What is a ‘platform’ when promoting a book?

One question I frequently receive from editing clients who’ve just self-published their books is “What is a platform?” The word is bantered about a lot on self-publishing blogs and in guides about marketing books, but it’s rarely ever defined.

A platform is the combination of all the tools you use so people become aware of your book and purchase it. Typically it consists of a website, a blog, social media (particularly Goodreads, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest), and website pages where your book is for sale (such as Amazon.com, CreateSpace and Smashwords). Essentially, the platform is a way for you to reach others; it also is a way for others to stumble upon your book when using a search engine across the Internet or at a specific website.

Some marketing gurus would expand the definition to include any effort you make so that people are aware of your book. This could include press releases to the media, appearances on radio and television programs, book readings/signings, speaking engagements, handing out a business card, and so on. While these efforts do allow people to find out that you have a book and to purchase it, those efforts are much more ephemeral than my more limited definition of a platform. After all, so long as you don’t remove your website and Amazon.com page, they are always there for someone to discover. In contrast, once you’re done with the book signing, the opportunity that was offered for someone to stumble across your book disappears.

How important is a platform? Some authors trying to peddle gimmicks will say it’s entirely unimportant. Mot authors (including myself) disagree. A platform is absolutely vital to your success, especially over the long haul. However, the elements that make up your platform, how you utilize the tools in your platform, and the frequency that you use those tools varies greatly from book to book. There is no single formula that works for every title; rather, it varies depending on your potential readership, your sales goals, and how effective you are at utilizing each tool.