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Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Interview with Author/Platform Expert Stephanie Chandler

Someone recently recommended Stephanie Chandler's platform-building book, The Author's Guide to Building an Online Platform, to me.  I devoured it in a day and picked up quite a few tips that hadn't occurred to me before. The next day, I contacted her, and she graciously agreed to an interview to introduce you all to the book and her ideas.

Stephanie is an author of several business and marketing books including The Author's Guide to Building an Online Platform: Leveraging the Internet to Sell More Books and From Entrepreneur to Infopreneur: Make Money with Books, E-Books and Information Products. A frequent speaker at business events and on the radio, she has been featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, BusinessWeek, Inc.com and many other media outlets.

On to the interview!

Stephanie, what is your definition of platform?

In a nutshell, having a platform means that you have an audience.

Years ago when I was just starting out and pitching my first book (a business start-up guide) all over the place, I received a call from Michael Larsen, a well-known literary agent in San Francisco. He told me that he liked my work, but nobody knew who I was. He said I needed to be out speaking to thousands of people because that is what the big publishers want—an author who comes to them with a built-in audience.

That was the best publishing advice I ever received and it was truly life-changing for me. I didn’t want to get on the road and travel so I decided to figure out how to build an audience online.

How did you decide to write a book to help people build their platforms? Why did you decide to emphasize building an online platform?

The Author's Guide to Building an Online Platform was born from my own experience. After that fateful call with Mike Larsen, I decided to launch a website to attract my target audience of entrepreneurs (http://BusinessInfoGuide.com). I really had no idea what I was doing and just figured it out as I went along! I loaded up the site with resources and articles. I started sending out an e-newsletter. I learned about search engine optimization and began forming strategic alliances online. I ultimately self-published that first book and decided to list it on the site for pre-sale. It began selling a full two months before it was even in print! That’s when the light bulb went off—I had built an audience—a platform! People wanted to buy my books.

After that I wrote my second book: From Entrepreneur to Infopreneur: Make Money with Books, E-Books and Information Products. I sent the proposal to exactly two publishers and signed a contract with John Wiley & Sons weeks later. I was able to demonstrate that I had a platform. For me that meant that I had a high-traffic website and a large mailing list. That was a big selling point for a publisher to take on a new author.

Incidentally, my philosophy is to write books that I would want to read. So I eventually decided to write a book about how I had built my platform online. It actually began as a workbook and ebook that I sold from my website. Well, I began working with a literary agent and gave her a copy thinking that her authors might be interested. She asked if she could try to sell it, and soon we had a deal with Quill Driver Books. That one was a happy accident! However, it also continues to demonstrate the value of platform. It didn’t hurt that I was also building a following of authors and writers thanks to my previous Infopreneur book, and that my website traffic and exposure was growing in step with everything else.

What makes your book unique from other books on building platform for writers?

It was one of the first books to address the concept of using the internet for author promotion. When I originally wrote and sold the book through my website, the title was Online Marketing for Authors. The publisher changed the title and I had to revise some of the material to address platform. So it also covers internet promotion strategies, whether you are just getting started or you have been around for awhile.

What do you think is the most under-utilized approach to building an online platform?

Forums and online groups. You can get a lot of recognition by participating in forums or groups through sites like Yahoo! Groups, Facebook and LinkedIn. The key here is to figure out where your audience is located and then get involved. Ask questions, provide answers to other people’s questions, and establish yourself as a trusted resource.

I am a big proponent of using the social media networks—provided you do it correctly! It doesn’t matter how many “friends” you have if you aren’t connecting with people. The key is to be a resource and engage with your audience. If you get on these sites and do nothing but promote and spew sales messages, it can actually repel your audience!

Yes, the whole point of Web 2.0 really is about engagement. And the more accessible authors are with the readers, the better. Replying to people who comment on your blog is a start. As already mentioned, forums are great, as well as social media networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I love hearing from my readers and these outlets make that easy to do, as well as easier for me to respond.

I recently posted on building your book/author website, and a number of readers remarked that it’s no longer enough to have a website and/or blog. One reader said “Branding is a full-time job, lots of work, but does it pay out?” What do you think? IS branding/building one’s platform a full time job? Does all that social networking pay out?

I view publishing and promotion as a marathon, not a race. It does take time and a lot of work and there are no quick and easy solutions.

I also view the other opportunities (and revenue streams) that my books bring. Because of my promotion efforts, I get paid for speaking, I sell ebooks and workbooks through my website, and I host paid online events. All of the efforts not only help sell books, but bring other opportunities and dollars for my bottom line.

It’s funny because just this morning a friend sent me a link to author Parnell Hall’s video on YouTube entitled Signing in the Waldenbooks. It’s a hilarious take on the loneliness of book signings and because it’s so funny, it’s gone viral and has been passed around to tens of thousands of people. This is a great example of the kind of creative marketing that authors can do online!

In The Author's Guide to Building an Online Platform, you dedicate a couple of chapters to expert status and media exposure -- could you talk a bit about how people can get started, as well as how important that is and why?

Media exposure is fantastic for authors, and today you have to remember the online media opportunities. For example, bloggers have a tremendous amount of influence online. Find a way to build buzz for your book in the blogging community. Also, internet radio and podcast interviews are easier to get and in my opinion, often better than traditional radio. With traditional radio, you might get five minutes of airtime with listeners in their cars on the way to work. When you conduct an online radio interview, you often get listeners at their desks—ready to place an order! Shows are typically archived forever and you will continue receiving exposure from the host’s website. Check out resources like http://blogtalkradio.com or http://alltalkradio.net and find shows that reach your target audience.


Candyland said...

Great interview with some awesome tips!

Piedmont Writer said...

Thanks for this interview Carolyn. I've learned a few things. Thanks for sharing Stephanie.

kathrynjankowski said...

Wonderful interview. Thanks.

BTW: The link to AllTalkRadio should be .net, not .com.

Alyssa Kirk @ Teens Read and Write said...

What a fabulous interview! Lots of good info and her book sounds like it's packed with more.

That video is hysterical!

Teens Read and Write

Carolyn Kaufman said...

Oops -- thanks Kathryn, I'll fix that!

Theresa Milstein said...

Great article. I worry that the more platforming do, the more time it takes. I still have to work, run a house, spend time with my kids and husband, and write.

clairemerlefiction said...

Hi Carolyn,
This is a subject that has interested me for a while, but the little I've read about it always seems to address non fiction writers. Is your book geared to those of us writing fiction too? Do you think building an online platform as a fiction writer is as essential as for a non fiction writer?

Claire said...

Whoops, sorry Stephanie, I saw Carolyn's book/ signature at the end of your post and wrote to her instead of you. Apologies - I really was paying attention!