Whether you’re looking to self-publish or go the traditional publishing route, your writer’s platform — aka how you’ll sell the book — is more important than ever.
So it was smart for Chuck Sambuchino, who has become an expert on the topic of platform, to write a book about it. Chuck was here a year and a half ago to talk about landing a literary agent, and he always has concrete ideas to share, so I’m psyched to have him back.
Chuck is a Writer’s Digest Books editor, as well as a freelance editor for query letters, book proposals and novel manuscripts. He edits the Guide to Literary Agents and has a popular blog by the same name.
His new book is called Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books, and Finding Success as an Author. And today we’re giving away a FREE COPY! Just leave a comment at the bottom of this post to get in the running. (One cool fact about this book: It includes quotes from ME!)
Let’s get started!
Alexis: You already knew a lot about platform when you started working on this book. Did you learn anything through the writing process that surprised you?
Chuck: You bet. Going in, I knew the book would have two major sections: 1) a large portion that detailed best practices for social media, public speaking, article writing, blogging, etc.; and 2) a lot of case studies that examined other nonfiction and fiction authors who built a platform from scratch.
But as I began writing the book, I kept coming back to a section of platform-building guidelines that would help everyone, no matter what they were writing. This section kept expanding, and ended up becoming “The 12 Fundamental Principles of Platform,” which appears toward the beginning of the book. These 12 guidelines delve into important principles such as 1) It is in giving that we receive, 2) You don’t have to go it alone, 5) You must make yourself easy to contact, and 12) Numbers matter–so quantify your platform.
This turned out to be arguably the most crucial section of the book. The truth is that every writer out there is working on a different project, and every writer will take a different path to platform success–be it heavy with social media or with groups and endorsements or something else entirely. But these 12 Fundamental Principles can help everyone on every level concerning platform.
So what I effectively learned along the way was while you can help someone by teaching them how to do something specific, such as use Twitter, you can help them more by explaining a more fundamental guideline of visibility and discoverability–such as the importance of being part of your community and understanding their needs (#11).
Is there anything you'll do differently with your own platform as a result of writing this book?
While writing the book, I came to realize that platform is about achieving a lasting connection with people. What I mean is that you can create an outstanding blog and get lots of page views, but unless people are permanently connecting with you in some way–be that choosing to follow you on Twitter, or signing up for your newsletter, or buying your book–then the bond with this person can be lost forever.
For example, if I get up and speak in front of 100 people, the key thing at the end of the speech is to 1) encourage them to connect with me, so that I can continue to teach them online, and 2) invite them to learn more about my books and possibly buy them. If a person leaves the room without deciding to connect with me more or investigate my books, then my connection opportunity with him or her has been lost.
So that one thing comes to mind–the need to try and establish a lasting connection with those who come across my path, whether we meet in person or online. Right now, I’m going back through all my old Guide to Literary Agents Blog posts one by one (2,000 of them, I believe), and ending each one by saying “Follow me on Twitter or befriend me on Facebook.”
There must be several books out there about platform already. What'd you think you could add that convinced you to write it anyway? Did you see any gap in the market?
First of all, I knew building a writer platform had been my business for several years, and that I could speak to the subject and truly help people. But I decided early on to give my book a big component that would set it apart from the others–and that component was in-depth advice and input from literary agents and platform-heavy authors.
Here’s the thing: I’m always skeptical when reading an instructional book if the instruction is coming from one person. As I read such a book, I just keep thinking, “But this is only the opinion of one person. How do I know this is the best advice for me personally?”
So with that in mind, I realized that, although I considered myself an expert on creating a writer platform, in the end, I was still only one person with one opinion and my own one path to success. How could I fix this problem? Simple. I needed to add the advice of many other professionals who were knowledgeable on the subject.
The first thing I did was interview 10 literary agents who deal with lots of nonfiction books, where platform is mandatory. These “Literary Agent Roundups” appear throughout the text, and address important questions such as “What are you looking for when you Google prospective clients?” and “When is a writer’s platform big enough that they should be confident in their submission?” After all, people build a platform specifically to get the interest of literary agents. I knew I had to get literary agents heavily involved in the book’s discussion.
Also, I made the entire last third of the book comprised of 12 long, in-depth interviews from writers who created their platforms from scratch. I included novelists, nonfiction authors, and memoirists. The final chosen 12 are all very successful writers, some of them best-selling scribes. I asked them all key questions, such as:
Personally, I learn by example. With this book, it’s almost like I taught a college course to students, but brought in 12 guest professors throughout the semester because I understand the value of different opinions and how every student in my course learns in their own unique way.
Based on your research, what do you think are the top three things a writer should have as part of his/her platform?
First and foremost, a simple website. A website is key because it is a landing page. When people search for you online, you must have a landing destination where people can quickly learn about you and your writing and how to connect with you.
Second, think “new school” platform: Be active on a blog or Twitter. Both are good bets, but I would say you must have at least one.
Third, think “old school” platform: Focus on groups and organizations and personal connections who can help you. Who you know still matters. You are not alone in your platform quest. Think about who can help you–a regional group that promotes the successes of its members, a charity that will help you spread the word in exchange for a donation, or a cousin who knows the producers of CNN personally, etc.
Can you suggest a few authors we could check out who have succeeded at building a solid platform?
Some of the best I can think of are included in the book! Mignon Fogarty, for example (she writes the Grammar Girl books), is adept at using podcasts, her website, and Twitter to sell hundreds of thousands of books and build her brand.
Lissa Rankin, a women’s health expert who wrote the book WHAT’S UP DOWN THERE?, has a dynamite blog with tons of useful content. She used the success of the blog to grow a tremendous Twitter following and get herself quoted in lots of big media outlets. That’s all great platform stuff to understand and emulate!
Writers: Don’t forget to leave a comment for your chance at winning a free copy of Create Your Writer Platform! Contest ends at midnight on Thursday, Dec. 20.