Platforms and Uncertainty Reduction or Why Writing a Good Book is not Sufficient to Sell One

I have often heard the advice put forth, often by nonwriters or amateur writers, but also by successful pros, that if you write a good book, it will sell. Now, if you take only a couple of seconds to think about this, you will realize that the two are not, indeed cannot, have a direct connection. Why?
Because, you idiot, (not you my dear reader you figured this out immediately) how does the reader know it is a good book until they have read it? And that is putting aside the fact that for most of us a "good book" is one we like not one that is judged to be good by some sort of external set of standards.

The truth is, as important as writing a good book is, that alone is not sufficient to sell the book. People will buy the book not because it IS good, but because they believe it MIGHT be good, or if the price is low enough, that it COULD be good. In the absence of certainty about the actual quality of the book, the reader must take a leap of faith. In other words they have to take a risk.

At some point in their thinking, their belief in the potential value of the book must outweigh their lack of direct knowledge of the same. It's like a balancing scale. On one side you have the question is this a good book? and equally important, "Is this book going to be worth the money I will pay for it?" On the other side, you have the book itself, an essentially unknown quantity, a description of the plot, maybe a review or two, and any previous relationship this person has with the author.

This is where the Platform comes into play. A platform is a pre-existing shared relationship experience with the author. That can include readers of a previous book, members of a discussion board or email discussion group, social media contacts, personal friends and relatives. Some people come to writing with a large platform. The classic example is a television personality who is well known and decides to write her life story. Others need to build a platform in other ways.

Now, I want to clarify something right here. You don't build a platform to sell one book. Platform building is not about getting the word out about the book you wrote today. Indeed, people who, for one reason or another read that book, become part of your platform more or less by default for your next book. If all you are interested in is selling a single book, buy an ad on Facebook.

Platforms do two things they build a connection with the author and they reduce uncertainty in the reader. Now, there are many ways in which we build these platforms. We will get into that in another post, but it is about reducing risk for the reader.

A reader is looking at a book. In all probability for those of us who do direct to the reader marketing, that will likely be on a webpage, probably on Amazon or Barnes Noble. The reader might have a short sample of the book, a description, a table of contents, and some customer reviews. They also have one other thing - a price tag. The higher that number, they higher the risk and the lower you will want to reduce the uncertainty. If you are totally unknown to the reader, you have to do a credible job of making the reader want to buy your book more than wanting to keep looking. You want him or her to click that "buy" button. That's a high mountain to climb. Not impossible. We'll talk about turning browsers into fans later, but the sale is much easier to make to someone who already knows the author and the author's work in some other venue.

It goes back to reducing uncertainty. This occurs in several ways. Some are controllable by the author. Others are not. These include:
  • The book if recommended by someone the reader trusts
  • The price point is low enough they feel they won't lose much if the writing stinks
  • The sample is especially compelling and engages them quickly.
  • The description gives enough information for the reader to understand the basic plot, characters and subgenre of the book. Additionally, the description is enticing and gives just enough information to tease the reader into buying the book.
  • The book has high reviews from an independent source
  • The reader has met the author in a live event
  • The reader knows the author in another online or face-to-face venue: email group, social media, club, church, etc.
  • The reader has read another one of the author's books
  • The reader follows the author's writings in a shorter form such as short stories or blog posts
  • The reader saw or heard the author on TV or radio or read about the author in the print media
Of course, every author will discover the ways they can best create that platform. Some do it by blogging. Others through social media. Right now, my main method is building a fan base by setting my price point for my novels, Bible studies and nonfiction books at 99 cents, and using free promotion days on Amazon. In the last three months, close to 5000 people have downloaded my books. I've made 625 paid sales. Since, everyone of my books has links to all of my other books, That's having an ad for my books in the hands of 5000 people who have already shown an interest in a certain type of book. It's very targeted advertising, which is the best kind. And it costs me nothing.

Hold on, you say, it costs you those sales to those people who got your book for free. Maybe, but it's unlikely. Those are probably not people who would have bought that particular book. A certain number of them only get free things. The rest are interested, but they need to know more about me as an author before handing over the cash. The interesting thing is that during my free days, my other sales spike and for a few days afterwards.

I'm building a platform. What are you doing to build a platform? Share your ideas below.

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