Your Author Platform: It's Not About You!

by | Nov 10, 2011

As some of you know I’ve been conducting book marketing mastermind sessions with some top book marketers recently.

Exposing myself (figuratively, of course) to the ideas and practices of these experts has changed my thinking on some topics.

One of these is the author platform, something I’ve written about often before.

And here’s what changed for me: I’ve always thought of the metaphoric platform as something we patiently and consciously build, board by board with our marketing and networking activities.

You write a blog, give talks to groups, establish your authority, authenticity and helpfulness, gathering fans and readers along the way. This foundation becomes your platform.

The Big Change

But what if you thought about it from the other side, so to speak? What I learned from talking to these marketing pros is this:

The platform isn’t about you at all. It’s about the unmet needs of your audience.

That’s the platform that already exists. It’s there for you if you can address those unmet needs, because then you’ll have the platform to sell from, to spread your message or your stories.

The audience creates the platform. What you do with all your activity is try to move yourself onto the platform so that you have a place to speak from.

What does this mean in reality?

For an example out of left field, look at the contest going on right now for the Republican presidential nomination here in the U.S.

For months there’s been a large percentage of Republicans who have been unhappy with the candidates in the race. This unmet need of the audience created a powerful platform for anyone who could legitimately get up there to make their case.

So when someone like the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, got into the race by jumping up on the platform already created, he rocketed to the top of the polls.

Was it his marketing, speaking, or books that did that? Nope. It was the power of all those unmet needs—the power of the platform—that did it. Once people got a closer look at him, he fell right off, but that’s not the point.

Think about your own subject area. No matter how many books have been written about it, there are still lots of unmet needs.

At the Pitchapalooza I participated in a few months ago one of the big hits was a pitch for a book about tree pruning. It turned out the best book on this narrow subject was very old, and had never been modernized or replaced. The person pitching had the exact credentials and the ability to create the new version the market needed. Every one of us on the panel immediately recognized a winning proposition. Why?

The unmet needs of that niche market are what will propel that book to regular, healthy sales. The people who are just waiting for a book that’s been written recently on this topic make up the platform for the author.

I could go on, but I think you can see the meaning and importance of this idea.

Certainly you have to do all the marketing practices you are doing, without them you won’t be able to use the platform you identify.

But look around, it’s a different world. People in all niches and interest groups and genres have these unmet needs, whether they realize it or not.

It’s up to us to find them and fill those needs. Welcome to the new author platform—it’s not about you at all.

Photo by Ted Van Pelt

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marketing

8 Comments

  1. Demetrius

    What someone wrote about James Bond long ago seems to apply to what Joel is saying.
    The first Bond movies were during the Cold War and there was a fear that everything could go bad Internationally.
    By having a character who destroyed the threat, James Bond met the need for a feeling of security, telling viewers everything is okay. The Nazis, Russians– or whomever bad guys– were stopped and will be stopped as long as James Bond screws beautiful women non stop pour himself a drink, and saves the world.

    Reply
  2. Turndog Millionaire

    Interesting article, and i certainly see your point. However, not sure this is the way to go for most writers.

    Although understanding your audience is SO IMPORTANT, writing is an art and i think most people need to stay true to this. If you start trying to create your art around others needs, well, things might get a little wayward, and dare i say, sell outish.

    This certainly will work for someone like Rick Perry (a popularity contest), and a high consumer product or service. But for art? I’m not too sure.

    I think you need to create your brand around you and what you offer, go in search for people who can emphasise with you, and market yourself and your products accordingly.

    Interesting article though, certainly good to see both sides of the argument

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

    Reply
  3. Roger C. Parker

    Dear Joel:
    Great post; the concept of unmet reader needs is a great way for all of us to create a content system that can be counted on to succeed.

    In a Fast Company interview, Timothy Ferris described how he tested title and content ideas for his 4-Hour Work Week and his 4-Hour Body–and we know how they have sold.

    Coincidentally, earlier this week, I interviewed Jonathan Fields who casually mentioned how carefully he test-marketed the title, topics, and, also, the chapter titles of his highly-successful Uncertainty.

    All of which reinforces the idea of focusing on unmet needs at every step in planning, writing, and publishing a book.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      That’s very interesting Roger, that Jonathan would test down to the level of the chapter titles. Will your interview be available? I’d love hear it.

      Reply
  4. Denise

    This matches up well with the #1 tip for bloggers: Be useful. What “useful” means will depend on your niche. It might mean giving people actionable tips, or it might mean making them laugh (we all need a laugh!), or keeping them abreast on the latest news about your topic, or sharing your struggles so we know we aren’t the only ones, or…whatever. When you meet people’s needs, they will come back again and again.

    Reply
  5. Graeme Smith

    The point is well made, and entirely valid. However…. :-P.

    Mr Perry (to save the attentions of hungry legal advisors, let’s delete that and say ‘Mr Politician’) is in an excellent place to offer himself as the satisfaction for un-met need.

    1: He’s a politician. He can promise anything. He doesn’t have to deliver right now. In fact, be definition, he’ll get elected (or otherwise) based on promises. Not on delivery. Or otherwise :-).

    2: His audience is both pre-defined and visible – they live in the US and they talk. A lot. And complain. A lot-er-er :-).

    3: By coming to the party late, he has the advantage of hearing his potential audience complaining about the needs they have that are not yet met – and so doesn’t have to look hard.

    Now consider the writer-as-marketer.

    1: While, in general, the platform (just like the politician’s) is more about the relationship between the writer and the writer’s audience than about product (books), there are still limits. Mr Thriller Writer can put themselves in a different thriller space, but can’t start talking romance and expect to be easily believed.

    2: The writer’s audience, for the established writer, may be visible. For the novice, finding the audience is itself one of the challenges. But that’s a different conversation. Still, if you can;t find them, you aren;t likely to be able to identify their un-met need.

    3: While some elements of the audience can be vocal about their un-met needs (‘Gods, if I see one more book about a zombie-vampire who’s half werewolf and has a lightning scar on his forehead…’), they more often talk about their _met_ needs (‘hey, I just read this book about a zombie-vampire who’s half werewolf, and it was _great_!’).

    To meet an audience’s un-met needs, the steps would appear to be:

    1: Find the audience.

    2: Talk to them, or better, get them talking to you, about what they’d love to read – and haven’t been able to find. Which isn’t ‘a new book by ‘. It’s a style, a voice, a field, a genre, a _something_.

    3: Go write the damn thing.

    4: Unlike the political field, where every election opportunity for a given pool of candidates takes place at the same time, books are published all the time. The writer has to hope that, by the time they come back, the need they identified hasn’t been met by someone else.

    And the issue with that? It’s right back to product. Not the relationship and communication between the writer and the audience.

    On the other hand, I’ve probably totally missed the point, got the point I didn’t miss entirely wrong, and put over a view that was not the intent of the original article. Heck. Maybe I should go into politics! After all, I’m…

    The Idiot
    or
    UNSCM
    :-)

    Reply
  6. Tonja

    You make an excellent point, one I haven’t heard before. Great post as usual.

    Reply
  7. adan lerma

    sounds like maybe it’s about both the niche audience “and” you –

    but that might be an ideal ;-)

    very thought provoking article, thanks joel!

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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