, these are both elements of platform. 

Just one-off occasions probably shouldn’t be included in your platform management plans, but if you repeat an activity a lot, it should be considered an element of your author platform.

You will quite often hear of retail stores like Amazon and Kobo, and fiction apps like Radish and Wattpad being called “platforms”.  Indirectly, they are.  You are “speaking” to readers with your book covers and blurbs and stories.  But they’re particularly ineffective platforms, because you can’t control the message you give to readers.

Social media is another element of your author platform.  Here, you can speak directly to readers, even though it is often not a fully inclusive tool.  Facebook throttles who gets to hear what you say, and other platforms are passive, requiring readers to seek out your communications.

Your website, where you capture readers’ attention and, hopefully, their email address, and your email list are two platform tools that are nearly 100% effective in reaching readers.  If you add blogging to that, you’re upping their power.

Then there are the newer options:  Crowdsourcing (Go Fund Me, Kickstarter), Subscriptions (Ream, Kobo Plus, your own read-all-you-want subscription service), paid newsletters (Substack, Patreon – mostly for non-fiction writers), patronage (Patreon, your own subscription paywall), and direct sales.

There will always be something new coming up that you can try, some new tool to add to the mix, or a new social media app.  This is where tracking your key metrics helps.  If you trial a new tool/platform for six months and trace the effectiveness of it in stimulating sales, engagement by readers (via emails, comments, etc.), open rates, etc., you’ll know if you should continue using it, or drop it from your platform. 

Why You Need to Build and Manage a Good Platform.

I recently arranged an author swap with an author who was newly emerging from Kindle Unlimited.  I learned he didn’t have an author website.  Why would he need one while in KU?  Amazon sent an email to all his followers when he released a new book, and as all his readers were subscribed to KU, they knew exactly where to find him and learn if he had a new book out—his Amazon author page. 

He had virtually no platform at all, except what Amazon provided.

KU authors still need a platform, especially if they want to increase their page reads. A minimal platform, which is not much more than an email list for announcing new releases (to ensure they hear about it) and to let readers learn more about you as an author (building author loyalty), plus a website where new potential readers can discover your books, may be all a KU author needs.  This minimal platform helps reduce an author’s dependence upon Amazon, and lets them own the means to contact their readers, so that if Amazon chooses not to send out communications to those readers, the author still can.

If you’re a wide author, though, then having a solid, well-oiled platform gives you a sheaf of fabulous benefits:

You’re offsetting the AI encroachment

If AI does reach the point where it can produce books for whale readers that are “the same, but different”, then human authors will need to produce books that are far more original. Constantly original. We’ll have to break new ground with each book, as the AI engines will incorporate what we’ve done before.

Therefore, branding (which includes your unique author voice, and the experience readers get from reading your stories) will become the most critical factor for authors. Branding builds and holds together reader loyalty. 

And that means the platform we use to gather and speak to our readers will become the most important element of our business, as we can control that platform.

You’re retaining reader data.

Knowing the names of your readers, what they bought and what types of stories they’re interested in, along with a direct way of reaching out to them, gives you enormous power. 

For example, you can send an email just to those readers who have bought previous books in a series, to tell them about the new book in the series, and those readers will be super responsive.

You can send readers of your gothic horror pen name an email telling them about that pen name’s books being on sale, and watch your sales spike as a result.

Amazon has made most of its fortune out of retaining customer information.  They are a recommendation engine first and foremost, and knowing what customers want is the base of that engine.

If you build a platform where you can learn what your readers want, you can build a similar profit-building engine.

You can Increase Your Discoverability

Increasing the new potential readers who can find you outside of the retail store ecosystems can only lead to more sales.   Doing it yourself instead of relying on the recommendations at the retail stores also gives you better control and more effectiveness. 

Discoverability isn’t an easy thing to improve, and it’s getting harder every year.  But there are still some good tools out there that depend upon you having a place to send those potential new readers to:  PPC advertising, for example.  Or BookFunnel promos.  Author newsletter swaps.  Etc. 

You can use these tools and send the reader to, say, your Amazon author page.  But why would you?  The readers you send there might not be Amazon customers.  Even if they are, when they reach your book’s landing page, they’ll be inundated with hundreds of images of other books. 

It’s better to send them to your site or your bookstore, where you stand a greater chance of making a sale (and getting their data), or acquiring their email address, so you can further the relationship and make a sale later.  You can do none of those things if you send them to a bookstore.

You Will Build Credibility as an Author

I can ‘t tell you the number of times I’ve seen a book cover, or read a recommendation, or I’m weighing up swapping newsletters with a new-to-me author, and I’ve gone off to find out more about the author and found…nothing.  No website, or a poorly put together site with no contact information, no list of books, no biography.

Worse, Google’s search results throws up a book page or two, all on Amazon, and nothing more.

My gut sinks when I come across authors like this.  I feel like I’m dealing with less than an amateur.  New authors, even if they have only one book, can still set up like a pro, with a good website with all the basics.  They can stake a claim on internet real estate.

If you search any of my pen names, multiple relevant results will return.  “Tracy Cooper-Posey” on Google returns 1.7M results and the first page is all relevant results.  (See the search results image.)  You have to dig down into pages in the double-digits to find a search result that isn’t related to me or my books.

That’s a lot of credibility.

It doesn’t take much to build that sort of presence online.  The more books you publish, the more results.  A website that Google’s bots crawl over will produce more.  Ditto, any social media accounts, places where you’ve got book reviews, done interviews, left comments.

Builds Loyalty

When you have an effective platform that helps build a relationship between you and your reader and lets them get to know you, then the reader can’t help but feel more loyal toward you and your books.  You’ll hit their auto-buy list, and if they see anything about you out in the world, they pause to read/listen/watch. 

You’ll Increase Word of Mouth

Those same loyal readers you’re building will, in turn, tell other readers about you and your books.  They won’t be able to help themselves.

You’ll Write Better-selling Books

This one is subtle.  It’s not that the quality of your writing will improve, but the appeal of your stories will.  With a captive and captivated community of readers who feel free to talk to you, you’ll get feedback on what works and what doesn’t work in your stories.  They’ll tell you what they like and would love to read.

You can even build a beta team from these same readers, and get direct feedback on what works in your stories before you publish them.

This will shape your stories into something that readers are eager to read.

You Can Control Reader Disappointment

After writing at least ten books a year, for years, in late 2022, I virtually stopped writing at all while I dealt with cancer treatments and a broken back, among other things (more on that here).  As I write this, my writing schedule still hasn’t returned to normal yet, but I’m getting there.

I’ve had favourite authors disappear on me the same way my new releases have evaporated, and I remember the disappointment I’ve felt and the keen sense of being let down.  The lack of explanations left me wondering if that author was ever going to write books again.  And after a while, I forgot about their books and them and stopped looking for new releases.

I didn’t want my readers (of any of my pen names) to either be disappointed or to forget about me and my books.  I have used my author platform to communicate with them and let them know exactly what is going on, and that they might have to wait a while for a new releases.  The post I just linked to, above (here’s the link again) was my communication on this blog.  I used social media, blog posts and email to let the readers of my pen names know about my progress.

I’ve kept up that communication all along, so that the readers don’t forget about me.  I’ve stayed active on social media, and email.  And every time I put out an update about my health, I spend nearly a whole day responding to the outpouring of emails, comments and other communications I get back from the readers.

So not only are they reassured that sooner or later, a new book will come out, but I’ve also increased the sense of community among my readers, thanks to my multi-faceted platform.

Alleviate the Loneliness of Full Time Authoring

This is an interesting side benefit of having a full, robust and multi-faceted platform.  You end up talking frequently to a great many people, both in person and online.  I have a handful of readers whom I chat with via email regularly, usually about anything but books—my life, their life and more.  I have one reader in Australia who keeps me supplied with Vegemite.  Another who sent me a hand-knitted cap when I lost my hair. 

I also hang out with a great many authors in groups on Facebook. The groups are professional interest groups, but sometimes I head there to kick back, vent or relax after a day of work.  Even though I’ve not met many of them face to face, they’re friends.  And because of this networking, I’m front-of-mind when other authors are building cooperative projects, or want book swaps or promo swaps.

When I first started writing full time, I noticed the vacuum around me a lot.  The need to talk shop, or just to talk, grew stronger, but as my platform expanded and my community of readers grew along with my network of authors, that need diminished.   

The Ultimate Benefit:  Control

A properly built and managed platform will give you far greater control over your career and your success.  You can shape and change the platform to meet the changing demands of the publishing industry and changes in direction of your career and priorities. 

If a publisher closes, you’re not hooped.  If AI takes over pulp fiction markets, you’re not going to have to scramble to find a new audience—because you still have one. 

You can weather drastic changes without too much sweat, because of the power that comes from a large community of readers who know you, like your stories and want more of them.

Why wouldn’t you want a solid, well-structured platform?

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2 thoughts on “What is an Author Platform and Why You Need The Best You Can Build”

  1. Great post, Tracy! I’m a big believer in a solid platform, and thank you for sharing your wisdom with me early on to help me get here. I’ll definitely pass this post on.

    1. Glad you found it useful, Talena.

      We’re all going to need robus platforms now. The industry is maturing, and AI will hurry that along, too.


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