Why Having a Platform May Be the Only Way To Sell Books
Speaking/events: We all know that bookstores are shrinking and so is event space, but if you want to do speaking it's a fantastic way to draw in an audience. If you aren't on the speaking circuit and don't know places where you can do events or talks consider some unique sites. I've written a lot about author events in non-bookstore venues such as Hallmark or card stores, restaurants, kitchen or cooking stores, grocery stores or markets, gyms, gift shops, etc. If you have a book that ties into one of these areas, or perhaps one I didn't mention consider going after them for an event. Likely they've never done a book event in their store so you'll have to educate them. Offer to bring your own books (selling on consignment often works well in these venues) and if doing a talk isn't in the cards because of store traffic, consider just getting a table and signing books. But, in either case, bring your mailing list sign-up sheet and encourage folks to give you their email address. Offer them something as an incentive to sign up. I never, ever, ever do a single signing or speaking event without bringing a sign-up sheet and giving folks something for free to encourage getting an email.
Website/mailing list: Everyone who writes a book needs a website. Period, end of story. If you think your book will sell well without one, you are mistaken. And look, I know that when you publish it seems that everywhere you turn someone has got their hand out for money.
Yes, if you hire good people to do great work for you it will cost you money. But that's really the ticket: hire good people to do great work. Your website doesn't have to be this mega-fantastic site but it should be well-designed (read: please don't design your own site, create your own book cover or cut your own hair. I've done all three and it wasn't pretty). You should have a mailing list sign-up. I know you may have a million reasons why you don't want one but I'll give you one major reason why you should: Platform. When you capture emails you are making your website work for you. It not only becomes your 24/7 sales tool but your re-marketing tool. Our newsletter (which we've had for years) has become one of our #1 ways to market. We get in front of our reader every two weeks with helpful, insightful information and they remember us. How will you get your reader to remember you?
Blockbuster world: I've written pretty extensively on why I feel we need bookstores and why I don't want them to close but the biggest reason I think bookstores are important is that we don't want to live in a blockbuster-only world. Imagine what it would be like if the only bookstores were in Wal-Mart, Target and airports. What would that mean for your book? Well, likely it would mean that if you weren't a blockbuster, your book would never be on any of these shelves. You may argue that even with stores your book isn't on any shelves. That's true for a lot of us, and even with Barnes & Noble and a lot of independents it's hard to find a home for your book on a bookstore shelf. This is why platform is even more crucial. Consumers are driven by big names and those big names are driven by their platform, in some cases their readers. Consider the success of certain books from unknown authors that were entirely reader-driven. Welcome to the new world of the blockbuster. Reader engagement is crucial - now more than ever you must engage with your reader. You can do that via your blog, on social media sites, in places like Library Thing and Goodreads and via speaking events and your mailing list. Readers are gold, they are your platform.
Now it's very likely that you read through this piece and thought, "my reader isn't in any of these places." I'd be surprised if that was true but if you are sitting in a very niche market or have devised other ways to get in front of your reader and grow your platform, then good for you.
The point is that developing your platform is a fancy way of saying: "Get in front of your reader as often as you can." Figure out how to reach your individual reader, and you've now figured out how to build your platform. In an age where everyone can publish (and it would seem that everyone is) the thing that will define you and separate your message from the noise will be your platform. Without it, yours may be the best book that no one has ever read.
Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com