My son Tommy is learning to walk right now. He can take a few steps, but he really likes to scoot along furniture and walls. I’ve been watching him learn to move around while working on my new course, Obscure No More, and I’ve realized there is a connection.
When it comes to book promotion, authors also progress from crawling to running one baby-step at a time.
When Tommy was a tiny baby, we would put him on the floor, and would stay there. His sister was walking and crawling all around him, but he was stuck.
As he began trying to crawl, he tried a lot of things that didn’t work. One technique he tried repeatedly was what I called The Superman. He would lay on his stomach and stretch his arms and legs out as far as they could go. It was a lot of work, and it didn’t move him. He also tried rocking back and forth, flopping forward, and rolling over. None of these strategies worked for getting him from one place to another, but they did build his strength and coordination.
Baby Step 1: Learn to Sit
The first useful baby-step he took was learning to sit. The skill of sitting developed his balance and coordination. It was still frustrating because he couldn’t get to where he wanted to go. But sitting is important preparation for crawling and walking.
As a beginning author, you can implement various tactics as soon as you decide to become an author. Even if your first book is ten years from being published, there are a few steps that will develop the strength and determination you’ll need for your next baby-steps.
You may not feel like you’re moving, but you must do the following things before you can start building a platform.
Choose Your Author Name
You can’t do anything with your platform until you know what your name is. Most authors don’t spend much time thinking about their author name, so they often get stuck with whatever they picked first.
You have a lot of options. FirstnameLastname.com is the most common choice. But some authors run into obstacles when choosing an author name.
- Which last name do you pick?
- What if there is another famous author with your name?
- What if you share a name with another online businessperson whose product or service is categorically opposed to yours?
Consider your options.
- Initials and Last Name (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien)
- Three Names (James Scott Bell, Robert Louis Stevenson)
- Two Names (Thomas Umstattd)
- Combo (James L. Rubart, Jerry B. Jenkins)
I don’t recommend going with the combo option because people tend to leave off the middle initial. Your readers may have a hard time finding you online because you have two versions of your name in common use. No one ever says J. Tolkien or Robert Stevenson, but people do leave out the middle initial and say “James Rubart” or “Jerry Jenkins” all the time.
Which name you chose for yourself may depend on what’s available in the next step.
Episodes on author names:
- 069 – How to Stand Out When Your Name Fits In
- 097 – Major Mistakes You Might Be Making With Your Author Name
It costs between $10 and $15 a year to secure your domain name, and you don’t have to build a website on it right away. If you own your domain and pay the annual fee, no one can take it from you. But if you don’t own your name, someone else could buy it and never let it go. They could hold it for ransom and demand hundreds of dollars for it. Or worse, they could sell it to your enemies who will set up a hit site on yourname.com.
If you have a common name, you may have to get creative. JohnSmith.com is taken, but perhaps AuthorJohnSmith.com is still available.
To research the availability of domain names, I use InstantDomainSearch.com. It will immediately tell you if the domain is available and whether it’s owned by someone else who’s willing to sell.
Sometimes you can buy your chosen domain name for a few hundred dollars. What you’ll gain in discoverability may be totally worth the cost.
Author Media Blog Posts on Domain Names:
- How To Buy Your Author Domain Name
- The Top 5 Domain Name Traps
- 7 Tools for Finding the Ideal Domain Name
- Does Your Website Pass the Radio Test?
- 8 URL Traps Authors Fall Into
Reserve Your Username on Social Sites
You don’t have to be active on these platforms now, but you’ll want to claim your author name on the social networks for all the same reasons we listed for buying your domain name ahead of publication. The good news is that you won’t have to pay to reserve your name. You can find me on everything @ThomasUmstattd.
NameCHK.com will check your name’s availability on hundreds of different social networks. You will want to reserve your name anywhere you might want to have a social media presence. When your name is the same on all the platforms it makes you very easy to find.
Baby Step 2: Learn to Crawl
Crawling is complicated! Tommy made a full-time job of figuring it out. Every waking moment he was either eating or trying to crawl.
As he became more coordinated, he started moving. But at first, he could only move backward. This was particularly frustrating for him when he inadvertently pushed a toy just out of his reach. In his efforts to move toward the toy, he would actually get farther away.
My daughter, Mercy, would observe his interest in the toy and would toddle over and start playing with the toy herself while Tommy watched helplessly. Inevitably, a parent would intervene, give Tommy his toy, and start the process all over again.
Eventually, he learned to crawl. Tommy was thrilled to grab those toys that were previously beyond his reach.
Then over a day or two, his whole paradigm changed. He realized this skill for getting out-of-reach toys could also move him from one room to another. He was no longer stuck where we put him. He could control where he wanted to be. He could choose any room he could crawl to. Crawling provided a massive amount of freedom for a little guy who previously had no direct control over his location.
Crawling is much different than walking, but it’s a necessary stage of development and a safer way to fall. Falling from a crawling position hurts a lot less than falling from a standing position. Tommy fell all the time while trying to figure out how to crawl. But those falls were generally painless.
Your platform is where strangers will get their first impression of you and your writing. So how do you make a good first impression?
Build a Website
Building your website forces you to start thinking about your author brand. Writing an “About” page for yourself is a great exercise. One fabulous feature of your website is that you can change it at any time. Best of all, when you’re beginning, very few people will be visiting your website, and you can experiment with your writing in the relative safety of a very small audience.
If you fall while you’re at this stage, it won’t hurt much.
Authors who build their own website, even if it’s terrible at first, and then keep improving it, ultimately build better platforms than authors who wait to make it perfect. Learning how to walk requires you to fall. There is no other way to learn.
Your website will function as the headquarters of all your author activity. It can house your blog or podcast if you decide to have one. People can sign up for your email newsletter through a form on your website. It will be your online home and one of the first parts of your platform.
I have a free course on how to build your own website. It walks you through the whole process of building an amazing author website step by step. Authors who are in the last quarter of their lives have built their own website with this course.
This week, I’ve outlined some improvements for the course, and soon it will have a checklist of what content you’ll want to have on each page of your website. I also plan to add a section on website security.
Develop Your Craft
Your platform is only as good as your writing, and the only way to improve your writing is to practice. I recommend practicing in public. You will get better faster, and you’ll give your best effort when you know real humans will read your writing.
For nonfiction, this means blogging. Blogging helps you develop your craft, allows you to demonstrate your expertise, and grow a following. Learning how to fight for attention on Google is great practice for fighting for attention on Amazon or at the bookstore.
How will you convince people to pay for your book if you can’t get them to read your blog for free?
For fiction, this means writing lots and lots of short stories. Don’t be one of those authors whose first major writing project is a novel-length work. You can’t expect a toddler to run a marathon. I talked more about this in my Ten Commandments episode.
If you are unpublished, the best thing you can do for your career is to put your novel aside until you’ve written (and shared!) at least a dozen short stories. Learn how to hold a reader’s interest for 7,500 words before trying to hold their interest for 75,000 words.
Start Your Email Newsletter
Your email newsletter is how most people will subscribe to your blog or receive your short stories.
When you first get started, your email list will just be friends and family, and that’s ok. Knowing you need to email them every month or two will keep you motivated to make progress worth writing about.
As your writing improves, your friends and family will start sharing your content without you having to ask them, and your list will grow.
Don’t be in a hurry to get famous. While you are unknown, you have a safe environment to fail. Your friends and family won’t stop loving you if you write a boring short story or blog post with typos. Your first blog or newsletter is a safe place to experiment and find your voice.
Traditional publishers look for authors with a really clear voice. The only way to develop your voice is to practice. Your email newsletter is the perfect place for you to practice.
Helpful Episodes on Email Marketing:
- How to Pick the Right Email Marketing Service for You
- How to Build an Email List Before Your First Book Comes Out
- 8 Tools to Help Authors Get More Email Subscribers
- How to Grow Your Email List from 0 to 10,000
Baby Step 3: Learn to Stand
My son Tommy loves to stand. He stands in his crib and in the bath. He stands while leaning against every piece of furniture we own. He never wastes an opportunity to stand.
Standing with the support of crib rails or couch cushions does two things for Tommy. It builds his leg muscles and trains training his body to make necessary micromovements to keep him balanced on two feet. In some ways, it is like he is administering his own physical therapy regimen.
So how do you build your platform muscles? You start reaching out to strangers. While strangers could find you in Baby-Step 2, Baby-Step 3 is where you begin seeking them.
Guest On Other’s Platforms
Seeking opportunities to share your expertise or stories with someone else’s audience is one way to reach for support while you learn. You can start writing articles for magazines (print or online). You can write guest blog posts for a like-minded blogger or submit your short stories for publication. You can pitch yourself as a guest interviewee to podcasters whose audiences are interested in your content or stories.
In essence, you are leaning against some else’s platform as you get your legs beneath you.
Guesting on podcasts is a great opportunity to practice talking about your book and your topic. You’ll gain experience talking into a microphone. Start with safe, small podcasts and small, safe blogs. Be faithful with the obscure outlets before trying to get onto big ones.
Listen to these episodes on podcast guesting:
- How to Get Booked for Guest Podcast Interviews Overview
- How to Run a Podcast Tour (With Guest Mary DeMuth)
- How to Sound Great As a Podcast Guest
I also have a course on How to Get Booked as a Podcast Guest.
With every guest appearance on those other platforms, you’ll want to invite people to connect with you on your platform. But you must give them a compelling reason to visit you, and that reason is most often your reader magnet.
Create a Reader Magnet
Creating a reader magnet is a lot like making a mini-book. You will be designing a cover, making multiple rounds of edits, and learning to typeset. You’ll have all the fun of creating a book without the risk of getting negative reviews. You’ll give it away for free in exchange for a person’s email address.
It also super-charges the growth of your email newsletter.
If you’re on a parenting podcast, you’ll have a parenting guide you can mention on the podcast. When listeners visit your website to download it, you’ll get their email address.
If you’re on a fantasy podcast you’ll mention your short story about the first dragon rider in your world. People who love fantasy stories will visit your website and downlow your short story.
I have a guide on How to Create a Reader Magnet.
A landing page is a special page on your website where you will promote your reader magnet. When people want to receive your email newsletter, you’ll send them to your landing page to find more details and enter their name and email address. Many beginning authors use their homepage as their landing page, but eventually, you will have more reader magnets than will fit on your homepage.
If you learn to create landing pages now, you’ll already have that skill developed when it’s time to develop another reader magnet.
I have a guide on How to Create a Landing Page if you need help.
Baby Step 4: Learn to Walk
Walking is so monumental when you’ve never done it before. Every tiny step is celebrated. A few days ago, Tommy took nine steps, and it didn’t take much movement of his foot for us to count it as a step.
Once you figure out how to walk, you don’t even think about it anymore. What was once seemingly impossible becomes second nature.
Once you have a book ready to sell, you’ll be ready to walk. The following tactics assume you have a book for sale or ready to pre-order. At this point, you’ll be using your platform to sell books.
If you are traditionally published, the book launch is your primary tactic. Your goal is to sell out your first printing so that your publisher moves your book to evergreen status, or you hit a bestseller list. Ideally, you want to do both.
How do you do this? You want all your promotional efforts to happen within a short window of time. You want all the floats going down the road at the same time so you have a parade and not mere traffic.
We have many episodes on book launching:
- How to Create a Written Book Launch Plan
- How to Launch a Book in 2020
- Painful Book Launch Lessons You Don’t Want to Learn the Hard Way
We also have the popular Book Launch Blueprint course, which will open again next year, probably in the first half of the year.
You can advertise the landing page for your reader magnet if you are traditionally published. Some authors grow their list by 200-300 names per month by advertising their reader magnet. And it can be relatively inexpensive. After a year you might have 10,000 people on your list.
Indie authors can also advertise their books and sell the directly. If you want to know how, we have several episodes on advertising:
- Book Marketing 101: Ten Advertising Terms You Need to Know
- Book Marketing 101: Author Advertising
- How to Create Powerful Ads for Authors Who Hate Math! with Chris Fox
For authors who have written dozens of books, this is often the primary way they make money.
Price pulsing is a technique where you put your backlist of books on sale for a short time. When combined with your email list and promo sites like BookBub, it can be an excellent way to drive evergreen sales to your backlist. It’s sustainable, fulfilling, and profitable.
Baby Step 5: Run
My toddler has a form of running I call a scamper. She holds her arms out wide for balance while she takes quick little steps. We recorded a time-lapse video of her scamper, and it looks as if she is floating across the ground. Right now, the likelihood of Mercy ending a scamper with a faceplant is nearly 100%.
Running is hard.
With real running, both feet must leave the ground. It is the closest humans can get to unassisted flying. Developing your ability to run long distances requires commitment and deliberate practice. But once you are running, it is hard to stop.
Running is what you do after a book has reached bestseller status, and it requires lots of training.
I was watching the news the other day, and I saw a TV commercial for a multiple New York Times bestselling author. The commercial was promoting his book and a big event he was hosting at the Washington Monument. He could afford this kind of promotion because he had been on the NYT bestseller list for over a year.
Hear this clearly: the year of being a bestseller came before the commercials. You can’t TV your way to a bestseller, but you can bestseller your way onto TV. This is only a technique for authors who are already bestsellers.
TV interviews are another way you can sell books. TV show producers like to schedule authors for interviews because they want the author’s huge audience to tune in and increase their ratings. But you must have a large enough platform for the TV show producer to want to book you.
Once you’ve sold a million copies of your book, expect TV producers to start calling you. At this stage, success tends to lead to more success. Once you have the sweet aroma of success, everyone wants to help you succeed so you can help them succeed.
If you are famous, book signings can be a great way to connect with your readers. Book signings are not about selling the current book. People tend to bring their copy of the book they have already purchased for the author to sign. Book signings are a way to build relationships with bookstores and selling your next book.
If you have a positive encounter with a reader at the signing table, they are much more likely to promote your book by telling their friends about it.
If you bring three hundred people into a bookstore, the bookstore is much more likely to promote your next book as well. You need a robust email list so you can personally invite your readers to visit with you at the store. If you don’t have hundreds of people to invite, you’ll probably be miserably bored and lonely at your signing.
There is a saying in some mom circles that “Solid food before one is just for fun.” But those moms have not met my son. Sometimes he eats as much as our toddler.
In the author’s development, traditional social media before your first bestseller is just for fun as well. You’ve had your social accounts since Baby-Step 1, and perhaps you’ve been posting to them from time to time.
But for most authors, most of the time, social media won’t drive sales until after you’ve written at least one bestselling book.
Once you are popular, social media treats you differently. Your posts will get echoed, pinned, shared, reposted, or retweeted.
When you arrive at that stage, you’ll be famous enough to have a verified account. Once you have a verified account, other verified users will start interacting with you. Social Media is turning into a class system—the aristocrats with their verified accounts and the peasants without verified accounts. Verified accounts are often denoted with a blue checkmark. It’s hard to earn a blue checkmark.
How do you become a social media aristocrat? You write a bestselling book.
Writing a bestseller doesn’t just help you get verified status. It also helps you grow a readership big enough to justify having your own subreddit.
There’s a time to sit, and a time to stand. A time to walk and a time to run. Wherever you are in the process, there is at least one thing you can do right now. Don’t wait to get started.
If you want help building your platform, I am building a course to guide you through every aspect. Obscure No More is currently in beta release. A limited number of beta students will be going through the course as I make it. The full course will be released in the fall of 2021, and as of this writing, there are 15 beta spots left.
Garrett Anderson just wanted to clean out his grandmother’s historic farmhouse before selling it. But his carefully ordered plan runs up against two formidable obstacles: Sloane, who’s fallen in love with the house, and his own heart, which is irresistibly drawn to Sloane.
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