I was invited to attend the Hay House Writer’s Workshop this week in Sydney and the catch phrase of the day was author platform. In fact, if you assumed that a writing workshop run by the world’s leading Mind Body Spirit publisher would be filled with fluffy creativity exercises and meditations to help you write from the soul, you probably haven’t been paying attention to the sophisticated way Hay House go about their business.
Yes, there was no doubting the positive energy in the 900-strong audience –and yes, everyone was delighted receive two free oracle cards with miraculously appropriate messages about fulfilling dreams and unleashing your creativity – but the overwhelming message of the workshop was professional not spiritual. Speaker after speaker highlighted the importance of preparing a marketing plan and devising an author platform strategy to build your readership before you attempt to publish your book.
So what exactly is an author platform?
As the author you are the best person to sell your book and you need to be able to connect to your readers and potential readers to generate interest and create a loyal following. There are many, many channels that you can use to reach your audience, including websites, blogs, social media, television talk shows, radio interviews, article writing, media releases, speaking tours, book signings, message boards, workshops, consulting, professional networks, celebratory endorsements, charity work, product branding, advertising and so on. Your author platform is the combination of methods you have set up to connect and interact directly with your audience. A powerful platform is able to efficiently reach a large, targeted audience and allows two-way communication and interaction between authors and readers.
The concept of author-centred book marketing is at the core of the entire Hay House publishing strategy. Their author programme is best practice and writers and publishers from all genres can learn a lot from the sophisticated platforms they have developed to ensure that Hay House authors are able to connect to their readers and grow a fan base.
The Writers’ Workshops are a perfect example of the end-to-end focus of the Hay House author programme. Not only do these workshops put high profile Hay House authors in direct contact with their most passionate readers, they also allow Hay House to groom potential new authors by training them to think positively about their author platform and marketing plan well before they ever submit a book for publication. All new book submissions to Hay House are already judged heavily against the author’s ability to promote their work and the Writers’ Workshops are helping to set the standard and lift the quality of the submissions they receive.
Here are some of the key messages and lessons I took from the speakers at the workshop:
Reid Tracy – President Hay House
“Once the publisher has read the Overview (of your book proposal) and is interested in the book, the first thing they are going to turn to is your Marketing Plan and Author Platform”
Reid Tracy has been President of Hay House for more than 20 years and has been involved in the selection of nearly all the new title submissions in that time. So when he says that your marketing plan and author platform are crucial to a publisher’s decision, you know he’s speaking from direct experience. He also advises writers putting together their book proposal to put all their best ideas into the first book and make it a success – don’t keep a knockout concept up your sleeve for the sequel or you may miss the chance to use it altogether. Go for broke and trust in your own ability to come up with fresh ideas. Once the first book is published you’ll be amazed how much feedback from your audience can help inspire content for your next book.
Leon Nacson – Managing Director Hay House Australia
Leon is an author in his own right although he didn’t come to writing naturally, having struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia at school. His first book was written entirely by transcription so he never had to write anything down at all. His experience shows that nothing needs get in the way of a great idea. If you are having difficulty with any stage of the process, from putting pen to paper to fixing your grammar or devising a marketing plan, then get the help you need: invest in voice-to-text software; hire an editor; or consult a business coach – whatever you need to help turn that original idea out of your head and into a book.
Cheryl Richardson – Author of The Art of Extreme Self-Care
“Publishers and editors look through trade journals and magazines searching for new writers”
Cheryl was at the forefront of the Life Coaching movement, being one of the first 20 life coaches in the world. She used strategic media releases at the time to get articles written about herself and the burgeoning Life Coaching industry in a popular Mind Body Spirit Magazines. One article in particular created huge publicity for Cheryl and gained the attention of the key publishers and editors in her field. This ensured that her book proposals were taken much more seriously and put her in a strong position before even writing her first book.
Rachael Bermingham – Author of the 4 Ingredients Cookbook
“You can have the best book on the face of the Earth but if no one knows about it, it’s going to crash … The author needs to inject themselves into the book and the marketing.”
Rachael’s first book was the self-published 4 Ingredients Cookbook which baffled booksellers and publishers across the country with its incredible mass market success. The key behind Rachael and co-author Kim McCosker’s success was an unwavering belief in their book and perseverance with their marketing strategy. This strategy focused around the realisation that the best way to reach their target audience (Aussie mums) was to be featured on the top rated current affairs programme on national TV. Rachael’s determination not to take no for an answer eventually paid off and the publicity they received from that first show gave them the momentum they needed to launch an entire business around the 4 Ingredients brand.
Rachael now does a lot of coaching and workshopping for writers and her “always believe in your book” and “No only means no today” messages have inspired a large number of self published authors. It’s an attitude that all self published authors need to take to heart. Remember though, believing in your book really means believing in the idea of your book and should never stop you from doing everything you can to make the book as good as it can be. Similarly, not taking no for an answer shouldn’t stop you from recognising and acting upon constructive advice and feedback that can often accompany a rejection – sometimes No means Not now but maybe …
Bronnie Ware – Author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
The genesis of Bronnie’s book was an article she wrote for her blog in 2009 entitled Regrets of the Dying. The post summarised some observations she had made in her time working in palliative care but was not central to her new career or written with the intention to publish beyond her own blog. However, something about the article – the poignancy and simplicity of the message perhaps – struck a chord with readers and it slowly began to spread by word of mouth and cross posting. Six months after it was initially posted the article was discovered by someone at the Huffington Post, then it was picked up by the Guardian and suddenly 1000 hits a week turned into a hundred thousand.
After failing to find sign with a publisher Bronnie decided to self publish*. Her original blog post was central to her marketing strategy and she began to insist that anyone cross-posting or linking her article also include her author biography to ensure that she received credit and generated publicity for the book. By ensuring that all of the interest generated by the article led people to her book she was able to drive huge sales through Amazon and grab the attention of Hay House, who subsequently offered her a publishing deal.
Setting up your own author platform
As you can see from the examples above, there is no single best way to set up an author platform. Every author and every book will have a different audience and certain channels will work better than others. There are some general principles that are always good to keep in mind, however, and I will address some of these in an upcoming post in my series on Self Publishing so stay tuned.
* Bronnie’s publishing journey is a very interesting case as she represents one of the first success stories from Hay House’s new self publishing division, Balboa Press. She is one of seven Balboa Press authors (out of 1100 total) who have been offered contracts with Hay House after demonstrating strong sales. This “Trade Publisher with Self-Publishing Division” model is being explored by a number of traditional publishers as vanity presses are becoming a more legitimate option in the digital age. I have already discussed vanity presses in general terms in a previous post and I will delve into the Balboa Press model in more detail in a follow up article.