Book publishing is in a bit of a weird place right now. The internet, much like Gutenberg’s printing press, has put power back in the hands of individuals. The spread of good (and bad) ideas, great stories, entertainment and knowledge has never been so easy.
That being said, there’s also a lot of noise. Finding an audience can be tricky because sometimes the internet feels like a big wide open space that you can shout into without ever being heard.
Luckily there are lots of companies doing amazing things to help authors find their audiences and succeed. Emmanuel Nataf, co-founder of the author services marketplace Reedsy, wrote something of a manifesto on what the future of an author platform will look like.
The Digital Imprint of the Future
To me, some of his ideas were reminiscent of a traditional imprint. Mailing lists, subgenres with recommendations to subcommunities, readers incentivized to pick certain books, etc. So far, publishers have had a hard time translating this model into an online success.
Some have tried. Booktrope, for instance, has launched a few of its own imprints. But even Katherine Sears, VP of Marketing at Booktrope, has gone on record to say that she’s not convinced that an imprint will help sell more books, “mainly because readers don’t really establish brand recognition with the publisher, they focus on the author.”
I’ve talked with Emmanuel and his co-founder, Ricardo, about this exact problem. As a marketer who’s worked with authors in formulating book marketing strategies, I always express the importance of the author owning their community. It should never be a marketer’s responsibility to write an author’s content or post their tweets. Nor should it be a publisher’s, though I’ve talked with many authors who feel otherwise.
Whether you’re self-publishing or going traditional, you shouldn’t expect anyone to manage your business on your behalf. In particular, you are solely responsible for building your “platform”—a network for reaching readers directly via website, social networks, mailing lists, podcasts, etc.— Emmanuel Nataf, Reedsy Co-Founder
Still, I agree with Emmanuel. Publishers and marketers (to an extent) might have to shell out some initial resources (time and/or money) to help hardworking authors gain traction. At the very least, it’s their responsibility to empower the authors they work with by giving them the tools or knowledge they need to be successful.
Your beginner author, for example, might not know that platforms like BookBub or Find My Audience exist. She might not know much about social media or how to build an email list. If she’s self-publishing she might know nothing about creating an eBook or finding a good editor or cover designer (Reedsy is a great place for all this).
So what does the digital imprint of the future look like?
I’ll answer with a second question…
What do Jeff Goins, Sean McCabe, D Bnonn Tennant, Copyblogger, and J. K. Rowling all have in common?
For the unitiated, Jeff Goins is the author of The Art of Work, Sean McCabe (aka seanwes) is a hand-letterer and podcaster, D Bnonn Tennant is a copywriter with the best email newsletter I’ve ever seen, Copyblogger is a company focused on educating writers on content marketing, and J. K. Rowling (do I have to say it?) is the woman behind the Harry Potter universe.
Yes, they’re all focused on writing in some capacity. But it’s something even deeper than that.
The one thing they all have in common is that each one has built a community around their brand. And their community goes deeper than just a strong social media following.
It’s comprehensive. It’s social media, plus live events, plus speaking engagements, plus education, plus so on and so forth.
And at the core of their communities is an online platform where their followers, friends, and fans can come together and discuss topics of interest. Oh yeah, and get exclusive content. This is the most important part. They make members of their communities feel like they’re part of an exclusive club.
Rowling’s Pottermore has essentially the same goal as Copyblogger’s Authority Network and D Bnonn Tennant’s Learn Copywriting Backwards. Gain subscribers and build your brand through thought leadership and exclusive content.
Okay, but how does this translate to the everyday author?
Okay, okay. Most of these people are business-minded individuals (and J. K. Rowling is on a different level for fiction). I admit, it may be a little easier to find an audience within that realm.
But I’d say poets probably have an even harder time than fiction writers. And I know of one poet who used social media to launch his career, then built a community much like the one I describe above to build his brand even more and gain a couple extra bucks along the way.
His name is Tyler Knott Gregson. He started posting poetry everyday on his Tumblr blog a few years ago. Eventually he was picked up by Perigee Books (just last year) and now has two published books of poetry.
Earlier this year, he partnered with Andrea Balt, founder of Creative Rehab, to bring Write Yourself Alive, a 30-day writing challenge that brings like-minded people together to write and share their poetry.
I don’t have specifics but I imagine this community, however short-lived, instilled a place in his readers’ minds (it did for me) and helped him gain new fans along the way.
Tyler went from a guy posting poems on his Tumblr, to a modern day e. e. cummings almost overnight.
So what’s the future author platform look like?
It’s kind of the wild west out there for authors right now. There’s no good single author platform (yet). Something like Copyblogger’s Rainmaker Platform might be a solution once you have a community built, but it’s an expensive option for authors just starting out.
I think the important thing is that the conversation is started and we’re in the midst of a publishing revolution. The old models will die and new ones will quickly take their place.
Medium, with its many subpublications, is a great social-media style platform where authors can be easily found for free, but it’s not exactly fiction or poetry friendly. It can be used as a good model though. Recommendations or upvotes will bring the most popular authors to the top through the community voice rather than the publisher’s self-interests. It’s something Emmanuel eludes to in his LinkedIn post.
My hope is that companies like Reedsy keep the conversation going and build the platform that authors so desperately need.