As an acquiring editor, one of the first things I look for in an author’s proposal is the “platform”, that is, the writer’s reputation and public visibility – and the ability, willingness, and experience to promote themselves in the marketplace.
What we publishers all hope for when opening a proposal from a literary agent is not just a great idea for a book and a promising ability to write, but an aspiring author’s track record in book sales, appearances on radio and television, respect in the professional community for teaching, research, and scholarship, as well as financial success in the field and anything else that has put the author’s name in public and produced a long list of entries on Google.
The bigger the platform, the higher the book advance.
These days building a platform is crucial not only for selling a book, but in building a professional career as an academic, entrepreneur, scientist, public speaker, trainer, workshop leader, or corporate spokesperson.
One of the smartest and most successful at this is parenting expert Michele Borba, who has built a network of affiliations with the roster of companies whose logos appear at left. Michele has published six books with me, all still in print, that combined have sold more than 200,000 copies. All have sold continuously, with a long shelf and back-list life in the US and Canada.
Her books have also served as calling cards, drawing invitations to speak before parents and educators, and have attracted major corporations such as Johnson & Johnson and Learning Curve West who seek her wisdom in consulting on children’s products and issues.
Michele has become the premier parenting guru on the Today Show, appearing regularly on a broad variety of topics. She blogs at Dr. Michele Borba’s Parenting Secrets at NBC’s iVillage and is a contributor to many other websites.
The corporate logos pictured here indicate only a portion of Michele’s long list of credits — but remember that this platform has taken more than ten years to build. We spoke recently about her experience building an author platform, and she passed along these great suggestions.
Michele Borba’s Top Ten Tips for Building a Successful Author Platform
1. Hire your own publicist to help you get all those planks lined up. Before you sell your book or once you have a copy in print, either self-published or with a commercial publisher, hire a top-level PR person to learn from. Then, next time you can do it yourself. It can be expensive but it’s worth it and you’ll acquire some essential techniques for the rest of your career. I started with the wonderful Dottie DeHart at DeHart & Company and the first thing she taught me was:
2. Make your own media kit that includes:
- A one-page press release that bullets your best hooks for the book’s content.
- Two 750-word articles that can be reprinted free of charge based on key elements of the book itself.
- Ten questions with answers included, that can be used as an interview in any print media or as a suggestion for a new interview.
- A jpeg of the book cover.
- A jpeg of your photo.
- A DVD “reel” of media clips. If you have major national media, great. But I didn’t at first, so Dottie started me out on some very small local cable media at first, but it was me on camera looking good, and you can do this too.
3. Focus on breaking news. Remember the media wants content that connects to other hot stories happening right NOW. They’re more interested in that connection for the viewers and readers than in selling your book for you. So if you see something breaking in the national or print national news about, for example, obese kids being at risk for diabetes or heart disease (all true), get in touch with a producer and suggest that you are an expert with a book either in the works or already published on this precise subject.
4. Create a great website. This can start small but always keep changing and evolving what you’re doing, specific events on your schedule, photos of your books, press, and video clips. By creating a website, you can also increase your book’s visibility by considering various SEO methods, such as link building for example. This should bring more people to your website, increasing your potential sales. You could learn more about this technique by contacting Cardinal Digital Marketing, a Charlotte SEO company for example. Hopefully, your book sales will increase significantly afterward. There are many ways to increase your website’s visibility, but first, you need to create a quality website that details your work. Remember, web design is a very important part of having a good website. If it doesn’t go with the branding or is consistent, then this is not a good start. As first impressions are key, this is essential. If creating a website is something that people struggle with, it could be as simple as doing a quick google search into something like Web design Uk, in the hopes of finding a professional web design company who can lend a helping hand.
Additionally, get a good hosting provider by looking on a site like Hosting Foundry then find a good designer to help set it up and be sure it’s always fresh and up to date. There’s nothing worse than a website that hasn’t been revised for weeks or months. This can cost money but think of it like graduate school: a worthwhile investment in your future career.
5. Get endorsements. No family or friends, please, unless they’re famous enough so everyone recognizes their name or have a very credible brand affiliation like an ivy league school or high position in a related institute or corporation.
6. Develop a speech. Make it related to national news, be sure it reflects your expertise and ties in with your book, and vary it in length and content depending on the size of the audience and duration of the event, from a 15 minute talk at the PTA to an all-day or weekend training with management and executives of an educational institution or business. Start small but be prepared to expand when you succeed and are in demand at a higher level.
7. Learn to blog. Don’t pitch or sell your book when you comment on someone else’s blog. Instead, just join the community, make a contribution, and oh by the way, mention something from your book on the subject under discussion.
8. Learn to make audio and videos. Pod casts and videos that can be posted on YouTube or sent around the internet are becoming one of the best ways to sell yourself and your books.
9. Use Amazon to the fullest. The online retailer provides authors with familiar ways to post a book with a product description and opportunity to order, and is introducing new ways to promote books, such as posting author videos and special gift offers for shoppers.
10. Never walk by a bookstore without going in and shaking hands with the staff. If they know you they may recommend your book. A personal contact, a friendly face, has been shown to increase local sales, store by store, chains or independent or specialty shops.
So choose what feels most comfortable and feasible from the list above and have some fun with it. You’ll usually never know exactly what works or doesn’t specifically, so it’s good to try as many approaches as possible.
These are tips are useful for young authors like us. Thanks Alan.
Blaise Ezeokeke, author of Minds in Dilemma (an upcoming book).
Good info for lots of folks I guess but many of the best writers were solitary. Too bad the writers these days have to do most everything from writing to promoting and marketing. Guess it really is all about the money for most folks. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding what is the role of publishers in our modern society.
Judith Munson says
Great article and even though it was written a couple of years ago, or at least one year, everything still applies. Learning this industry has been quite a journey and I’m not done learning anad growing yet. Thanks again for the tips.
Author, “Alligators in the Water Cooler, A Guide to Identifying Bullies & Their Buddies in the Workplace.”
JR Stone says
Thank so much for this article. It helps to illuminate the new realities of being a published author.
Mathilde Apelt Schmidt says
Dear Alan. It was a pleasure talking to you last Saturday. I wish that people would read my Happiness book and follow those suggestions as I do. Whenever I’m in a jam (another speeding ticket, etc.) I go to Page 64 and tell myself that this, too, will pass and in a few weeks I’ll sit in that boring Drivers’ Improvement class and after that I’ll forget about the whole thing for at least eighteen months when I again get careless. But maybe not. Maybe I’ll be a perfect driver from now on. And if something really tragic happens like death in the family or actual old age striking, it’s page 96 I’ll refer to and start looking for a better life beyond this one. Always a silver lining! Mathilde.
Thank you so much for this goldmine of information.
Lynn Henriksen says
Thanks to both of you, Alan and Michele!
Great straight forwards tips that I’ll take to heart and the business plan.
See you in a couple weeks at the San Francisco Writers Conferene on Valentines weekend.
Marcia Naomi Berger says
Thanks for this useful, concise article. I’ll send a link to it to members of my platform building group.
Looking forward to seeing you at the 2010 San Francisco Writers Conference.
All the best,
J. Bolden says
This is a wonderful article very simple, practical, and one that is being tweeted by me right now! Thank you for this.
I write for children and those tips will work for me, too. I know someone who hired a PR person. Despite the expense, she was very happy with the results.
Linda Katmarian says
Good advice. The publishing world has become very demanding. Thanks for the hand up.
Dustin Hansen says
This is fantastic. It looks like a ton of work – but I for one relish this type of opportunity. I’m a horrible salesman – I hate making the pitch, but if it’s something I believe in then it’s a breeze. If I don’t believe in my own work enough to promote it then I’m writing the wrong book.
Great advice as usual.
EDIT: Thank you Michele Borba for your insight/tips…!
What — write a book, become an entrepreneur? It’s come to this?
I suppose I embrace a romanticized, more Proustian approach to writing — more isolationist than celebrity-seeking. Except for occasional interviews, I would prefer a publicist to take care of anything and everything that would detract from the REAL work, and since you say they’re quite expensive, I guess the best solution for me is to marry one! :)
Nevertheless, thank you, Alan for your insight…
" class="comment-author-link external" rel="external nofollow" itemprop="url" target="_blank">MILLICENT HO SUE says
I like your tips, for first time authors,iam looking for an agent to help me along.
Omkar Patil says
Alan Rinzler is very good advisor for those who are new authors.
Jeannie Claire says
Alan Rinzler gives excellent advice for any writer who is either in the process or continuing to build their name as a respected book author. Thank you. ~ Jeannie Claire, Author of the book Another Search for Shelter.
Christina Katz says
I like this post a lot. It contains lots of practical suggestions for first-time authors. The media kit tip is especially useful. Thanks so much!