At its core, an “author platform” is the number of people that follow you in some way—through social media, speaking engagements, email lists, website traffic, articles, columns, etc. The premise behind an author platform makes a lot of sense: Build an audience that will buy your books. What nobody tells you is that the only people who can do this successfully are the already successful.
The industry has fallen in love with author platforms. Agents request it, publishers demand it, and bloggers make lot of money showing you how to do it. Yet if I asked you—or them– to produce a single example of an unknown writer who built an author platform that sold a significant amount of books, you’d scratch your head like you had dandruff. By the way, when I use the word “significant” to describe sales, I don’t mean dozens or hundreds of books here and there. I mean thousands a month. When I say “significant” what I really mean is life-changing. As in quit your job, pay your bills, fund your retirement and have a ball the rest of your life making money from ebooks.
You can’t come up with an unknown writer who used their author platform to sell a significant number of books because there are none. The only people who can do it are celebrities, business professionals or spiritual leaders who already had a massive following before they released their first book. If you’re Joel Osteen, the minister of a 50,000 member mega-church, you may debut your first book as an “unknown” author but in actuality you’re a star in your field with a built-in audience primed to buy your book. If you’re David Pogue, the technology writer for the New York Times, you may debut your first book as an “unknown” author, but you have a platform created by the most respected newspaper in the world. But if you’re Nancy Nobody Or Nathan No Name, there is almost no way for you to build an author platform with enough scale to generate significant, or rather, life-changing, book sales.
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Don’t get me wrong; there are lots of people who built enormous, profitable platforms. Bloggers like Darren Rowse of www.problogger.net, Seth Godin at www.sethgodin.com, and Jennifer Lawson at www.theblogess.com (all awesome sites, by the way) come to mind. But even they didn’t build their web audience specifically to sell books. Rowse and Godin, for example, did it to generate income from advertising and market their consulting services. The books came later. Bloggers like Lawson also make a lot of money through advertising and yes, they got book deals from traditional publishers, but they were internet celebrities by the time they got them. Lawson’s blog was clocking in at two to three million page views a month by the time she got her book deal. Platform peddlers point to Lawson’s best selling book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (Putnam) as an example of the power of a platform, but it’s really an example of celebrity influence.
And speaking of celebrity influence, next week we’re going to talk about an important marketing model to sell your books online, so stay tuned!