Monday, February 25, 2013

Starting Out #6: How to build an author 'platform'

One word you'll hear an awful lot of in publishing circles these days is 'platform'. Authors, whether published or not, need a platform, and the sooner you start constructing one, the better. But what exactly is a platform, and what tools do you need to build one?

One person who's really come to terms with the nuts and bolts of this quandry in the last 12 months is Jenn J McLeod, whose debut novel A House For All Seasons will hit the shelves (physical and cyber) on Friday March 1. I asked her to share her journey with us. 

How I built my author platform
Like Karen Charlton in an earlier Starting Out post, my desire to write did not hit early in life (although my mum is likely to tell you my storytelling was quite prolific from a young age). In 2002, I wrote my first 100,000-word manuscript and received encouraging feedback from a professional editor.

Then life got in the way.

Now, celebrating the release of my novel—House for all Seasons—I wonder how different the experience might have been a decade ago when fiction writers were, for the most part, invisible (just names on book jackets), social media didn’t exist, publishers (and not authors) marketed books, and printed copies sat in real bookstores waiting for customers to walk in and choose from a limited selection.

With the glut of books in the marketplace these days, an author cannot afford to remain invisible. Whether print or e-pubbed, readers and publishers expect more, which is why I’m now a Linkedin, blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking 53 year old. Being ‘connected’ is good, but what helped clinch my publishing deal was having a well-developed author platform, because even though the publisher falls in love with your book, they have to make marketing and sales fall in love with you. So whether you like it or not, as the brand behind the product, you’re expected to do more than write a great novel. 

Of course, you don’t need an author platform, nor do you need to spend hours every day maintaining an online presence, like I do. My non-writing friends think I’m Facebooking for fun! Those same people also think getting published is mostly luck. While luck may have played a hand, I believe ‘luck’ happens when preparedness and opportunity meet—and authors can definitely be better prepared.


Okay, so, you have your submission in—all polished and perfect. It’s a great story. It’s grammatically correct (in an almost freakish way). It’s the right length, the right genre, the right ‘everything’ for the line you’re targeting. But so are the other dozen manuscripts that arrive on the slush pile that day.

What next? Do you:

a) wait to ‘get lucky’?
b) let the Gods (a.k.a. publishers) decided the fate of your manuscript in their own good time?
c) Get busy demonstrating your ability to build book buzz (to increase sales) by having a strong online presence and a brand?

If you picked ‘C’ then you are correct—and the sooner you start, the better. In fact, I established my author platform/brand while still writing my manuscript simply by getting online and getting connected. It’s not hard, but it can be daunting – especially when you aren’t published. I felt like an imposter blogging and tweeting to non-existent fans, but I got over it.

What does an author platform look like and how can you get one?

Some authors come with ready-made platforms. Take, for example, Helene Young, a commercial pilot flying over Australia’s wild places and writing romantic suspense stories with feisty females in planes. Perfect! Your author platform may not be immediately clear. Mine wasn’t. My life verged on ordinary. Who was I? What did I know other than I was writing stories set in small country towns?

I started by brainstorming everything I’d done/achieved/loved in my lifetime, scribbling random words and thoughts on Post It Notes. Those sticky papers littered my office for weeks and each day I’d add, mull, shift, subtract, until I had this:

A city girl by birth, I discovered an affinity with the country in my early twenties while working my way across the heart of Australia, living out of a converted Ford F100 van. I knew about quitting corporate chaos and embracing a second chance at life. And I knew about moving into a small country town and how my tree change was like coming home.

And my brand was born:

Come home to the country ... Discover it. Love it.

Allison asked: “What have you learned? What mistakes have you made?”

I would be a lot more cautious with my intellectual property.

The temptation to tell the world (or Facebook – same thing really) how fabulous your branding strategy is turning out can be a big mistake.

With so many ways to communicate and with so many ‘friends’ it’s never been easier to get cyber cheers for being clever. But be warned! If another writer likes it, they can have your idea/tagline/blurb on their website and be promoting it as part of their brand faster than you can type the word ‘copyright’.  A victim myself, I now monitor my brand by keeping evidence of ownership (printed/dated pages of my website) and setting up a Google Alerts. (I have one set up for ‘Come home to the country’ and my various book titles.) Although not failsafe and accepting that sometimes plagiarism can be unintentional, an alert at least means Google will email me if the phrase/tagline/book title pops up somewhere online.

Allison asked: “Would you do anything different?”

No (apart from wishing publication had come my way a decade ago when I had fewer grey hairs and wrinkles). I’m giving fate rare praise here. I believe the very long and winding road led me to the right door. I’m meant to be with Simon & Schuster and how I know this is because they assigned Belinda Castles as editor on House for all Seasons. (Oh, did I not mention before that the assessor who encouraged me back in 2002 was Vogel Award winner, Belinda Castles?)

So my journey to publication really has come full circle. Yes I was lucky, but when the opportunity arose I was prepared with an author platform and a self-promotion strategy that would enhance my publicist’s efforts. 

For more on Jenn's journey to publication, you can tune into her monthly posts on the Novel Writing in Australia blog, or visit her website.

Are you a writer? What does having a 'platform' mean to you?


  1. Perfect timing for this post, Allison. I kicked off my Monday Meme campaign today. I had such funs with this - as did the policeman I had to coerce!!!!! I'll say no more. Stay tuned on Facebook and Twitter.

  2. Yes, perfect timing for me too! I have the agent, now about that platform! Daunting is the word. I feel like an impostor too, but I have to put that aside now & start building! Thanks for this post, Allison & Jenn.

  3. Yes Jennifer (great name BTW!) be loud and proud of your achievements so far. An agent. Woo hoo you! Will need to be watching out for you. Glad you liked the article. Cheers Jenn J

  4. A great article {yet again}...thank you Jenn and Allison.
    As a fairly 'new' writer into the industry, I'm always looking for advice and know-how. People think writing/being an Author is such an easy, carefree career - so not the case! I'm loving the journey and all of the learning!
    Thanks again, for the information and inspiration.
    Claire :)

  5. Oh yes Claire. I particulalry love that meme that does the rounds on Facebook occasionally--the one that shows the six ways people (like parents, freinds, the public) see a writer's life. Love it. Thanks for commenting. FYI I am also I of many authors doing a year-long blog series on the Writing Novels In Australia blog.
    (contributing authors section)

  6. Hello, I did enjoy this. I started my blog thinking I'd promote the books (all non-fiction) but have fallen in love with blogging instead! I think it must be different when you write fiction, can't imagine blogging could seduce you away at all.

    How I envy your freakishly correct grammar, I seem to leave swathes of errors in my path. And horrors, I've just noticed a mistake in the index of my (tiny) newly published book... oh bloody hell, how did that get there!!??

    Off to check out your website, Jenn and Helene's too, am an avid fiction reader.

    1. Thanks for the comment, 'Sydney'! I LOVE blogging because when you make a typo you just click 'edit'. You will probably be the only person to notice a little blip like that. I read a lot and even best sellers have errors. We are only human and the publishing process still has human intervention - for now at least!


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