Wednesday, June 5, 2013
What is an author platform and how can you get one?
If you are a new author, getting ready to publish or one who has been published already, and you don’t understand why your book doesn’t sell, you probably haven’t heard about author platforms, as was the case with me when I published my first book.
Since there are dozens of articles and posts explaining the definition of author platforms, I’ve decided to share the personal experiences of my publishing journey with you instead. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and launch a very successful writing career.
It was in 2011 when I finished my first novel American Charm. I was so excited about it that I couldn’t wait to see it in print. While my test readers (only family members back then) read it and criticized it, I researched literary agents and my publishing options. I considered the story to be perfect because it came from my heart, and I believed as such it deserved to be on the shelves of bookstores. I decided to find an agent who would represent me at the major publishing houses. I bought guidebooks, did more research online, and finally ended up sending query letters to two prestigious agents in the business. Very soon I had to face the reality that instead of agents fighting each other to get hold of my manuscript, one of them rejected me politely, the other never responded. My pride suffered, but not my enthusiasm.
Next, I did more research and found out about Amazon KDP and Createspace self-publishing. Eager to hold and smell my first freshly printed book, I submitted my novel to an online editing company, paying them big bucks to bring the manuscript into shape, only to find out a year later that they did a sloppy job. I designed the cover, wrote a synopsis, and finally uploaded my book to Amazon but priced it way too high. I didn’t want to be compared to other self-published authors. I thought myself better. Stupid of me. Then I shared the link with my three hundred friends on Facebook, believing that they would promote it for me and the news about my newly published book would spread like wildfire. Oh boy, how wrong I was!
While I wanted the world to stop and for everybody to concentrate on my super-duper amazing story, and download, review and share it, I received a monthly report with only a dozen sales. My husband encouraged me, saying that, considering that I’m Hungarian and English is my second language, the fact that I convinced a dozen people my book was worth their money is pretty incredible. But I wanted more. I just didn’t know how to get it. Soon I became torn between spending my limited time working on a sequel or promoting myself. I started to read articles about successful self-pub authors with great envy, hoping to learn a trick or two, but whatever I tried only boosted sales momentarily.
But I kept going. I reached out to local papers and review companies, and created a little buzz once more. The book started to sell, then the sales died down again. Finally I gave up on self-promotion and concentrated on writing, believing that either my story or my writing style was not good enough. I wanted to get better.
Four months later I published a short novella, and by early next year the second volume of American Charm. I knew I was not going to break the bank with the new releases, but I believed I had to continue the story for those who enjoyed my first book.
However, as time went by I never stopped collecting information about self-publishing successes, so by the time I finished my fourth book, Fields of Elysium, I had a well-detailed marketing plan. Due to the fact that Fields of Elysium is a young-adult romantic fantasy, a different genre from my first series, I decided to change my author name and start afresh. I even un-published my previous novels because they are nowhere near to my new standards, but I’m planning to revise them.
Fields of Elysium was completed, proofread, and edited by a retired English professor, test-read, designed and had a cover and synopsis. I only had to start building my author platform, bring awareness to my book, and create a demand for it. I opened an account on Goodreads and started a two-month-long ARC book giveaway. By the time the novel was published, close to a thousand people marked it ‘to-read.’
I submitted it to professional review companies, like Kirkus Reviews, Readers Favorite, Reader Views Kids, Young Adult and Teen Readers, etc. to gain creditability through their respected opinions. Then I started to send queries to book bloggers and book clubs, humbly asking them to accept a free hardcopy of my book in exchange for an honest review. When I ran out of books (you have to watch your budget), I offered free e-books. Truth be told, hardcopies were more popular than e-books.
In the meantime, I bugged the life out of my already existing Facebook friends and fans with news of my upcoming hot release. Surprisingly I received positive feedback. The number of my fans started to increase, so I began to post giveaways, funny posts, romantic posts, etc., aware that I’m not really good at connecting with fans through social media sites.
With the growing awareness about my book on Goodreads and Facebook, I started to receive five-star reviews from professionals.
The big day came. Fields of Elysium was published. Knowing my former sales numbers, I was very pleased to see the first monthly report. But my job was not nearly done. I reached out to other authors in the same genre; we did author exchange reviews, along with promoting each other’s work and exchanging information.
I’m still new to the business and I learn something everyday, such as how effective book blast and blog tours can be; how important it is to join forces with similar authors and do joint promotions; and even how to price your book right.
I have learned over the past two years that building your author platform takes time and it’s necessary for traditionally published and indie authors equally. Visibility and proven reach (number of fans, comments on your posts, reviews, target-audience posts and interactions, etc.) are what agents and readers look at first before they invest in you. You have to be open to new approaches, reach out and help fellow authors, open Facebook, Twitter, Google+ accounts, set up a Goodreads page to increase your book’s visibility. Create a trailer, join book clubs as a reader not a writer, reach out to bloggers, reading communities, and above all never give up.
I still have a lot to learn, but I never stop browsing the web for new ideas. After every book I published I learned something new, and I do better with each book launch. Today I know that it’s not enough to start building awareness of your book two months in advance, because receiving reviews and organizing book blasts and blog tours take months.
I hope you will learn from my mistakes, and will be patient and won’t rush into publishing your book. If you plan to write a series, I highly recommend finishing the second and third books before you publish the first one. You will still have time to polish them, or rewrite parts between publications, but that’s still less work than trying to write an entire novel in a timely fashion while you spend six-teen hours a day on the computer to promote your first book.
And I leave the most important thing for last. It doesn’t matter how much money or how many hours you spend on building your author platform if your book doesn’t talk to the readers. All successful authors – fiction or non-fiction – have one thing in common: they were all able to strike an emotional chord in the readers; and their books were most likely well edited and proofread as well. It’s not an easy thing to do; otherwise every book would be a bestseller.