Authors with a book idea are generally eager to start writing their manuscript. They want to start documenting their thinking, to see words on paper, or the screen, and chapters forming. But writing a draft of your book is actually not the best place to start.
Whether you intend to self-publish or to try and sell your manuscript to a publisher through a literary agent, you’re going to want to start building your platform long before you put pen to paper.
Your platform is everything you’ve done to establish yourself as an expert or authority in the field you’re writing about. It’s activities that help answer the question, “Why are you the best person to write this book?”
So what can you do to build your platform? A lot. And the more you do now, before your proposal or manuscript are finished, the better your odds of landing a contract or of selling more books. Platform-building is also pre-selling your target audience.
Some of the best platform-building activities include:
- Speaking in public. Investigate opportunities to speak to trade associations, civic organizations, corporate clients, seminars, trade shows, conferences. Develop a track record of speaking that you can use to document interest in your topic.
- Blogging. If you’re not already, start blogging weekly, at least, on topics related to your book that your target audience will be interested in. Not only does this help demonstrate your expertise, but it starts to attract potential book buyers to you. Some publishers will ask how many subscribers you have. You’ll want to be able to tell them.
- Guest blogging. Once you’ve been blogging regularly on your own blog, start to reach out to well-known bloggers who target the same audience as you and offer to write a guest blog post of interest to their subscribers. That is, if your specialty is marketing through SnapChat, I wouldn’t approach other bloggers who also specialize in marketing through SnapChat – they’re your competition. But you could certainly approach social media gurus, marketing experts, or bloggers at organizations that your target market belongs to.
- Publishing a newsletter. Offering a regular electronic newsletter is another way to make contact with potential book buyers on a regular basis. It helps keep you top-of-mind among your target market.
- Building an email list. Being able to get in touch with potential book buyers is invaluable, and the way to make contact with them is by giving them an incentive to identify themselves and share their name and email address. To get people to turn over that information, you have to do more than offer a newsletter subscription. You’ll want to create a free downloadable document – your “freebie” – that you can use as an enticement to build your list. Your freebie can be as simple as a checklist or as long as an e-book or white paper. Length matters much less than the information contained within.
- Creating a Facebook group. If your area of expertise is something many people want to talk about, creating a free Facebook group to connect everyone is another way to position yourself as the expert. A Facebook group can become a community of like-minded people. You can also report on how many group members you have, if a publisher asks.
- Pursuing publicity. With free tools like Help a Reporter Out, it’s fairly easy to find out what types of newspaper, magazine, TV, radio, and online stories reporters and writers are working on. Knowing that, you can then pitch yourself as a source for their article or blog post. Being able to cite a long list of places you’ve been quoted can be very reassuring to publishers.
- Designing your own website. You can either build a website for your business, if you have one, for yourself as an expert, or for your forthcoming book. But no matter what, you need a professionally-designed website (don’t do it yourself) as a repository of information about you, the media coverage you’ve received, as place to find your blog, and a way to get in touch with you. Without a website, others may question how serious you are about writing a book.
- Being active on social media. There are several major social media sites today and there will likely be more in the near future, so don’t spread yourself too thin by trying to be active on all of them – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram, Pinterest, and others. Instead, pick a couple that your target audience is most likely to pay attention and regularly post updates and comment on others’ posts. Share other posts you find that you think your target audience may be interested in. Publishers will ask for your social media stats – the number of people you are connected to – so invest a little time in getting connected now.
- Writing testimonials for others. Not only do people appreciate unsolicited testimonials, but they come up fairly high in searches, so your name is likely to get some useful visibility. Writing testimonials may also spur people to write testimonials for you, or to offer to assist you once your book is written. It never hurts to sing the praises of others.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s an excellent start.
Another great resource is Build Book Buzz, which helps authors learn how to promote and sell more books. Jane Friedman’s blog post on how to balance platform-building with writing is another excellent resource. And BookBaby’s post on building a platform in 10 hours a week is also worth a read.
Keep in mind that at some point you will need to stop platform-building and get to the task of writing. Don’t wait too long, but investing some time now to make yourself known can only help to sell more books later, with or without a big name publisher.