I’ve been working with writers, authors, and creative women for ten years now, and my number one piece of advice is this: You are a writer, not a content creator.
Over the span of the last decade, I’ve seen a massive shift in the way authors present themselves online and market their books.
First, there was only traditional publishing and all the steps that came with it until Amazon and Smashwords decided to overthrow the whole game. I began publishing in the Golden Age of Indie, where authors were taking their unedited books and making Microsoft Paint covers, then accidentally creating a career for themselves.
When things like Facebook and Instagram weren’t so heavy on the pay-to-play model, gaining a following was pretty simple. I myself amassed thousands of followers on my Facebook Page before I’d even written my debut book. Just talking about what I was going to write was enough to get traction and get me 10K in sales in a couple of months.
Those platforms tightened up their algorithms, and suddenly, authors were starved for views and engagement on their pages they were used to getting. This was the start of the .99 rush, where in an effort to gain exposure, authors practically gave books away. This eventually backfired, and authors created a market that devalued their work and pushed them to create unsustainable publishing schedules.
The pressure to put out high-quality imagery then came into play, which created a lean toward professional, eye-catching covers and graphics. Tools like Canva, Lightroom Mobile, and stock sites have made high-quality images accessible to almost any author, further adding to the pressures of high production-value content.
Now we are in a space of massive overwhelm when it comes to marketing books, building a brand, and creating an author platform.
Authors are now acting like Influencers, not like authors. They are putting all their creative time, energy and resources into designing amazing teaser reels and viral tik toks and props to showcase their books instead of writing and editing their books.
We’ve seen the rise of Bookstagram and Booktok, but what authors are missing is that we are NOT Bookstagram or Booktok. Those are spaces for Influencers, and what I mean by that is readers who are reviewing, showcasing, and otherwise gushing about books they love. Readers who are getting sponsored by book boxes and flooding the internet with their fandom art and book content.
The reason why a Bookstagrammer’s content goes viral, and yours doesn’t, isn’t that you suck and they are great/lucky. It’s because you are promoting something for profit, and they are not. So that works in their favour twofold. One, the algorithm favours them. Two, other readers trust a reviewer more than the author.
When you try to do what content creators are doing, there’s a good chance it won’t work the way you hope it will.
I’ve seen a lot of pouty posts about how an author’s vid only gets like 30 views when they talk about their books but a reader lipsyncs something random about a character and gets 100K views.
We like to think that writing books and reading books are the same, but they aren’t. Not when it comes to building a platform on social media. The goal of each is different, the tactics to grow are different, and the intentions are different.
Stop trying to emulate what you see on readers’ pages because your job is to write. Their job is to talk about books they love. Your job is to create amazing characters. Their job is to compose kickass teaser graphics. Your job is to create immersive magical worlds. Their job is to create amazing aesthetic reels. Your job is to get readers. Their job is to get engagement.
If history has told me anything, as an author, you are feeling one of two things right now. Pissed off or completely relieved.
So to clarify, am I saying that you CANNOT create aesthetic reels or fancy mockup graphics? Nope. Not at all. If you truly like doing that for your books, then have at ‘er. You are allowed to be an author AND an influencer if that’s what you want. It’s just important to know that going in.
Note: I studied fine art, film, photography, and graphic design in university/college, so I am all about fancy posts. But they are FUN for me, and I have the gear/knowledge to do them fairly quickly.
What I am saying is this. Your primary job as an author is not to become a content-creating marketing machine. You do not have to keep up with the amazing and talented readers out there–you only have to be your amazing and talented writer self.
The quality of their content is how they grow. The quality of your books is how YOU grow.
Take that pressure off yourself by stepping out of that lane. It’s not your lane, and that should give you a huge sense of relief. I give you permission to get off the content creation hamster wheel.
But I can’t just leave it there. How unfair is it to say ‘stop this’ but not address the huge obstacle of the over-saturated social media landscape?
Here are 5 ways to shift your thinking away from content creation and into building a unique author platform.
No more vanity metrics
You don’t actually need hundreds of thousands of followers to build a successful author career. The most important metric to measure as an author is how many of your readers are actually reading the book. The low-end average for conversion rates across most industries is 1-2%. An engaged audience can reach 8-10%. So 1% of a 10K audience who don’t care about what you’re doing will get about 100 people downloading your book and 1 person actually reading the book. A nurtured, engaged audience of 1K will also get you about 100 people downloading but 10 people reading it… so which is actually better?
Give yourself permission to let go of metrics and focus on building real connections with readers. Your audience may be smaller, but it will be mighty if everyone actually wants to be there and didn’t just follow you because of a silly lipsync video you felt pressured to do that had nothing to do with your actual books.
Create a media kit and commit to sending it to 1-3 influencers per week
If you make a post about your books you will get less engagement than if a Bookstagrammer/tokker does. Why? Because you stand to profit. So having a well-written media kit with all the appropriate assets (book links, covers, mock ups, graphics, teasers, sample posts) in it and networking with readers will be time way better spent than trying to create a piece of content that sits outside of your skill set. Whenever I work with authors, I always tell them that the number one way to market their books is to convince their most avid readers to do it for them. And you achieve this by being the nicest, most awesome, adoring supporter of your readers. Love, respect, and treat them like gold because they are. To be clear, not every reader is going to fit here. Some readers are just casual readers, and they are awesome, too, but they are not your A-Listers. There are also readers who just try to get free stuff, so be kind but discerning. Commit to sending one well-researched and well-written review request each week (or month if you can’t manage weekly). Most of them will be no’s or maybe’s, but you only need one influencer to love your work to see real growth in your audience.
Excitement is contagious
Be excited and speak with passion about what you do. Talk about your work like your fandom would talk about them. As authors, we dive headfirst into new worlds and become BFFs with non-existent people. Embrace the weirdness of it. Here is where I get the resistance and pushback from authors who say, I feel stupid on video, or something like that because they are still trying to be like the content creators, to mimic them. If you hate tik tok don’t post there. If you’re better with words than video, jump on Facebook groups or Twitter, or post images on Instagram. Yeah, video does best for the algorithm, but you are not trying to master the algorithm. That’s what influencers do. You are trying to build a platform of readers who will take your books to larger audiences for you. You do not need to go viral or blow up or whatever other apocalyptic phrase is used to build a solid platform. The metric that influencers need to pay attention to is followers. Your metrics are book sales and read-through rates.
There’s more to you than your books
I hate the advice to niche down for authors. I don’t recommend posting only books all the time, and the reason is dun dun dun, you guessed it. You are not an influencer. Your books are inspired by who you are as a person, the experiences you have, your hobbies, your lifestyle, your beliefs and values. Infuse these things into your posts to give readers a good sense of what they are in for when they pick up your books. This doesn’t mean you need to be an open book. As a person on the internet, you have the right to set boundaries around your social media. Not every part of you needs to be on display. For example, my three big umbrella topics are Writing, Nature, and Wellness. These three things are so interconnected I couldn’t untangle them if I wanted to. So I post about my books, other people’s books, adventures, witchcraft, food, exercise, and mental health. But every post ties back into how and why I am inspired to create stories and understand human behaviour.
Balance your posts between Hard selling vs Soft Selling
There are two ways to sell your books. Hard selling is blatant and in your face, but it doesn’t have to be aggressive. These are posts that say ‘buy my book’ in some form or another. The hard sells are important because you have to make it clear that you have a product you wish to sell, or readers will never quite know what to do with you. The hard-sell posts make it easy for people to understand what you want from them. But do it too much and it becomes annoying.
Soft selling is a gentler, less presumptuous way of telling people you have something to offer. A soft sell post would be more like a post about what inspired your main character, or how far along you are in your draft, or an aesthetic reel. You’re talking about your book that readers can presume you will one day sell, but there is no direct call to action to buy it. Your CTA on a soft sell post would be to get engagement rather than a sale. For example, I love writing about badass women with deep flaws. Who is your favourite female main character?
To balance your posts and respect your audience, you’ll want to aim for no more than 20% hard selling. So two of every ten posts should overtly ask your readers to buy. But every post should ask your readers to engage in other ways like comments, email sign ups, shares, or entries.
I feel like I could turn this into a series, so let me know any questions you have or clarifications/expanded explanations you want on this topic of building an author platform!