For a novelist, building a platform boils down to building a following of people that like you and want to read your books someday.
I’m not alone. If there’s one thing I hear other writers bemoaning more than anything else, it’s this idea that we need to attract a following.
The thing is, I actually like everything I do to build a platform, but I hate the idea of having to do it. Like most writers, I do not like self-promotion and I don’t like having to keep track of numbers. I like people. I like ideas. I do not, under any circumstances, like numbers.
Yes, I homeschool my kids, why do you ask? (Don’t worry, during Math, I almost completely stifle my hatred for numbers for their sake.)
So, with building a platform, I try to not think in terms of numbers and instead I think about what my readers would like to hear from me and I mash that up with what God has put in my heart to share. I try to do all of this strategically so that someday my novels can be found by the people that want or need to read them. Easy, breezy, right?
Right now, this looks like:
I’ve been blogging since 2008, and I’ve made every mistake there is to make. I’m not consistent, I don’t write for search results, I walked away for an extended break just as things were getting hot, and I am terrible about promoting my posts.
I like to think I have good content most of the time, though. So there’s that.
I’m back into blogging regularly, and I’m having fun with it but also doing it more strategically. I’ve cleaned up my categories to reflect the few things I want to write about and I’m thinking in terms of what readers would like to see, both now and in the future when I’m a novelist and those readers check my blog out.
Bloggers to follow that blog about blogging and platform:
Problogger. His focus is on making an income from blogging, but his blogging tips are always top-notch and there are years of resources on his site.
Michael Hyatt. He wrote the book on platform and he knows his stuff. Beware, you can spend hours browsing his site!
Amy Lynn Andrews Her weekly newsletter is incredibly valuable and her site is another fountain of information for bloggers.
A few quick tips to grow your blog’s audience
Comment on other blogs.
Blog comments are down, all over. But they are still valued by bloggers (even more so since they are less and less common) and are a great way to say, “Hey” and meet other bloggers. Leave thoughtful or helpful comments, not spammy ones. When I first started leaving comments on blogs, I was totally unaware that this would help my audience grow. But it did. And I also made some great online friends and connections that led to guest posting.
Guest Post for other blogs, and allow guest posts on yours.
This was the definitely the single most impactful thing I did in the early days. When I guest posted on another blog, I would link back to my site in the Bio and most of those readers would click through and visit my site. I made sure to have extra-great content up on those days and my subscribers really grew from that.
Allowing guest posts on your site works the same way. Have the blogger that guest posts share a link with their followers. Their readers will click over to your site to read the post and your audience will grow. So you’re getting great content that you didn’t have to write, and new readers as well. Win-win!
Have Noticeable Social Media Icons.
The first thing I do when I stumble upon a blog post I like is look and see where else the blogger is online. I might not be ready to subscribe to their blog, but I will probably follow them on Facebook. Oftentimes, with newer bloggers, there is no easy way to find those links at first glance. I think you should have those links on every page, and icons are the easiest and most recognizable way to do this. Mine are in the upper right hand corner of every page on this site. They’re tiny, but readers immediately know what those icons mean. Post them in a noticeable place.
If you don’t know how to do this, search “Simple Social Icons” in WordPress plug-ins. Install the plug-in, and add it to your sidebar using the widgets, and change the links to match your own. It’s as simple as that!
Sending An Email Newsletter
Every aspiring writer should have an email newsletter. I am sure there are plenty of best-selling authors that don’t send a newsletter and do just fine, but if you are just starting out and trying to get the attention of a Big Publishing House, or even to have an audience to sell your self-published books to someday, then you should definitely have a newsletter.
In the past, I have been terrible about sending a regular newsletter out, and I finally realized it was because I never knew what to write. I have more blog post ideas than I’ll ever use, but nothing ever seemed to fit a newsletter just the way I wanted it to. So this year I decided to streamline it and just do it. I came up with a simple theme, decided to just write one short article and do away with sidebars and everything else, and determined to send it out only four times a year.
I started advertising it more, including using a pop-up box on my home page. I linked to it on Facebook and I created a Freebie that only subscribers get. Sign up and you’ll get the freebie, too 🙂
After making all of these changes, my formerly stagnant subscribers list is growing every day. I am not the best person to give out tips in this area, but I’m going to give you a few anyway, because they are things I learned from my own mistakes.
Tips for An Email Newsletter
Sign up with Mail Chimp or a similar service that will store emails and send your newsletter for you. Mail Chimp is free up to 2,000 subscribers, so you can easily get started for free. In Mail Chimp, you can also easily match the branding for your site.
Send it at regular intervals. Again, learned this by mistake, but it is important if you’re trying to build a regular following. I’ve heard Rachelle Gardner recommend a quarterly newsletter, so I decided four times a year was plenty. If it’s good enough for Rachelle, it’s good enough for me.
Create new content for the newsletter. Your newsletter post or article shouldn’t be available on your blog or anywhere else. Write something new, just for subscribers. It doesn’t have to be mind-blowing, but it should be well-written and helpful to the reader.
Building a Website
For years, I simply used my blog as my website. Many authors do, and it works just fine. However, in trying to think in terms of the future, I knew I would want a professional-looking website that readers of my books could land on, find basic information about me and my books, and then click over to my blog if they wanted to.
So I created this website. The home page right now features different categories I write in and a little bit about me. The theme I am using is actually set up for authors to showcase their books. So, when I have books to sell, my homepage will feature those. Not going to lie, I am super excited for that day!
I’m also building a lot of content into the website that isn’t released on the blog. Every blog post goes out to subscribers, so I will eventually link to all of this extra content, but for now, I am just creating pages instead of posts to do things like this series that you’re reading now. I want to build up a database of helpful content, and I decided to do it with pages rather than bombard my blog subscribers with 6 posts in a row about my writing life.
Other areas I’m working on building are Homemaking Lessons for Girls and Book Club Ideas. (Book Clubs is currently empty, but I’m working on it.) All three of these newer sections suit my readers and will serve a purpose for a long time to come.
I’m not really doing the kind of speaking engagements that will make publishers stand up and take notice. But I’m happy with what I’m doing now, and every time I speak somewhere, I try to remember to collect emails for my newsletter, so technically it’s helping my platform, even though it’s super minimal and growing my audience is never my focus.
I kind of have a love-hate relationship with speaking. On one hand, I absolutely love teaching and feel totally energized and blessed when doing a message or workshop and I LOVE to see what God does through that. On the other hand, my nerves are so bad leading up to it all that once, as I was crossing the street to head into a speaking engagement, I literally said to my husband, maybe I’ll get hit by a car right now and I won’t have to do this. And I was totally serious. In that moment, I would have rather been speeding towards the hospital in an ambulance than stepping up to a podium.
Once I started, I was fine and I remembered what God had called me to do and even enjoyed it. Sometimes I wish He’d make it easier on my poor nerves, but I do believe there is a purpose even in that. It keeps me humble, if nothing else.
If you’re looking to get started with speaking to groups, start with a small group at your church and let God and word of mouth take care of the rest! I started teaching in church and small Bible studies, and my ministry grew out of that. I have been on a break for a bit as we’ve been grieving, but I will get back to it soon, and when I do, I know God will lead my steps.
Tips for Speaking
Prepare. I took a teaching class from a Pastor, years ago, it was one of the most valuable things I ever did for my ministry. In the class, I remember him saying there is ministry in the preparation, and that really stuck with me. Don’t underestimate how long it will take you to prepare for an hour of speaking. Start as early as possible and practice in front of an audience of family or friends before your first time out.
Have a Speaking Page featured on your website.Peek at mine for ideas.
Read Easy Way to Effective Speaking. It’s a little dated, but the advice within is very useful.
Watch and learn from other speakers. Take notes and note their use of outlines. How do they open? How do they close? Do they seem perfect and polished or at ease and a laid back? Which do you prefer as a listener?
Bring a water bottle. You’ll need it. Try to take a drink at natural times, not in the middle of a sentence. A perfect time is when your listeners all take a note at the same time because you said something brilliant, or they’re laughing from a great joke you just told. If those dreamy scenarios don’t come up, take a sip between points.
Wear comfortable shoes. Learn from my mistake. You don’t want to be hobbling out to your car after standing for hours in uncomfortable heels.
Find out if you’ll have access to equipment for any slides or videos you plan to show. Even if you will have access, always be prepared to go on with out technology in case it doesn’t work.
Find out if you can offer a PDF handout for them to download beforehand and print out at home, or if you should print them yourself, if you’re willing, for smaller groups. Handouts aren’t necessary or appropriate in all situations, so consider the venue and type of message. Workshops are great for handouts, an inspiring message, not so much.
Have a form to collect emails. At workshops, I usually offer a simple door prize, and give entrants the opportunity to either just enter the drawing, or check a box on the entry form and sign up for the newsletter as well. If I’m giving more of a message than a workshop, I’ll bring a sign up sheet and put it on a back table or somewhere.
Be prepared to talk with people. This seems like a no-brainer, but I was truly taken aback the first time I did a workshop and had a line of people waiting to talk to me afterwards.
Hanging out on Social Media
Social Media is what naturally comes to mind for most of us when we hear the word Platform. I have not been great at gaining a high following on any Social Media platform. I could definitely do better and be more strategic.
I use social media to connect, not to sell, and I think that’s why I do have a loyal following. My numbers are not massive, but they are mighty. Social Media for me has been a huge source of support and love over the years, and anytime I offer something to my followers, I want it to bless them in return.
When I do have books to sell, I won’t be posting several times a day about it, but I will include them in the event because it will be a big deal in my life and I want to share it.
I have no idea if this approach is a good idea or not, but it is authentically me. If I felt like I had to start trying to get more likes, I probably wouldn’t be doing me anymore.
I am trying a Facebook Ad for the first time as I’m writing this post, so I’ll have to come back and let you know how that worked out. That is more on the marketing side of things, but since we’re discussing Social Media, I thought I’d mention it.
Simple Social Media Tips
Connect. Be authentic. Be vulnerable. Actually read the comments people are leaving. Respond to messages. I used to be very good about responding to messages, but then we went through a public tragedy and messages became a land mine, with some really terrible things being said in some of them. So I haven’t opened or responded to messages in a few weeks right now, because avoidance is the best tactic for my sanity. However, I will get back to messages when things settle down. And that is OKAY. We’re sharing our lives online and there are times that Platform won’t matter a bit. Don’t be afraid to break the rules when you need to.
Build Community. Respond to as many comments as you can, and pay attention. You’ll start to recognize some people after awhile because they become regulars. Appreciate them.
Meet Their Needs. Pray for your followers. Notice the things they say over and over. If they have a need you can meet, do it. Find little ways to bless them. Your focus will go off yourself and that’s always a good thing. Even when, or maybe especially when building a platform!
Coming Up With really Cool Project Ideas That People Will be Excited About
As I build my platform, I am always coming up with new ideas. And, boy do I have some exciting things coming up! For me, the sweet spot is fining something that I love to write about or do, and seeing that there is a need or an opening for that. I’ll come back here when those things are off the ground and share them with you.
Spend some time brainstorming and see if you can come up with some projects that people will flock to.
Some Potential Project Ideas
A Series on Your Blog. The Homemaking for girls series I did brought more readers than any other thing up to that point. I also utilized guests posts for this series, which is no doubt why it did so well.
A Group Series. I’ve done this, too, and it’s always fun. A group series is when you participate with a group of bloggers and all write in a similar theme for a specified amount of days. At the end of each post, you each link to every other blogger participating in the series. You all benefit from each other’s readers and your readers benefit from great content.
An eBook. Do you have an idea for a great eBook? Write one and offer it as a freebie for subscribers. For awhile I resisted the eBook idea, because I felt they were overdone and wouldn’t stand out to my audience. I was wrong. My Husband Challenge has really resonated with readers, and I’m so glad I was able to offer it and help marriages, and it brought me hundreds of new readers, too. I have a few other ideas for eBooks that I plan to write later this year, if I have the time.
A Private Facebook Group With a Purpose. Unlike a page, a group is set up differently and is much more private. I have an idea for a private FB group, I’m just waiting for when I have the time to devote to it. Is there a group of people that you can minister to on a more intimate level than your blog? Think about starting a private group. If you have a few minutes a couple of times a day to check in and answer questions, you can run a successful group, and then in turn point people back to your blog when it is helpful for them.
A Podcast. This is my next big project, and though I won’t be ready to release it until May 2016 at the earliest, I am super excited about my podcasting plans. I am still in research mode for this, so I don’t have any tips, but you can easily search Podcasting and come up with a ton of helpful hints and ideas. And let me know if you start one, because I’m listening to as many as I can right now.
There is just one caveat with all of this platform work…
Make Sure You Leave Time to Write Your Novels!
A few years ago, I was doing all of this platform building at the rate of about a full-time job and my numbers were much better. Since I decided I wanted 1. My life back, and 2. To start writing fiction, I cut my hours on blogging and platform back, and my numbers dropped significantly.
Now, I strive to find the happy space of doing just enough,just what God has for me each day.
If I get too wrapped up in building a following, the rest of my life will suffer. If I ignore it completely, my books will likely never be published. Like everything in life, it’s a balancing act. Which for me means lots of prayer!
Next up, Marketing. Yes, there are things you can do to work on marketing your book long before you’re published. Read the entire series here.
This post contains affiliate links.
The software I use to write my novels, ebooks, and blog posts, and keep track of all my Platform ideas :