When I was a teenager, my writing philosophy was simple: strive to make my work as great as possible, then start gathering a following once literary agents were interested in my book. After all, my publisher would help grow my audience, right?
Two factors have changed my mindset since then.
Firstly, I watched the renaissance of self-publishing transform the field from consisting of poorly written works to boasting strong novels.
Secondly, I pitched my book to several literary agents at a Christian writers’ conference this year, and many of them liked the premise. But they wanted me to have a personal platform before they considered representing me.
I realized then that I should have founded my platform long before my writing was ready to pitch.
What Is a Platform?
Platform is a term largely popularized by Michael Hyatt, previous CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing. As Hyatt explains on his website, “In the old days, you could stand on a small hill or a wooden stage to be heard. That was your platform… But suddenly, almost overnight, everything changed. With the advent of social media everyone now has access to a virtual microphone and everyone is connected to everyone else… A platform is your tribe. People who share your passion and want to hear from like-minded people.”
Your platform represents how many people you can meaningfully reach with your writing. Though you could reach scads of people by posting a buy-my-book link in a large Facebook group, you won’t impact them meaningfully. You need to nurture connections and trust with your target audience so they enjoy and appreciate your words. This will form the core of the circle you’ll market your future book to.
Why You Shouldn’t Delay Building a Platform
As my personal story hopefully illustrates, platforms aren’t just important for self-published authors. Landing a traditional publisher is difficult if you don’t already have a platform.
Generally, it’s more crucial for nonfiction authors to have an established platform than fiction authors. But that has shifted lately. The advent of well-written self-published books has pressured traditional publishers to find authors who already have a following.
Gone is the age where an author can write a good book and leave the marketing to the publisher. Unless you’re a famous best-selling author, publishers usually don’t provide extensive marketing. Instead, authors are expected to handle that angle.
If you don’t already have a solid platform when pitching your book, it will be hard to develop one in the eighteen months between publisher acceptance and publication.
I understand this can be uncomfortable, and even frustrating, for many authors. Why isn’t writing a good book enough?
Because it’s only half the battle. If you’ve written a good book, you should naturally want people to read it, because it will influence their lives. No person understands the value of your book better than you. That’s why you’re its best marketer.
How to Build a Platform as a Young Writer (Without Being Annoying)
We all know those irritating people who constantly promote their book or Lula Roe clothes or other products on social media. If you’re hesitant to market your book for fear of becoming one of those people, don’t worry. There are more effective and less spammy marketing methods.
When we examined the results of a survey we ran in October, we realized we’ve neglected to cover a subject that our subscribers are eager to learn more about. Many of you didn’t even recognize the importance of a platform as an unpublished author.
Whole articles and courses could be written about how to build a platform—and we plan to increase our efforts in this area at Kingdom Pen. Be on the lookout for more articles in our Platform & Career section. Our founder, Reagan Ramm, is also releasing regular videos on the subject on Facebook Live and our Youtube channel. However, here are three steps you can take now to start constructing your platform as a young writer:
1. Launch a Website. You need a home base for your readers even if you don’t blog and just create a few basic pages about you and your writing, plus a prompt to sign up for your mailing list (see below). Eventually you’ll want to claim your own domain name, but if you’re starting out and are strapped for cash, using a free domain is fine. We recommend WordPress as the best professional option, but it does have a learning curve, so Weebly or Wix are adequate alternatives.
2. Assemble a Mailing List. Sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram frequently change algorithms and limit how many people can see your posts. To easily and effectively communicate with your entire audience, email is the best avenue. Thankfully, collecting email addresses is simple. Set up a Mailchimp account (it’s one of the only free professional email service providers out there) and put a signup link on your site with a free bonus you advertise to subscribers. Maybe you disclose a PDF of one of your best articles. Maybe you design some free quote graphics. I personally offer a short story collection. Whatever it is, you must give visitors an incentive to join your mailing list. (If you’re wondering what to send people once you’ve got them on an email list, Daeus polled readers on this and analyzed the results).
3. Start Guest Posting. How do you draw people to your website and then to your mailing list? You could tell family and friends and utilize social media to gain a following, but one of the most effective routes I’ve discovered is guest posting. Find larger sites who target your ideal audience and accept submissions, learn to write a fascinating article, and then submit to them. We accept numerous guest posts here at Kingdom Pen. The Rebelution is another great place for young writers to get published. And, depending on your genre, you can approach countless other sites. If you write a killer post and include a link to your site in your bio, you may be surprised how many readers will wander over to your site and join your mailing list.
Reaching Your Audience
After I met with various literary agents at the Christian writers’ conference, I immediately began to devote more time to my website and expanding my audience—and I’ve been achieving results. However, if I had the opportunity to start over, I would have implemented this strategy much earlier.
In many ways, this has been an introduction to a broader topic. But, the bottom line is: if you’re a young writer who aims to eventually get published, you can’t wait until your writing is “good enough” to build a platform. You need to start now so that you already have an audience when your writing is at its prime.
If you’re looking for more tips on growing your platform, the Young Writers Workshop is opening again in January and it’s one of the best organizations we know for young adults who are serious about writing and publishing.
We’ll also be releasing more resources on the subject over the course of the next year, so subscribe to our mailing list to receive the latest updates.
At the end of the day, if you aspire to change the world with your writing, you need to foster an audience just as much as you need to write excellent, God-glorifying content.