Author Platforms (To Write and Have Written)

Often the idea of building and maintaining an author platform can be daunting. Let’s talk about the myths of author platforms and what we really do need to focus on (and how we can keep it manageable and fun).

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(After the show, I got my monthly email bill, and it was—are you ready?—$0.31 USD. Not the $80 I would have spent at Mailchimp.

That was for January’s mailings. For December, when I sent more to promote holiday sales and a new release, plus a newsletter for my day job (no need to split accounts!), I spent all of $0.65. So I just wanted to say that yes, Sendy really is cheaper.)

Video (from Twitch and YouTube):

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Transcript:

Let’s talk about the scary topic of Author Platforms! /thunder crash/ Bring your questions! – powered by Happy Scribe

How about this, guys?Can anybody hear me out here?

Do I sound slightly lesslike a demonic hamster?

Oh, hey, thanks ShyRedFox for subscribing

and oh, and apparently I do soundless like a demonic hamster.

That’s great.OK, so I just swapped

my sound inputs and OK,so this is gonna work.

Stay right here.

Apparently something happenedto my microphone just as I went live.

To be fair, I worked really hard over theweekend and it may have just given up,

I had a major conference over the weekend.

I was

over here and in this spacefor an ungodly number of hours a day.

And the mic may have just surrendered.I don’t know.

Well, I’ll check on that later.

But in the meantime, hey, welcome back.

It is Tuesday night.

This is To Write And Have Written.

And I’m Laura VanArendonk Baugh.

And we’re going to talk about stuff.

OK,

so tonight’s topic

is a bit of a,

it can be a scary topic,because I’ve been around long enough

that I’ve seen it discussed from a lotof different angles

with a lot of misinformation attached andand a lot of drama and angst attached.

So we’re going to try to break it down.

We’re going to tryto make it a manageable topic.

Please bring your questions into this.

I don’t know how long we’ll spend on this,

because I’m hoping to just make itas clear and simple as possible.

But if we need to spend someextra time on it, we can do that.

So. And that is the topic of the author

platform. Thunder roll,Lightning, Lightning!

But yeah, so and the reason is, I mean,

if you’re just coming intothe publishing industry,

you know, within the last year or so,

you’ve definitely heard of an authorplatform and the need for one.

But you may have missed someof the most extreme drama around it.

And I’m going to touch on that as we go.

But I love the, I lovethe reactions in the chat. Aaaarrrghh!

Yes, OK.

I’m still getting some weirddistortion on the sound.

I am sorry.I am, this is, this is what I’ve got.

I could switch to my other headset

and that’s probably gota better sound quality.

Let me do that just because this willeventually end up as a podcast as well.

And it would be great ifpeople could actually hear it.

So give me just a moment

to make sure I’ve gota battery on this one.

The battery is full.That’s fantastic.

And I should have sound nowI’m hoping I’ve got sound.

Well, I hope I have sound OK.

Yeah, first one was audible,just a little crackly.

I got nothing.

I don’t know what’sgoing on with the audio.

It got scared off by the topicof author platforms.

So let’s let’s roll with this.

OK, this one does sound better.Great.

Awesome.We’ll stay here again.

What?

We want this to be intelligiblefor our podcast listeners as well.

OK,so and I’m seeing in the chat a number

of you are saying, yes,author platforms is the thing that you

have wanted to work on, you might needto work on, has been a frightening topic.

All of that is is completely legitimate,

especially a few years ago,there was the common wisdom and in some

cases explicitly stated expectationthat you had to have a certain

platform, a certain reach

that was defined quantitativelyfor a publisher to accept your work.

These numbers were often, and I’m goingto say this in the gentlest way possible,

crazy,

unrealistic,

absolutely insane,you know, and things that I saw floated

around, I actually did a little Googlingyesterday just to kind of make sure that I

wasn’t remembering thingsin an exaggerated form.

And so I went onto the interweband I started pulling up

recommendations andand things for other platforms.

And I was spending a lot of timein the 2014 era, as you do.

I love the time searchfeature on Google anyway.

And I kept seeing things like, you know,

you need 25,000 followers on Twitter beforea publisher will even look at your query.

And one thing from an actual publisher who

was just, “oh, yeah, we really wantsomebody with a lot of reach.”

“Well, what number would that be?”

“I don’t know, like a million.”

Like, you know, like everybodyjust has a million followers.

Like, that’s a thing.OK, so let me start by saying.

Don’t worry about that.

We’ll get to why I think — I have no inside

information, but I think I knowwhere that was coming from.

I’m also going to tell you that that is

not necessary for youto be successful today.

So that was a weird phase we went through.

You can stop worrying about it.

Now, let’s talk about practical aspects.

So I’m

sorry I moved my chat,

which is a little bit sad because I’d loveto be able to see you guys a little bit,

but let me see if I canget this back here.

But the.

Come on.

Yeah, yeah, OK, yes, so Shy

is asking about if the publishersdidn’t want to market as hard.

Yeah, it’s way easier to sell somethingthat already has an audience, right?

I mean, look at Hollywood and, you know,whatever movie Part seven,

as opposed to new material,it’s the same kind of concept.

Yeah.Oh, right.

No big deal.Yeah.

Who doesn’t have a million followers.Jeez.

Come on.We all have that,

that B.S. is your term.That’s fair.

This is family friendly channel so.

Oh I did battle with the newsletter.That’s great.

Awesome.

OK, I think I’ve caught up with the chatso I’m going to try to keep up

seeing you guys a little bit better here.

So everything I did this for thisconference this weekend.

I had I had threedifferent cameras running.

I had

multiple light stands and platformsbecause I was doing, among other things,

Animal Behavior Conferenceand I was doing training demos.

So I’ve got cameras and camerasand cameras and lights and lights

and platforms so that I had differentheights of platforms in different

locations so I could do differentkinds of demos and everything.

And so I have much of that reassembled,but not all of it.

So I apologize for having to movesome things here on the fly.

OK, so yes, that all wascoming back to publishers.

You know, if they’re looking at, weneed to acquire two new authors.

This one nobody’s ever heard of.

This one has twenty fivethousand people following them.

It seemed to make sense that, you know,

that they would take the personwith the more followers.

But we’ll get back to there.So.

Hey, T.R., thanks for stopping by.

All right.

OK, so here’s let’s start with defining

what a platform is,because it’s one of those words get thrown

around a lot and not everybody,you know, comes with this knowledge

already built in. A platform is basically

your public facing persona,your public facing reach.

It is anything you do that interfaceswith your readers, your public fans,

strangers, whatever,so it can cover a lot of ground.

Typically what you’ll see people think offirst is things like your website,

your mailing list, your social media,OK, it can be more than that.

Speaking engagements wouldbe part of your platform.

But but again, most people tend to focus

on website mailing lists,social media as kind of the core of that.

I’m going to say don’t limit yourself. If

you have an avenue toto reach people in another way,

don’t say, oh, it’s not Twitter.It doesn’t count.

It definitely counts.

It probably counts more than Twitter does.

OK, social mediais kind of a vanity metric.

We’ve talked about that beforein marketing. But anyway,

we’ll get to that.

But what I want you to think of is,the platform is everything you have

that is — sorry, I just saw Kate, “everythingcounts more than Twitter.”

I don’t know, maybe like, you know,Friendster or whatever.

Anyway, whatever.

You think about everything you’re doing

that’s interfacing with the public,any time people can see you and your work

and both of those, you and/or your work,that’s part of your platform.

My strong recommendationis that you assess all of these

pieces of your platform,and I’m going to, just in a way that makes

me happy, describe them astentacles going in all directions.

There’s my Twitter following and here’smy Facebook page and here’s my website.

This is my newsletter.

This is the speaking engagement.

This is my my weekly stream.

You know, all of these things.

And you’re going to have all of thosefunneling back to one central hub.

Yes.Kate, I’m sorry.

You do have to make your work visible.

That is part of having a platform.

It is easier to sell your product ifpeople are aware that there is a product.

Yeah.

So, OK, well, that is a whole otherthing that we can we can go into.

But

you’re all you want to bring allof these back to one central hub.

People have different hubs that they use.

But my absolute strongest recommendation,

and I’m not going to mention anything else,would be to have a website.

The reason for this is you controlyour website, you own your website.

You can take your website anywhere

if you have done it well.

And we’ll get to this, too.

If you’ve done it well,you can hop to another server,

have that website back upand running again in minutes.

And and it doesn’t matter if the companywho was hosting your website goes down.

It doesn’t matter if you know

what we are living through.

And I’m not going to get terribly

political, but we areliving through a, “Oh, noes,

I hate this social media,

I’m going to move to this other socialmedia where they only turn off the people

I disagree with” and allof this stuff is going on.

So

putting your eggs in the more volatilebaskets is probably not a great plan.

So the advice has long been to havea website as your hub,

and I think that’s becoming only moreand more important as we go forward.

So.So, yeah, there we go.

So let’s talk aboutthat actually, just for a moment.

The absolute essential part that I want

to use as a hub and whether or not this ismy sole, whether it is my my primary

piece of my platform,or whether it’s just the

organizing center,that’s something that we can work with.

But I really, really wantthat hub to be there and

my strong recommendation is that you build

your website in a way that it isthe most flexible and most portable.

What I mean by that is, my Web site

I build on WordPress, open sourcecontent management software.

And I would do that, you know,there’s others, there are other competing

open, you know,open management content management

software, Joomla is another one, OK,there are others out there,

but I use WordPress and I would recommendWordPress if you’re just getting started.

I used to use Joomla.I switched.

It’s not that, it’s not that Idon’t like other things.

I’m just trying to recommend things that I

think would be the mostuseful for you at this time.

Here’s the thing.If you go with one of those proprietary

website builders, Wix is one,Squarespace is one.

Weebly, something like that.

Those work only on that company’s server.

You can’t export it,

hop over to another hostand put it back up.

You need to start from scratch.

That means you are stuck with them

should their service degradeor their prices increase.

You have a lot more friction to getting

out because you haveto start over if you get out

and if something happens, you know,there’s a,

you know, an attack on one of theirservers or whatever

where they get into trouble legally orwho knows what the case might be.

You’re at the mercy of everything that’s

going on before you can getback up and operational again.

Whereas if you have something that isextremely flexible and can be hosted

anywhere, WordPress isopen source software.

You can put it anywhere.

I can export my WordPress site.

Actually, I probably don’t even haveto because I’m making regular backups.

Right.You’re making regular backups of your

website, just like you wouldbackup your work in progress.

Just say, OK, so but I’ve got that backup.

I set up a new hosting account.

I click import boom.

I’m up again in a couple of minutes, OK?

And so this this particular host,their service is slowing down.

They’re having problems.

They’re increasing their rates.And I don’t like it.

I can move to a new place and be up.So yes, Shy. Backups! Backups!

Kate’s sneaking off to back up her website.Good.

Thank you.All right.

Excellent.My work here is done.

Accomplished a purpose today.

Anyway, all that to say,

if I have a great community on

a particular social media orgreat community on another

community based platform, like we talkedabout World Anvil,

or if you are in a particular fandomand you’re very active there.

Yeah.Whatever the case might be.

But people know they can come back to thishub to find you and everything that you

do,then it doesn’t matter as much if

something else goes wrong because youstill have control over the center part.

So my website has links to where you can

find me and all those other places,but the website is where everything

resides and that’s whereeverything you can find me.

So I recommend that.

The other thing, another reason I recommend WordPress

is it’s incredibly popular.

It’s ridiculously popular.

Literally a third of the Internetruns on WordPress.

OK, what this means is anything youever want to do has already been done.

Something has been built for it.

And there’s a tutorial on how to do it

so you don’t have to learnstuff from scratch.

And I know I know a lotof those proprietary builders

get people in because they say,

look how easy it is, but that’s a shortterm win for longer term issues.

I would much prefer to take some timeto get that to get started with WordPress

and then have something that Ican keep for the next 50 years.

OK,

and yes.

So let me just say that there we go.

And WordPress is incrediblysearch engine friendly.

If you if you know,you’ve heard about search engine

optimization and the importance of that,WordPress is very easy to optimize

and it’s mobile friendly.

You want to make sure you builda site that is mobile friendly.

And the other thing you want to make sureyou do, if you’re really after

getting some traction, is make surethat your website is not static.

So an easy way to dothat is to have a blog.

There’s lots of other things.

You just want to make sure that something

is getting updated on it regularlythat will keep it alive in your search

engine results and people willbe more likely to find you.

So what you would like is when you put in your name,

which is fairly distinctive in my caseand other cases, you might want to put

in your name plus books orauthor or something like that,

but you want to make sure that your

website’s coming up pretty much at the topof that list and that that means anybody

who’s searching for you,you can grab them and now you can pull

them onto your platform and now youcan reach them with your message.

So there’s my there’s my website chatter.

So

I literally had no idea that was a thing.

What was that the websites or I’m sorry,was that the back ups or something else?

Kate and I, I’m slow on the chat, so Idon’t know how long ago you asked that.

The other

oh, backing up a website.

Yes, I yeah,

and most hosts will do that for youto some degree, but I recommend that you

do it yourself because then you alwaysmake sure again you have the control.

I’m a control freak.OK, this is what this is about.

Control freak.

The other thing that is part of yourplatform core would be your mailing list.

And again, if you’ve beenin the publishing industry,

you’ve definitely heard aboutthe importance of having a mailing list or

a newslettercalled a couple of different things,

basically, again,a way to directly contact your readers.

And again, it goes back to control.

If I’m relying on Facebook to reach people

and we’re watchingFacebook’s organic reach.

It’s approaching zero.It’s not a way of —

and, hey, they’re a business.

They’re allowed to make money.

Like that’s that’s how it works.

But it means that if I want to reach

people, I can’t rely on putting somethingon my Facebook page and expecting

everybody who’s likedmy Facebook page to see it.

Facebook wants me to pay for that.

And then they want me to pay more if I

want more of them to see itand all of that sort of thing.

And then that’s also relying on people

checking in on Facebook that particularday, which isn’t always the case,

or people remembering that theyfollowed me on Facebook.

And now when they’re moving to another

platform because, you know, allthe social media drama that’s going on,

you know, are they still going to beconnected with me in some way?

OK, or do I have to suddenly put myself

on every single socialmedia platform that exists?

The answer to that is no, please don’t.

You know, it’s not good for you.

But anyway, all that to say is you needsome way to contact people directly.

And for most of us, the easiestway to do that is a newsletter.

I’m happy to answer somequestions about newsletters.

I don’t want to spend a ton of time on it.

My purpose here tonight was just to say

it’s important and youshould probably have one.

There are best practiceswith the newsletters that I mentioned.

Just very, very quickly, you absolutelywant to be using a mailing service.

Do not just enter the emails of everybody

into your personal emailaccount and send them.

That is all kinds of problematicand in some cases illegal.

So just just don’t. Get an actualmailing service and do that.

OK, so sorry.

You got some chat coming through.

I want to make sure I get to see.

Bridger asked “doubly self-employedand creativity and behavior and a control

freak? Gasp surprised.”At the behavior conference this weekend,

I was explaining I believe alltrainers are control freaks.

That’s how we get into training.

Yeah, that’s how that is. So OK.

So Pjzoofit says that some of their personal emails

aren’t reaching followers,but MailChimp always gets through.

Here’s the thing.I can go in and tweak stuff

with my mailing service and thisis where you have to go,

this is going to get your hands greasyand you’re going under the hood.

So, you know, if this if thisisn’t your thing, don’t do this.

We start with the easy parts, you get,

you build onto the restof it as you need to.

But I can go in and do some

technical tweaking to makemy mail more deliverable.

And then there’s things that I can process

and watch and and lookfor in a mailing list.

So, yeah.

So that’s just absolutelysomething to to keep in mind.

Mailing list services comeand a wide variety of pricing.

I personally use Sendy.I used to use MailChimp.

I’m not as happy with them anymore.

I use Sendy now.

Sendy is great.

If you have a website and you want to hostSendy yourself, then it’s dirt cheap.

And if you don’t, if you aren’t hosting