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Your Author Platform: Do You Have What it Takes to Sell a Book?

November 22, 2013

In the publishing industry, the term “platform” refers to everything about you that helps sell your book, such as credentials, useful connections, and public presence. Next to writing ability, your platform is the most important selling point you have when approaching agents and publishers and also for selling your book as a self-publisher. Even a few key elements, referred to as “planks,” can improve your chance of success.

Sure, you’ve got a great idea for a nonfiction book, or you’ve written a gripping page-turner of a novel or memoir…but do you have what it takes to sell that book to a publisher, or to an audience?

Do you have…

  • a website or blog where people can find out more about you?

  • a means for interacting with your potential readers?

  • a mailing list and a way to capture contact information?

  • connections to influential figures or institutions in your field or genre?

  • relationships with booksellers or media outlets?

  • awards, contest wins, or prior publishing credits?

  • relevant credentials and/or demonstrated expertise in your subject area?

A nonfiction author’s background is critical for two reasons: History shows that potential readers will choose books by authors perceived as experts; it’s easier for credentialed authors to get media attention. Those credentials need not include an academic degree if your other planks are significant, but the right degree always helps. For example, if you’re writing about heartburn, being a gastroenterologist or a nutritionist is a strong advantage. If you aren’t a certified professional, getting one to write your introduction and endorse your book will help. Ultimately, your platform must illustrate that readers can trust you as an authority.

Marketing fiction, however, relies more on visibility than credentials, but the right creds could still be helpful. A degree in medieval history, for example, would be an advantage for the author of

a novel set in the Middle Ages. A master’s degree in creative writing or previous publishing credits and awards also helps you stand out. It means you may have connections to published authors who might provide endorsements. It also conveys a devotion to writing as a career, thus increasing the possibility that you’ll produce more than just one novel (in other words, that you’re a better long-term investment for a publisher). Finally, it gives you more opportunities to teach at universities and notable conferences, which further increases your visibility and opens venues for sales.

The more planks you have, the stronger your platform; a great platform takes a lot of guesswork out of an essentially risky process. Your platform lets publishers know that you understand book promotion, which is increasingly an author’s responsibility, and building one helps create the foundation you’ll need to promote and sell your book. Your platform also indicates where you can expect to gain some relatively effortless sales, or at least some valuable attention. And perhaps most importantly, a sturdy platform gives an indication of where your audience is—bigger audiences equal greater expected sales, which can get you a bigger advance. If no one’s heard of you, publishers may be more cautious—hence a smaller advance, if you get an offer at all.

Same deal for self-publishers, of course. Readers are more likely to buy books from people they’ve heard of, who have endorsements from people or organizations they’ve heard of, or whose bios reveal an appropriate level of expertise and experience. Just think of your own habits when you purchase a new book. What factors influence your decisions?

At this year’s Mid-Winter Conference West, I’ll be leading a workshop to help you identify the planks you already have in your platform and find ways to build on them for maximum success. Hope to see you there!

allyemachate SMAllyson E. Machate is the chief editor, writer, and publishing consultant at Ambitious Enterprises and has worked with small and large book publishers, including Simon & Schuster, where she acquired and edited books. Ally loves using her insider knowledge of the publishing industry and more than fourteen years of experience to help others reach their publishing goals, whether it’s showing a writer how to improve his manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish, or ghostwriting a book to help an entrepreneur skyrocket her business platform to new levels. Grab Ally’s free white papers and learn more about her services at www.ambitiousenterprises.com and www.allymachate.com.

 

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6 Comments
  1. November 22, 2013 9:45 am

    Excellent piece about an important topic.  Thank you.   Ms. Karen Bain Local FL: 561 310 6236 kbain10@yahoo.com

  2. November 22, 2013 3:34 pm

    My pleasure Karen! Hope to see you in January.

  3. November 24, 2013 4:50 pm

    Ally, Thanks for the information, I’ll have to get serious while working on the novel. . . just saying

    • November 25, 2013 1:04 pm

      Hi Claudia. I hope you do! I cannot emphasize enough the importance of building your platform WHILE you write, rather than waiting until your book is done to start assembling your planks. Here’s the difference: It can take you a year to draft and revise a manuscript, then another year while you focus on your platform and your manuscript gathers dust; or it can take you two years to build a platform and write/revise simultaneously, at the end of which time you’re ready to go. It isn’t so much that it takes more time overall, more that one method can be much more frustrating than the other! 🙂 Also, the experience, knowledge, and connections you gain while building a platform can positively impact your writing.

      Good luck!

  4. November 26, 2013 10:16 am

    This question – do I have what it takes to sell a book – has been top of mind for me lately. I believe I have a good platform with lots of sturdy planks. Well I have readers – so maybe that’s just one big plank. But I struggle with how much my readership will translate into book buyers. Are there any rules of thumb about this? I’m halfway through my initial manuscript and am filled with self-doubt. If I build it, will they come?

    PS. There may be no answer to this, it’s just something I think about a lot.
    Cheers,
    A Vermont Writer

    • November 29, 2013 9:41 pm

      Hey Alexis. You’re right to be wary of thinking the number of readers you have (or Followers, or Friends, or whatever) will translate into the same number of book sales. That’s hardly ever the case. I have never seen a study or reliable stat on book sales in particular, however, one can look to general conversion rates to get an idea. I’ve seen many online marketing gurus suggest that if anywhere from 15-20% of your mailing list buys a product or service you’re advertising, you’re doing great! That’s really just a ballpark, though, because the truth is that it all depends on your niche and your ticket price. Here’s an interesting article that looks at a few different industries: http://www.searchmarketingstandard.com/what-is-the-average-conversion-rate

      Two crucial factors in making sure your list offers up a good conversion rate:

      1. Very carefully, and deliberately, build and nurture a list of people who are very interested in you and what you have to offer. If you’re just getting as many sign-ups as you can using a variety of techniques, your list may be big, but it won’t be very effective.

      2. If you want to know whether your readers will want your book, ASK THEM WHAT THEY WANT! Since you’re not yet finished with your manuscript, now is a great time to run some polls, make some phone calls or emails to your top clients/readers, and find out what exactly they would like to see in your book. Then deliver.

      Hope that helps!

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