You might have seen the term “platform” tossed around online, but what does it mean for an author to have one? When publishers talk about an author’s “platform,” what they’re referring to is how visible or widely known the author is, and all the ways in which the author shows up in the world.
Traditionally, an author’s platform is composed of their fan base, media appearances, public events, and sometimes their professional network. Today, a strong online platform is even more critical for authors because of its almost unlimited growth potential. Your online fan base may include blog readers, email subscribers, and social media followers. With a thriving online author platform that puts you a click away from tens of thousands of your fans, you’ll be able to undertake the projects you want—whether it’s giving a talk, teaching a course, or writing your next book—knowing you already have people lining up to support you.
Let’s focus on two important tools of an online author platform: your website and mailing list.
Your website is the heart of your online author platform. For much of your audience, your website will be the first point of contact for them to learn more about you and your books. It will also house your blog as well as direct visitors to sign up for your mailing list and follow you on social media.
Everybody needs a website, and it has to be a good one. A cluttered website with low-quality graphics, too many fonts, and clashing colours comes across as unprofessional, so it’s essential to work with a skilled designer and developer to make your site stand out.
If your business already has a website, you may be tempted to use that for your online author platform, but it’s best to create a separate site. As an author looking to build a career on the strength of your own personal brand, you need to have a website dedicated to you. Operating through a business-branded website may make things simpler at first and it can be a vehicle to get your content out there, but in the long term it will befuddle your audience. Are they going to your site to get information about your business’s products and services, or to engage with you as an author and expert? It’s confusing.
The one exception to this rule is if your business is already built around you. This may be the case if you are a coach, therapist, or consultant working in a sole proprietorship or private practice, and your book is relevant to your work. If your website URL is your name, your image is plastered all over the site and you are already associated with the same topics that you want to build your author brand around, then you probably don’t need a second site.
Your website is great when your audience needs to visit you, but there will be times when you’ll want to reach out directly to them. Email is the most effective way to do this.
This is why mailing lists are considered the most important tool in digital marketing. To build a mailing list, you’ll collect email addresses from your readers, potential readers, and associates—with their consent—and store them in an email marketing platform such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, or TinyLetter.
Mailing lists are awesome for two reasons. First, your mailing list is an underrated tool that can be used to connect deeply with your readers on a regular basis to build a real relationship. Second, mailing lists are the audience for your newsletters, which give you limitless potential to get creative and deliver content your readers will love.
So why do mailing lists work so well?
- You will get through every time. At least to their inbox! Unlike with social media, there’s no email algorithm that filters your messages. Your emails will make it to their intended audience, unless the recipient has marked you as spam (in which case, they probably wouldn’t want to hear from you anyway).
- Your email will stick around. Sure, your readers will get new emails every day, and yours won’t be on the top of the pile forever, but the turnover rate in email usually happens much more slowly than it would on social media. Even in a very busy inbox, your message is unlikely to crawl out of view before it has been seen. If your subscriber doesn’t actually open a particular newsletter or email, at least they will see your subject line and your name. This means you have reminded your audience that you exist—already a huge win in marketing yourself as an author.
- You can get really creative in email. You are not limited by anyone else’s format, and with the modern tools available, it’s easy to create stunning results. Your newsletter could be full of graphics, images, gifs, and even videos, all at the same time. You could use customized fonts and an assortment of colours, and you aren’t confined to any particular length. This is the freedom of emails: you can make your content as big, bold, bright, and beautiful as you want, so have fun with it—your audience will appreciate your personality. This is an unmatched opportunity to display your brand in a way that can’t be matched by a tweet or post on Facebook.
- You control the relationship. On social media, you are at the mercy of trends. You might have spent two years developing a strong following on Facebook, but when Twitter came out you found yourself back at the starting line, building from scratch again. It’s not always easy to transfer your followers over from one network to another. In addition, if you rebrand and create new social media accounts, you lose all of your followers. But email lists are portable—they can be exported and moved around, so if you change companies, rebrand, or move to a new email management service, you can take your hard-earned audience with you.
As you can see, an author website and mailing list offer key advantages. You have control over how you present yourself to your audience, and you’re much more likely to get your message to them. These two components are such an important part of your online author platform, they could actually be considered its most valuable assets.
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