Home : Blogging to Build an Author Platform

platformHow can indie writers and self-publishers use a blog to build an author platform? The visitor stats for this site will soon cross the 150,000 page-view threshold and I expect to hit 200,000 by year’s end. Other bloggers have much higher visitor statistics. This article explains how to publish online content to build community around your books.

Build an Author Platform: Set up Your Blog

A blog (short for web log) is a publishing platform that enables you to publish static pages (About the Author, My Book, etc.) and a chronologically ordered stream of articles (called posts). My favorite engine for blogging is WordPress. WordPress is free and most web hosting services have an automatic installer that sets up a WordPress site with a few clicks. I also published my own installation guide on this blog. If you don’t want to buy a domain name and a web hosting account (or have decided that this article is already getting too technical for your tastes), start with a free account from WordPress.com. You can upgrade to your own, fully-customizable copy of WordPress that runs on your own server later. (Download your own copy from WordPress.org when you’re ready). Google’s Blogger.com is a popular alternative. It’s quite functional and it’s free but WordPress is infinitely more customizable.

Build an Author Platform: Thoughts on Marketing

Some see marketing as all about pushing products. I disagree; marketing is about building relationships. Merchants often try to do that by proclaiming their own greatness but that backfires. Relationships are built by demonstrating relationship-worthiness—by offering value without asking for up-front payments, email addresses, etc. The mantra is “show, don’t tell.” If I tell you how wonderful I am, you’ll write me off as a narcissist. If I demonstrate wonderfulness, you’ll want to know me better.

People buy some products because they have to (toothpaste, for example). Books sometimes fall into that category (I’m a writer; I need a thesaurus) but unless assigned by a teacher, most fiction works are entirely discretionary, optional purchases made from a field of hundreds of thousands of options. Why do people buy unnecessary products? Because they like the people who created those products. “John Smith was born with no arms; he wrote this book holding the pen with his foot.” Of course, this says nothing for Smith’s writing ability but readers love his story. Of course, if you loved a writer’s first two books, you’ll run out and buy her third because you appreciate her humor, insight, style, perspective, etc. Personal human qualities can be delivered through the printed page to catalyze relationships.

So you want to sell books. So do I. So does everybody. Why will people buy them?

If you’re a non-fiction author, readers will buy your books because they need them. Computer programmers all buy reference books. But you still have to compete with other books about the same subject. I published my own One-Hour Guide to Self-Publishing but most people still buy Dan Poynter’s book because it’s long been considered the self-publisher’s bible. Dan and I both created our books to be products. That doesn’t mean we didn’t put love into writing them; it simply means we created them with a target audience in mind. Hundreds of thousands of people self-publish every year; we write books that serve that market. If your goal is to make money as a writer, the smart path is to create a supply that fills a demand. Non-fiction is almost always better for business.

Fiction can certainly be positioned to appeal to a market segment, but often, it’s art. Many writers simply want to tell their stories. These publishers value authenticity and wordcraft above product positioning. Even if you hedge your bets by writing vampire fiction or erotica for an interested reader community, you’re selling an entertainment product—a luxury item consumers will only purchase after they’ve paid for food and detergent.

Your excellent book may not be an excellent product.

Selling art is not about selling products.

Selling art is about selling artists.

A poster of a Picasso artwork can be had for $10. A signed serigraph can be had for hundreds. An original is beyond the reach of the average art lover. From ten feet away, they look identical. So what is it that people value? Clearly, it’s more than the image on the page. Art collectors want a piece of the artist’s story. The original art is an artifact; it’s all that remains of a long-gone fragment of history—the artist lost in thought, his brush poised over the canvas as he contemplates where to place the next stroke. Duplicating the results of that inspired moment is easy, but we imagine the original canvas to be a container for some essence. We’re not buying a piece of Picasso’s art; we’re buying a piece of Picasso. So rather than sell our books, we have to sell ourselves.

Readers buy great books (and pay more for signed first editions) because each book contains a fragment of the writer’s soul, but they won’t value those books until that writer has hit a certain popularity tipping point. Somewhere in the reader’s search for new books, the author’s name has to hit a certain familiarity trigger. Oh this book is by so-and-so; I’ve heard her name somewhere before. In many instances, name-brand recognition becomes more important than product quality. Does anyone really know or care if Tide detergent is any better than the store’s in-house brand? We’ve seen Tide before and whether or not we have any logical reason to, we trust it.

Which brings us back around to blogging. What should we write about and share with others that will establish us as thought leaders, artists, forward thinkers, provocateurs, and people whose souls are worth sampling? How do we insert ourselves into the collective consciousness of readers?

Build an Author Platform: Content

Even if you write about yourself, write about your readers. Don’t post articles about your books, and especially don’t share articles about your books on writers’ forums where other participants are most interested in their own books. Certainly, you should include static pages that describe yourself and your books, but this content should be secondary to your articlesAfter all, you didn’t read this far because you think Dave Bricker (who?) is so visionary; you read this far because you’re hoping I’ll live up to my stated intention to give you information that’s useful to you.

If you write vampire fiction, blog about vampires—their history and folklore. Review other books in the genre, even if that feels like stumping for the competition. Position yourself as a thought leader and information resource about vampires and vampire books. Ultimately, some readers who like vampires will conclude that your books are worth gambling $20 on because you have a) demonstrated that you’re willing to provide informative, interesting, and valuable information about the subject without asking for anything up-front, and b) because you have demonstrated a deep knowledge of the subject and likely bring that expertise to your books.

If you write about PHP scripting or cooking pastries or fixing bicycles, the same rules apply. Demonstrate subject expertise, willingness to share, and authentic value. Cultivate relationships with members of your reader community.

If your book falls under the categories of literary fiction or memoir, target reader communities may be difficult to reach or define. You may be better served to share articles about the writing and editing process, and to post reviews of books you’d like your work to be thought of as equivalent to. If you write sea novels, feel free to review Moby Dick; you don’t have to review the latest works by the latest authors. Write about books and writers you’d like to be associated with. And plan to write a fair number of reviews before you cast a shadow long enough to connect your readers to the conclusion that the same insights you bring to your reviews are likely to be found in your novels.

Build an Author Platform: Reality Check

Blogging is time-consuming hard work. If you have an approach to stock-trading that yields fast results or a review of this week’s bikini photos on the web, you’ll probably develop a following rather quickly, but do your homework and adjust your expectations accordingly. If you’re a literary fiction writer or an author of children’s stories, you’re going to have to work hard to find a niche that isn’t already served by another blogger. You don’t have to be the only blogger addressing your topic territory (this is only one of dozens of self-publishing blogs), but you do have to commit to years of regular writing, reviewing and reporting before you become one of the “chosen ones.” The larger and more general your audience is, the more difficult it becomes to market to it successfully—even if your book and blog are amazing in every respect.

If you’d rather skip blogging and work on your next book, that’s understandable. Joel Friedlander’s blog, www.theBookdesigner.com is on top because he posts new content every few days—and he’s been doing that for years. Joel deserves all the traffic he gets. Keeping a blog going is a staggering amount of work—even if you post only once a month. The majority of blogs get abandoned after a few months; writers get tired of performing in an empty hall. Building a following can take years and even then…

Build an Author Platform: Nothing Comes From Nothing

Decades ago, I landed in Gibraltar after a very long sail. I had exactly nothing in my pockets so I pulled out my guitar and began playing in the pedestrian tunnels that lead from the waterfront into town. The first few coins were hard-won but after I had a bit of cash in my guitar case, passers-by became more eager to reward me for my musical efforts. The second day, I put a few coins in my case before I began playing. I made a lot more money.

A new blog is like a busker’s empty guitar case. Write at least five articles before you announce your new blog to the world. Visitors will be more interested if they get a sense that something is happening on your site and that they’re late—not early—to the party.

Build an Author Platform: Sharing Your Writing

So let’s assume you’ve built your author platform and went to some effort to have it professionally designed (like you did with your book). Now you have written a collection of articles you think will appeal to your readers and you want to share them.

LinkedIn.com allows you to join a maximum of 50 groups. Join 50 groups or as many as you can that offer relevant subject matter. Don’t join writer’s groups just because you’re a writer; writers will almost certainly not buy your books; look for groups that contain prospective readers.

Many WordPress widgets and plug-ins offer a LinkedIn sharing feature. Click the button, log in, enter your group names, and share your content with thousands of people. The technological mechanics of it are quite easy but before you hit the “share” button, make sure that your content won’t do more damage than good. With great power comes great responsibility. The link-sharing feature is not a spam blaster tool for plugging your new book. Write useful, provocative, non-commercial, interesting, topical content or moderators will quickly ban you from participating. Annoying your readers is no way to build community around your writing.

And of course, LinkedIn is only one source of traffic. If you write about acoustic guitars or alternative energy, take advantage of the numerous independent discussion forums and community sites that cater to niche interests.

A few words about Facebook and Twitter: I use a Facebook page to share my blog posts, but Facebook is mostly people gossiping and posting beach party photos. Some topics will get more traction than others, but Facebook amounts to only a very tiny percentage of my site traffic. Some people get excellent results with Twitter. I use Twitter to announce new blog posts but I don’t spend much effort on it. However, I guarantee you someone will write in swearing that Facebook or Twitter is their “magic bullet.” Try different channels and track your results.

The advice here is always the same: do your homework and choose your channels carefully so you can invest your energy wisely. What works for one person won’t work for another so experiment, explore and watch your site traffic statistics to see where your visitors come from.

Build an Author Platform: It Isn’t About You

Remember I spoke about building relationships? Good blog posts are never overtly self-promotional. Offer useful information or at least provocation for conversation and dialog. Encourage readers to comment on LinkedIn rather than directly on your blog (sucking visitors away from any site that’s willing to host your link is bad form).

Continuing with the relationship theme, when people respond to your posts, take the time to engage them in discussion on the forums—even if they ignored your “click to read about…” article description and responded only to your article title. And be sure to engage people politely when they disagree with you. If someone takes the time to correct you and they’re correct, rewrite and give them credit for whatever they taught you. If you disagree, do so eloquently. You’re the one who started an open conversation; the party’s at your house so you’d better be there.

Build an Author Platform: Pay Attention to the Group Rules

LinkedIn allows third party link sharing tools to publish posts to multiple groups but not all group moderators are as enthusiastic about that as the blogging community is. Sadly, some insist that all offsite links be posted under the “promotions” tab—even if your content is not overtly promotional. I can’t imagine why anyone would bother to read content that’s labeled “promotional”; forced inaccurate labeling will diminish your response rate. Other group moderators don’t allow any third party links at all. Moderators have a huge amount of spam to sort through, and these kinds of “broad brush” rules make their jobs tolerable. Though I encourage group managers to adopt a “white list” policy where bloggers can apply for permission to post content that meets stated guidelines and supports the spirit of the group, many don’t have the time or patience. That’s understandable. When in doubt, don’t argue. Either comply or leave and find another group that’s more accommodating. Or start your own group and make your own rules.

Build an Author Platform: Cooperation vs. Competition

In this post, I have already mentioned a “competing” book and a “competing” blog. But Joel Friedlander’s blog doesn’t stop people from reading my blog, and Dan Poynter’s book doesn’t prevent people from buying mine. Our content is out in the world where people can sample it and make the choices that suit them best. When possible, build alliances with other bloggers. Point your readers to worthwhile content posted by your “competitors” and they’ll often share your best work with their own communities. Ultimately, cooperation and collaboration paint a friendlier, more sportsmanlike portrait of you for new readers.

Build an Author Platform: See What Sticks

Over my years of blogging, I have written about writing, marketing, book typography, cover design, and publishing industry topics. Every time I publish a new post, I watch the visitor statistics to measure my response rate. Sometimes, what seems like a hot topic just doesn’t stick. Other times, something that seems trivial will get a huge response. By far my most popular blog post was How Many Spaces After a Period? Two record days on the blog, 9700 page views, and it’s still pulling traffic. Whodathunkit? Over time, you’ll develop a good sense of what your readers want—good research for your next book.

Build an Author Platform: Conclusion

Be realistic about whether your book is worth marketing—even if it’s worth reading. Don’t confuse the two.

How you share is the easy part; what you share requires  thought, adherence to good forum etiquette and hard work.

Demonstrate relationship-worthiness by offering value to readers, not by talking about how great you are.

Spamming discussion groups will certainly result in the massive backfiring of any plans to sell books and position yourself as a leader.

When it comes to blogging and book marketing, cooperation trumps competition. If you’ve written “the other” great book on a subject, interested readers will buy your book, too. Offer links to other sources of valuable information and insight. The loyalty you earn will outweigh the traffic you send elsewhere.

Building a publishing business is just like building any other kind of business (except it’s generally even slower and more difficult to accomplish). Be realistic about how much time, effort, energy, and money it takes to build and maintain a blog.

A poorly designed blog makes as weak an impression as a poorly designed book. Technical problems will inevitably arise.

Track your traffic to see what your reader community wants to read about.

Participate in conversations you start—both on your blog and in discussion forums.

Respect the rules set by forum moderators—even if you think they’re Draconian. When in doubt, communicate; ask permission.

Love the journey. Let the destination come to you.


Comments

Blogging to Build an Author Platform — 27 Comments

  1. I was blessed, yes, I did use that word, to have had the opportunity to visit with you Dave for well over an hour by phone. I opted to drop down here to add a comment for ONE, to see if I just happen to be the MILLIONTH viewer, TWO, to say Thank You So Much for the visit, the advice, the information and for guiding me to this site, and THREE because I am a very slow reader and could have actually fallen asleep while reading, not because of boredom, but just because reading does that to me, I am getting better though… I see things happening with regards to a webpage and blog in short order and I hope after things are in place, that I will get a return visit from you.
    and maybe even the next time I add a comment, you will see my webpage below….HOW COOL IS THAT!!!
    Thanks again and happy Blogging….

    Kevin

  2. We should all be on our knees thanking Dave for his generous (and practical!) advice. Since I’m a tech newbie (does anyone even use this term any more?) with the usual limited budget of a writer, I’ve had to learn about blogging and such matters through on-line sources but Dave’s are by far the most understandable. I didn’t know, until reading comments here, that there’s a difference between WP dot org and com.

  3. The statement that rang loud bells for me was this ‘Be real­is­tic about whether your book is worth marketing—even if it’s worth read­ing. Don’t con­fuse the two’

    When a book has probably a very.niche, not to say almost hidden readership, how does one reach them? My blog has been running for perhaps seven months, and although I have encountered very generous and warm friends they are few and there are limits about what one can ask or expect. It does not make for even hosting others when one cannot offer much of a crowd to warrant the effort of a guest post…I have had offers from generous new supporters but feel I have little to offer reciprocally except to read, comment and review where I can…so not so much a ‘platform’ but a plank!

    • Are you on Twitter? When I first set up my blog, which is a review blog for debut authors, I tweeted about it. I got inundated with requests. What niche are you in? What’s your book about? Fiction or non-fiction? It is hard to sell (or to help someone sell something) without knowing about the product. Your blog doesn’t have to be all about you book. For instance, if you wrote a book about gardening, you could blog about tips for gardening, do’s and dont’s ..etc. With this exsample you could tweet: New Blog on Gardening! Come and see some great tips. you@gardeningtips4u. Once inside the blog, you can advertise your book. Drive them to the blog first.

      • Yes I’m on Twitter. I get crickets and tumbleweeds from it. Nothing. My three novels and my self-publishing book are well-detailed on my site. I get tons of traffic but twitter accounts for or a tiny sliver of it. Regardless, my goal is not to drive people to a blog where I can “sell them books.” I’m very soft-sell (or you wouldn’t be here on my site asking what my books are about). I don’t care much about the few dollars I make from selling a book; selling books on a small scale is like opening up a lemonade stand on a corner. This blog is a platform for something big and cool and innovative that I will reveal soon.

        • Oooh! That sounds intriguing Dave!

          As a newcomer to PoD with only the dubious experience of public sector publishing and design behind me, I’m finding this blog a veritable treasure-house of information and inspiration on how to get on the wagon so best wishes towards wherever you’re going with this 🙂

        • Sorry Dave, I should have been more explicit in my reply. I was responding to the above comment by @philipparces. He says that he has trouble with traffic to his blog due to a specialized niche. I was wondering what his niche is that is so specialized and suggested trying to drum up interest for his blog. I know what works for some doesn’t work for others, but it did work for me to be on Twitter. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

  4. I love your generosity and common-sense posting. This is like being at a free author’s university. I wish we had more time in a day to really study and apply all the pointers and advice. I’m an avid follower of both Joel and Dan Poynter. Another name to add is Joanna Penn.
    I’m trying to decided whether to build my own website with blogability, using w.press.org rather than the .com. There are so many choices. Being the DIY kid that I am, it’s taking forever. If you know what I authored you’ll see I’ve exposed my age, and realize I’ll probably run out of time!
    I already have a domain name…

  5. Joel, in “Newslettering is fun”, newslettering is a new gerund. In “I’m newslettering”, newslettering is used as a present participle, and thus would be a new verb. Dave, it’s people like me who made your “How many spaces after a period?” so popular. I argued the apparently losing point that not all periods are at the end of a sentence, so a period plus two spaces more clearly ends a sentence.

    Thanks for this information about blogging. It is most helpful. I’m hoping that someday we’ll be adept at cutting through hype to real substance and will be inclined to want to read people who are famous for the latter, regardless of their genre. Blogging may provide what we need to cut through the ever-growing mountains of print and help us really know whether who we decide to read has something of value to say.

    • I thought you made a good case about spaces, too (could have said you made a good space case).

      A lot of the hype you mention is generated by corporate-sponsored media. Bloggers have an opportunity to present “street level” views. They aren’t necessarily unbiased but at least they’re biased by different forces. Savvy information consumers will sample far from across the spectrum and read between the lines.

  6. Thank you for the great post. I have been blogging for a little over a year now. My blog is dedicated to aspiring and beginning authors. I am working on my own debut novel. It has been strictly a review blog until recently. I have re-blogged some great information that novices need to know, or would be interested to know. I want to beef it up because I realized that my problem was inconsistency. I need more of a schedule. When I re-blogged this information, it was the best response I have gotten. I am struggling a little about what content to include to engage blog readers, who are mainly new writers understandably, but I’d also like to find readers that are interested in checking in for the books that I review and recommend (or not). It seems like not too many leave comments. My WIP is a paranormal/historical mystery. A dual murder mystery from the protagonist’s past 20 years previously and one from the Old West, in 1871. The paranormal part is a ghost. Would it be better to post about ghost, or the history of mystery, etc. I have been researching this book for about a year and a half now and I’m the type that has to write copious notes. Writing it down has always helped me to remember it better. I don’t was to be boring either. Any suggestions? If you have a moment and would like to look at my blog, I would appreciate any comments or suggestions. Thanks so much!
    http://rebeccavance.com.

    • I don’t know what abilities WP.com give you to track your traffic. There’s a plugin for self-hosted WordPress (available at wordpress.ORG) called JetPack that lets you know how many people are hitting what posts on a given day. Track your traffic and you’ll know exactly what your reading base is looking for. Use the Yoast SEO plugin to get maximum reach with search engines. Hang out on LinkedIn forums and see what topics come up over and over. With some time and attention, you can take the pulse of your reader group and deliver the content they want to read. Without careful tracking, you’re firing blind. Keep doing what you’re doing but analyze where it’s going. The answers will come to you.

      • WP.com is far more community-based than I’d realized. But Jetpack includes many of the familiar tools, including, as you say, the traffic stats. I use it on nearly all the sites I manage these days.

  7. As a hopeful author, I have been blogging on a Blogspot.com site for nearly 6 years, about small town school & village board meetings. I became a citizen Journalist three years ago for my local newspaper, as well as an Areavoice blog writer for the local county newspaper site. I have been using the WordPress format for three years with the county paper, as that is their well used program. I have written one book (unpublished) on NASCAR 2012, and I am currently working on my second such book NASCAR 2013 “A Season to Remember.” A few years ago, I started and completed another book on how small town politic’s can control and manipulate a families life. The small town politic’s effected the family all the way up to the county legal system, and for a handful of years dominated the family. The ability to withstand and survive this type of event is what my book is about. I am just beginning to search for the right people and places to show my ability. Reading this article, has provided me some support to the process that I have taken to this point, and I thank the writer for providing such a detailed way of advice. Thank You, and I look forward to future articles.

  8. I’m right at the beginning of blogging and just want to say a big thank you for a highly useful and pertinent guide to the whole process.

    I’ve left a comment on LinkedIn too – totally get the observation that you don’t want to alienate your prime feeder channels, as I moderate on several forums myself and it’s really galling to offer the arena and get a big echoey space in return for your trouble.

    • I see why so many moderators get jaded. Many moderators don’t have time to check every link that gets posted in their groups to find out whether it’s spam or a legitimate sharing of information. Even then, some of the discussion (like this one) moves to the blog and away from the group—which is why I’m glad you left a comment on LinkedIn, too. I’m always happy to see discussion here but if people link to my blog and then discuss the articles on LinkedIn, the blogging benefits all parties.

  9. Nicely done–doesn’t sugar coat the work required. Especially liked the bit about don’t sign up for lots of sites that’s all writers unless writers are your target audience. You are right, writers tend to be more focused on their own books, and besides, they mostly don’t have any money :).

    • I see too many writers announcing their new books on writers’ forums. And all too often it happens in the middle of someone else’s post about grammar or ISBN numbers. Fail!

  10. I didn’t give this post 5 stars ’cause I like you, Dave, I gave it 5 stars ’cause it’s 5-star content.

    This is 2 months’ worth of author coaching in a single read.

    Your experience and generosity ooze from every line. I’m newslettering this. (That’s a new verb. Is that a gerund, or the other one?)

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