Build your author platform: 10 tips from a pro

Michele Borba corporate affiliations.jpgAs 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 on 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 growing, changing, and evolving around what you’re doing, who you are, specific events on your schedule, photos of your books, new endorsements, press and video clips. Get 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. Sure this can cost money, but think of it like graduate school: a worthwhile investment in your future career and financial security.

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.

21 Responses to Build your author platform: 10 tips from a pro

  1. Matt’s Blogosphere 6/8/2008 « Enter the Octopus

    [...] Ten tips for setting up your book platform. [...]

  2. Christina Katz

    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!

  3. Jeannie Claire

    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.

  4. Omkar Patil

    Alan Rinzler is very good advisor for those who are new authors.


    I like your tips, for first time authors,iam looking for an agent to help me along.

  6. Gabrielle

    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…

  7. Gabrielle

    EDIT: Thank you Michele Borba for your insight/tips…!

  8. Dustin Hansen

    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.

  9. Linda Katmarian

    Good advice. The publishing world has become very demanding. Thanks for the hand up.

  10. Gwendolyn

    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.

  11. J. Bolden

    This is a wonderful article very simple, practical, and one that is being tweeted by me right now! Thank you for this.

  12. Marcia Naomi Berger

    Hi Alan,

    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,

  13. Lynn Henriksen

    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.

  14. Joyce

    Thank you so much for this goldmine of information.

  15. Mathilde Apelt Schmidt

    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.

  16. JR Stone

    Thank so much for this article. It helps to illuminate the new realities of being a published author.

  17. Judith Munson

    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.”

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  20. Jeanne

    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.

  21. Blaise

    These are tips are useful for young authors like us. Thanks Alan.
    Blaise Ezeokeke, author of Minds in Dilemma (an upcoming book).

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