A Definition of Author Platform

Definition of author platform

If you’re the Pope, you have a pretty good platform. (Mastino70 / Flickr)

Platform is one of the most difficult concepts to explain, partly because everyone defines it a little differently.

But one thing that I know for sure: Editors and agents are attracted to authors who have this thing called “platform.”

What editors and agents typically mean by platform

They’re looking for someone with visibility and authority who has proven reach to a target audience.

Let’s break this down further.

  • Visibility. Who knows you? Who is aware of your work? Where does your work regularly appear? How many people see it? How does it spread? Where does it spread? What communities are you a part of? Who do you influence? Where do you make waves?
  • Authority. What’s your credibility? What are your credentials? (This is particularly important for nonfiction writers; it is less important for fiction writers, though it can play a role. Just take a look at any graduate of the Iowa MFA program.)
  • Proven reach. It’s not enough to SAY you have visibility. You have to show where you make an impact and give proof of engagement. This could be quantitative evidence (e.g., size of your e-mail newsletter list, website traffic, blog comments) or qualitative evidence (high-profile reviews, testimonials from A-listers in your genre).
  • Target audience. You should be visible to the most receptive or appropriate audience for the work you’re trying to sell. For instance: If you have visibility, authority, and proven reach to orthodontists, that probably won’t be helpful if you’re marketing vampire fiction (unless perhaps you’re writing about a vampire orthodonist who repairs crooked vampire fangs?).

What platform is NOT

  • It is not about self-promotion.
  • It is not about hard selling.
  • It is not about annoying people.
  • It is not about being an extrovert.
  • It is not about being active on social media.
  • It is not about blogging.
  • It is not about your qualifications, authority, or experience, although these are tools for growing or nurturing a platform.
  • It is not something you create overnight.
  • It is not something you can buy.
  • It is not a one-time event.
  • It is not more important than your story or message (but hopefully it grows out of that).

Platform is not about bringing attention to yourself, or by screaming to everyone you can find online or offline, “Look at me! Look at me!” Platform isn’t about who yells the loudest or who markets the best.

It is more about putting in consistent effort over the course of a career, and making incremental improvements in extending your network. It’s about making waves that attract other people to you—not about begging others to pay attention.

What activities build platform?

First and foremost, platform grows out of your body of work—or from producing great work. Remember that. The following list is not exhaustive, but helps give you an idea of how platform can grow.

  • Publishing or distributing quality work in outlets you want to be identified with and that your target audience reads.
  • Producing a body of work on your own platform—e.g., blog, e-mail newsletter, social network, podcast, video, digital downloads, etc—that gathers quality followers. This is usually a longterm process.
  • Speaking at and/or attending events where you meet new people and extend your network of contacts.
  • Finding meaningful ways to engage with and develop your target audience, whether through content, events, online marketing/promotion, etc.
  • Partnering with peers or influencers to tackle a new project and/or extend your visibility.

Side note: Some people have an easier time building platform than others. If you hold a highly recognized position (powerful network and influence), if you know key influencers (friends in high places), if you are associated with powerful communities, if you have prestigious degrees or posts, or if you otherwise have public-facing work—yes, you play the field at an advantage. This is why it’s so easy for celebrities to get book deals. They have “built-in” platform.

Platform building is not one size fits all

Platform building is an organic process and will be different for every single author. There is no checklist I can give you to develop a platform, because it depends on:

  • your unique story/message
  • your unique strengths and qualities
  • your target readership

Your platform should be as much of a creative exercise and project as the work you produce. While platform gives you power to market effectively, it’s not something you develop by posting “Follow me!” on Twitter or “Like me!” on Facebook a few times a week. Use your imagination, and take meaningful steps. It’ll be a long journey.

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Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has more than 15 years of experience in the book and magazine publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. She speaks around the world at events such as BookExpo America, Frankfurt Book Fair, and Digital Book World, and has keynoted writing conferences such as The Muse & The Marketplace. She currently teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia. Find out more.
Posted in Marketing & Promotion.

199 Comments

  1. I’ve only heard the phrase recently, and I now see that my original thought of what it meant was slightly off. I thought it was referring to where people can find you, where you stand; like your blog or website or something, if that makes any sense. So thank you very much for sharing this, I understand much better now :)

  2. A platform is all about planks–and an author’s planks can certainly vary. I’d agree with your list, Jane, and add a few: like an app and a publishing company. I’m also with you on the nebulousness of the term ‘platform.’ It’s become a buzzword that far too few people understand.

    Of course, I’m trying to change that.

  3. When I go for “community” instead of “me me me-ism” I find I enjoy this social networking thang a whole lot more. It takes me outside of myself, for writing books leaves me most often inside myself. WHen I decided just to have some fun, be myself, and support others, that’s when I saw a growth (slow but steady) in my visitors and followers and friends. But, most important is the books I write. If I can’t back up my words with work, then what’s the point!

    Great post.

  4. Thanks for this succinct description of both old and new media that authors need to have a presence in.  I always wonder just how much of my time, as an author, should be devoted to social media, since it can be a huge time sink and take away from writing time. And since it (an online presence) doesn’t really seem to correlate with book sales, I have often dismissed it. But if publishers are looking for it, that’s one more reason to explore all these areas. Sigh…

    • Do notice that I hardly discussed social media at all. Platform is not about devoting all your time to social media. It is not about online marketing. Platform as a concept gets confused with the tools that frequently play a role in quantifying it or explaining how it works.

      Platform is just as much about establishing your body of work and building relationships with people who help you improve it and spread it.

  5. I LOVE this Jane! Everything you say here underscores that an author platform is a lifestyle, not a single act. That it differs from publicity, from marketing. 
    Thanks so much for the deep exploration!
    -Dan

  6. What I like best is that platform is not about being annoying or being an extrovert; hard selling or self-promotion. The clarification is encouraging. I was beginning to wonder.

  7. As a newbie author who is just beginning to wade into the platform waters, I’ve already been feeling “in over my head.”  Your advice clarifies so much, and I feel a bit more stable knowing that it’s an endurance swim and not just a quick splash.

    I’m printing this out and posting it above my desk, as an outline more or less of small steps to strive for everyday that hopefully will amount to something bigger someday soon.

    Many thanks!

    • The best I could hope for! I worry when authors are overwhelmed with this concept and feel that platform comes first and before the writing. It’s not more important than your work; much of your platform consists of the visibility of the actual work you produce—meaning your platform naturally grows alongside any quality work you distribute/publish.

      • Thank you for this: “your platform naturally grows alongside any quality work you distribute/publish.” If the point is to get visibility for your writing, then (at least for fiction writers) your writing ought to be the foundation for the platform, not the other way around. IMHO, anyway.

  8. As always, a very informative post, Jane.
    When I think of platform, I think of the values or principles authors possess. A platform is what we stand on, basically who we are. Are we honest, forthcoming, compassionate people? Do we possess integrity and a desire to help other writers? Or not?

  9. Jane, Thank you for this very clear definition of what an author platform is and the distinction about what it is not. It takes time , patience and a concerted effort to build a platform that” defines your message, highlights your strengths and qualities and reaches your target audience.” I have found that making meaningful connections is the single greatest building block to building a platform. Great post!

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  11. For me, I experienced a sense of freedom when I stopped building a platform and started connecting with people. I think you’ve done an exceptional job of clarifying what a platform is and what it isn’t. Thanks for your insights and perspective, Jane.

  12. Jane, that’s really nice. Very well put. Since I’m a western writer, I call it my “brand.” Maybe that’s clearer than “platform.”

  13. Your post reminds me
    that I’m doing something completely different these days to
    build my platform, as well as (I hope) doing some good. 

    Like it or not, I have inadvertently become a women’s
    advocate because of my two non-fiction books. ( I see myself
    more as a human advocate, but that’s nothing to do with this post.)  The more I thought about some of the messages I’ve
    gotten from women, or Facebook comments, or tweets, or
    whatever, the more I realized that women are starving for
    true friendship, a mentor figure, or even just genuine
    encouragement to pursue their dreams.

    So, this is what I’ve done:  http://womenspowerstrategyconference.com/

    There’s a PSA on the site, too, that descriibes the purpose of the conference in breif but I hope, eloquent detail. If
    you look at the schedule of talks you’ll see that there is
    only one which is on
    the subject of writing. And because of the subject matter, we
    have some heavy hitters speaking at the conference, including
    the head of the California Arts Council, Malissa Shriver  and Evan Bailyn, author of Outsmarting Google, who
    was recently featured in Forbes
    magazine. All the speakers have a common goal (or at least,
    this one common goal) which is to inspire women. We are also
    sponsoring Girls Inc. girls to attend the conference for free.
    I’m proud of this conference because of what it’s purpose is,
    and I’m also pleased that it will help keep me visible enough
    for more people to find my published works, books that mostly
    center on the same subject that this conference is hoping to
    promote, which is helping women empower themselves and each other.

    The one flaw with writers who try to build their platforms
    is that they hope they can utilize other writers to help them
    build it. This might work with one’s first book. You always
    have colleagues who want to cheer you on, or even just hang
    around you to see how you got that first agent or that first
    book published. But once you’re past book number two, it’s
    almost too much to ask a colleague to have to write another
    book review for you, or attend another event just to be
    supportive. Case in point, my husband has a pile of books in
    his office, all written by my colleagues. They’re books I
    bought “in support of” but not books that I truly care to read
    whether it’s because of subject matter, writing style, or
    whatever. Luckily he likes to read everything, and so I
    continue to go to as many of my friends’ events as I can, buy
    their books, bring them home, and then put them on the pile in
    my husband’s office

    My Facebook page is now mostly people who are interested in
    what I write. The writers who are on the page either were
    colleagues who befriended me or I befriended when we first all
    started out on Facebook, or new writers who think that by
    befriending another writer they can sell a book or make a
    contact, or perhaps learn something, which is fine.  But, most of the time, the
    subjects I discuss on my Facebook page are subjects my readers, not my writer
    friends, will find interesting. In short, I do the same thing
    you do, but since your audience is different than mine, our
    subjects vary greatly. You write about writing and publishing
    because that’s what people come to your pages and websites to
    read about. But that’s not what my readers want from me.

    I think this is a crucial factor most writers miss. They
    join writers groups not necessarily to become better writers,
    but to build a platform. And while it’s true that one should
    attend writers events and hobnob with agents and publishers
    and the like, a writer should never lose sight of who actually
    wants to read her/his work, not to sell it, or review it, or
    be polite, but for no other reason than it interests them.

    Warm regards,
    Patricia
     

  14. HI Jane,
    love this concept. A few years ago I started a collective community called Book Creators Circle to help writers gain platform. We are international and would love to include any writers you might recommend. Please see http://www.bookcreatorscircle.com.au
    With thanks for helping to promote this concept and professionalism.
    Letizia 

  15. Jane,
    I appreciate your concise and tenured approach to this subject. As newly published author I am finding my unique path to the platform that best suits me. I am learning the importance of owning an approach to my goals that fits my style and energy. It would be oh-so-much easier to have been born with the silver spoon of recognition in my mouth, as is, my platform began at ground zero and I’m shoveling out the footers for the foundation (sometimes one spoonful at a time).
    I especially like that you take a clear stance on what a platform is and what it is not. I do not appreciate when I get a deluge of excerpts from authors on Facebook. On the other hand, I do appreciate hearing about their successes. If you have written a “what works” type article on social media marketing, I would love to read it.

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  18. Terrific explanation of platform.  Thanks for lining it all up in order and sending it out to us.

  19. Currency is an important component, too. Like any social network, if your platform hasn’t been contacted or updated in a couple of years, it has less value.

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  21. This informative post comes at such a good time for me.  You answered questions I didn’t even know I had.  Thanks!

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  24. This is a very helpful post. It’s a relief to see that building platform doesn’t require the hard sell or pushing oneself and one’s work onto people. Thanks for sending the link to Broad Universe. 

  25. Jane thank you for this post. It was very helpful and clarified some questions I had about platforms.

  26. This post, I think, is truly important, especially for those of us who are fledglings.  I have to give special thanks to my friend Midge Raymond who linked this article to her blog post.  I’m a novice when it comes to writing, namely the platform stage; it is something I felt I needed to work on now while I actually begin to tweak and reformulate the stories I send out to publications.  As a fiction writer, it’s important to me that my words eventually get heard, even if they’ve yet to be scooped up.  Venues like Twitter and Facebook certainly do help.  Sadly, I do think having fancy schmancy letters after your name do denote a sort of validity, whether they be MFA or Ph.D.  Luckily, on my part, a degree, or degrees, is something I would have strived for (well, AM striving for) regardless.  Thank you for writing this post and sharing it. 

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  33. Thank you Jane! What an extraordinarily clear and valuable post. I’ll be sharing it today in the Children’s Book Hub – a resource site that I manage, where this month’s focus is on marketing and promotion for children’s book authors. I very much appreciate your wisdom and generosity.

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  45. Interesting. I didn’t realize I had a ‘platform’.
    I am an entainer at heart. Whether it is playing music, giving a lecture, or the response I get from having written 573 humor columns for a local newspaper. Bringing enjoyment to other people is it’s own reward.
    I have written my first novel that contains elements of entertainment, political comment, interspersed with tid-bits of  folklore knowledge and tied all together with the thread of a moral lesson in self reliance and personal integrity.
    As president on a local historical society, I have a hidden agenda of teaching people who are bored by history that it can be interesting after all.

  46. I finally get it. Thank you for this much needed clarification! I’m in the process of building my platform and now I feel more confident in the direction I’m headed.
    Sincerely, Carole Avila
    Posse Member

  47. Hi Jane: What a great article and well said. Platform is critical in nonfiction and in fiction, I think you need a nonfiction hook to market your fiction.

  48. I’m slow at understanding, but this is very clear and the plank analogy is helpful too. Thanks

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  64. This is a great post and the sort of thing often missed in talks by publishers to aspiring writers. It explains why some very good manuscripts are often overlooked. I particularly liked your comments on what a platform is not.

  65. I can see that this is Traditional Publishing’s Editor’s and Agent’s definition of platform. All the characteristics here that define a platform is what you have already done for self-promotion, which is what they won’t have to do for you, and obviously have never had the intention of doing in the first place. I would rather not publish than to go through those pirates and cutthroats.

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  74. Dear Jane (copy Anne) – Thank you for the info, data and advice re Platforms. I’m not a new writer, but have only recently began publishing on-line with a line-up of ten works. I’d avoided the “commercial” involvement because I detest having to “sell myself.” I’m a writer, not a politician. And although I’m an actor, I don’t enjoy self-promotion, Thank you for helping me not feel guilty about feeling as I do. I’ll go back to my writing now.

    Best wishes,l

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  81. Thank you, Jane, for making this simple. Well, simple to understand, anyway. The doing is always the hardest – for me. This page will be saved!!!! And worn out.

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  86. Serious non-fiction stuff, told with style, gets produced slowly, like a slow-cooked meal. I read magazine articles that seem ready for the microwave, just pop and eat. They’ve got standard hooks and punchy lines, sugar and salt for easy digestion. What’s a chef to do?

    If a platform is a restaurant, one that serves careful, complex, and delicate portions flops in a drive-through. Fine-reading audiences see time as money, since they concentrate on what they read. They don’t waste time surfing. Setting up shop off a lonely internet highway could take a century to attract patrons.

    I’ve no problem with marketing, but exaggerating doesn’t work. Ms. Friedman’s “strong” platform building examples describe nice penthouse floor plans. I need to figure out the foundation and first floor. Some of us don’t have the time/money to get a PhD, but we’ve already done our 10,000 hours of reading and writing to become really proficient.

    A restaurateur might cook for friends, and then talk to other people, building up reputation. With exposure he finds backers and rents a good location. Then the hard work begins, which is the goal all along.

    People have to eat. No one dies from not reading, though it’s very sad. That’s entertainment, which propels people to cater to every whim. Posh and stylish food may be, it still must satisfy basic needs. Wholesome, high-quality ingredients taste and satisfy better. But who responds to the written word this way? A few, who subscribe to three or four magazines and read books that are lucky to have sold 10,000.

    People like us need the password to get in, because the club is so small. Otherwise we wander.

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  89. Yes, thank you Jane . . . now I understand how Anderson Cooper gets on the NYT bestsellers’ list.

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  103. As the role of the traditional agent and publisher evolves, it is harder to see where the author, agent and publisher fit together. If an author, who has already put in possibly years of work on his or her book, now is faced with the huge task of building a platform in order to get the attention of an agent or publisher, what is it exactly that the agent and publisher do now? If I am writing the book, and doing the editing to make it acceptable for publishing, and building my own media exposure, and growing a body of followers, and getting exposure in multiple venues, and proving my work is seen by a large audience, what exactly do I need an agent or publisher for at this point? It seems if I am now expected to do all this myself successfully, there isn’t much left for an agent or publisher to do. Or I am completely misunderstanding?

    • Generally, the publisher adds value in 3 ways:
      1. Editorial / quality of content or story
      2. Distribution of print book
      3. Marketing

      How well do publishers deliver on those things? It greatly varies and is up for debate, except for #2. They’re pretty reliable at that.

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  105. I’ve bookmarked this piece for future reference. I felt the best part was insisting that platform building is a long term process that continuously develops for as long as someone is writing and publishing. I feel like I’ve finished the first steps in building my author platform, and now taking steps for the next stage.

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  136. Hi, I am an artist with a following of over 15.000 people and i’m currently writing a children’s book which i also intend to illustrate. I’ve written books before that i scrapped and this is the first one i truly believe in and intend to try to publish it. I was wondering if my followers could be considered a ‘platform’ considering that they are fans of my art, not my writing but on the other hand they might buy my book because it contains my art in it. I have posted concept art of my characters and they showed interest in knowing their story.
    Hope to hear from you,
    Oana

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  153. Discoverability is such a critical phase in terms of building an author platform and it is indeed a continual presence.What if the new author is finding it hard to even get started with it? How do you help such authors get started?

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  158. Jane, I love how you have laid out the cold hard facts. Having read it, I hate the way my stomach feels like a bowl full of undulating custard. I start my platform of one today. I plan to revisit this page every year until I am published–and perhaps beyond.

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