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What is an author platform, and how does it change over time?

By Desiree Villena

“Author platform” is one of those nebulous terms people use to describe an author’s marketing power. Most people don’t pause to define it, as it’s such a widely used concept, but that doesn’t make it any less hard for debut authors to wrap their heads around!

Crucially, I believe it’s important to clarify that having an author platform is not a binary state where you either have it or you don’t, but rather an ongoing process, ever in flux. Through my work for Reedsy, I’ve learned a lot about author platforms — and I’m hoping to share what I’ve learned with you today. To do this, I’ll be looking at Barack Obama’s career as a case study to show you how author platforms are ever-changing. But first, let’s define the term and discuss why author platforms are so important.

What exactly is an author platform?

Author platforms are hard to pin down, as they take many forms, but a strong author platform usually means having some or all of the following:

● Contacts in the right places (for press coverage or endorsements);

● A wide reach through a popular social media account, like Twitter or Instagram, or a well-maintained mailing list;

● Some degree of public recognition (widely or in your field);

● A successful publishing record;

● Authority or expertise in your field, or at least first-hand knowledge of your subject.

In other words: your platform is your ability to reach people and sell them your book because of your position in society and your industry.

Why are author platforms important?

By definition, your platform is the base from which you will operate to sell your books. Without a platform or an attempt to build one, you can write a fantastic book — only to throw it into the dark depths of the Internet, with no one to witness it or read it. Together, all the elements of your platform work together to provide you with increased visibility and credibility, helping you reach more readers and appeal to them.

A robust author platform can help you get a publishing deal

If you’ve decided to go the traditional publishing route, having an author platform can really work your favor when it comes to securing a literary agent or publisher. That’s how the traditional publishing ecosystem works: for a publisher, investing in you and your book means taking a leap of faith, so it’s your job to convince them you’re worth it.

In this situation, a large digital following, fame, or a strong publication record are all testaments to your work and personal brand. Lacking these doesn’t mean your book can’t succeed, or that it has no merit — but publishers are understandably risk-averse, so evidence by way of an established platform always improves your chances of getting a book deal.