The Importance of Building Your Platform

Last Friday, I spoke at the Music City Media Mixer, a luncheon sponsored by George Uribe and Ebie McFarland. I spoke on the topic of “The Importance of Building an Author Platform.” While my talk focused primarily on authors, the principles I shared apply to anyone trying to sell anything in today’s environment.

hands waving at a music concert

Building an author platform has never been more important. This is because of three realities author’s face today:

  • More books are being published than ever before. More than 408,000 new books were published in the U.S. in 2007. That number grew 38% to 561,000 new titles in 2008.
  • Meanwhile, retail shelf space remained relatively constant. The small growth in chain stores was offset by the number of independent booksellers going out of business.
  • Worse, other forms of media compete for the public’s attention. Whether you are a clerk in a store or president of a corporation, you only have 24 hours in a day. Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of your attention.

So how do you break through the clutter and get your message out? I would suggest four ways:

  1. Write a truly remarkable book. I often get asked by bloggers how to increase their traffic. I usually reply, “Start by writing something that people want to read and will recommend to their friends.” This is true of books, too.
  2. Take responsibility for your own success. Publishers are not in business to make you famous. They have a lot on their plate, too. Most don’t have the resources to build your platform from scratch. They expect to get a head start when they sign you.
  3. Don’t rely on traditional, interruption-based marketing. You know the kind of talking about—where someone thinks that if they shout loudly or frequently enough, they can coerce you into buying their product. In our over-connected, media-rich world, this has never been less effective.
  4. Build a tribe of your own. Tribes are no longer about geography, ethnicity, or a common culture. According to Seth Godin in his landmark book, Tribes, they are about people with a shared passion. All they lack is leadership and a means of communication. This communication must occur on four levels:
    • Tribe leader to tribe member;
    • Tribe member to tribe leader;
    • Tribe member to tribe member; and
    • Tribe member to outsider.

    If you build a tribe in the manner Seth suggests, you gain access to the most precious resource on the planet: other people’s attention. While this process is not easy, it is easier than ever before. With the right leadership and use of social media tools, virtually anyone can build a platform today.

Imagine what this could mean to you as an author. If you can bring to the table, not only great content, but an established platform, you will have agents and publishers lined up to sign you.

Question: What are you doing to build your platform?
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  • http://www.biblegeekgonewild.com Shaun Tabatt

    Michael,
    Thanks for sharing this advice. I've been meaning to check out "Tribes" & will add it to my must read book list. As far as social media goes, I've been utilizing my web site / blog & twitter to build my platform, but have tended to shy away from facebook, myspace, etc. Which social networking sites / tools would you consider essential for today's up and coming authors?

    Shaun Tabatt
    Bible Geek Gone Wild

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  • http://www.facebook.com/joyce.dierschke Joyce Dierschke

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for this great post. I work with a small publisher here in Nashville and sent this over to them to share with their authors. This will help them understand how to promote themselves and their books.

  • http://www.leapbuilder.com Rick Smith

    Excellent point. I am an author with my second book, The Leap, being released in September. My first book came out in 2003, and it is amazing how the landscape has changed for authors. Back then, it was all about "the event" of a book release. Now, the platform is what matters, and that is ongoing. The book launch is just one piece of a campaign that never ends.

    The benefit of this is that if you can do it well, you dont need to rely on the hit or miss of a particular book being successful. But the downside is that it takes dramatically more time and resources to succeed. We had a simple PR campaign back then. For this book, i had to start blogging (Michael, used your web guy – he was great), build an assessment tool (4 years and more than $50k+), and significant book site. I have also invested heavily in creating a speaker reel and other assets for the speaking world. it is all dramatically more complicated, taking nearly all of my time in 2009 (after the book was already written), and more than $100k beyond the amount of the advance.

    And none of it is guaranteed to work!

    I am fortunate, having sold my previous company (http://www.w50.com), giving me extra dough and no need to work full time. But who knows where this new world is taking us. And who will be able to hang on.

    Rick Smith

    For anyone interested:
    Blog: http://www.ricksmith.me
    Book: http://www.leapbuilder.com
    Assessment: http://www.primarycolorassessment.com

    Ps, Michael, happy to send a galley (not for PR purposes). been following you for awhile, and really think you would dig it.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ScottWilliams ScottWilliams

    This is so true and when someone like Michael Hyatt or Seth Godin says it, "It's Golden" if someone else were to say it, it would simply be "Cocky!" Thanks for saying it… and saying it well!

    I agree that Seth nailed it with Tribes.

  • http://rainbows.typepad.com Thomas Lee

    Question: If a first-time author is citing his/her blog following as evidence of a platform, what is a reasonable range of daily visitors that would do the trick? Thanks so much; your blog is terrific.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I don't know if there is a magic number. You have to factor in the session times (how long a user stays on your site) and the page views. However, I would initially shoot for getting 700-1,000 readers a day.

      I think an even better metric is the number of unique visitors per month. That will show you the size of your audience. Google Analytics, which is free, is an important tool.

      • http://rainbows.typepad.com Thomas Lee

        Thank you. This is terrific information.

  • Angie

    We're all about tribe-ing in the deep south. Great post — thanks for tweeting it. (I can't believe I even know what that means now.)

  • http://www.laurindaonleadership.com Laurinda

    Great post! I read some of your previous posts on this topic, read Seth's book "Tribes" and began this social media journey about 4 months ago. I just launched a blog on July 13th. I started on Twitter April 29th and Facebook last month. I'm still overwhelmed by it all. I can't wait to find a good rhythm with everything, because I still have my day job.

    In one of your posts, I believe you said that once a site gets 1000 independent hits per day that would be worthy of publisher or agent's time. What exactly is an independent hit? Is it versus something else?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      1,000 "unique visitors" is the correct language. This means 1,000 separate unique visitors, as opposed to 500 people who each visit twice. As I said in my comment above, I think Google Analytics is a terrific tool in this regard. It will measure this—and many, many other things—for free.

    • barbl

      I believe an independent hit would be the equivalent to new hits, in other words new people visiting your site instead of your usual followers.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/christinakatz christinakatz

    Thanks, Michael. This echoes a lot of the advice in my book, "Get Known Before the Book Deal," from Writer's Digest. I think you set a good example of work/social networking balance that any author should study to see how to juggle real life and online life. The everyday habits are so important. Thanks for your thoughtfulness.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      That sounds like a great book. I will have to order a copy today. Thanks.

  • http://www.forrestlongart.com Forrest long

    We are in a different world today and platform is vital. I'm working at building one for my next book. Never saw the importance of it for the first one and sales give evidence of that. Live and learn. Thanks for the good advice!

  • http://typetribe.com Jamey Stegmaier

    The confluence of the idea of tribes and publishing is something I've been particularly interested in recently. I'm currently developing a website called TypeTribe that merges the two. It provides writers a way to create customizable critique groups for their work. In theory, this should help writers improve their work, particularly in specific areas that they mention to their readers, but it also provides writers a way to start building a vast fanbase of strangers before their book is even published. Blogging and using other social networking help, but the TypeTribe model guarantees that hundreds of people–people who otherwise may have never heard of the author–feel invested in that author's work early in the process and are therefore much more likely to look for it on the bookshelves when it comes out (and tell their friends about the experience).

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Indie_Business Indie_Business

    I love this post for its truth and succinctness. It makes an otherwise mysterious part of the process easier to embrace. My tribe is the Indie Beauty Network, a trade organization. It's the hardest thing I've ever created, but the connection to people worldwide who love natural personal care products as I do has enhanced my life tremendously. Whether or not you want to write a book, forming some type of organizational structure around your passion is fun and gives rise to countless opportunities to expand your horizons!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    Oh bother.

    I thought 'building a platform' was about constructing a wooden stage to stand on.

    So you're telling me all those hours of hard work in my back yard were for nothing?

    Great! How am I going to explain THAT to my wife?.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    That made me smile.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    Thanks – and you're welcome.

    :D

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/DGShrock DGShrock

    The Bowker data shows traditional books down last year competing for same shelf space in traditional shelves but the big increase in short-run and e-books means more overall competition. Interesting time for the publishing industry, perhaps more important than ever to build a platform. Thanks for sharing the tips.

  • http://www.godmessedmeup.blogspot.com Pam Hogeweide

    my platform is i have no platform.
    most people most of the time for most of their lives have no platform, but maybe a soapbox in the barn where a few friends gather to hear a story or two.

    i have a great soapbox.

    but nope. no platform. my little soapbox blog attracts 55 unique visitors a day. My readership adores me. Sometimes the barn gets a bit more crowded when I tell a really good story. And sometimes I get invited to other barns to share other people's soapboxes.

    I wonder if me and my friends put our soapboxes together if that would build a platform? In my tribe, collaborative creativity is the sweet spot.

    I love how you have such a public platform and interact with your readership. This is the day and age of digital tribes being born as the internet is one great big barn with one great big platform for anybody. I LOVE IT!

  • http://carryingdaily.blogspot.com Martin Richardson

    Tribe building right now for me relies on online social networking and my actual neighborhood community. I saw "Tribes" in the store though and will probably be picking up soon and learning, learning, learning. I pretty much plan on learning something everyday and trying to write as frequently as possible to improve on it. I never really thought of building a platform, I just want people to be interested in and impacted by my writing. Thanks for teaching me all these things I had no clue about. I really appreciate your posts!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

    With so many voices in the world, I think patience is vital in building a platform, especially one that endures. Right now, I am learning to work the social media. For example, I've started using appropriate Twitter trending topics to link to my blog. I've also come to the realization that I may never have a book published, but that what I have to share can flourish online if I give it time. I love the fact that I don't have to have someone else's approval to write content that becomes available to an unlimited audience the minute I post it. Yeah, I won't necessarily gain fame and fortune, but I can honestly say I don't care. And, Michael, your blog has helped me so much–I would not be where I am today without what you have written here. Thanks!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/juliepb juliepb

    Tribe building: I'm on that like paint on a house. I read Tribes after completing a recent proposal and I laughed and jotted down "!!'s" in margin after margin, page after page. For those of us as writers who were tribal driven with a strong bent toward social media activism before either became popular culture catchphrases your insights only underscore the rightness of our peculiar bent. Thanks!

    Julie Barnhill

  • http://christophermingryan.typepad.com/thewaywewatch Christopher Ryan

    Michael:

    Thanks for putting out this content. I know how time consuming it is and please know it is appreciated.

    I agree with you that this is great advice for someone who wants to get their story out.

    I'm wondering what your point of view is on how publishers can use social media to help the process of selling books and supporting writers.

    You write, "Publishers are not in business to make you famous. They have a lot on their plate, too. "

    But much of the effort that comes out of publishing on the marketing side is interruption based marketing. Huge amounts of time and energy are spent with traditional advertising, building silo like web sites, and pitching for placements.

    Yes authors have to write remarkable content. That is a given. But the social media side is something that you are expecting artists and authors to build in their spare time in addition to their art.

    Do you envision a time when you would expect that editors and marketers (from ceo down the line) also start tribe building to meet authors halfway?

    Do you think that there will be a time when editors and marketers who deal with a particular genre or writer would start tribe building in their spare time – in support of books that are published?

    Thanks for your time and efforts!

    @chrismingryan

  • http://www.nicolewick.com Nicole Wick

    Michael, This is a fantastic article. Thank you for putting such succinct, useful content on your blog.

    As for my platform, I am an avid user of twitter (I think we've exchanged a tweet or two) and facebook. In addition to social media I am also a blogger. Several times per week I post my original content and try to keep it as fresh as possible. I have also made an effort to expand my platform by including book reviews that include an author interview. I only select books I'm interested in reading from authors whose audience I believe would enjoy my work. These author features then draw new readers from that author's platform to my site.

    Finally, I also blog for two other sites in order to attract readers and build a tribe. The two blogs that I blog for (twice per week) are very, very well known and highly trafficked. Their readers have the shared passion that Seth writes about and are perfect fits for my growing platform. If anyone is interested in what blogs I'm referring to you can tweet me.

    Hope that helps someone!
    @nicolewick

  • http://www.likeawarmcupofcoffee.blogspot.com sarah mae

    Well, I have the platform…now I just need an agent…

    Oh, and well, a written book, not just the one in my head!

    @sarahmaeblogs

  • Kevin Otter Scott

    I'm really questioning the effectiveness of Twitter for marketing. Yes, you can get 1,000 followers but do they read your tweets? If they do, will they act on your request = ultimately buy your book. I have 250+ followers (roughly half are good targets, the other half found me) and last week I had only three direct responses to about a dozen specific questions. Twitter is a venue for people to talk, not listen. I hope I'm wrong but that's my experience so far.

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  • http://twitter.com/BenjaminNeeley @BenjaminNeeley

    I googled, "how to build a platform," and only found carpentry instructions. This post was very helpful considering I have been wasting time building a deck. Live and learn. :)

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  • barbl

    Thanks for the blog posts on this topic. You gave me a little push in the right direction. You see, I'd started a blog sharing all my research on the topic of my book and I have a growing following but I had neglected to also work on a blog for the genre of my book and that's middle grade children. After reading your posts I realized I needed to work on that area and so I've got that going now too. Thanks for helping me see my oversight!

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