SFWC 2018: Building a Bestselling Author Platform
I mentioned in a previous post that I had the opportunity for a brief one-on-one with Rusty Shelton. (He’s a former Longhorn like me.) After that meeting, I also attended his talk on building an author platform.
Many fiction authors will say they don’t need a platform, that platform is for nonfiction. It’s true that nonfiction authors must prove themselves differently than fiction authors, but everyone needs some kind of platform. In short, we all need an audience/readership.
According to Rusty, there are three chief pieces of real estate in the media world: rented, earned, and owned.
Rented Media includes anything you buy an audience for. That is, when you pay for an ad, you’re paying for access to someone else’s audience. You control the content—what people see and hear about you and your book—but someone else holds the audience. Even if you aren’t paying outright, Twitter followers and Facebook page Likes aren’t actually yours. That real estate—those sites—belong to someone else. Those readers aren’t yours, but you’re hoping that you can sell to them and make them yours.
Earned Media is the world of PR. This is where you get book reviews and do interviews. You’re not paying for it (usually), but you’re exploiting that opportunity. In this case, however, you don’t control the content. You don’t get to say how the interview or review is written up. And the real estate still isn’t yours; it belongs to the newspaper or blog or reviews site where it’s posted.
Owned Media is the goal. This is your site, your home turf. You control the content, and the audience is yours. They’re coming to you, not through some other outlet.
So what you want is for the rented and earned media to drive the audience to your site and mailing list. You want to convert them.
Rusty explained it by using a stadium as an example. (Texas Memorial Stadium, in fact.) Imagine a stadium divided in half. One one side sits the VIPs. On the other side are people just here to see the game. Maybe they’re not big sports fans yet. And then there are people milling around outside the stadium not even sure they want to go in.
VIPs = your established customers
Spectators = those who are checking you out but haven’t committed yet
Loiterers = people who don’t even know you exist
The big problem with many authors is that they want to take people from outside the stadium and immediately stick them in the VIP section. And that’s a hard sell. In fact, you shouldn’t be trying to sell these people anything. Instead, give them a free ticket and encourage them to just step inside and check things out.
That’s right, give them something—a reason to stay, and a reason to come back.
You need to make readers aware of you and your product. And then you need to convert that awareness not immediately to a sale but simply to attention. Get their attention and hold it. Else they’ll wander into the stadium, look around and think there’s nothing for them there, and wander back out again.
Think about your website. If someone were to stumble across it, or even deliberately click the link from somewhere, what first impression does it give? Do you immediately get a sense of the brand? You are a brand. And in the absence of meeting you personally, your site stands for YOU.
If you’ve won awards, showcase that on your site. You have mere seconds to capture and keep someone’s attention, so be sure your site does that. Differentiate yourself from everything else out there. And update consistently. But don’t make your content all about you and what you think. Deliver other content, maybe from daily headlines that pertain to your work. Rusty called this “newsjacking.” However, don’t be unprofessional or too controversial because that will turn your readers off.
Another idea is to interview others. Not just writers but, again, experts that are tangential to your work. Maybe a local undertaker if you’re writing a book that features a mortician. Yes, you’re a writer and you want to stay in your hole. But you’re also a brand, and that means you’ll have to go out there and show your face once in a while.
If you don’t want to do interviews, offer others guest post spots. Again, not just other writers, but professionals in various fields that relate to what you’re writing about.
And as so many others pointed out over the course of the conference: if at all possible, own your name as your website.
I hope this gave you a new way of thinking about how to reach readers and build a fan base. I definitely got a lot out of it! If you have anything to add, feel free to speak up in the comments!