Searching for an activity that a group of teens and young adults could do together, my niece had an idea.
She jumped up and left the room, returning moments later, triumphantly holding a box with a 1,500 piece puzzle inside.
Dumping the tiny pieces on the dining room table, the four young women quickly began turning them over, sorting them by color.
“Find the edge pieces!” someone ordered.
In less than an hour, the outer edges of the puzzle had been constructed, and various sections of the puzzle had begun to take shape.
It was a masterful execution of jigsaw puzzle construction strategy. And a great metaphor for building an author platform.
Starting from absolute chaos, the group of four had quickly built a clear framework that allowed them to work efficiently and systematically, with great results.
A Framework Helps Counter Overwhelm
After putting in long hours and grappling with physical and emotional struggles involved in writing a book, many authors are disappointed to learn they had just completed the first stage.
The next phase is giving your book a chance to be read and enjoyed by others.
And this means you need to participate in marketing your book.
So you start exploring what you need to do.
And become completely overwhelmed. It’s just like confronting a jigsaw puzzle, with a million different pieces needing to be assigned their place.
You need to add structure to the chaos and overwhelm. This is where an author platform can help. (If you want more background information about author platforms, my blog post on What is an Author Platform? should help).
It will provide you with a framework so you can systematically tackle each category of book marketing that needs to be done.
The Five Parts of an Author Platform
There are several components to a platform. The main ones are:
- Mailing list
- Social Media
- In-Person Events
I know that looks like a lot to build—but don’t worry! When you are just starting out, focus on the first three (or even just the first two). You can work on the others later, after you’ve taken care of the foundation.
Let’s explore each piece.
As writers, a helpful way to think about branding is to think of it as akin to voice.
We all understand the importance of voice. It’s what makes a story stand out and gives it a distinct personality. It’s the secret sauce that elevates your writing so that it resonates deeply with readers.
But it is very challenging to define.
An author brand is the same. It’s the personality and essence of your image. It’s what draws certain readers in, and gives them a feeling of what to expect from you.
Cultivating your brand involves a combination of building a consistent look around everything you put out into the world, and infusing your personality into your all of your writing.
You can start with the visual elements:
Select from 3 to 5 colors that you feel reflect your personality and writing style. Pastels work well for writers of “quiet” book. Bold colors are better for a more rambunctious style.
A good rule of thumb is to choose one font for headlines, titles, and other attention-grabbing text. This font can be a serif font (those with a bit of embellishment at the end of the letter stroke. They can be paired with a san serif font for longer blocks of text.
Select one image of yourself to use for the majority of your promotional materials. Try to choose one that conveys a bit of your personality, so your audience immediately forms a (hopefully positive!) impression of you from it.
Here’s a great example from author Tim McCanna. Notice how his colors, his font, and his profile picture all convey Tim’s personality and style.
Above all, as you decide how to develop your brand, be yourself.
Don’t look at what other authors are doing and try to emulate the successful ones. The purpose here is not to try to create a brand you think will appeal to everyone.
The purpose is to present your authentic self to the world, and focus on what makes you unique. You want to attract your audience, not someone else’s.
If You Don’t Have One, Create One!
If you haven’t already created an author website, you need to do so right away. If you need help getting started, check out my beginner’s website building series at MakeaLivinginKidlit.com/——. Your website can serve as the central command center for establishing and promoting your author platform.
What to include
While it is essential that you create a website, the good news is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Once you get it up and running, you don’t need to spend a lot of time updating it or adding new content to it. It simply needs to exist! You can always change it and grow it later.
It should include the following pages:
- Contact Me
- Headshot (preferably with some personality!)
Some optional elements that are a good idea to include are:
- Social media links
Although we talk about building an author platform so it can help you sell books, that’s not really the key. A better way to think about a platform’s purpose is around cultivating connections with your audience.
When someone willingly shares their email with you, they are signaling an interest in you and your work. They are essentially telling you, “Okay, you can write directly to me.”
It’s your chance to talk to them, ask them questions, and develop a relationship.
It’s what we ultimately hope to develop with our audience. A connection around a shared interest in your stories.
Who Should be on my Email List?
One of the biggest challenges writers for children face in trying to connect with readers is that our audience is a bunch of kids. We can’t connect with kids directly online (unless you write YA books, in which case it may be possible). But we can connect with the parents of our readers.
Other children’s writers provide content that is geared toward other writers. While their email list may not be the target audience of their books, this isn’t a bad strategy. The community of children’s book writers and illustrators is one of the most supportive groups of people on the planet. Writers are always promoting other writers, and buy each other’s books.
Another valuable group to connect with are teachers and librarians. Like parents, they are looking for books for their students. Many teachers and librarians love connecting with authors. They are also a tremendous resource for children’s book writers. They are tuned into what kids are interested in, they encourage their students to read, and are happy to share their knowledge and expertise.
Make sure you include link on your website for people to sign up for your email list. You can also include links to your website on any social media profiles or posts.
I’ve Got Some Emails, Now What?
Once you’ve got people on your email list (even if it’s just one person!), make sure you engage with them. You need to do this consistently—once a week is ideal, but even twice a month is good. Less than that, and you are likely to be forgotten.
It’s best to take care of your list with an email service provider. In other words, sign up with a company that specializes in helping you collect names and send out messages. Some well-known and reputable providers include:
- MailerLite (free for up to 1,000 subscribers)
- MailChimp (free for up to 2,000 subscribers)
- ConvertKit (more expensive but good for larger lists)
- ActiveCampaign (also good for larger lists)
- FloDesk (newer platform that is highly recommended)
It may seem inefficient, but one of the best ways to sell books is to do it in-person, one book at a time. Making use of this old-fashioned technique is still the best way to directly connect with your audience.
Start With the Fundamentals: Schools, Libraries, and Bookstores
Include information about your availability for events on your website. If you charge a fee for school visits, make sure you mention it. (You don’t have to include the actual fees you charge). Have instructions about how people should contact you if they want to schedule an event.
In each case, make sure you ask about selling books. Sometimes schools will arrange for kids to order your book in advance of your visit, so you can sign them after your talk. Bookstores have their own policies about selling books after a presentation. Some stores will provide the book, while others will have you bring in your own supply, and the bookstore will receive a percentage of your sales.
If you feel like suddenly everyone has a podcast now, well…you’d be right! Or at least it feels that way.
Podcasts have exploded in the last few years. According to a January 2020 post by Podcast Insights, there are currently over 900,000 podcasts.
What’s great about this growth is that podcasts are always in need of people to interview. So if you have just released a book, or have something useful to share to the kidlit community, you can reach out to podcasts to see if they’d be interested in having you on their show.
Some examples of podcasts in the children’s writing space are:
- The Children’s Book Podcast
- Write or Die
Once you’ve managed to land a guest spot on a podcast, tell the world about it! Include a post linking to it on your website, and share it on social media.
For some writers, given the choice between diving into social media or diving into a sea of sharks, they would pick the sharks every time.
I don’t blame them!
Social media can be unpleasant. It can be a huge time suck, feel too self-promotional, and put yourself at risk of trolls. (The kind that say mean things about you online, not the kind that hide under bridges).
It can feel like an inauthentic way to connect with people. Scrolling through someone’s social media posts and seeing images of their perfect life can make you feel horribly inadequate even as you know in your heart they are only showing the glossy side of their life.
And yet social media can be a very useful tool for building up a following, raising awareness about you and your books, and connecting with your audience.
How to Dip Your Toe Into Social Media
First, don’t try to become involved in everything. You will quickly become overwhelmed and frustrated. Just pick one or two to focus on, and explore and experiment with them. Don’t worry about “missing out” on opportunities with platforms you are ignoring.
Once you get comfortable with one or two, you can branch out and tackle another. But don’t feel you have to. Many authors just stick with one or two and stay away from the rest.
The main social media platforms to consider are:
Here are some quick tips for each one:
One of the best ways I have found Facebook to be helpful is by joining groups. It is a way to immediately find people who are interested in the same topic as you are.
There are many groups dedicated to the craft of writing for children. Start by exploring a few, such as:
You can learn a great deal by just reading posts and observing what other writers are discussing. Try to be helpful by offering solid advice or information whenever you can. Ask questions and always be appreciative.
You will find writers of all genres on Twitter, including children’s writers. Some agents and editors are also quite active here.
One advantage of Twitter is you can just write your short missive (you only have 280 characters), post it, and see what happens. If you are disciplined, just spending a few minutes a day can help you build a following rather quickly.
Follow people in the kidlit space, and chances are, they will follow you back. Just be careful about trying to do too much too soon, or Twitter will put a hold on your account.
Because it originated as a platform for showcasing photos and videos, Instagram is a very visual platform.
Like Twitter, the writing community is huge on Instagram. It is easy to get plugged into groups that share your interests.
Again, the key to getting started is to start paying attention to what is being posted in the kidlit community. Try to engage with helpful information and advice. Be supportive and promote others’ work.
The most important thing you need to understand about Pinterest is that it is not a social media platform.
You read that right. This is a huge misconception about Pinterest. It’s actually a search engine.
What does that mean? Like Google, people actually use Pinterest for finding information or answers to something they are interested in or need to know about.
Pinterest can also be quite useful when you are ready to start driving traffic to your website. Pin about posts on your blog, or anything that may be helpful to your audience, and include your website. If people are intrigued, they might decide to check out what else you have to share.
You Are in This For the Long Run
It’s a lot of work to build an author platform. But after you get one up and running, much of it will start to take care of itself, with just some maintenance on your part.
Again, the best way to tackle it is one small step at a time.
If you devoted 30 minutes or an hour a day to your author platform, just think how much progress you will have made by the end of one month? You may be surprised.
You can use my free checklist to help you get through each of the steps.
At that point, maybe you finally can sit back and relax.
And maybe tackle a 3,000 piece puzzle this time.