Monday 1 February 2016

Starting with Platform

by Jeanette O'Hagan

In a spirit of cooperation between Christian Writers Downunder and Australasian Christian Writers will be doing a series of cross-posts (posted on both blogs) on the first Monday of each month during 2015 and beyond.  The posts will be teasing out different aspects of marketing and promotion, looking at author platforms, social media, blogging, launches, and other ways to bring a book to the attention of our readers.

Why Marketing?

For many, marketing is a dirty word. After all, didn’t Paul say the love money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6:10)? Shouldn’t we leave it up to God to decide who our audience will be? Isn’t it selfish and prideful to want a large audience? Isn’t it enough that our writing touches the hearts of a few individuals, especially if we see our writing as ministry? (Of course, writing may be our career rather than as a calling (or as both). Christians in business, trade or professions have no problem with advertising their services).

As more and more books are published, it is hard to be noticed in the ocean of offerings. I agree that the size of our audience isn’t the most important thing. While Peter had the opportunity to preach to thousands, the Israelite slave girl, as far as we know, had an audience of two (Naaman and his wife). Yet God used her courage and willingness to speak.

So why marketing? Trusting God with the success and impact of our writing doesn’t exclude promoting our work. To use another Biblical reference, let’s not bury our ‘talent’ out of fear (Matthew 25). In today’s world, writing the book and getting it to publishable standard is only part (though a vital part) of what it means to be a writer. Whether a book is traditionally published or indie published, you will be need to be involved in promotion of your book. If the readers who would be moved by your book don’t know about it, how can they read it? To paraphrase Paul again, ‘How can they know if they do not hear?’ (cf Rom 10:14)

Most publishers, agents and pundits suggest that the sooner you begin building connections with people who would be interested in what you write (your platform) the better. And that this is a ongoing process that should start months or years before your book is first launched.

What is an author’s platform?

A platform is the sum total of the connections you have, your social imprint and reputation. A platform makes you visible to your future readers. This could consist of:
  • Family, friends, colleagues, etc
  • Special interest groups you are involved in that are connected to your topic or genre (e.g. clubs, societies etc)
  • Public profile – as a speaker or on mass media or because of your position or credentials (politician, elite sportsperson, celebrity etc).
  • Being considered an expert in a field (through media or blogging or youtube etc).

 If you write non-fiction, blogging on your subject area, being a media expert or being a prominent speaker all help build a platform.

However, having a platform is also important for fiction writers, thought the nature of the platform is different.

How can you connect with readers (especially if you’re not published yet)?

Think about who you are (primarily) writing for - children, teens or adults; men or women, as well as your genre or area of interest? Consider ways of connecting with these future readers and ways you can make yourself visible/findable.
  • Think about your (pen)name – is it unique or common. Have an intriguing tagline or identifiable look.
  • Consider having a website as a home base
  • Maybe you could write short stories, poems or reviews, and share them with your audience – on your blog, on social media or in magazines and journals. Enter competitions.
  • Blog or write on areas of interest to you and your audience that are connected to your books – on your own blog, guest blogs, or media.
  • Interact and support other writers, go to conferences and workshops
  • Be active on at least one or two forms of social media – eg Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, Youtube etc
  • Start building an Email subscription list
  • Join groups – writers groups but also groups that connect to your books and future readers.
  • Pray for guidance about connections or the best use of your time.

Traps to avoid

  • Don’t be in a rush, building a genuine platform takes time. Quality is better than quantity.
  • Don’t be a pest, don’t make about you all the time. Many pundits suggest limiting direct promotion to 10% of your output (though there maybe be an increase around certain events – like book launches)
  • Give your followers something of interest and value to them and encourage interaction
  • Be honest and genuine – but avoid venting or bashing - and think carefully about you and your family’s privacy (you don’t need to reveal everything)
  • Don’t try to do everything or you will be overwhelmed. Maybe take up one new avenue (e.g. website or Facebook) at a time and make sure you feel comfortable before moving on to the next one.
  • Find what works best for you – not everything is going to be a good fit. It’s better to enjoy your involvement and make genuine connections with people.
  • Don't just take, support other writers
  • Don't be inpatient or discouraged, remember, it takes time.

What things have worked for you in building an audience or platform? What things didn’t work so well? If the idea of having a platform is new to you, do you have any questions you would loved answered?

Here are some links if you want to learn a bit more about platforms:

Jane Friedman ‘A Definition of Author Platform’
Dan Blank ‘The Dirty Secret of Author Platform’
Joel Friedlander ‘Author Platform: What are you waiting for?’

In March 7, Iola Goulton will be talking to about author websites. Hoping you enjoy and join in the discussion.

This post was also published on Christian Writers Downunder 1 February 2016

Images: copyright Jeanette O'Hagan 2016

 Jeanette O’Hagan enjoys writing fiction, poetry, blogging and editing. She is writing her Akrad’s Legacy Series—a Young Adult secondary world fantasy fiction with adventure, courtly intrigue and romantic elements. Her short stories and poems are published in a number of anthologies including Glimpses of LightAnother Time Another Place and Like a Girl.
Jeanette has practised medicine, studied communication, history, theology and, more recently, a Master’s in writing. She loves reading, painting, travel, catching up for coffee with friends, pondering the meaning of life and communicating God’s great love. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and children.

You can find her at her Facebook Page or at Goodreads or on Amazon or on her websites or Jeanette O'Hagan Writes .


  1. Excellent post, Jeanette, and idea in cross-pollinating with CWD. This is an area of struggle for me. I still feel like I'm pushing a message onto others which I grapple with. I realise I shouldn't but separating myself from my product is something I've always found hard. Even at work I'm not one to push my own barrow rather allowing myself to be discovered.

    I've also struggled with the idea of content for readers/followers. At the end of the day I'm most interested in the stories of fiction authors. I'm not too fascinated by what else they do except those ones in which I've developed friendships. I like the quarterly newsletter idea that provides an update and some useful tidbits on whatever the author is working on/doing.

    As a reader and an author observer I've thoroughly enjoyed being in an FB group for a couple of authors. These are now quite long standing (3-5 years) and in that time we as a group have developed quite a bond, not just for/with the author, but with each other. It's actually become very special for many of us.

    Once again, great idea and I look forward to reading the future posts.

    1. Hi Ian. I know what you mean. As I was growing up, it was considered very bad form 'to blow your own trumpet.' The theory went that if you just did the right thing other people would notice your worth. I don't think it works that way anymore in today's society.

      I think the balance is between presenting yourself and your work to future readers without being pushy and annoying. But, as you note, one of the good things about it is building community. It also helps when we authors are willing to get involved and support each other.

      I'm sure this is going to be a great series and am looking forward to Iola's post next month.

    2. Hi Ian, I think it's hard to find the balance that Jeanette has mentioned. The responsibility is on us to promote our books, but there are so many different ways to do it. I've found it can be insightful to study other authors and see how they market and promote their books.

      When I come across an author on Facebook who's irritating me with yet another 'buy my book' post, I now take the time to investigate why I'm feeling irritated. I look at their Facebook profile, author page, groups we have in common, and other social media platforms where we're connected to see if I can discern why I'm annoyed. I've discovered that they've usually broken the 90/10 rule, and the different versions of their 'buy my book' posts are outnumbering their other posts and interactions.

      I also study the authors who seem to seamlessly promote their books in a way that encourages and inspires me to like/comment/share/retweet. I try to discern what they're doing that inspires those happy feelings when I see their promo posts. The answers are usually diverse, and often unique to their particular platform and book genre.

  2. Thanks for that Jeanette. Great start to an important and challenging subject, probably the area most of us writers like the least, but recognise as essential. Any tips and encouragement are worthwhile.

    1. Hi Carol.

      A lot of (most?) writers are introverts who prefer to stay out of the limelight - so, yes, this can be challenging. Maybe it helps to take the focus off ourselves, and think of what we can do for the reader.

      Thanks :)

  3. We so appreciate you sharing all those sensible and important tips, Jeanette. Sometimes as authors we get tied up with our writing, rewriting etc. that we forget to keep working on marketing. And as you say, we don't want be be tiresome, but open about our craft.

    1. Thanks Rita. Yes, reminders are always good. Promoting our books can be frustrating, when really what we want to be doing is write the next book :)

  4. Thanks Jeanette. Marketing seems to be my own trending topic for 2016, so appreciate any input. Iola mentioned the 'Write Publish Repeat' course recently and I've found it very helpful so far. Also Karen Tyrrell talked about 'social proof', our platform doesn't always need to be electronic, we need to develop a real presence in the writing community too, that is what helps us to get our true fans. Will look forward to more on the topic here.

    1. Hi Raelene, I'll be interested to hear how the 'Write Publish Repeat' course goes :) I'm a few months left on Year of the Edit but it sounds like a useful course.

      Yes, Karen's insights were worthwhile - and the concept of 'social proof' (which ties in with our credibility and our connections). Good reminder that building our platform isn't just about social media.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. Some interesting food for thought there, Jenny. Thanks for sharing those 'traps to avoid too'. I know I've been put off a bit when someone joins a group but then only uses the group to promote their own books without contributing anything back to the group. I guess one aspect is whether we're building relationships with readers or just giving information to readers. Interesting food for thought.

    1. Hi Nola -

      I think building relationships with readers is what we are aiming for. Giving information is one way to do that - as hopefully, if they find it useful to them, they'll come back for more. Building in interaction is also helpful - so maybe not only sharing a link but asking a question or for an opinion (I do this but probably not as much as I should). Also, having comments activated on blogs etc. or competitions and surveys. There's a lot of creative things we can do - it's sorting out what works for us and what we have time and energy to do.

      I found the idea of the 'the long tail of indie publishing' particularly reassuring. We don't have to get it perfect at the beginning. There is time to experiment and to build those precious relationships and connections with readers over time.

      Thanks for some interesting thoughts.

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    3. Hi Nola, I also notice the authors who turn up in groups when they want something (to sell their book) and aren't reappearing every so often to comment and interact on other discussion topics in the group. I think when you're a group moderator you tend to notice these things. Participating in the groups by giving your expertise, opinions and words of encouragement to help others is how you build relationships and community. We see these writer relationships in action when we all meet up in person at writing conferences and events :)

  6. Some helpful points there Jeanette. Thanks.

  7. Jeanette, excellent post! Thanks for demystifying the whole concept of author platform and sharing your tips on how to build it.

    The author newsletter is the one aspect of your author platform that needs to exist by the time your debut book is on pre-order. Your newsletter is an effective way of communicating with the readers who want to hear about your next book release. A guaranteed way of reaching out to your target audience that is within your control.

    1. Thanks Narelle. I can see the importance of the newsletter though I have to admit, I'm finding it hard to get subscribers. A very slow process. I've got a sign up prominent on my website - but haven't approached people directly. I'd be interested in any tips you have on that one :)

  8. Thanks, Jeanette, for an excellent start to our ACW/CWD series. It's a great platform (!) for me to build on next month.

    1. LOL Thanks Iola and I'm looking forward to your post next month :)


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