Thankfully, small presses and self-publishing companies usually don't have a platform requirement, but one is still necessary.
What exactly is a platform? And why is one needed?
Your platform is your podium - the dais you stand on to get people's attention. From this podium - this platform - you share your stories, your message. If done well, your platform will set you apart from other authors who write on the same topic, and help you become the "go-to" person in your specific area.
Your platform consists of many elements that you build and grow over time.
These elements include:
Blog(s) & website(s)
Specialty groups & forums
Let's explore each element.
Social media: as an author, you MUST have an online presence, whether you're active online or not (and in today's world, the "not" is no longer really an option if you intend to sell anything.) Growing the accounts will take time, so don't get overwhelmed by it all - just take your time to build.
At the very minimum, you need to set up a Facebook personal profile and a Facebook author page. The profile allows for more interaction with other Facebook members, while the author page provides a landing page for all information about your book. If you're concerned about privacy (and you should be), just be cautious about how much information you post.
FACEBOOK TIP: When you share posts on FB about your book, public appearances, book signings, themes, etc., make sure you mark the post as PUBLIC or your reach will be limited.
A Twitter account is also a good idea. The audiences will probably be quite different, and the way you share your own content will be different, too.
LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest all have their own purposes, and their own demographics. After you've defined your audience, research each of these social media platforms to see which one(s) are frequented more by your audience, and then set up accounts there. (I've included a chart with these numbers in the You've Got Questions post.)
One final tip about social media - do NOT use it only to sell books. The point of social media is to be SOCIAL. Participate. Listen. Ask questions. Be relevant. Be helpful. The sales will take care of themselves.
Blogs & Websites: When you decide to become an author, buy your domain name (preferably in your own name, if it is available.)
Even if you don't have a huge, busy website, a static website is the very minimum that an author should have when they've published a book. The website will give readers more information about you, about your book, where to find your book, and perhaps even make them want to know more about you and your books, so they'll continue to buy.
Blogs (separate or as part of your website) help grow your audience, because readers will get fresh content from you on a regular basis, and can communicate with you. Readers want relationship - they want to connect - and blogs are a great way to make that connection on a regular basis.
Blogs are also an inexpensive (free) way to establish a website. Both Blogger and WordPress offer free blogs, and you can forward your domain name to your blog. If you customize the blog, it can serve as your regular website, too.
BLOG TIP: If the blog platform you use (Blogger or WordPress) doesn't automatically include links for readers to share each individual post (some templates may not), add that option through gadgets or widgets. Just make sure that each post is shareable. You can also add other plug-ins, like Click to Tweet to create shareable links within each blog post.
This is what the share buttons look like at the bottom of each of these blog posts - yours could have a slightly different appearance, but still serve the same function:
Videos are all the rage right now, so consider creating mini-videos (a minute or less) to reach your audience. Strive to provide relevant and useful content that connects readers to your overall message. Facebook allows you the option to do live videos right from their platform, or you can film yourself with your camera or phone and upload to YouTube, then share on various sites.
Don't forget book trailers, too, for promotion of your book. Whether you hire someone to create the video or you decide to do it yourself, be sure to include a book cover image and your website address at the end of the video, so readers can find you. You may also want to include a line or logo, showing where your book is available. You can create these trailers using PowerPoint, Animoto, or Vimeo, but do some research first to learn the basics of creating something worthwhile.
Before your first book releases, build your media kit. A media kit consists of headshots (at least two different poses, three is even better) in large format, long and short bios, book cover blurb, book cover image, and a list of 5-10 questions and answers. You may even want to include a list of topics you would discuss during an interview. Don't forget to include your contact information, so the media can get in touch with you or your agent.
Seek out groups and forums - online and in person - related to your book's theme, then get involved. Within these groups, you may find some like-minded folks who could become part of your own marketing team. Just remember to give back to group efforts and not just take from them.
Public speaking is feared by some of us (ahem!) more than death, according to a Psychology Today report. But as an author, you may be called upon to speak and/or teach, and speaking engagements help build your platform. If you're like some of my friends and love to speak, research then join some speaker's bureaus to get your name out there. Depending on your topics, you could get regular engagements.
If, on the other hand, you're more like me and prefer not to speak, but know it's necessary, try doing workshops instead of keynote speeches. Practice, join Toastmasters, and practice some more. (And realize that some of us just prefer the written word instead of spoken, and that's perfectly okay.)
Mailing lists: Grow your readership by building mailing lists for postcards and newsletters. (MailChimp is free and easy-to-use for beginners. As you grow, you may have to upgrade to a paid account.)
Building a platform can be overwhelming, especially if you try to do too much. So don't. Take one area at a time, build on it, then add other elements when you get comfortable.
Interviews: Seek out opportunities for interviews in newspapers, and on blogs, radio, podcasts, and TV. Write a press release to distribute to newspapers (don't forget to include your contact information.) Contact your local radio and TV stations, and ask what options they have available for you to be interviewed. Some local stations may cover book signings or readings, others may be seeking experts to interview on specific news topics. Prepare materials ahead of calls or visits, so you can give them marketing materials and a list of your topics and areas of expertise. Always present yourself as a professional.
Other articles of interest:
Marketing Series: Build Your Team
Marketing Series: Define Your Audience
Marketing Series: Think Outside the Box
Marketing Series: Build Your Platform
Marketing Series: You've Got Questions