We’re privileged to have Barbara Scott here today to talk about platform and book marketing. Barbara has more than thirty years of publishing experience, ranging from newspapers and magazines to Christian books. As a senior acquisitions editor, she is credited for kicking off a well-rounded series of bestselling YA novels at Zondervan and quality, highly reviewed novels at Abingdon Press. Barbara worked with both fiction and nonfiction authors and sold their work to numerous publishers while acting as a literary agent for WordServe Literary Group. She also is a published author, and her educational background includes a M.A. and a B.A. in English. Currently, she is writing and editing under the banner of her company Heartland Editorial.
Thank you for joining us today, Barbara! Platform is the hot topic right now, and one that makes most writers’ heads spin. How important is building a platform prior to seeking an agent or publisher?
A robust platform is essential for nonfiction writers before a publisher will offer a book contract. Most of the books will be sold through the networks an author has established through speaking to large groups, media appearances, and an active social media network. National recognition is a big plus. Pastors usually have large- to mega-churches and huge followings on Facebook and Twitter. Platform is not as important for a fiction writer, but rather professional, creative content is the key to success. Story and a fresh voice will make an agent or editor take notice.
If an author does want to focus on building a platform, what makes it most appealing to an editor or agent?
Again, platform is different for nonfiction and fiction writers. Debut fiction authors usually have nice followings on Facebook, but again for fiction, fresh stories are what connect with editors and agents. The first book needs to sell well to land a subsequent contract. Audience and a fan base builds with each new book.
So, essentially, it sounds like fiction writers should focus most of their time on crafting a great story. How do platform concerns change once an author has a book contracted?
For fiction authors, publishers expect them to network on social media. Some agents and editors, though, have realized that blogging does not necessarily translate to book sales, so there is less emphasis on an author setting up a blog. However, a nice website is a plus. Authors should spend their energy making friends with readers and book reviewers online. Nonfiction authors will be expected to have already booked speaking engagements and set up interviews with the media.
It probably isn’t difficult to convince writers to spend time online. If an author has limited time for marketing, where would you advise him or her to focus most of her energy?
Facebook. For as little as $5 or $10 a day for a few days or longer, you can run an ad on Facebook from a fan page and target actual Christian readers. If you have not set up a fan page, do it now. Personal pages are not allowed to advertise. Post comments that are helpful to readers.
What marketing effort do you feel is the biggest waste of time for an author?
Mailing slick flyers or postcards to people who don’t know the author. These are great for setting up a launch party, but not really effective for reaching readers. Bookmarks are helpful to bookstore owners.
That probably sounds like good news to a lot of our readers. What marketing effort do you think yields the greatest return, then?
Networking with readers and book reviewers. Authors tend to network with other writers, which is great for fellowship, but not every writer will buy the book. Become active in reader groups on Facebook before you ever publish a book. Comment on those sites and offer helpful advice.
That’s great advice, and something that we can all start doing right away with a little time and effort. Is there any other advice you would give authors as they’re building a marketing strategy?
There are some terrific books out there to help authors market their books. I would recommend Rob Eagar’s Sell Your Book Like Wildfire: The Writer’s Guide to Marketing & Publicity.
Thank you so much for your insights, Barbara! We appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us here on The Inkwell.
To all you fiction writers out there, what are your platform building tips? What have you found works well, and what doesn’t work so well?