What You Can Learn About Platform From a 12-Year-Old

Image: a crew of four schoolgirls, sitting with their backs to the camera
Photo by 周 康 from Pexels

Today’s post is by writer and book coach Michelle Melton Cox (@michellemcox).

My 12-year-old transferred to a new school this year. She experienced some initial joy when they made the decision to resume in-person instruction, but that joy was soon replaced with dread. Worries about COVID-19 and the discomfort of wearing a mask became secondary to the dire possibility of being friendless. At the age where friends and fitting in are paramount to survival—and let’s face it, that’s a concern at all ages—her anxiety threatened to overshadow what would make her successful in her new surroundings.

The advice I offered to prevent fear from paralyzing her aligns closely with the advice I give writers who seek my help in building an author platform:

  • Show up and be your best self. Being your best self means presenting yourself well. Smile and say hello.
  • Share something about yourself.
  • Be helpful when you can.
  • Invite someone to sit with you.
  • If that someone declines, invite someone else.
  • Once you have a taker, talk to them.
  • Others will see you talking and want to join you. Invite them and talk to them, too.

My daughter took my advice and by the time I picked her up from school, she was grinning from ear to ear because she had been added to several text group chats with her new friends.

All of those pointers can work for your author platform efforts, as well. But before I explain, I think it’s important to share how I define author platform. My favorite definition stems from what Jane has said or written on the topic, combined with my experience in the industry.

What author platform is: it’s wherever people can find and interact with you and your creative work. It’s the place or places where authors listen to their potential readers and then serve those individuals by providing value via expertise, content and creativity.

What author platform does (or has the potential to do): it builds relationships and loyalty with readers, which, in turn, grows your author platform through sharing and purchasing.

Now, back to my kid and what her experience can teach you.

Show up and be your best self.

You can’t build a platform if you don’t put yourself out there. You must put your creative work and ideas into the arena. It feels scary and vulnerable, and it is both of those things. But do it anyway. You cannot create a fan base for your work from a place of obscurity.

And when you step into the arena, you need to be yourself, which means being authentic and real. Yes, you can be authentic and professional at the same time. You can be politically active and engaged in social causes and professional at the same time. You can be angry or sad or grieving and also in control of yourself.

If you know your ideal readers, you also will know what their expectations are when it comes to professionalism, and you’ll know when you can push those boundaries. Just make sure that when people encounter you on your author platform, they get the sense that you chose to write or say what they are reading/hearing, even if it isn’t practiced, scripted, perfect or free of difficult emotions.

Along the same lines, your creative work on your author platform should be the best it can be. That doesn’t mean perfect, because “done” is still better than perfect. Shared is better than perfect. But if you regularly make sloppy mistakes, you’ll lose followers and fans because they will make assumptions about you and your work.

Share something about yourself.

People will connect more with your creative work if they feel connected to you. While many (most, all) writers are introverts at heart, I still tell my clients that they can be introverts without being hermits. They don’t have to reveal their private aspirations, childhood trauma or the names of their children, but everyone can share something about their writing process or their pet, a hobby or favorite book. Give your ideal readers a way to connect with you on something other than your work and you’ll increase their loyalty.

Likewise, share even more about the things that make you the perfect person to be writing the things you’re writing. If your book is about life in a trailer park and family dysfunction related to alcoholism, then sharing stories about your experiences with these things is a powerful way to connect with potential readers. (See the example set by Teri Case, author of Tiger Drive.)

And if you’re writing a nonfiction book on generational dysfunction and healing, it’s important to showcase professional knowledge of the topic.

Even better for building trust with readers? Share personal stories related to the topic, like my book coaching and author platform client Gina Birkemeier has done in several posts on her blog and on her LinkedIn profile.                         

Be helpful when you can.

You know things that other people don’t know, either related to writing itself or related to your writing subject matter: How to write a book. What online classes are helpful to writers. How to build a doghouse. What foods increase fertility.

Share these things in the form of content or giveaways. When you help people once, they remember you. Help them repeatedly and they become loyal to you.

Personally invite someone to sit with you.

You have to invite people to join you. Invite them to visit your website if you have one. Invite them to subscribe to your newsletter. Invite them to comment on your content or post. Invite them to share your content. People want to be asked and invited.

But think about it: If you simply post a need for volunteers to help at a soup kitchen, you might get a few helpers. But personally invite people to volunteer and you’re more likely to fill the slots you need. The same is true for your platform, newsletter, etc. Post a link and people might click, visit or subscribe. Post a link and invite people to visit, and you’ll get better traction. Personally invite them, and your results are much higher. And inviting one person who accepts your invitation is more valuable than posting to hundreds via an ad on social media that may not result in any takers—especially in the early stages.

Of course, personal invitations aren’t feasible as your numbers grow, but you can learn ways to personalize the invitations when the time comes.

Once someone accepts, talk to her.

Engagement on your platform is more important than followers. Let me say it again: Engagement is more important than followers. Thousands of followers who never share, like or comment on your content are not worth the digital space they occupy. But two dozen people who are loyal fans can create more fans like themselves when they talk about you and your work. And they become loyal fans when they know you. And they get to know you when you engage with them. Don’t just post content and move on. If people comment, respond. Even better, comment on the content they post, as well. Try to use the 80/20 rule. You should be commenting about eighty percent of the time and posting about 20 percent of the time.

Others will see you talking and want to join you. Invite them and talk to them, too.

When you’re at a large, crowded holiday party and you see two people sitting silently on a couch, do you join them? Or, do you gravitate toward the two (or three or ten) who are in the middle of the room talking and laughing? See how it works? A social media post with lots of engagement draws attention. It shows up on more social media feeds, even if the conversation is just between two people. So if you post something on LinkedIn and one person comments, respond back. If you write a blog post and someone reads it and comments, answer her. When someone new comments, welcome her. If the opportunity presents itself organically, invite her to join your newsletter or follow another post related to her comment.

Preventing overwhelm

Knowing everything isn’t necessary, but knowing two things is critical.

  1. Know your main message. What are you trying to say to the world? If you were handed a microphone and told to address a conference full of the people you are trying to reach with your work and you get to make one point using one sentence, what would it be? And if you were given the chance to deliver one more sentence? You should be able to articulate these two sentences.
  2. Know who makes up your “ideal crew.” Some call these people your ideal readers. I call them a crew because a crew is a group of friends who hang out together. You want your crew to hang out with you. And knowing who they are (and who they are not) is important. Think of my 12-year-old. She wouldn’t have made many friends if she’d gone looking for connection in the senior hallway at school. Or the teachers’ lounge. But she knew who her crew was: other seventh grade girls. Did she limit her audience? Absolutely. And by doing so, she found her crew.

Do a platform audit to determine your strengths.

This will help you get started without spreading yourself too thin at the risk of doing everything poorly and inconsistently. I’ve developed a free platform audit worksheet that uses a series of questions and a simple scoring process to help you put metrics around the most popular places for platform building. With that number in hand, it’s easier to choose a launching point or an area of focus. Download the free worksheet here. 

Prioritize your efforts and start with just two things: your strongest platform based on the results of your audit, and a website—because you need a way to capture email addresses and showcase more of your creative work.

Building and growing an author platform is necessary, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Follow my 12-year-old’s lead and you’ll be in your very own “group chat” with your growing crew in no time.

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