BE BRAVE. Never Stop Growing your Author Platform, A Guest Post by Kathrin Hutson

BE BRAVE. Never Stop Growing your Author Platform, A Guest Post by Kathrin Hutson
January 25, 2019 No Comments » For Authors, Marketing Advice Phoebe Darqueling

Why?

I know. As Indie Authors, we hear this all the time. “Grow your author platform.” “Engage your readers.” “Create awesome content they can’t ignore.” The intentions, of course, are in the right place. But if I’m being honest, these phrases have always overwhelmed me a little. And let’s face it, hearing the same thing over and over can get a little obnoxious and… well, boring.

That right there is the bane of every author’s existence. At least, it’s mine. I dread the thought that anything I put out there in the world as an author could even be placed in the same Venn diagram as obnoxious or boring. And I’m also the kind of person who naturally avoids the potential of being either of those things by efficiently avoiding everything. Come on, Kathrin. That doesn’t work.

The night I published my first book, Daughter of the Drackan, at the end of 2015 and launched my Indie Author career (more like gave it a gentle nudge into existence), I experienced what I like to call “published author’s post-partum depression”. And yes, I’m not ashamed to admit, I actually cried. Because I that the thing I’d been dreaming of and pushing toward since I was ten years old had finally happened.

And at the same time, nothing happened. The world did not stop. No streamers and confetti popped down from the sky. No brass band marched across my back yard in northern California. I wasn’t finished.

I’m never finished.

And I kept going. I released the second book in the Gyenona’s Childen trilogy seven months later. Admittedly, I produced a shockingly low amount of fiction for about a year after that. But it’s only because my daughter drained every ounce of my brain power in utero and every ounce of my spare energy and focus once she was born. Plus the fact that my husband and I moved across the country for the third time in five years somewhere in there, only now we had an eight-month old with us. (See? We all make excuses…)

But in 2018, I wrote and published the entirety of The Unclaimed trilogy. Which was followed very closely by my newest Speculative Thriller bestseller, Sleepwater Beat. And I kid you not, folks, I have only just recently—and I mean in the last three months—come to understand what that prickly pear of advice really means: “Grow your author platform.”

How?

Glad you asked. It’s definitely untrue that all authors are introverts. But I am. Over the last three months I have been emerging from my introvert tendencies of remaining in the background, quiet, unseen, unheard. Really actually invisible, if I think about it. And the whole process has been as graceful as a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. After fighting tooth and nail against the whole prospect, then deciding it’s finally time, only to get stuck halfway out while racking its brains to remember what it was trying to do in the first place. Pretty much like that.

But when I compare the last three years to the last three months, there is no doubt in my mind that I’ve stumbled upon something that really works for me and my Indie Author career. Oh, but that’s so subjective, you might say. Okay. Numbers aren’t subjective (or at least far less), so let’s look at those.

By the Numbers

In the last three months: I have tripled the size of my newsletter subscriber list; the number of views on my social media posts went up 950% when I posted my very first video; and the average monthly sales of all six of my current books combined across all platforms increased by 347%. And counting. Say what?

I too thought I was making this up until I re-checked the numbers for the fifth time. Because what I changed three months ago was so simple and so easy (relatively—remember the butterfly), it feels almost wrong to see these kinds of results. Almost.

It comes down to the three things I changed or started doing for my author platform. Which conveniently (and perhaps to my hesitant acknowledgment) apply to those three over-used, shouted-in-our-faces pieces of advice: Grow your author platform. Engage your readers. Create awesome content they can’t ignore.

1. Give stuff away. For free.

Doesn’t this contradict everything we want to achieve with our writing? Doesn’t it devalue all the blood, sweat, and tears poured into the entire process from first word to release date? That’s what I thought too until I actually started trying targeted giveaways.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve never offered freebies before I started incorporating these new things three months ago. But I used to do maybe one giveaway every six months, and it really didn’t do much other than grab some new readers for that one book for a little while (minus the first free promotion I ever ran with Daughter of the Drackan, which actually saw 1,600 downloads in three days and put it on the free Dark Fantasy bestsellers list. But I’m willing to admit that was probably a fluke).

Setting a book as permafree or entering it into more than one giveaway at a time (or both) is a huge way to get new readers and new fans. This works best with a first book in a series, if you have more than one book out, but it can work even with your first and only published book.

Yes, it will definitely attract those people who love to snag things for free and drop off the face of the Earth after that. They don’t write, they don’t call, they unsubscribe from your newsletter (gasp). That’s perfectly okay. Those gems of readers will weed themselves out, I promise. But those who read your free books and love your work will stick around and most likely check out everything else you’ve written, now or in the future. Because you got them in the door with a gift

2. Make author videos and actually let other people see them.

I know, I know. This was really hard to wrap my head around too. Again, I’ll refer to the butterfly metaphor. In the last few years, there’s been a drastic and often overwhelming increase in the number of self-published books out there. Not to mention the number of self-published authors vying for reader attention (somewhere in the millions, I believe). And of course, those huge numbers, in my opinion, are split into two categories: self-published authors, who put out one or two books and call their dream fulfilled; and Indie Authors, who strive to make this writing biz a full-time career and take every tiny detail quite seriously (sometimes more than we should).

So how are we Indie Author professionals to rise above and shout to the world, “Hey, this is what I do! And I’ve got some amazing, fresh, sweep-you-off-your-feet stuff for you readers out there!”, hmm? I used to think this answer was simple: Just write amazing books, have them professionally edited and formatted with a swanky, bestselling book cover and a professional-looking platform, and my stuff will stand out like a neon sign above the work that doesn’t quite cut it in those terms. Well, that might have worked five years ago, even (which is still before I published my first book), but a lot of Indie Authors have stepped up their pro game, too.

Cue the dreaded author videos!

I have no shame when I say I almost puked my guts out after the first video I recorded. This was even though it wasn’t live and I still had a few friends in the film/stage industry take a look at it before posting the darn thing. Their responses were catastrophic to my desire to hide from the world and just keep writing in silence. That actually means they loved it. And they urged me to do more.

I’ve only been posting these author videos for about six weeks, so I’m still fairly new to the process. But again, the numbers here in social media engagement (950% increase) are hard to ignore. The key here is consistency. I do one a week, and I always link my website and Amazon author page (plus a newsletter subscribe link) in the description. And I plan on continuing to create these videos every week for as long as I can conceivably keep it going.

In only six weeks with this, I’ve gotten phenomenal responses from current readers, new readers, and just people passing by who have never heard of me before. And what’s the general theme, here? “Kathrin, these videos are amazing! Your energy is fantastic, you keep it interesting and funny, and I can’t wait to see the next one.” Wow. All right, then.

I even had a subscriber take the time to email me and basically say, “I know you have an unsubscribe option for your author video newsletter, but why the heck would I unsubscribe from something I look forward to every single week?” This came from a military veteran in his late sixties—definitely not my own personal demographic, which is so awesome. And the guy’s reading all my stuff (according to him. I’m inclined to believe him). Making and consistently posting these author videos has brought the true fans of my work out of the woodwork to say, “I love your stuff. Keep going. We want more!”

Okay, there are actually two key elements to this, which leads me to my third point.

3. Talk about your own books 10% of the time.

Again, sounds counter-intuitive, right? But here’s the thing. Current fans and potential fans already know we write awesome stuff. That’s why they’re there in the first place, grabbing these free snippets from our giveaways or watching our author videos and (hopefully) commenting on them. There are links everywhere in our posts, social media profiles, author bios, newsletters. Pick a place, we’ve stuck a link there.

What readers and just regular people in general want to see is something real, something beyond “I’m an author who wrote this, so please buy it from me.” So when I talk about putting up author videos, I don’t mean record five minutes of you reading all the five-star reviews of a certain book or detailing your process for how you came up with such an amazing idea. Yes, we authors can totally geek out about these things all day. And there are author forums and social media groups for just that. Sometimes, it can be a good idea to share this with your readers. But eventually, you’ll either run out of things to say on these specific topics. Or your videos will start to look just like all the “buy my book” links practically spammed across the internet.

The solution, then is to engage your readers and fans with things they absolutely cannot find anywhere else from any other author. This is the “providing awesome content they can’t ignore” bit.

My author videos might talk briefly about my writing and all the work I have going on. (As in, “I’m really busy this week.”) I might refer briefly to a book or project. But that’s mostly when I’m offering a signed paperback or some really cool swag as a prize for those readers who commented on these videos and really connected with the other 90% of what I had to say. You guessed it, this 90% had nothing to do with my books.

Take my first author video, for example. I posted it on what was officially Dalek Remembrance Day (any Dr. Who fans will get this), where I showed off the hilarious, talking Dalek figurine I bought myself and pretty much geeked out about it for a few minutes. Then I said I wanted to hear what my readers got super excited and cheesed-out about on the same level.

The winners I chose for coolest geeky obsession were lasers and solar-powered figurines that bobbed in windows. These winners got signed copies of books and a super awesome t-shirt with my imprint logo on it. BAM. Kicking off the 90%-not-about-my-books thing right. And the same people who watched and loved my first video keep watching and interacting, plus an amazing number of new arrivals every week.

The same thing can be done with social media posts that don’t include videos, or with content in your author newsletter. You can provide glimpses into other areas of your life, or send exclusive weekly emails to your subscribers with short, serialized fiction that nobody else gets to read (okay, that’s writing-related, but it’s free, and you’re not pressuring them to buy anything). Give your fans the opportunity to suggest content for your next video or newsletter. Offer prizes for the winners. Heck, put all three of these key actions together at the same time and watch the responses come flying in. Because at the end of the day, your author platform is your brand, which really comes down to you.

The Bottom Line

Your author platform isn’t your books, or your sales, or your reviews. It’s you. That’s what keeps people interested. And that’s what will bring you soaring above a sea of new publications getting lost out there in the waves. Keep writing. Keep it real, keep it genuine, and do what feels true to you. Be brave and grow with your author platform. I can’t wait to see where we all end up!

Have you ever made videos? Got any tips? Share with your fellow scribes in the comments!

Bestselling Author Kathrin Hutson writes Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Speculative Thrillers. Since 2015, she has published six novels (the bestselling Gyenona’s Children duology, The Unclaimed trilogy, and the bestselling first book in the Blue Helix series). She makes a living writing fiction full-time.

Connect with her on Facebook, on her website, on Amazon  at amazon.com/kathrin-hutson, and on Twitter @KLHCreateWorks. You can join her newsletter here for exclusive access to never-before-seen fiction, Advanced Reader Copies, and dark surprises you won’t find anywhere else.

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Phoebe Darqueling Phoebe Darqueling is a speculative fiction writer who also runs SteampunkJournal.org. You can find her writing in contributions to the Collaborative Writing Challenge, including their newest Steampunk release, Army of Brass. During the academic year, Phoebe is the Creative Director and curriculum writer for a creativity for middle school students, which has given her an understanding of and appreciation for intelligence and creativity of all shapes and sizes.

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