Text says Building Your Author Platform. Picture of a podium with an iPad or tablet screen for a top and a microphone.

Building an Author Platform

Once you start writing, you quickly learn that writing isn’t just writing. You find out there’s more to the craft than just putting words on a page, and you have to wear many hats on your way to meeting your writing goal. Assuming your goal is to be published, one thing you will need to be able to do is to market your work regardless of whether you self-publish or are picked up by a publisher.

Building an author platform is one critical step to helping you market your work. You can start building your platform right now even if you aren’t published–yet. Launching your platform before you are published is actually to your advantage.

What is an Author Platform & Why Do You Need One?

Simply put, your author platform is your online presence. It can include social media, a website, a blog, a newsletter, a mailing list, or whatever fits your style and target audience. It is the place where you can share what you are learning, what you are writing about, the writing class you are taking, or anything else that influences you as a writer. Your platform should be a way for you to connect with other people who might be interested in your work.

Having a platform for your work isn’t required. It is something else that you have to learn to work into your schedule, but the time you spend engaging with others will pay off in the long run. Self-publishing comes with a need to be a self-promoter to market your book and being able to show a local bookstore owner that you have 200 local followers who might want your book is a powerful motivator to put your book on their shelf.

Benefits of Building an Author Platform

Aside from the potential sales avenue, a platform has several other benefits too. Writing can be a lonely task. Your followers give you an outlet to connect to other writers and readers alike. As you share more insights or snippets of your work, the positive reactions and “where can I read more” are great morale boosters. By starting early, you can test what works and what doesn’t to make adjustments before you ever have a book out in the world.

You can also use your platform to take your readers on the writing journey. There will be people who follow you who are readers only and some of them may be reading a book or two a week–or more! Very few readers realize the book they just finished in 24 hours, may have taken the author five or more YEARS to write. Use your platform to talk about the writing process from start to finish.

Using Social Media

Your readers and followers will come from all walks of life. Social media will likely make up a part of your author platform. Where possible, try to separate your personal accounts and your author accounts, even if you are using your name as your author name. For example, you can have your personal profile on Facebook and keep it limited to people you know in real life, and build a fan Page for your author profile. Both may have your name, but the Page allows people to follow your writing updates without needing to become your “friend” to view your posts. Also, using two or more different social media sites can help you reach a broader audience as you are starting. Then you can narrow your scope to your target audience and adjust to the site they seem to favor. For example, if you are writing Young Adult, you may want to be more active on Instagram or Snapchat (as of this post anyway). If you are writing Women’s Lit, Facebook is where you may want to be more active.

Regardless of which sites you choose, use the features on each site to your advantage. Each site should have some performance measurements you can use. Check the analytics details every two weeks or at least once a month. The data can help you determine what posts get the most interaction and what posts fall flat. You can also get data that shows when your followers are online the most, and so much more.

Plan What You Post

Using social media tools to your advantage can help you save time. Another great time-saver is planning what you post and where you want to post it. Could you imagine trying to read this article on Facebook or Twitter? It wouldn’t work–this is way too long for those sites. Yes, this will be linked on a Facebook page with a preview, but you still have to come here to read the full thing.

Take some time to write down the dates you want to posts, where you want to post, and what you want to post. This list is called your editorial calendar. You can have a theme if you wish to or share information. Anything that draws your reader in and gets them to interact with you can be a social media post or blog post.

One word of caution, if you choose to share your actual writing–your short stories, poems, novels, etc.–some publishers and journals consider that to be “published.” Posting your actual work can impact your eligibility for contests, prizes, or an agent/editor picking up your work. Be highly selective in what works you share.

Building an author platform does take time to start and maintain. You have to put time into getting followers, posting engaging content, and interacting with your new-found fans. It can seem like it is taking away from your writing time, but by using built-in time savers on the sites you use and planning what you post, you can build a robust platform. Start those conversations with your fans now, well before your first (or next) book is released.

How to Handle Criticism as a New Writer

You’ve started writing. You’re excited about your work, and you want to talk about it more. Maybe even let a few people read something you wrote. There is a delicate balance between allowing your creativity to grow organically and getting feedback to help your skills as a writer improve. Sharing your work for the first time can be scary. What happens when the feedback hurts? There are a few ways to prepare yourself for constructive criticism.

Sharing Your Work Too Soon

There is such a thing as sharing your work too soon. If you are still getting your feet on the ground and experimenting with what kind of writer you are, hold off on sharing your work for now. Writing, even if you aren’t writing about yourself, is highly personal. Your writing is a part of you. The words on the page are your thoughts, dreams, fears, and so much more. Showing someone your work before you are mentally and emotionally ready for criticism can be a significant setback. Learning to take constructive criticism as feedback on your work and not feedback on you as a person takes time. Keep in mind most pianists don’t sit down in front of an audience at Carnegie Hall and perform within their first few days of starting lessons. Give yourself time to become comfortable with your work.

Who Should & Shouldn’t Reading Your Work

Once you are comfortable with your work, you should start showing it to someone who can help you grow and develop as a writer. Figuring out who should and shouldn’t read your work is the challenge. If you have found a writing group you like, that is a perfect audience. Each member of your writing group was a new writer at some point and, they hopefully have some skill at delivering constructive criticism. Without a writing group, look for friends who are avid readers, bonus points if they happen to read your genre. You may also consider a trusted English or Literature teacher or professor. Another option is to reach out to a local author and ask if they would consider reading a short piece of your work. In general, avoid sharing your work with close family members who think everything you do is terrific. The feedback might be lovely, but probably won’t be the most helpful.

Have Specific Questions for Your Reader

No matter who you choose to share your work with, be prepared with questions for them. What do you want to know about your writing? Before you share your work, sit down, and think about what would be the most valuable feedback for you. Do you want to know if your characters are believable? Do you want to know if a specific action sequence makes sense? Do you want to know if you developed the setting well enough that the reader believed they were on a planet in another galaxy? Even something as simple as asking your reader what does or doesn’t work for them is a great place to start. Make a list of two or three things you want to know and give that list to your reader. A list of questions will help focus their comments on your writing.

Dealing with Just Plain Mean

Unfortunately, some people are just plain mean when it comes to giving feedback. Sometimes the person isn’t skilled at constructively providing feedback. Hearing a reader say they would throw your book out a window not only hurts, but it doesn’t have any value. Learning how to handle criticism as a new writer can be a challenge when faced with someone like this.

First and foremost, don’t get defensive. Push back for clarification as to why they may want to toss your tome out the window by asking probing questions. Ask for specifics, but don’t go down the rabbit hole of trying to explain your work to that person. You may also want to ask what genres or types of books they read and enjoy. If you write horror and they read romance, they may not know who to respond to your writing. If asking clarifying questions doesn’t help clarify the comment, thank them for the feedback and move on with your life. As the saying goes, you can’t please everyone. Personally, I like to think there is just a smidge of jealousy behind the nasty comments.

Finding the Nuggets of Gold

Once you have the right, bad, and ugly feedback, you have to shift through it to find the nuggets of feedback gold. While positive feedback may feel good, it may not have any value, like fools gold. The negative comments may be hard to hear, but they may be the nugget you are looking for to become a better writer. How do you know the difference? First, think about what resonates most with you as a writer. When writing, you will start to develop a sense of what isn’t on point for your work. Maybe you can’t find the exact phrasing for something, or you feel like a character is coming across as too flat. Your readers can help confirm or refute what you see in your work. Next, think about how many times you got the same or similar feedback on a particular aspect of your writing. There’s a “rule” often attributed to Stephen King that goes something like if more than one person says to change something in your writing, then consider replacing it. Even if the passage is one of your favorite parts, your darling, if more than one reader says it isn’t working, you need to consider changing or cutting it.

As a new writer, letting others read your work can help your work improve. Learning how to handle criticism as a new writer can be challenging. There are certainly pitfalls to sharing your work too early or sharing it with the wrong person. To keep your reader focused, be sure to ask direct questions of your readers to get the best feedback. Be prepared for all types of feedback, both good and bad as you start to share your work. Take some time to think about the feedback you receive. Remember, the comments are about your writing, not you. Dig in and look for the nuggets you can polish to make them shine in your writing.

How to Start a Writing Group – Don’t Be Lonely

Writing can be a very lonely sometimes. Joining or starting a group is a great way to combat the loneliness of scratching out words all day. Groups are a terrific way to gain valuable insight into your work. I attend various writing events each year, and one frequent comment I hear is: “I wish there were a writing group in my area.” My first question is if they’ve checked local resources like the library or searched online for their area. If there aren’t any groups available, I start talking about how to start a writing group.

Once you’ve decided to start a group, you need to find other writers, set a place and time to meet, help define group goals, and figure out what role, if any, technology will have in your group. 

Find Other Writers

The hardest part of figuring out how to start a writing group is finding other interested writers. Writers can be funny creatures. We know we like to write, but we assume nobody around us enjoys the same thing. Wrong! 

Visit your local library or bookstore and check out the community bulletin board or ask if you can put up a flyer announcing your efforts to create a group. Ask if there are book clubs, author readings or signings, or open mic nights happening. Writers and readers alike attend those type of events and could be an excellent source for finding people interested in a writing group. 

If you don’t have a lot of luck finding people or events at your local library or bookshop, then turn to your social media accounts. The people you interact with may not be writers, but they very well could be friends with other writers and can pass the word on for you. You can also try searching for online writing groups and forums for local members who would like to meet up “in real life” to write together. 

Set a Place and Time to Meet

Once you find some people, the next challenge is setting a place and time to meet. As the person driving the formation of the group, it is up to you. Ask questions to understand where people live or work and what their schedules are. Understand that you may not find a common day or time that pleases everyone. 

Balance finding a geographical area that is convenient for everyone and an actual place in that area where a small group can meet and work. Not to sound like a broken record, but your best starting point is your local library or bookstore. Does your library have a community room you can use for free (or low cost)? Talk to the manager or owner of your local bookstore to see if they would be willing to provide space for a small group to meet. 

Next, think about the public places like coffee shops and restaurants. Look for sites that have plenty of seating and a floor plan that would allow your group to be off to the side. If you are going to a coffee shop or restaurant, be considerate: buy something, don’t go during the peak business hours, let the waiter or waitress know what you are doing, tip generously, and don’t linger after closing time.

Some other good ideas for places to meet could be town community centers, conference or meeting rooms at hotels (negotiate the price of renting the room), churches, or someone’s home if they are willing to host the group. 

Once the meeting place is locked in, select a day and time. This is usually much easier to figure out if you’ve asked people for their availability. Be flexible with the times and encourage people to join late or leave early if they have to do so. This isn’t school or work.

Defining your group goals

Take the time to talk as a group to talk about what you each want from a group. Writing groups come in all different sizes and formats. There isn’t a wrong or right way to run a writing group. Discussing expectations for the group is vital to the long term success of the group.

Open up the conversation to make sure everyone has a chance to share their opinion. Knowing what each person is looking for can help shape the goals of the group and help people decide if the group is the best use of their time. For example, if the group mostly wants to read and critique each other’s work, someone who is only interested in marketing an already published novel may not be a good fit. 

For example, I belong to two local writing groups. The first group formed because of a comment on the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) forums. A librarian at my local branch library was participating in NaNoWriMo and asked if anyone wanted to come to write with her. Over time, there were about 10-12 people who showed up on a regular basis and a group was born. This group focuses on learning about the craft of writing and meets once a month. 

I joined the second group to get different perspectives. The second group had already been around for a few years. The members of this group are more active in the literary community and focus more on critiquing each other’s works in progress. Both are excellent resources and provide me with very different things.

Don’t forget to talk about how frequently the group will meet. Typically, most interest and hobby groups meet one or two times a month. Groups focused on critique will sometimes meet weekly and share their work in advance through email or cloud drive.

How Technology Can Help (and Hurt)

In addition to using technology to share work, it can also be helpful in establishing groups in more remote areas or where no other group fitting your needs exists. I suggest a face-to-face meeting at least once a month. If that truly isn’t possible, social media groups or file sharing platforms to read, edit, and critique each other’s work can be a great alternative. Facebook allows users to set up a group page that can be restricted or secret to keep membership limited to just your writing group members. Other options may be Skype, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), and much more. 

What resource you use will largely depend on the tech-savviness of those in your group. Make sure you have a way for all members to connect with each other; not doing this can alienate those are not as comfortable with technology.

Going back to selecting a place, the availability of WiFi may also be a consideration. If members of the group need WiFi to access files on cloud drives or to have online resources, you may need to call that out up front so they can be prepared. Most of the time WiFi access, or lack thereof, won’t be a deal breaker, but it may reduce some frustration. Also, gently remind those who prefer to laptops and devices to make sure they are adequately charged in case electrical outlets aren’t available or convenient. Maybe even suggest some old school backups like pen and paper.

Figuring out how to start a writing group can be a challenge. The first few meetings may be small—like only you showed up small. Don’t give up. Keep trying and reaching out to the other writers in your area. Your group may just be you and one or two other people, and that’s fine. The key is having like-minded people to talk to about writing to help each other improve.

 Wishing for a group won’t get a group started! Take charge and start your group. Seriously, friends don’t let friends write alone.