An essential part of your job as an author is to find a way to help your work reach your audience. This is a task that a publicist or marketing associate will help you with once your manuscript has been accepted by a publishing house, but it’s also something that you can start on your own right now, today.
Many publishing houses greatly favor authors who have already gained attention from an audience before the house accepts their manuscripts for publication. A few things account for this. First of all, if you have a proven audience, your manuscript is more likely to sell once published and is thus less of a risk. Secondly, if an author is capable of marketing him- or herself, publicists and marketing associates have much less work on their hands. No one is a better advocate for your manuscript than yourself.
No one is able to talk about your manuscript more, to show its great qualities, to be excited about it, than you. Yes, you will likely have a great publicity team behind you once the manuscript has been accepted for publication, and they will help you a lot. But if you also have a great audience cheering you on already, things will go so much more smoothly.
So how do you build a platform?
One of the best ways to grow an audience and build a platform is by publishing your work in various outlets. This can range in scope and genre. For example, you could be writing articles for an online publication. Or you could be published in a print magazine or newspaper. Or you could publish short stories in magazines, journals, or anthologies.
Any chance you have to publish something you’ve written—even if it isn’t directly related to the genre your manuscript occupies—is a good opportunity to gain publicity for yourself and grow your audience. It helps prove that you are a good writer and reassure publishing houses that other publications have seen your quality.
If you can publish in the categories that your manuscript fits into, all the better. Remember to mention to your literary agent, if you have one, any places that you have published. And if you’re still querying agents, be sure to mention those publications in your query letter.
Your Own Website
Since taking a graduate course in content strategy, I am a huge believer that every professional should have his or her own personal website. If you don’t yet own your domain names, start saving money/budgeting to purchase them or do so now if you can. GoDaddy is a good resource for buying your .com, .net, and .org domains. If you’re looking to purchase johnsmith.com, that’s likely gone already, but a variation should be available and you should get that locked down as soon as you can.
Remember when creating your website to try to keep your URL as easy as possible, so that you can easily tell people the website without having to say, “JohnSmith.com, except the ‘o’ is a zero and the ‘i’ is a one and the ‘m’ is actually two n’s put side by side…” This will make your life easier and make it easier for your audience to find you.
On your website, you can grow your audience by keeping up with a blog with relevant information to your readers. Although it can be tempting to write a blogblog, like in the early 2000s when people would just write their thoughts onto the Internet, providing some sort of value to your readers is a much more likely way to grow your audience.
You are still more than welcome to use your site as a place where your audience can get insights into your daily thoughts, but remember that readers are there for a purpose. Is that purpose to know why you think orange is a better color than yellow? Or are they there because you are a writer they respect and admire and they want something relevant to that part of your identity?
You choose how you use your website, but some other useful functions can be using your site as a place to link off to your other publications, as a repository for exclusive updates about your manuscript, and as a personal resume for potential publications to learn more about you.
Finally, and perhaps the most important in this day and age, a great way to grow your platform is through social media. Publishing houses like to see (and sometimes need to see) that you are versed in various social media platforms and have grown some sort of audience there.
The platforms that you use will depend on your own comfort level, your willingness to try different mediums, and where your audience is. The last of these is the most important. If your manuscript’s target audience is on Twitter, you want to seriously consider being on Twitter.
The three traditional social media platforms (with their pros, cons, and different uses) are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. However, Pinterest, SnapChat, and others are growing in popularity as well. Read about each of these platforms if you aren’t already on them, try some of them out, and begin interacting with your audience that is there.
Remember that social media is only as valuable as you’re willing to make it. Bi-directionality is essential. Social media should never be a place for you to just hopelessly shout into the void. Constantly tweeting, “Buy my book! Read my book! I wrote a book!” without ever taking the opportunity to interact with anyone else in the Twittersphere is a wasted opportunity.
In the future, I hope to have an entire post dedicated to social media with some examples of good and bad uses of it. Remember that social media can be a great way to grow an audience if you commit to using it actively and interactively.
Go out and begin building your platform! And come back next week for further insights about the publishing world! Thank you as always for reading!