Writing rules. Self-promotion drools. Isn’t this how most writers think?
But as long as you view your writing as art and your self-promotion efforts as the furthest thing from art, your chances of ramping up a successful 21st-century writing career are going to remain slim to none.
These days, there’s an art to writing and an art to self-promotion. From the moment you start putting words to the page, it’s never too early to start thinking about how you’re going to share them. And once you begin to see your writing and promotional efforts as equally artful, something wonderful starts to happen: You find readers.
Books aren’t written overnight—they’re developed one day at a time. And it’s the same with our platforms, which comprise all the ways we make ourselves visible to our readers. The idea that you need a platform might seem overwhelming at first. But if you consistently take small steps to put yourself out there, before you know it, you’ll have built a strong, sturdy foundation for your work.
So, if you’re the kind of writer who prefers being read to being unknown (who doesn’t?), here are 50 quick, simple ways to launch your platform into action. Think of each small step as a giant leap toward finding readers—and a fun, rewarding opportunity to share your hard-wrought words with others.
Listen & Learn
1. Find Your Keepers. Clarify the kinds of readers you want to connect with now, and you’ll be glad you did later. First, jot down a quick list of all the types of readers you’ve ever had. Now, decide which groups you want to stay connected with for the long haul, and make them your keepers.
2. Start Surveillance. Google Alerts (google.com/alerts) can help you become practically omnipresent in only a few clicks. Take five to set up alerts to notify you when your name, articles, book(s), Twitter handle, site URL and/or specialty topics pop up online. When you’re alerted to people promoting your name, supporting your work or sharing your ideas, stick out your virtual hand and say, “Hey, thanks! I appreciate that.”
3. Poll for Solutions. Ask questions. You’ll get answers. If you’re wondering which online photo hosting service to use, or if others are having the same server problems that you are, try posting the question on Facebook and Twitter. I do this often, and love coming back and reading what others have said. If it’s a decision you’re making, share which advice you followed.
4. Show Respect. On social networks, follow and friend folks in your field whom you admire. Steer clear of anyone shifty, clingy or shilling stuff all the time. A good rule of thumb: Don’t promote or forward the causes of anyone online who you wouldn’t in regular life. It takes time to get to know people, but it’s worth it when your reputation is on the line.
5. Study the Competition. Jump on a search engine and type in the keywords that describe what you write about. See who pops up on your radar. Don’t be afraid of the competition; study your competitors. What are they doing better than you? Add what you learn to your to-do list.
6. Introduce Yourself. Take a few minutes to write a brief bio you can use wherever your name appears online. Include your URL, relevant professional credentials, recent publications (online or off), significant self-published efforts and professional partnerships.
7. Show Yourself in Action. I’m willing to bet you have a whole bunch of photos of yourself out and about doing what you do. If some are shots of you writing, great. But even better if you have some decent-quality photos of you speaking, teaching a workshop, signing books or the like. Collect them, and use them to accompany your posts online.
8. Post Ads and Affiliate Links. You need to make money to invest money in your platform, so why not make the most of the resources and tools you already like? You won’t get rich from affiliate revenue, but it can add up over the course of a year and cover some of your ongoing platform expenses. It takes minutes to post an ad or affiliate link on your website or blog.
9. Hold an Event. Have an event with a time limit (like one week only, or 30 days). Create whatever type of environment is appropriate for what you write—perhaps an activity where something has to be completed in a certain amount of time so there is a ticking-clock factor (think NaNoWriMo). Create an environment that draws your tribe in, helps people interact and get to know one another, and converts folks into loyal fans who will keep coming back for more. Dream something up.
10 Grade Yourself. HubSpot makes free graders (grader.com) that can gauge the effectiveness of your website, blog, Google Alerts, Facebook page, Twitter account and more. Each grader takes less than five minutes to run. Do so periodically, and add its suggestions to your to-do list.
11. Give It Away. Spread the word across your social networks for everyone to come and get whatever you can give for free. If you already wrote an article that you don’t plan to sell, why not give it away? Maybe you created something inspirational or uplifting. Give it away. People love free.
12. Brainstorm 20 Ideas. If you don’t constantly ask yourself what new ideas you have, half of them will get away. And then you’ll have to read your idea on someone else’s blog, or in a magazine or newspaper with someone else’s byline. That’s how the zeitgeist works. So get in the habit of writing down your ideas, perhaps in a special idea journal. Drain your brain into it five minutes at a time.
13. Put Your Best Forward. Make sure people who are just discovering your offerings can go straight to some of your best online writing that has passed the test of time. Otherwise it’s just going to get buried under your latest efforts. Most blogs have widgets that will do the rounding up for you. Create a way to send fans and followers straight to your best posts.
14. Recycle. Take a few minutes to pitch content you’ve already written to a new outlet. Can you find a blog, forum or association newsletter that might be interested in your topic? Put some of your old writing to work all over again for fresh eyes.
15. Review Worthy Writers. Inquiring readers want to know what books you like and why. Briefly review books as you read them and post your insights on review sites (like GoodReads, Amazon.com and Red Room). For good karma, sing the praises of your all-time favorites, too.
16. Prompt a Response. A prompt is a suggestive word or theme that cues an interactive response from others. It can be as simple as a photo, symbol or word, or as complicated as a riddle. When hosting an annual book giveaway, I asked a question each day for a month, and everyone who answered was entered in the drawing. Participants loved the prompt more than the free books. It’s a fun way
to interact with your growing online community.
17. Take Five to Interact. Reply to commenters on your blog. Thank people who used your free content. Think of three people to appreciate for any reason at all. Spend a little bit of time with those who’ve gone out of their way to care about you.
18. Make an Engaging Offer. If you’re working on a project and you need people to get involved, offer something—say, a discount or kickback—to the first 50 who express interest. Create excitement for those who are willing to work with you.
19. Form Strategic Partnerships. Who do you want to partner with? Being friendly and helpful should have no strings attached—but true partnerships are mutually beneficial, formal agreements in which each party is hoping to gain something specific. List three likely partners and reach out to them.
20. Create a Quickie Blogroll. Make a quick list of writers you admire. Then search for links to their blogs or sites to create your blogroll. Position your blog as an inspiring resource by going for quality, not quantity.
21. Be Yourself. Advice that tells authors to act like brands encourages us to forget to act like regular people. But social media is made for people, not robots. The fact that you’re a writer and a parent or an uncle and a Packers fan or a vegetarian makes you interesting. Your readers and fans want you to be personable, not a one-topic ever-plugging broken record. Spend five minutes making a profile more you.
22. Put Passion Into Action. Let’s say you write literary fiction. Isn’t that harder to build a platform around? Nope. Take your passion online and put it to work. Don’t assume no one cares. Assume there are a million people out there like you, and start connecting with them. Take five to write a quickie mission statement about why you’re on fire about your topic. Reread it every time you get online. It will help focus your efforts.
23. Get Together. Let folks know that you’ll be speaking or signing or teaching (or whatever else you do) near them when you travel. Make yourself accessible.
24. Spark Conversations. Other people are just as passionate about your topic as you are. So get on Google, do a Twitter search, visit forums where your topic is trending and spend five minutes participating in a chat. If nothing is happening, strike up your own conversation.
25. Share the Journey. I bet you have a lot going on right now. Surely some of it is interesting. Or perhaps you have a fresh take on what you have on your plate that others would find humorous or refreshing. Update others on what’s happening right now. Don’t try to keep your ups and downs a secret. Curious fans love to be treated like insiders.
26. Friend and Follow Media Pros. Track down media folks related to your career thrust, and friend and follow them on social networks. Never come on too strong. Just be laid-back and friendly. And if you have social-media clout, don’t be surprised if they’re looking for you, too. Influential people will come to you when your passionate action makes you stand out.
27. Say Thanks. In five minutes you could crank out a handwritten thank-you note, stick a coffee or book gift card in there, address and stamp it. Why not do this at least once a month?
28. Articulate Your Allies. Who supports your work? Whose work do you champion? Identify someone you have mutually compatible goals with, and see how you can help each other. Suggest ways to cheer each other on.
29. Generate a Q&A. Create a series of questions on a topic you find fascinating, and then get interesting people in your genre or area of expertise to answer them in any format: a video chat, a written Q&A or an audio chat. It makes compelling content.
30. Shake Things Up. Don’t be one-note. Stop agreeing with everyone about everything and take five minutes to form a rebuttal (without turning it into a rant). Take a dull topic and make it interesting by putting a new spin on it or taking a contrarian stance. Get people engaged in the conversation.
31. Capture E-mail Addresses. Use a newsletter service or RSS feed service to create a place front and center on your site where folks can sign up to receive correspondence from you or to have your blog posts delivered to their inbox.
32. Go Multimedia. Bring old content to life using fresh media. Spend five minutes practicing reading something you’ve written out loud into your smartphone. Or boil down a chapter or article into five tips off the cuff and record them unscripted. Let your words riff. Don’t try to make it perfect.
33. Ask for Feedback. To learn to do what you do better, get your audience involved. Create a five-minute feedback form and send it out.
34. Outsource Something. Take five to consider all the hats you wear: the creative, the closer, the perpetual student, the accountant, the publicist, etc. Identify a weakness that someone can help you with now. Then hire or solicit the support you need.
35. Share More. One common mistake we make is slaving over our content to make it perfect, thinking that if we do, readers will come to us. But too often, no one comes! Work hard to maximize everything you write. I’ve counted 49 ways you can use the “Share This” button to buzz content you want to champion. Get this button for your blog and browser now.
36. Hunt and Answer. Don’t forget the traditional media. Answer media requests at Help a Reporter Out (helpareporter.com). In five minutes you can find and respond to at least one appropriate media request. Make a game of how fast you can weigh in. Every post is another way to get your name out there.
37. Grow Your List. Wherever you go, whatever you do, bring along your e-mail sign-up sheet on a clipboard. Even better if you can offer a benefit for signing up, such as a free story, checklist or special report. Never sell or share contact information.
38. Think Ahead. What do you have coming up? Keep a list of any future events and publications on your blog, in your newsletter, on social media and in your e-mail signature. Update it often.
39. Compartmentalize. Segment your e-mail lists by what folks need from you, not what you need from them. I wouldn’t send attendees of my Northwest Author Series the same correspondence that I send my former students or my e-zine subscribers. Each e-mail group gets its own type of correspondence. Reorganize your e-mail groupings.
40. Master the 5-Minute Release. Zoom in on the latest happenings, holidays and story hooks and tie your career news in with what else is going on in the world. Write five-minute mini press releases and send them out at least monthly. Short is good.
Pay it Forward
41. Round Up Resources. Round up books, websites and other resources on topics related to yours and then add them to your home page. Be helpful to others, and they’ll send people to you.
42. Boost Others. Help a fellow author or a first-timer buzz his outstanding new book, class, service or conference. If you’re a believer, become an evangelist. And if you really mean it, offer a testimonial.
43. Offer Your Services. According to Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Crush It!, the best question you can ever ask on social media is, “What can I do for you?” Such a simple idea, yet so profoundly intelligent. Put it to work for you on a regular basis.
44. Be a Good Guest. Ask yourself the hard-hitting questions others don’t dare ask (but are dying to know). Now you have a compelling guest post to share on your “Freebies” page.
45. Hit the Highlights. You don’t have to give the play-by-play after you attend an event. But why not share the best of what you noticed or learned? You can even go multimedia with your coverage. Have your camera, audio recorder and video recorder ready to grab snippets of live action to share with others who wish they could’ve been there.
Strut your Stuff
46. Count Down to Every Launch. Do you have a book coming out? A new class? A new article in print? Make a big to-do about whatever you’ve got that’s new. Announce each launch without pressuring anyone to spend. The place where your service connects with your audience is the place where you create the synergy that fuels your future projects.
47. Spiff Up What’s Old. Offer some kind of promotion to entice folks to your evergreen offerings. I offer a scholarship for two of my classes, and this always pulls in fresh interest in what I teach. A scholarship, a discount, two for one, refer-a-friend—any strategy that makes something old new again is a good one.
48. Make Merchandise. Don’t try to make money with every single thing you offer. Instead, let some of your offerings create buzz for your name using services like CafePress or Zazzle. A fan who likes what you do enough to wear your name on a product becomes a salesperson for your work. Create promotional offerings and put links to them on all the pages of your website. Why not?
49. Sustain Yourself. Being active online calls for balance and patience. Clarify how and where you want to spend your energy, and filter out the rest until you can ride the net without too many wipeouts. Take five and describe exactly what you hope to accomplish in the future time you invest.
50. Break Out of Your Box. Ask yourself, “What would I create if I let myself create anything I wanted?” Let go of any old labels such as novelist, poet or journalist. What would you really get a kick out of writing, right now? Spend five minutes jotting down the truth—the whole truth and nothing but what really sounds fun. Your ability to break out of your own box will inspire others, so go for it!
Raise your profile effectively to help land an agent (and book contract):
Get Known Before the Book Deal
Also check out these items from the Writer’s Digest’s collection:
Writing for the Web
Elements Of Writing Fiction: Beginnings, Middles & Ends
Elements Of Writing Fiction: Scene & Structure
Elements Of Writing Fiction: Description
Elements Of Writing Fiction: Characters & Viewpoint
Writer’s Digest No More Rejections
Writer’s Digest Weekly Planner
Writer’s Digest Magazine One-Year Subscription
Writer’s Digest 10 Years of Writer’s Digest on CD: 2000-2009