Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How Beginning Writers Can Build a Platform P.3: Benefits of Branding

In the previous two posts of this series, I shared with you the purpose of a platform and how you can find your core readership on social media. In today’s post, I want to help you understand the benefits of branding yourself as an author—and how doing so can help you establish your author platform.

First of all, what is an author’s brand?
The term “brand” might bring to mind visuals of logos and advertisements of companies. What comes to mind when you think about McDonalds? Probably the golden arches, a (rather frightening) clown, and happy meals. This is the visual aspect of McDonald’s brand. It’s the image that comes to mind when we think of that fast food chain.

However, brand reaches deeper than just surface-level appeal. Brand is the reputation that a company establishes for itself. McDonalds has established itself as an inexpensive and quick fast food restaurant that accommodates to kids and families. This brand doesn’t just reflect the company of McDonalds, but it also tells the customer what they can expect from it. Customers know the benefits they’ll receive when choosing to eat at McDonalds.

That’s what branding is about: 1) Creating an intentional reputation with customers, and 2) Catching target customers’ attention by offering something of value to them. (Which is usually stemmed from asking the question, what does my target readership need, and how can I provide this for them?)

Now, let’s apply this to our brand as an author.

Even if you aren’t a published author, everything you post online—and even the presence you carry at conferences and events—will contribute to your reputation whether you like it or not. So why not be intentional with this reputation? Why not use it to garner attention from your target readership in a way that will contribute to your overall platform?

If you have no idea what your brand is, it’s never too late to begin establishing one. (Just keep in mind that, as an aspiring author, this brand might transform over time as you begin to discover yourself as an author.)

Here’s how aspiring authors can approach the branding process…

1. Create a visual that reflects your genre and brand.

If you write thrillers, consider sticking with a dark color scheme on your website and social media. Your visual brand is a combination of your color scheme, designs, images, and fonts you choose on your website and social media.

Consider researching various colors so you can select the ones that subconsciously give off the reputation you hope to establish. (For example, the color blue is calming, and it’s often associated with faith. This is why I chose to use it for my online visual brand.)

2. Portray your unique characteristics, personality, interests, and hobbies in a way that will set you apart from others.

Another benefit of branding is the opportunity it gives us to stand apart from the crowd. This is especially useful for the aspiring authors who hope to make a unique impression to readers, agents, and publishers.

Thankfully, each of us have been gifted with uniqueness, so we don’t have to try hard to allow these unique traits to shine through. Be yourself, because this authenticity is what will appeal and connect with your readers.

For example: Are you obsessed with cats? Don’t be ashamed to post cat pictures and videos. You might even consider including a picture of a cat in your website theme (perhaps one that’s sitting next to an old typewriter and a mug of steaming tea).

Your readers will connect with you because of who you are, so don’t be afraid to embrace this when it comes to establishing your brand!

3. Offer value to your reader.

This is probably the most important aspect of branding. Why? Because the core purpose of creating a brand is to hook your target readership into following you and purchasing your books. In other words: Creating a brand isn’t about the author. It should instead be focused on meeting the needs and interests of your target readership.

This is why authors create taglines for their websites; they want their readers to know what they’ll glean from their books.

My tagline, for example, reads as the following: Inspirational yet authentic young adult fiction. I want to be known for writing books that inspire teens yet remains authentic when it comes to reflecting their youth culture. On my website, I wrote a brief “introduction” (for lack of better word) to my reader. I tell them what they’ll get out of the books that I write, and I did this by approaching a need that many teens have—and that is the longing to feel accepted and understood. (You can read this on my website by clicking here.)   

To summarize: It’s tough for today’s author to break into the crowded marketplace. That’s why it’s important now more than that us writers effectively brand ourselves in a way that sets us apart, contributes to our platform, reflects the books we write, and offers value to our readership. If this is done successfully, then the online platform we build will consist of potential buyers of our books—and the time we spend building our platform will be effective and worthwhile in the long run.      

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How do you brand yourself? Have you struggled with effectively communicating your brand? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments!

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

How Beginning Writers Can Build a Platform P.2: Finding Your Readers

In the first post of this blog series, we discussed why it’s important for today’s aspiring author to build a platform. To summarize: Most agents and publishers search for writers who already have an established readership. Why? Because this readership often translates into book sales. If you establish a platform before you begin pitching to agents/publishers, then you’re more likely to be given more consideration. 

So how can writers find their target reader? 

Sure, there are services you can purchase and instantly receive 1000s of new followers. However, this isn’t considered an authentic platform. Why? Because the followers you gain online should consist of the target readership of the books you write. 

For example: I write young adult fiction. So, I try to stay present and engaged with teen readers on Instagram. Is Instagram my favorite social media platform? Definitely not. I much prefer Twitter. However, teen readers are mostly found on Instagram; therefore, I need to produce content that they can find and enjoy. 

The content you post should… 

1. be easily found by your target readership. 

This is possible through utilizing hashtags and engaging with accounts/posts similar to yours.

2. pique their interest. 

What are some of the core interests of today’s average teen girl? Once we answer that question, we can then make it even more narrow and ask, what does today’s 15-year-old book-loving teen girl enjoy doing in her spare time? Perhaps she likes to shop for new books at the bookstore, hang out with her friends at Starbucks, and post #Bookstagram pictures.

3. consist of your passions as well. 

Where does the interests of your readers and your own passions intersect? Thankfully, I’ve always been a coffee-lover. This is a passion that I have in common with Starbucks-loving teens and many book lovers today.

4. reflect your brand. 

How do you want to be known in the industry? What kind of books do you write? How is this reflected through your choice of color scheme, Instagram filters, and fonts? Your brand should remain authentic and true to who you are. This brand is the reputation you will have amongst your readers. (More on branding in the next post.)

5. remain consistent. 

If you want to target your specific readership—and stay true to your brand—then it’s important that your followers know what kind of content they can expect from you. Each post should have a purpose and needs to be geared to your specific target audience.

For example, let’s say your followers on Instagram follow you because of the artistic photos you post of your bookshelves. Don’t you think they’d be confused if you randomly posted a picture of Trump and expressed your political views in the caption?

You also want to remain consistent in how often you post. When can your followers expect new content? Once a week? Once a day? This is how you can build a steady stream of followers that eventually snowballs. 

If you’re new to platform-building, where can you start? 

Do your research. Find out where your readers are found. (Pinterest? Twitter? Facebook? Instagram?) Then, set up an account in 1 – 3 social media platforms. (Hint: You may want to start out on one social media platform to begin with.)

Study other authors in your genre, and take note of how they attract their readership. What kind of content do they post, and how often? What hashtags do they use with their posts? Do they invite readers into conversation by including open-ended questions in the caption? 

Then, make a plan. After evaluating your notes, decide on the following… 

Once your plan is in place, take action! Post content and engage with others. Follow other social media accounts that are similar to yours. Interact (like and comment) on their posts. Find posts in the hashtags you use and like those posts and follow the accounts that posted it. 

No, a platform isn’t going to be built overnight – so go ahead and take pressure off of yourself. Instead, make simple and attainable goals to start out with. Approach this in bite-sized pieces. Do your research. Celebrate every milestone, despite how small. 

The more interactive you become, then the more you’ll enjoy it—especially as you watch your followers and engagement increase. 

Is your platform remaining stagnant? I’d advise taking a step back and evaluate, 1) what you’re posting, 2) who you’re posting it for, and 3) how often you’re posting. Sometimes it’s just a matter of trial and error. But keep in mind that your platform certainly won’t be increased if you decide to give up. 

Next week, we’re going to discuss how to use your brand to boost your platform. Don’t forget to leave your questions/thoughts in the comments! 

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If you’ve established an online platform, would you mind sharing with others the steps you took to build this readership?

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

How Beginning Writers Can Build a Platform - P.1: Purpose of a Platform

"What is a platform, and why is it important?"

"I'm a writer. I don't need to devote my time into building an online presence."

"Does having a platform really help aspiring authors catch the attention of a literary agent or publisher?" 

"How is it possible to build a readership even before my book is published?"

These are questions I hear frequently from aspiring authors -- whether it's in an email I receive from a potential client at Hartline Literary, during an appointment with a writer at a conference, or asked by a writer friend of mine. 

When we were kids and dreamt about becoming an author someday, many of us envisioned becoming the next [insert your favorite best-selling author here]. Back then (before 2010), it was only important for non-fiction authors to have some sort of platform. Now, though, publishers are becoming more selective. They can't publish every book that comes across their desk. So how do they weed through these submissions? 

By analyzing the author's platform. 

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They might search the proposal -- and will sometimes do an online search -- to find answers to these questions:

  • does this author have a website or a blog?
  • can this author be easily found through a Google search?
  • where is this author online (Twitter, FB, Instagram, YouTube)?
  • does the author know his/her audience?
  • are they a speaker? 
  • what kind of media coverage have they received in the past?
  • are they consistently posting content geared to this audience?
  • has the author easily branded him/herself?
  • do they interact with their audience?
  • do they have a mailing list? 

In the "old days", authors relied on a large publisher's marketing team to help them find the spotlight. Sure, the marketing team does still help with publicity efforts -- but now, they expect the author to already be engaged with their audience online. Social media has given us the opportunity to create our own spotlight. We no longer have to rely on a publisher's marketing team to do this for us. 

This cuts the publicity costs for the publishing company. Besides, since it's so much easier now for us to find the audience on our own, why shouldn't we want to take advantage of this?

"Building a platform" shouldn't be something we dread; instead, it should be something we enjoy doing! Through taking simple steps daily, we can find our ideal readers. We can make a personal connection with them even before our books are published.

Sure, it might take time and effort; but over time, our platform will become built. Then, when it comes time to pitching the book to an agent/publisher, we'll know that our submission won't be deleted due to a lack of readership.    

On the other hand, when an author has zero platform, this means the publisher will have to work that much harder and spend more $$$ to publicize their book. I don't blame them for wanting to find authors who have a built-in readership already in place.

If you're a beginning author who loves to write and is clueless about how to build a platform, don't be intimidated by this! I bet that, as you begin to blog/post on social media/film YouTube videos (whatever you choose), you'll realize how much fun it is. You may even find it addicting, like I have. Why?

Because it'll give you the same opportunity to do what you already enjoy doing in your books: Inspire people (if you're a Christian fiction author). Or share nerdy technological advances (if you're a sci-fi author). Or share findings from your historical research (if you're a historical fiction author). 

It'll also give you the opportunity to find "your people" -- readers who enjoy reading the same kind of books you do. Readers who may just be interested in purchasing your book when it releases as well. 

So if the word "platform" has a bad rep in your vocabulary, bear with me. Let me teach you step-by-step how you can build a platform that impresses an agent/publisher in the simplest way possible.

In this new blog series, I want to help you understand ...

  • the purpose of a platform
  • how to effectively build a platform and target your readership through taking simple steps daily
  • what kind of content you should share and how often
  • how building a brand will boost your platform
  • how to use your platform to help you catch the attention of an agent/publisher and eventually market your book

Are there any questions you'd like me to answer in this series? Leave them in the comments below!

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Do you enjoy building a platform? Or do you view it as an interruption to your writing?