The First Steps to Building an Author Platform: A Guest Post by Dan Blank

” If we could first know where we are and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it.” Abraham Lincoln

We’ve all heard how editors and agents favor authors who have an established “platform”. I am honored to have leading expert, Dan Blank, discuss the basics of building an author platform in this guest post. I have been a student of Dan since February 2011. He makes platform-building fun and I’m sure my fellow students (we call ourselves “DanClanners”) will agree. In fact, this week I’m also over at fellow DanClanner, Shelly Immel‘s site for an interview on her BigLifeProject. I hope you’ll stop by.This is what Dan helped to facilitate and what he means by” making meaningful connections.

Welcome, Dan!

 

Dan Blank

Why develop an author platform? To learn how to best communicate the vision and value of your writing, and build an audience based on trust. Too many writers think that an author platform is just about getting on Twitter. There is so much more to it than that - it is about honing the most elemental way that you share your work and connect with your readers. Today, I want to provide an overview of some first steps you should take to develop your author platform.

 

When I work with writers, there are three core things I start off with:

 

  1. Focusing their goals
  2. Defining their brand
  3. Targeting their audience

 

Let’s dig more deeply into each:

 

Understanding Your Goals

Do you have specific short, mid, and long-term goals? Your goals need to be more firmly developed than vague statements such as “I just want to be a published author.” Being published is an amazing milestone in one’s writing career, but it does not speak to the true effect you have on the world. Being read is the moment when your work truly shapes someone’s life – and you can’t assume that the act of printing a book equates to developing a sizable readership. Create milestones to achieve on your way to getting published, and beyond. Likewise, too many writers cannot see beyond the publication of their book. To have a true writing career, you need to have a sense of where you are going beyond the work in your hand.

 

Identifying Your Brand

When developing an author platform, writers often need to consider the “brand” they are  developing. A brand is a story. And for many writers, it may be surprising to learn that your story matters.

 

You are a writer, a master at telling a story. Create your own. This will help you understand more about your own motivation, more about the depth of your work, and more about how to communicate both of those things to your audience. To connect those things inside you and your work, to the things that ALREADY EXIST inside your audience. You are not creating a need within them, you are fulfilling a need that already exists. You merely need to find that alignment.

 

I don’t have to tell you that story is a powerful way to do that. When I use the word “brand” in relation to an author and their platform, I mean it as a way to embody this story. That your brand represents something about your work, your purpose. That it makes connections that many writers may not even know is there.

 

You will have to craft this story. Connect dots from your life experience that even you never noticed before. Your passion as a writer; the experiences and issues infused in your writing; why you write.

 

To explore this concept further, consider reading Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why.” He gives a good presentation  of it here on YouTube as well.

 

As you develop your story – your brand – consider the following:

 

  • How can you represent your authentic self. Not some glossy version of how you HOPE others perceive you, but you as you are. With your personality, your talent, your faults.
  • How your personality makes you unique – that being different is a powerful way to stand out in a world where trends try to make us all the same. What differentiates you is what makes you powerful.
  • Your brand can be visual, not just based in text. Don’t be shy about your author photo, about using images in your online presence, in trying out video. These things connect to your audience on levels that words cannot.

 

Understand Who Your Audience Is And What Motivates Them

 

I always ask writers who their audience is. This is not an easy question to answer, but I am surprised at how often I am confidently told vague answers such as: “Anyone who loves a good story,” or simple: “women.” If you haven’t defined your core audience to the degree that you know how to reach them, then you will have a hard time understanding how your work connects to the world.

 

Learning about your audience is not a single task, it is a process that likely never ends. Many writers can be sheepish about speaking to readers, about learning who they are or why they read what they do. You need to develop channels to learn about the most important people in your writing life: the readers.

 

For everything mentioned above, there is a process to help answer these question, each of which can be powerful in reshaping your writing career, and helping you reach your goals. The sooner you begin addressing these core areas, the more likely you will be prepared for a life of writing, and not just publishing a book.

How solid is your platform?

"Dive" by philhudson91 uploaded from Flickr

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Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia.com, which provides writers and publishers the strategy and tactics they need to impact their communities and build their legacies. He has worked with more than 500 writers, a wide range of publishers, and regularly speaks at conferences about branding, content strategy, social media, and marketing. He teaches an 8-week online course for writers called Build Your Author Platform. You can follow him on Twitter at @DanBlank and read his blog at http://WeGrowMedia.com

We’d love to hear from you. Please leave any questions or comments for Dan below.

 

 

 

Next Week: Self-published memoirists Rebecca Bricker and Linda Austin will discuss their marketing strategies for their memoirs. While marketing is not synonymous with author platform, a solid platform will facilitate marketing as Jane Friedman points out in this post.


 

 

Comments

  1. says

    Kathy (and Dan!);

    Thanks for sharing this! I’ve followed both of your blogs for a little while, and I really enjoy your taking the time to give us this post.

    We’re seeing more and more people who understand that they need to be building a platform, but there’s a correlation between the ubiquity of “platform builders” and the “barrier of entry” now:

    Basically, the lower the barrier of entry is (the quantified difficulty of getting a basic platform, like starting a blog), the more “platform builders” (creators, writers, bloggers, etc.) there are. It’s the supply and demand curve, in different words.

    So, again, this post is great: you’ve reiterated not just “you must build a brand,” but “this is HOW you must build a brand to be noticed.”

    And that makes all the difference in the world!

    Thanks again,
    Nick Thacker
    On building platforms as a writer

    • says

      Hi Nick,
      It’s so nice to meet you! Thanks so much for stopping by and adding your thoughts about platform-building. I know there’s a lot of confusion and anxiety around the idea of platform-building out there so I’m thrilled Dan shared his expertise with us by breaking it down to three core elements-focus,define,target. I appreciate your comments,too, on your own blog at livehacked.com: “you can slowly and strongly build a platform,adding more and more pieces at a time,until people can’t NOT notice you. As I have personally learned from Dan, it’s all about making meaningful connections.Thanks for sharing your experience with us. We can all learn so much from one another.

      • says

        You’re exactly right–it’s all about making meaningful connections!

        I call it “always adding value” to whatever it is–Twitter conversations, Facebook chats, etc.

        Thanks for replying, and for checking out the site!
        Nick

  2. says

    Dan, you do a great job of relating platform to story and writing and connecting with audience–all things that writers understand. Thanks for sharing. Great post.

  3. says

    As one of the premier DanClanners, I know Dan is always right on time with the tips. To me, this line of his says it all .
    “To connect those things inside, to the things that ALREADY EXIST inside your audience… fulfilling a need that already exists.” Add your own unique magic to create that precious “alignment.” Great advice for writers at any stage of the game. Thanks for sharing Dan and Kathy.

    • says

      Thanks Pat! So true – this is not about recreating the wheel – of fabricating false connections – but rather surfacing the ways we should already be connecting.
      -Dan

  4. says

    Thanks Kathy and Dan, for an interesting explanation of building a platform. With so many voices out there, sometimes it feel daunting to even try doing this, but as with a grocery store, there are different aisles for every taste. I like the idea of making meaningful connections, rather than blanketing every possible medium in the hope of attracting something.

    • says

      Thanks Debbie! Indeed, just screaming for attention is NOT the way people should be developing their writing careers. I am always considering the legacy a writer is building for themselves, and creating meaning is a core part of that.
      Much appreciated.
      -Dan

  5. says

    “Your brand is your story.” I like that. Just got off a tweetchat about storytelling – for those who do public speaking. But again asking who are you, what’s your story, and how does your story relate to others. Storytelling is obviously much bigger than what you wrote in your book. Nice to meet you, Dan. Following you on Twitter now.

  6. says

    Great post. Thank you for sharing. I’m still in the process of publishing my memoir while waiting for a contract, I’m developing my platform. This post was very timely.

  7. says

    I have a different story for you. I recently began partnering with a memoir teacher to teach beginner blogging to her students. The students, all women of middle-age and better, sometimes self-publish so I figured the reason they wanted to learn to blog was to build a platform for future sales. I was wrong.

    The teacher told me they just want to see their words onscreen. They want to practice, and have fun. It’s not commercial; it’s purely creative. I think you might have been able to hear a grinding sound as my brain changed gears. No commercial intent? And then I thought: this is going to be the most fun of any class I’ve ever taught!!!

    Dan and Kathy, I thought you’d enjoy a different POV from our normal. Best wishes to both of you.

    • says

      Lynne, I love this perspective~writing for the love of writing and sharing our stories. And it really does align with Dan’s message of connecting with like-minded people,i.e. making meaningful connections. It seems to start with honoring what we believe and want to accomplish…”focus,define,target.” Thanks so much for stopping by and adding your unique spin to the conversation!

    • says

      Lots of people start blogs for the fun of it or for families and friends to keep up with them. If any of these ladies Lynne is helping ever do self-publish, they will then have some fans via their fun blogs (if they’ve made them public). Also, their blogs will show their writing style and talent, so fun can turn into platform and publicity.

  8. says

    Thank you so much Lynne! I love that. So much of how I work with writers is focused on impact and legacy – that they are connect with things deeper than JUST revenue, although we do cover that too.
    Thanks.
    -Dan

  9. Smita Jagdale says

    Hi Dan, nice to meet you through Kathy’s blog! kathy, this blog has so many pearls, I better pick them up ,one at a time. A few years ago, I heard one does not need to describe your platform, because, they get the message by reading your story. I would love to form my platform, and talk about it. I come from a different culture, and have to explain a few things that sometimes, readers from this country can not comprehend. If I focus on my goals, that will help someone to uproot the fears and take courage to move forward. I have a chance to work with younger generation, and would like my organisations to start a blog for other members to communicate better.
    Thanks for the great advice, Dan!

    • says

      Smita, I’m so glad you enjoyed Dan’s “pearls” which I know you will apply to your own platform. Thanks,as always, for stopping by and adding your unique perspective to the conversation!

  10. says

    Thanks so much — I enjoyed reading this and especially appreciate the reminder about the three core goals (focusing, defining, targeting). I’ve got a 2-part post on platform building on my site at — http://bit.ly/zCVjnq. It’s more tactical than this, so they complement each other nicely. Thanks again for being so generous with your knowledge and experience.

    Sandra Beckwith
    http://buildbookbuzz.com

    • says

      Dear Sandra,

      It is so nice to have you stop by and comment on Dan’s post. I just visited your site, buildbookbiz and found it packed with useful tips for writers. There is so much to learn about building an author platform and it is useful to hear different perspectives on how to approach it. Thanks for sharing!
      Kathy

  11. says

    I liked Dan’s comment regarding “To me, platform is very much about the basics, things that were true 100 years ago, as they will be 100 years from now.”

    I just thought, it’s almost like the lazy person’s way of meeting others without having to cook a meal.

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