Why a Writing Platform is a Must: 13 Ways to Build Yours

Having a writing platform means that you have an audience, and that you have some vehicle in place to reach that audience when you have books to sell. This platform is as important to those not yet published as it is to established writers.

Before an agent or publisher considers signing you, he or she will do a Google search on your name to see how often it comes up. Publishers can't afford to do all your promotion for you. They want some assurance that you will be able to help create a buzz about your book. They want you to help sell your books.

With a good manuscript, the larger your Internet presence, the better your chances of getting signed. The steps below will help you create the writing platform you need.

  1. Attend Literary Readings and Book Launches. Get to know the writers in your community. Writers buy books and support other writers in their effort to create a writing platform. You want to be included on mailing lists and invited to literary events and parties. The contacts you make at these events will be invaluable. Many writers already have a list of contacts. Often they will send information about your book to those on their list.

  2. Do public readings of your work. Reading series exist in almost every town or city. Your local library will often know who organizes them. Contact the organizer and ask how you can be included. You do not have to be published to read. Unpublished writers often "open" for published ones, and the purpose of some readings is to give exposure to unknown writers. If no reading series exists in your area, consider starting one. Readings are often publicized on the Internet through the library or organizing individual. The attention you receive here may strengthen your writing platform.

  3. Start a blog or website about your writing or a special interest. If you are unpublished, post some of your work on the Internet and give readers an opportunity to provide feedback. If you're already published, showcase your books and any services you provide.

  4. Create new content for your website on a regular basis. Your goal is to increase traffic and have visitors return. You want your site to be "sticky," to interest people so they will stay on it long enough to get interested in you, and so they will bookmark it or recommend it to friends. Provide useful information and services for readers or other writers. Promote your availability as a speaker.

  5. Teach others. Once you have made a name for yourself as a writer, offer courses and teach others what you have learned. Be generous with your knowledge and your time and you will make friends and find followers to strengthen your writing platform. Promote your courses where they will get the most exposure, on the local library site, on your website and the websites of others, and in online community lists. If you are not yet published, offer courses for something you know a lot about. Keep track of the people you meet. They are all potential book buyers when your first book is published.

  6. Write articles for popular websites or print sources. Unless you already have some success as a writer, you won't be paid for these articles. You trade them for publicity, so be sure that your name and website address is at the bottom of the article. For online sources, insist that the link is active, so readers need only click on it to contact you or learn more about you. If you're already published, you will be paid if you approach paying sources. Try to keep you name visible wherever you can.

  7. Advertise on other websites. Many high traffic websites charge only $20 or $30 a month for an advertisement that links to your website. Experiment to learn which ads are most effective in driving traffic to your site. In my experience, ads are not as effective as articles for raising interest.

  8. Offer a newsletter on your website. Provide visitors the opportunity to sign up for your newsletter. A newsletter allows you to stay in contact with your visitors and keep your email list current. It is also extra work, so it is important to plan in advance what you will include in the newsletter each month. If you're certain you can maintain regular distribution, this is a good way to build a list of people who will be happy to learn about a forthcoming book or public appearance. Even if you have little other exposure, a list of several thousand will be considered a strong writing platform.

  9. Give a business card to everyone you meet. Your business card should have the cover image of your book on the front and your website and email address on the back, which encourages individuals to visit your website and opt in to your newsletter. Leave small stacks of cards in places of business and on bulletin boards to encourage strangers to take them and pass them on.

  10. Moderate free teleconferences online. Prepare a one-hour PowerPoint presentation that provides useful or entertaining information about your area of specialty and offer the teleconference to your existing contact list. If you have no list, use social bookmarking sites to attract participants. Before the call, provide participants with the telephone number, web address, and password. WebEx, ReadyTalk, and others offer convenient services for about $49 a month, with free trials.

  11. Create short video presentations. Use your computer video capabilities or have a friend videotape you as you read from your book or share partial information from your courses. Post these videos on social networking sites and on video sites such as YouTube, Viddler, MetaCafe, etc. Be sure to include a line of text that sends viewers to your website.

  12. Write a Readers' Guide for your book. If you've written a novel, publishers will sometimes have you create a readers' guide before your book comes out. They make this available to book clubs on their website. You should make it available on your website as well. Alternatively, you can create a slightly different one for visitors to download from your site. If you write non-fiction, consider creating a companion booklet of a few pages to give to readers or offer to those who sign up for your newsletter.

  13. Once you have a book to sell, hire your own publicist and find promotional opportunities wherever you can. Small presses can't afford to do much publicity for their authors, and larger publishers are spending less and less. If you're fortunate, your publisher will give your book a splash when it first comes out, but the rest will be up to you. You want to keep your name and your books visible so you slowly build a following. This does not happen over night; you build your platform one small piece at a time.

Gone are the days when a writer could write and leave promotional concerns to the publisher. Much more than that is expected of us now. Use the steps above to create a writing platform before you need one, and once you're published keep the momentum going.

Don't pad your list with people ambivalent about being on it, or worse, with people who never agreed to let you contact them. Instead, make your list "opt-in only," and aim to build a following of at least 5000 fans or interested contacts. Your agent and publisher will love you for it.

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