“Build a platform!” is the cry of agents and publishers who sign new authors. However, most authors have no idea what that even means? So let’s start by defining what an author platform is in the simplest terms possible. An author platform is a method in which you reach your target audience. Your platform could include things like; social media, blogging, and even speaking engagements. It’s often believed by the publishing industry that the bigger the platform the better the odds a book will sell well. So how do you grow your platform? Most authors use things like advertising, word of mouth, and interviews to attract their audience. But today, we’re going to focus on content marketing because it’s free, and long-term when it comes to effectiveness.
Content marketing is defined as a form of marketing focused on creating, publishing, and distributing content for a targeted audience online. It’s content that is designed to attract an audience to a product, in this case, your book. Content marketing takes many forms and today we’re gonna go over just some of the various types of content marketing that authors use the most to spark interest in their books. I’m going to use examples of real authors who are successfully using content marketing to sell books and other products. So let’s get started with our list…
Blogging is the third most popular form of content marketing according to HubSpot. However, it’s not for everyone, blogging is considered the best method for nonfiction authors. It makes sense because most people read blogs to get information and not to be entertained. This data was confirmed on the: Six Figure Author Podcast, where the hosts discussed what book marketing techniques worked for them. The hosts, by the way, were all fiction authors and at one point blogged but never found it helpful when selling their fiction books.
Some examples of successful non-fiction writers with blogs include:
- Joanna Penn
- David Gaughran
- Seth Godin
- Ramit Sethi
#2: Email Marketing
Both fiction and nonfiction authors will tell you that their newsletter is worth its weight in gold, with some statistics putting newsletter open rates at 20%. Nonetheless, authors still struggle to figure out what to put in a newsletter. My advice has always been to sign up for a few email lists and see how popular authors engage with their readers.
For example, when readers sign up for romance author, Bella Andre’s newsletter in the first welcome email (autoresponder) she thanks readers for their support saying:
First and foremost, I want to thank you for reading my books! I’m beyond grateful that I get to dream up and write romantic stories every day—and it’s all because of you.”
If I were one of her readers, I would’ve converted to fan status after that interaction. I mean who doesn’t like heartfelt appreciation?
Some authors have replaced social media marketing with email marketing because it’s not as time-consuming and as direct. Also, the censorship and algorithm restrictions are another reason authors cite for the switch.
The best newsletters that I’ve seen belong to:
- James Patterson
- Austin Kleon
- James Clear
- Mark Dawson
- Bella Andre
#3: Social Media
Social media is either loved or loathed by authors, there rarely is any in-between. Today, book publishing isn’t so much about literary talent as it is about selling products. Don’t believe me? Just go to any social media website and you’ll find bestselling authors like; Nora Roberts, J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, or Stephen King holding court. These guys are mega bestsellers and I’m pretty sure they have better things to do than hang out on social media but that’s what’s expected of authors these days. Publishers and agents want to see a large and active following because they believe it will help sell books. Although this has been disproven, they still want you to look successful because if it makes them look successful.
If you’re still at a loss at how to approach social media, I have a post called: Social Media Marketing For Authors with more tips and examples of good social media accounts ran by authors.
You can find a podcast on pretty much any topic these days like personal finance, true crime, and even fiction podcasts A.K.A. audio dramas. Audio dramas are podcasts that feature dramatic readings, musicals, or even a cast of voice actors who read scripts (based on books) on the air. Podcasting requires a little bit of equipment like a good microphone as well as audio editing software but it is doable. Here is a list of the most popular writer owned podcasts:
- The Creative Penn Podcast: Joanna Penn
- Sell More Books Show: Bryan Cohen & H. Claire Taylor
- The Bright Sessions (Fantasy/ Sci-Fi)
- Holy Sh!t (Comedy Drama)
Some podcasts have gone on to become episodic television shows like Homecoming, which was snatched up by Amazon Studios. So if you like to talk or can afford to pay someone to do it for you, then podcasting may be up your alley.
Today, video is considered the most effective form of content and if you think about it, video is easy to consume and can be used everywhere from social media, blogs, newsletters, and even ads. Again, as with blogging, video doesn’t seem to work well for fiction authors. Several years ago, book trailers became a trend with indie authors but nobody saw any significant ROI so that trend quickly died out.
Authors who have success with video usually do it to teach or discuss topics that are in relation to their niche. You’ll need a good camera, microphone, and video editing software if you want this to work. Below I’ll list just a few authors who produce pretty good video content:
- John Green
- H.M. Ward
- Meg Latorri
- James Blatch & Mark Dawson
#6: Guest Posting
Guest posting is a method of content marketing where writers write articles, or blog posts and get them published on major websites/blogs. You can also use this technique with magazines and newspapers however, you have to plan well in advance. Guest posting is ideal for nonfiction writers who use the byline of an article to promote their book. Getting your work in front of a bigger audience is how most gurus and experts become known in their niche. Also, guest posting is an ideal way to create SEO for your website or book. You can find websites that accept submissions on my post: Where to Find Interview Opportunities.
And here’s another source: Freelance Writing’s 775 Magazine Guidelines
#7: Short Stories
Short stories were the way authors got noticed during the pre-internet days. It was a way to beef up your portfolio before approaching an agent or publisher. You could legitimately call yourself a published writer and the industry loves that. It showed you were professional and more importantly, it showed you could sell your work which is important in this business. Even though many print magazines went under during the digital revolution, many still survive online.
- Reedsy: Where To Submit Short Stories
- Freedom With Writing: 19 Short Story Publishers That Pay 500 Per Story
- The Writing Cooperative: 128 Active Publications That Pay For Short Stories
Ebooks are often used by business owners, celebrities, and politicians to make themselves appear as thought leaders in their industry or niche. Ebooks are often used as a loss leader by authors who offer a free ebook in exchange for something like an email or phone number. This is the most effective way to grow an email or SMS list. Now keep in mind, this ebook doesn’t have to be long but it does need to hook the reader.
According to marketing expert Seth Godin: “The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.” He’s not wrong, it does take a long time to build a reputation as an author. And I won’t lie, content marketing isn’t the easiest form of marketing but if you’re planning on a long-term career as an author then content marketing needs to be a part of your greater strategy. There are no short-cuts to building a strong, author platform but once it’s built, you can launch your books without the fear there won’t be an audience to receive your message.
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