Are Author Platforms Worth It?

Whether you are an indie or traditionally published author, we all feel the pressure to be online, producing content, and cultivating relationships with our audience.

Most traditional publishers will want to know what your numbers are, and if you don’t have a public author profile, they’ll want you to set one up.

I have seen examples of traditionally published authors who’s social media accounts are run by the publisher or that are totally inactive (created as a way to safeguard against posers), but these examples are rare and it’s likely that these writers have only been able to get away with this behaviour because their books are best sellers — but how did they become best sellers?

Because the publisher ran a massive marketing campaign.

Of course, there are examples of heavily marketed books that ‘failed’ despite the big backing (and big budget) of a major publishing house, and there are examples of indie authors who went from obscurity to lucrative full-time earnings solely because their platform suddenly took off.

Social media can be powerful and it can work for you, but there is no guarantee — and the same goes for traditional marketing.

We’re attracted to building a social media platform because it’s in our control and we’re attracted to traditional publishers because they offer support, experience, reach and a network. (NB: Sometimes ALL that still isn’t enough for a book to be ‘successful’).

What sucks though is when traditional publishers ask their new or mid-list authors to develop a platform. Because here’s the thing: it’s actually not that easy to build a big, engaged audience, AND it’s a massive time suck.

Looking for content to repost on Twitter with a summary sentence or witty comment, replying to comments, creating Instagram stories, and finding your balance between 80% sharing and 20% promotion (the ‘magic ratio’ according to some person on the internet) — all takes time and energy.

The same two resources we need to write, which is the activity that lead to the product we’re trying to sell in the first place!

And let’s be honest, if you don’t have a public author page by now, it’s probably because you don’t want one and if you don’t want one, but feel pressured to have one, you probably won’t do a very good job.

Alternatively, some indie authors have only been able to survive because of their platforms (for e.g. Jenna Moreci).

However, if you speak to the booksellers of brick and mortar stores, they’ll say their customers’ purchases are based off recommendations in the newspaper, radio interviews, or because of a friend.

Now, this may be because the bulk of buyers who still go to physical bookstores consume these type of media, whereas the bulk of people who buy online look to podcasts, YouTube videos, or social media profiles for recommendations. Who knows?

It’s very difficult to track how many followers convert into buyers online, but I’ve heard other writers say that for every 40, 000 followers they’ll make 2,000 sales (during a launch). But again, every platform and artist is different.

The one thing that all those business marketing courses, free videos, and blogs fail to tell you is that convincing a stranger on the internet to buy your stuff is hard.

You can work on your know, like, and trust factors, put in a funnel, develop an email campaign, and every other step recommended out there on the interwebs and there is still no guarantee.

You can do everything you’re supposed to do and not achieve the results you had hoped for, but that’s not to say you won’t ever achieve success, you just need to find the model that works for you, and sometimes, you simply have to give something more time.

The whole point of this post is not to arrive at one tidy conclusion backed by a step by step action plan, but to show that there is no guarantee of failure or success no matter which way you go.

Social media is one way to promote your books and yourself as an author, but it’s not the only way.

The best way to approach this aspect of the writing life is to have an experimental attitude and to find the methods that work best for you.

Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, please join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Enjoy your author platform

In the final email, I sent out to newsletter subscribers last year, I shared how difficult I’ve found it to build an audience online.

I’m not writing about this problem here as a way to gain sympathy or vent, but because all writers (tradition, indie, and unpublished) are heavily encouraged to build and maintain an active online presence.

Like many creatives, or at least those who have read Cal Newport’s books or watched The Social Dilemma, my own relationship to social media is conflicted.

Similarly, I’ve been wondering where my blog and YouTube channel fit into this scheme.

Both would be described as content marketing, in that I am producing free content to strengthen my ‘know, like, and trust factors’ with existing readers/viewers, and as a way to introduce myself to new subscribers.

Alexandra Franzen and Joanna Penn describe their respective newsletters, blogs, and podcasts as art projects that form part of their body of work.

I’ve admired these two content producers for years, but I don’t know that I would describe my own blog and YouTube channel in this way.

Some weeks, I am really pleased with what I’ve written, and others I worry whether they are too idiosyncratic or reflective – a bit too ‘digital diary.’

I worry about the balance between foundational posts for beginner writers and technical information for advance writers and how best to serve these two audiences.

And at the same time, I’m aware that I don’t have a million subscribers or a castle in Scotland, so who really cares what I think about writing?

If I had a dollar for every person who read this blog, I could pay for the front door.

I have to be honest, I don’t really like how-to videos or listicles, and yet I worry that not publishing in this format would be to go against the grain.

A how-to video is super if you actually need to know something (like how to fix loose buttons, check the oil in your car, or make vegan butter chicken [all things I have Googled]) and listicles are a very tidy way to present information, but sweetness is lost in repetition, and I find these formats … off-putting, not to mention they encourage scanning and low engagement.

At the start of 2020, I set the goal to build my email list to 2000 subscribers.

I’ve been publishing on this blog weekly for four years, and loading videos onto my YouTube channel for two.

I spent money I didn’t have on an 8-week digital business course for online entrepreneurs (become I’m so millennial) and watched countless ‘how-to’ videos (ironically) regarding audience growth.

And I haven’t reached that goal.

Maybe the problem is that blogs are dead or that writing is a niche market who already has plenty of established voices.

Maybe my style doesn’t appeal to a ‘general’ audience.

Maybe I just need to get better at SEO or I ‘just’ need to pen an international best-seller that gets adapted into a Netflix series. (Why didn’t I think of that before?)

Who knows?

But those years have hardly been wasted because I’ve learnt so much in the process.

I know how to write a blog even when I sincerely think I have nothing to say.

I can write, film, edit, and upload videos to YouTube.

I figured out how to relax, and talk naturally to the camera.

I know how WordPress works.

I know how iMovies works and am learning the ropes of Premiere Pro.

I know how to avoid copyright infringement (pretty important, kiddies).

I developed the habit of releasing a blog, video, and newsletter every single week (except for holidays because come on man).

I’ve learnt that despite my best thinking, commenters will always point out something that I hadn’t considered (this is why writing works best as a collaborative experience). 

Perhaps the fault with my 2020 goal was the goal itself.

There was nothing I could do to guarantee I gained 2000 subscribers.

The truth is, I can only control what I make and how I make it.

One of the biggest lessons I learnt last year was how my rigidity around my writing practise was stopping me from growing and I plan on applying this same lesson to this space as well.

Going into 2021, I plan on being more open and loose around how I use this platform.

What will that look like?

Honestly, I’m not really sure, but I know that it won’t include how-to blogs or listicles unless that format genuinely fits the purpose and content of that post.

And don’t worry, I won’t be venturing into vlogging, mostly because I don’t want to and the internet is full of creeps who I don’t really wish to expose the inner works of my life too. 

Now THAT is a platform I can full get behind.

More than anything, I will be focussing on creating content that I personally find interesting rather than trying to guess what posts would interest readers.

I will continue to send out my newsletter, and post my videos and blogs every week (the habit is so ingrained at this point, it would be weird not to!), but I will likely shift away from posting on Instagram every day.

I enjoy the content I create on this blog every week – and no, I’m not being prim – but I do feel that I could enjoy it more.

I’m entering this year with one simple intention for this blog, to treat this work as if it were any other art project and a part of my body of work.

Like I said, I’ve been posting on this blog regularly for years now, and I’m ready to do something different with this space.

Perhaps from the outside, it will look much the same, but this shift in mindset and focus is already changing the shape of this space. At least, for me.

This blog doesn’t feel like a distraction from my writing, and yet I’m also hyperaware that the pressure to have a prolific author platform can mean that a writer or creative spends more time documenting there practise rather than actually practising.

In the aforementioned newsletter, I said that the best solution against the endless pressure to ‘do more’ in online spaces is to create clear boundaries.

For me, that means spending a bit of time on social media, a bit more time on this blog, my newsletter, and videos, while saving the bulk of my writing efforts for my novels and short fiction.

The point of this post is to tell you that there may be some changes coming.

It’s also my way of expressing something that’s been troubling me for, oh, two years now?

Maybe it’s troubling you too.

Maybe you’re also trying to figure out how to create a platform that feels … meaningful, useful, like it’s worthy of being described as an art project that forms part of your body of work.

Entering the new year, that is my goal. Please feel free to share yours too.

Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, please join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

The New Model of Self-Publishing

“What you’re doing isn’t self-publishing,” said the journo sitting opposite me. “It’s so much more than that.” 

I took a sip of my long black and felt grateful to be living in such an exciting time. What I am doing — self-publishing my fiction, creating weekly content, YouTube video, and publishing essays — is part of the new model of self-publishing. 

The internet has made it easier than ever for a writer to turn their passion into a business. 

The old model of self-publishing looked like this: you print 1000 copies of your book through a local printer, store them in your garage and then hope to god that your local indie bookstore will agree to stock them some. 

Thanks to print on demand companies like Ingramspark, Amazon, and LuLu, we can now reach an entire world of readers AND park our cars in the garage. 

The New Model of Self-Publishing looks like this:

  • Growing an audience through the creation of regular meaningful content 
  • Contributing to the online community by sharing your knowledge with other indie writers

Building an author platform can be done in one of two ways: either you build interest around yourself as a person or you provide educational information. 

Maybe a combo of the two.

Some authors share their writing journey, sneak peeks of their WIP and create ‘day in the life’ videos. 

Others are more informative, they may create content that teaches the basics of writing craft, how to query agents, how to get published etc. 

Creating regular meaningful content helps develop your know, like and trust factors. The three keys to a successful business. 

Now, this isn’t scammy. Hopefully, you’re being genuine in your exchanges with readers and you are creating content that is interesting to you and useful for others. 

As I see it, the new model of self-publishing or indie publishing is one part writing and one part community service. 

And I for one, am happy to be a part of it. 

CHRISTMAS STORY EVERY TIME HE DIESLOVE Christmas and I LOVE writing. So, I figured I better stick these two loves together and write a super special Christmas Story for my email subscribers. This short & sweet little story is for anyone who has read Every Time He Dies but was left wanting more.

If you’d like to receive a copy of the ETHD Christmas Story, please consider joining my email newsletter. When you subscribe, you’ll also receive a downloadable copy of my cheatsheet Seven Ways To Stay Motivated As A Writer.