Building Blocs posts are designed to help you navigate the trickier elements of writing business and craft. In today's post, digital strategist and Bloc Features editor Anna Spargo-Ryan helps demystify author platforms.
Image source : Flickr Creative Commons / karen_roe
I started my author platform by accident. I’m a social media strategist, and actually, I thought I should have a social media strategist platform. After all, how could I market myself as someone who knew how to use social media if I wasn’t demonstrating my vast ability in my own time?
The thing that differentiates an author platform from a chef platform or even a social media strategist platform is that writing is our core function. And social media is writing. We can use this medium to communicate in an engaging, thoughtful, creative and articulate way.
I postulate that building an author platform is less about tweeting four times a day or boosting Facebook posts, and much much more about demonstrating aptitude as a writer, and a genuine interest in the people with whom you engage.
First, think about your motivation. Good reason to use social media: to get to know like-minded people over time. Bad reason to use social media: to post “Buy my book on Amazon!” once an hour. If we’ve learned anything from Australian politics this fortnight, it’s that standing on a box and shouting “you like me!” does not a valuable contributor make.
Try this instead.
Know where you want to be
‘Be on all the social media platforms!’ is a terrible strategy. You don’t have time to do that without sucking. No offense. What you need to do before anything else is identify which social media network is most applicable to you. If you’re super keen, choose a second one.
Facebook’s biggest challenge is that the people you can target are usually people you already know. You create a page, invite your friends, and then stagnate for a while. For an author, Facebook needs a secondary platform – something long form like a blog or a magazine column. It’s hard to demonstrate your nous as a writer on Facebook, and it’s even harder to generate organic reach. Anecdotally, you’re less likely to be “discovered” on Facebook simply because it’s insular.
Twitter lends itself to writing. Communicating in fewer than 140 characters is a great way to force yourself to think differently. And it’s the most like sitting on a couch with your mates.
The publishing industry has a large representation on Twitter. It’s great for learning about writing, about pitching to agents or publishers, and about the industry in general. It’s great for finding other writers for celebration/commiseration. Agents and publishers host regular Twitter chats (check out #litchat and #askanagent), and some run pitch opportunities exclusively on Twitter. The #amwriting hashtag (where writers congregate) is one of the most active on the platform.
Other channels – Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, YouTube – can be good complements to an author platform. Use them to strengthen your personal brand, push traffic to your content, and get to know your audience.
Blogging (and other long form writing) is an obvious tie-in to an author platform. Let’s talk about that.
Demonstrate what you have to contribute
The greatest advocate for your writing is your writing. You can tell people you’re a great writer as much as you like, but social media users are people who gather all the information before making a decision.
‘Exposure’ is, rightly, an ugly word. Lining other people’s pockets for free is terrible. But having a showcase of your writing – whether a clippings folio or a regular blog post – is the easiest way to show ‘em what you’re made of. My blog became a great springboard for other writing. I met my agent after she read a blog post of mine and sent me an email. Some of my favourite publications have republished things that originally appeared on my blog.
Of course, you can absolutely have an author platform without giving away your writing. Is your experience useful to others? Have you learned things along the way that might help other writers? Do you have insider gossip? Are you an established writer who can impart wisdom? Are you a curator, sharing content written by others in one convenient place?
Know what you have to offer, and offer it. If you want people to think of you as a writer, declare yourself a writer. On Twitter, I’m a writer. It’s not my primary source of income, but it’s how I want to be perceived. Anna Spargo-Ryan, beautiful writer. Not Anna Spargo-Ryan, surly web developer.
Everything you do in social media becomes part of your writer brand. Put your best foot forward.
Social media is not a sales channel
Hallelujah, you have a book! It’s got a cover and everything! Now all you have to do is sell it, right?
The first thing to know is: it’s incredibly difficult to drive sales from social media. For the most part, that’s not how people use it or why they’re there. And secondly, it’s very difficult to measure conversions. It’s just not set up that way.
But the most important part is that it’s boring. I don’t want to slag anyone off, but authors are the worst for this. Absolutely use your platform to promote your new book, but that must be secondary to engaging with your audience. Hounding them is not an effective sales tactic. If a door-to-door salesman did that, you’d call the police.
If you’ve built your audience organically – through genuine conversation, adding value and being a Pretty Good Person – you’ll find a customer base. Post about your product occasionally. Intersperse it with value. Explore other ways of promoting: blog tours, Twitter chats, writers’ festivals. Don’t slam the people who have engaged with you in good faith, or you’ll alienate them.
When I was a plucky teen starting out in the world, my mum said to me: “Forge strong relationships now with the people you want to stand next to at the top.” The people you engage with on social media as an emerging writer are the people who will stand next to you while you collect your Miles Franklin Award.
Your writer friends are trying to achieve the same things you are. You’re a team. I don’t want to get all Buddhist on you, but think of it as writer karma. Put out what you hope to get back. Promote other people’s work. Buy their books. Share their content. Include them in link-ups. Cultivate a sharing, caring social media community and it will lift you up.
Knowing what you want to achieve is less important than a sincere effort
My own platform is lots of Twitter, a little Facebook and occasional blogging. The fact is, I wouldn’t have a book deal without social media.
Through Twitter, I met my very wonderful writing mentor and my first agent. I was compelled to finish my first book because an editor expressed interest in it via Twitter. (Not because I hounded her until she noticed me, but because I actually like having conversations with her. I know. What a revelation.) I’ve been able to grow a database of would-be customers through blogging and sharing.
Generally, in my social media strategist role, I tell organisations to use social media in a deliberate way. Know what you’re doing. Start out as you intend to go on. Have a clear plan.
But I don’t feel that way about author platforms. To authors I say: don’t be an asshole, care about one another, write good words. If you can be an engaged person who produces good quality work and participates in the writer community, you’re adding value. Your writing will get out there. People will care about what you have to say. People will notice your contribution.
And as an added bonus, you might actually enjoy their company.
Anna Spargo-Ryan is a digital strategist and writer, based in Melbourne. You can find her on her author platform at @annaspargoryan.
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Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.