What exactly is an ‘author platform’?

One of the most heard phrases mentioned when marketing a self-published book is author platform. Despite how commonly it’s heard, there’s a lot of confusion about what exactly is an author platform.

At its most basic, an author platform is a system you create to ensure that your book sells.

Of course, self-publishing gurus encourage different systems, believing some work better than others. And different systems are needed based on the kind of book you write; after all, some of what works to promote a nonfiction book may not work for a novel.

A system, by definition, consists of several parts and steps. Likewise, an author platform also has separate parts and steps.

Perhaps the most common element of the author platform is an online presence – such as a website or a blog – that serves as a base to promote your books. This site usually tells a little about you the author, a bunch about your books, and includes links to where the books can be purchased.

Another common element of author platforms is social media, which most often includes Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, LinkedIn, Pinterest or Tumblr or Instagram, and possibly others. Because potential readers obtain information about books in different ways, usually an author should use at least three of these social media sites.

A third working part of an author platform often is non-social media outreach efforts, such as sending press releases to the media, writing articles for publications (both paper and electronic), book signings, public presentations, advertising, and so on.

In theory, the system works like this: You publish a book. A web page (at an online vendor, your website, or your blog) exists for people to purchase your book. Social media is utilized to point people who don’t know about you or your books to that web page where they can purchase the titles. Non-social media outreach efforts achieve the same purpose as social media but often have the added benefit of allowing the potential reader to directly purchase the book from you (such as at a book signing).

Which social media and non-social media outreach efforts work best for you depend upon a number of complex factors. Foremost among them is the type of book you write. A nonfiction book about the history of a specific locale is more likely to garner media attention than a novel, so a press release is a sound strategy in one case but not the other. Another factor is the quality of your outreach effort. A poorly written tweet, for example, won’t net you a sale. A third factor is the amount of effort you put into it. A sound strategy that is well-planned and executed can net you a surprising number of sales, whereas a half-hearted effort just wastes your time.