Traditional publishers are all looking for the same thing as they consider which authors and books to take on: a solid manuscript, a unique approach and clear audience, and an author with a platform. As indie authors, the conventional wisdom is that you also want to have an author platform.... the bigger the better. But what if that advice doesn't always hold? That's what we're talking about today with Anne Janzer, author of Get the Word Out.Support the show
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Introduction (various voices) 00:05
Welcome to the Empowered Author podcast.
Discussion, tips, insights and advice from those who’ve been there, done that, helping you write, publish and market your nonfiction book.
Being an author is something that you’ve got to take seriously.
I’m proud I’ve written a book.
What does the reader need, first? What does the reader need, second?
What happens if you start writing your book before you identify your “why”? What’s the problem with that?
You’re an indie author, you take the risk; you reap the rewards; you are in charge of the decisions. You’re the head of that business.
Every emotion you’re feeling when you’re writing is felt by every other writer.
The Empowered Author podcast. Your podcast hosts are Boni and John Wagner-Stafford of Ingenium Books.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 00:59
Traditional publishers are all looking for the same thing as they consider which authors and books to take on: they want to see a solid manuscript, a unique approach to that manuscript, a clear audience and an author with a platform. So as indie authors, the conventional wisdom is that you also want to have an author platform: the bigger the better. But what if that advice doesn’t always hold? That is what we’re talking about today with Anne Janzer, author of “Get the Word Out”. Super excited to have you back today, Anne. Welcome.
Anne Janzer 01:36
Thanks. I’m delighted to be back speaking with you, Boni.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 01:39
So the whole business about an author platform: I think the conventional wisdom is – yeah, indie author, traditional: doesn’t matter really – that it is pretty good advice to have or to pay attention to building your author platform. And I know there are some exceptions. But let’s start at the beginning. Why do we want one?
Anne Janzer 02:03
Why do we want one indeed. And it’s not just to attract a publisher. So let’s put that aside for a moment. So I am an indie author; I am my own publisher. But I have been working on building my author platform. And it’s because everything becomes easier, right? The more platform you have, the more easier everything becomes: the easier it is to get your book into the hands of those people who are going to love it. That’s our objective here. The fundamental objective – even of the publisher – is to get your book in the hands of the people who will love it. And the platform is one way that helps you do that. But it is so mystical, right? I mean, I hear these – I read people’s definitions. And it’s like, “Well, it’s these seven things,” or, “It’s 10 percent this; 20 percent this.” I mean, I’ve read all kinds of fantastic mathematical equations – you have too, Boni, right? – about what is an author platform. And it’s enough to make the prospective author’s head go, “Ah, what?” You know, “What? What? How do I do this?” So I want to just cut what to I think it is, alright? Fundamentally, it is a combination of content and relationships. Content: you are a writer; you understand content; you know how to create content. And relationships: you are a human being; you are a social being; you know how to form relationships. Fundamentally, that’s what you fill your author platform with. You need some containers for this stuff – and we’ll talk about those things. You know, you need to do some groundwork to hold that content in relationships and to build it. But that’s fundamentally what it is. So it’s not actually black magic. It’s not actually something mystical. It’s content relationships. It’s fundamentally human stuff.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 03:55
And that is so helpful for framing because I think – and I’m guilty of this myself – but I think what is a very common conception is, “Oh, author platform. That’s how many social media accounts I have and how many followers there are and how big is my mailing list.” It’s all about, as you said, the mathematical part: the number. But there’s no emotion in there. There’s no relationship in there. There’s no content in there. There’s no message. There’s no “How am I helping people?” So that’s – and that, all of a sudden, almost takes the pressure off?
Anne Janzer 04:29
Yes. Yes. That should take the pressure off. That’s what I’m hoping it does, is it makes people say, “Wait, okay. Alright, so now, how do I go about doing this?” The other things you talked about – social media, all of those: what’s the metaphor of the blind men each grabbing a different part of an elephant and trying to describe it? I think that’s what’s happening. As we look at one metric – and those are all important metrics, you know: do you have email followers? That gives you a hint into the number of relationships that you are maintaining, right? Do you – it gives you hints as to this body of content relationships you have. But the thing is self is really amorphous and hard to measure. So we look for other things that we can measure. And that means sometimes we focus on the measure instead of the – you know, we focus on the tail instead of the elephant, right? That’s, that’s – yeah.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 05:18
Yeah. And with so much of – you know, I feel like we talk about this almost every podcast interview that I do – but it is so fundamental and so foundational, which is that remembering the reason we’re doing this in the first place. And the reason, so the reason we’re doing this and talking about an author platform – the content and the relationships and then sure, the math – but it’s because, you know, whatever the because is, you know, your reason for writing the book – or books – in the first place: to help people; to solve a problem; to, you know, it can be more personally motivated. But this is why very few authors, I think, write and publish a book without any expectation that anyone ever is going to read it.
Anne Janzer 06:07
I know, yes. There could be some lesson but the rest of us, we’re doing it for a purpose and to share a message. Especially nonfiction authors, this is very much, you know, why are you writing a nonfiction book? It’s for a purpose.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 06:23
Yes, exactly. So now that we have that established – what it is and what it isn’t – where do you think authors – I have two places I want to go: one is I want to know where you think authors go wrong when they start to talk about their – or pursue the building of their platform but maybe let’s not go there right now; I’ll go to there in a minute. And let’s start at the beginning. Where do you think authors should start when they go, “Oh, author platform? What is it? Okay, now I know what it is. Now, what do I do?”
Anne Janzer 07:03
Now what do I do? So, I like to say that you do have to put a little bit of framework in place; you do have to put some stuff in place to contain the content relationships, right? And these are things that we’ll talk – you know, everyone will talk about: so a website, an author website. Could be a website for the book: you know, there’s several ways to have that discussion and I’m sure we could have a whole episode on that. But a website where people can find you because we live in an online world and they’re going to search for you and you want to have control over what they find. And so that’s one thing. I’m going to give you four things, right? Website. An email list so that people who say, “Hey, I want to have an ongoing relationship with you via email,” I have a place to do that. Social media because that’s where a lot of people go looking for things. And then, let’s not forget, please, real-world relationships and experiences, right? And my theory – and this is just the world according to Anne: nobody, you know, there’s no data to back it up – but I’m going to say you need at least three of these. You don’t have to have all four. If you’re like, “Okay, I hate social media but Oprah is my best friend,” then you have the real-world reach. So go for it. You know, I mean, you have permission from Oprah. Or if you are the head of some association that, you know, speaks to, constantly communicates with all the people who are your ideal readers, or if you – you know, there’s lots of ways you can have real-world platform and let’s not forget about real-world platform. So how do you consistently reach people in the real world? If you’re a celebrity, you know, bless you: you can you can bail on some of this stuff. But I think you have to have at least three of those four things in place. And you know, four is good, too. All four.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 08:56
Right. Exactly. Yeah. And if you are best friends with Oprah, it’s kind of like, yeah, you can collect the $200 and pass go. Off you go.
Anne Janzer 09:03
Right, right, right. But even then, I think you still need a website; you still need – you know, you still need it, right? You don’t get to bail on everything. And you know, I think you need to do at least a few of them. So these are things that you can start putting into place anytime: you don’t have to have your book out. I want to share with you really quickly, Boni, this is sort of an aside: this goes to the mistakes that people make. A friend of mine, Marti Konstant, wrote a nonfiction book on career agility, “Activate Your Agile Career”, right? So she was doing research before she wrote it and it was a complete career switch for her. And someone said, “Well, you shouldn’t write it until you have” – I forget what it was; it was like 20,000 social media followers and a 10,000-person email list or something – “and don’t write it until then.” It’s like, what kind of advice is that? You know? She ignored it, you know, because it’s like, “Well, I’m going to start with a book and that’s what’s going to start my platform.” But so that’s why it’s so important to think, you don’t have to wait to build this stuff; you don’t have to wait to write; you don’t have – you know, just, this is all stuff that just can happen concurrently. And don’t let the platform stop you from writing. Don’t let a lack of platform stop you from writing.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 10:20
Right. A thought that popped into my head as you were talking about this: so we’ve got content and relationships in terms of descriptions about really what the author platform is about. Where does credibility fit with this? And how does it affect or relate to an author platform? You know, when I was a journalist, I was trained never to double or triple barrel my questions. And here I am about to triple barrel my question. And the third element of that is, does it matter? Does credibility matter differently whether you’re a nonfiction or fiction author? Triple barrel for you.
Anne Janzer 11:02
Yeah, that is a triple barrel.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 11:06
Let’s pause for a moment for a message from our sponsor.
Anne Janzer 11:44
So I’m going to start with a third: I think it probably does matter differently for fiction versus nonfiction: that the fiction author’s credibility is in the work. It’s the work. It’s, did you tell the story compellingly? Boom! There’s your credibility. The first two barrels: does this credibility matter? Yes. So let’s talk about, for a moment, what credibility is. Because credibility is, if you get to the word root, it is believability. It’s being believed, right? So I think people mix it up with expertise. They’re related. Not the same thing, right? So, for example, you can – to be believed, you must be understood. So you can have like some of the world’s leading physicists, total experts in their field. I couldn’t understand what they say. So I mean, I say, “Yes, okay,” I, you know, whatever they say is great but I can’t understand it. So that’s an odd kind of credibility for me. Whereas there are people who do a fantastic job – science journalists, for example – of doing that research and explaining it. And they are credible to me because I believe them. They didn’t – they are not the initial experts, the original experts in the field. But they are credible because they help me understand. So I think for nonfiction authors, one way we earn credibility is to show up and provide useful, valuable, well-researched information that people can understand, that makes them feel smarter or that gives them value. And so you can build – you earn credibility: you earn credibility with your content. And it doesn’t just have to be in your book. It can be how you show up in blogs; it can be how you participate in social media; it can be how you show up on a podcast interview. You earn credibility by helping people understand your topic better as a nonfiction author.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 13:49
So where credibility fits in when we’re talking about content relationships and the author platform outlets: does it come first? Or is it part of building it?
Anne Janzer 14:06
I think it’s part of building. I think they kind of work side by side. For example, the reputations, the relationships that you form, who they’re with and how you form them are going to affect your credibility, right? You know, I think there’s reputational risk to showing up and doing some cheesy book marketing thing with some author who is not credible. You know, I mean, there’s – you know, so your relationships are part of your credibility. You know, marketing – talk about marketers, speak about social proof. And that’s one of the things that you are also establishing through your author platform: is who you are, how do you operate in this sphere in around your topic or in the sphere around authors or you know, whatever spheres you are operating in. So I think they are concurrent. You develop them in a concurrent way: your credibility and your platform. Yeah.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 15:01
Yeah, that makes sense. So how do you – this is a question that I get from authors all the time. Not a question so much as feedback, is like, “Oh, I’ve written my book. I’m done with that already. I don’t want to think about – I don’t want to think about the marketing; I don’t want to think about writing another; I don’t want to think about, you know, my social media posts and all of that kind of stuff.” But really, we’re talking about content in relationships with the author platform: you got to say something and you got to say it to somebody. So what’s your advice on, you know, what’s the mindset and advice and approach that you would recommend authors get their heads around and use to proceed?
Anne Janzer 15:45
Yeah. I mean, I could appreciate that the moment that you’re there done, you’re like, “I’m done.” You know, it’s like, “Can I do something new now?” Right? And of course, you know, maybe you do need to start doing something new at one level but your book needs you to continue. Because even though you have just spent however long immersed in this book, it’s brand new to everybody else. So the deal that you have to get out of yourself and think compassionately and generously about the people you want to serve, that this is fresh to them; this is new to them. A couple things you can do. I mean, you can give yourself a little space of outlet before you jump into it. At post launch, take a vacation; go hiking. You know, I mean, get some distance here. I mean, that is wise advice. You can also ask other people. You know, you might get somebody to look and say, “What are your favorite soundbites or favorite blips or your favorite parts of this?” And then start to build some things around that. But you owe it to not yourself; you owe it to the people you want to reach because you’re never going to reach them. You wrote this book to serve your audience. I talked about the concept of servant authorship, which is, if everything you do is focused around serving your audience for a purpose, then that helps you get out from beyond, “Well, I don’t want to do it.” Well, why did you write the book? It’s, you know, then, you know, put on your big girl pants and do the thing that you want to do to achieve your objectives and to serve the people that you want to serve. Well, while being compassionate. I mean, you don’t want to burn out, of course: it’s a balance.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 17:21
Yeah. And everybody is a little bit different. You know, we’ve got authors – have worked with authors: I, you know, Tanya Hackney, Tanya Hackney just published October 31 and we’re recording this in November of 2021. But she went all out. She, you know, the book published and she’s been going great guns: she got a number of bestseller lists; she’s, you know, sales are pouring in; she’s doing podcasts and book signings and that’s all fine. And we have other authors who are like, “You know what? I’m sorry, I’m exhausted. I am – I just have to disappear for a little while.” And sometimes that little while is a year – maybe a little longer than a publisher might like – but you got to know yourself too and make sure that you give yourself the space that you need because if you’re burnt out, you’re not really going to be helping.
Anne Janzer 18:12
That’s true. And the other thing, you know, that’s so beautiful, is that as indie authors, you know, time is on our side. So before we started recording, we were talking about a book that I wrote, published in 2016, called “The Writer’s Process”. And it was my first writing-related book and I was not that clear on how to market it. And so the sales kind of like – you know, a gradual build. And that is okay. And sometimes that’s going to be how your book reaches its audience. As long as your topic is not uber timely: as long as you’re writing something that is a little bit evergreen. Do I wish I had been able to move more books more quickly and get it to this point it is at now, sooner? Of course. But again, slow and steady and consistent building over time also works. And when that book finds the people who really value it, when you can get it in enough hands – what I think authors need to realize is, you know, after your first 1,000, the first 2,000, your first 3,000, things start to happen beyond your reach and that you are not initiating and people start sharing the book with each other. And, you know, it’s easier. It gets easier.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 19:32
Right. Takes on a life of its own, almost. Yeah. Great. So now we’re into the space of the second part of the first double-barreled question I threw at you right at the beginning of the podcast, which was: when do we not need to worry about the author platform? And maybe we talked about this already kind of in a little bit of an offhand way but, you know, you do have this little hint of it maybe being a surprising element or a surprising answer.
Anne Janzer 20:10
Yes. So maybe you don’t need a huge platform. Maybe your platform is small. You do need to reach this specific audience. But maybe this audience is very small and unique. In one of my – in the book, “Get the Word Out”, I interviewed a woman called Trista Harris, who was a philanthropic futurist. And she said – yeah, I know, right? So she’s applying futurism to philanthropy. And so her audience is people who are running NGOs and, you know, policy makers who – she says, “In a very small world, I’m very well known.” And that’s what she needs for her book to have maximum impact. She is having an impact. She is making a difference. But she is not a household name. That’s not – it doesn’t matter. I mean, maybe your role is to influence a very small number of people with your work. And that’s totally fine. You need to – so it’s not the size of the platform that matters, right? Because we’re all measuring email lists and things like that. It’s the quality of it. So my email list is not super big because I haven’t aggressively built it. And because I’d like it to be – it’s super engaged. It’s super engaged. I’ve actually – so here’s another surprising secret: is that your platform can be a great source of support and joy and fulfillment. Right? It doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be something …
Boni Wagner-Stafford 21:45
Oh, gee, is that ever liberating?
Anne Janzer 21:48
Is that liberating? I realized that in this pandemic, that doing things for the people on my list and the conversations I had and – this was tremendously empowering and fulfilling. And I’ve made friends on the list and I’ve had moving conversations with them. And this is a wonderful source of fulfillment in my life. I did not see that coming. You know, it was like, “I have to build an email list?” And yeah, you know, right?
Boni Wagner-Stafford 22:14
Right. Chore, chore, chore, chore, chore.
Anne Janzer 22:18
Chore, chore. But it’s relationships. And relationships are part of what make our lives meaningful. So put that lens on: chew on that line for a little bit as you think about this.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 22:31
Yeah. You said something else, too, that I think is really important and related to numbers. So it’s not the size of the platform or the numbers; it’s not your followers and it’s not necessarily the 10,000-person email list is not better than a 1,000-person email list if they’re not your target audience. So one of my other favorite – this is one of my other favorite topics – is understanding who your reader is. That comes into play here too.
Anne Janzer 23:08
Absolutely. I mean, the people who are chasing email-list size over everything else, they’re probably attracting the wrong dang people: you do need to understand your reader. One of the other interesting things too, though, is when you have – when you establish these relationships, you may discover that there’s a whole little niche or pond of readers you didn’t know about because they join your platform and they say, “I’m using this here. I’m teaching this in a college class.” And you’re like, “Huh, okay, I didn’t – I didn’t think about that,” you know? So …
Boni Wagner-Stafford 23:42
Right. All kinds of good information.
Anne Janzer 23:46
Good information comes from better understanding and better relationships. I mean, the platform is the ongoing relationship with your readers: you write the book; you’re taking your best stab; you’ve got your vision; you’re thinking about it. And then you put it out in the world. And it’s like a beacon. And different people respond to that beacon. And you, when you have a well-established platform – when you’re showing up on social or you’re communicating via email and getting responses back – you discover who those other people are. And that can be fascinating.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 24:18
So one of the other things that I think might – I’m always a big fan of things that take the pressure off: make things not quite so complicated and difficult. And one of those things, again, that you just said, is you don’t have to know it all before you begin. It can be a learning process. Of course it’s helpful if you have a good idea who your target market is. Of course it’s helpful if you understand what your motivation was for writing the book and use those things. And it’s okay to start before you have all the answers because they’ll come and evolve over time.
Anne Janzer 24:55
Precisely. Yeah, writing a book is always a learning experience. I mean, hasn’t – haven’t you found that, Boni, that with all the (crosstalk), you come out the end different than you went into it, right?
Boni Wagner-Stafford 25:07
Yeah. And the even the concept of the content even: this is the book I think I’m writing and by the time you get to the end, it’s like, oh, it essentially is that but it has grown or it has, you know, changed or the, you know, “I had no idea that I was going to write this” – you know, whatever thing that had to come to the end. And you learn about yourself in the process. So this part of the journey won’t likely be any different. Let’s not even get into the technology.
Anne Janzer 25:35
Right? So yeah, there is a little bit of technology you have to figure out.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 25:39
Yeah. And that happens with everyday stuff everywhere in our lives: we have to figure out about the technology. But I’d like to talk about – we’re down to kind of our last five or six minutes here of my self-imposed time limit of 30 minutes – but figuring out the content: so many authors, by the time they’re finished their book, they’re just like, “Oh, I have said everything I have to say. I can’t imagine ever being able to come up with another original thought.” So how do you think about your content when your book is out and it’s done? What are some ways that authors can think about what they want to share with these people that they’re developing their relationships with?
Anne Janzer 26:24
Right. Okay, so let me just kind of brainstorm a list of things, alright? First, there’s excerpts or riffing on things from your book: you’ve got that – you know, I realized the other day, I was thinking, “Oh, what am I going to write a blog about?” It was like, “Wait, I have a stack of six books sitting right there. I think I have a rich source of content.” So (crosstalk) have to go back to your books and pull something out. I will sometimes open and go, “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that story altogether.” Even if people on your list – say your email list or social media – have read it before, they might enjoy the reminder; they don’t know it as well as you do. So stuff you’ve written; things that – responses you’ve gotten to stuff that you’ve written; ways that you see that stuff has – the things you have written now apply to something new: a new filter, a new angle, a new nuance, “Here’s how I might change that.” One of my favorite things is just writing reviews of other authors’ books, right, that are speaking to a similar audience. You can do this before your book is published, right? You can do this anytime. It gives you content to share. It is a value to the readers – potential readers – because everyone wants to find another good book. And it is a, you form a relationship with the author. It’s like a win-win-win. Just so easy to do. I mean, I don’t care where you are in your journey, you can do that today. So that’s another idea. You know, it just, it’s short: sometimes people just want something short and inspirational. Something you’ve been struggling with as it relates to your topic, share that. I wrote a post today about how consistency is hard with our content. Because I did some travel and I lost track of time. I thought I had another week till my next blog and then yesterday, I was looking at the calendar; I said, “Oh, no, wait, it goes out tomorrow.” You know, so consistency is hard. So it’s like I bet I’m not the only person who experiences that. So I shared that. You know, all of this. There’s a rich source of things. You don’t have to be formulaic; you don’t have to do the same thing all the time. Just try to make sure that it would add value to the core people that you’re trying to reach.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 28:36
Yeah. And authenticity. Yeah.
Anne Janzer 28:42
Yeah. So authenticity is showing up as yourself. It doesn’t have to be every secret of yourself. I mean, to share a failure is very, very powerful. But you want to be careful about the failures you share, I guess. You don’t want to erode your authority too much.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 29:02
Like we’ve talked about before on other episodes, talked other subject matter areas but, you know, be really clear on the difference between authenticity and transparency. One does not mean the other.
Anne Janzer 29:15
Right, right. Right, you get to decide where your boundaries are. I mean, you do want to show up as a real person but, you know, also boundaries are important. And finding that authentic voice or that voice that feels most comfortable, sometimes that comes with time. And that’s okay; that’s part of the growth. As you grow when you write a book, you grow as you support the book: you grow as you build the platform similarly. And that will come as well. I mean, I’ve certainly gotten more comfortable to find my writing voice now. I’m more comfortable with it now than I was five or six years ago.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 29:50
Yeah, right. And now that you’ve made that list …
Anne Janzer 29:55
Yeah, right. Plenty of things …
Boni Wagner-Stafford 29:57
Yeah. Top 15 books for writers. That’s, you know, that’s pretty good.
Anne Janzer 30:00
Oh, yes, yeah.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 30:01
Now that you’ve made that, you’re just like, “Yeah, I’ve arrived. I’ve arrived. Thank you.”
Anne Janzer 30:04
I’ve arrived. Yeah, yeah, you got it. Anytime anybody – here’s the one other tip: anytime anyone, you know, your book makes a fantastic list like that Scribd list or just a reader says, you know, “This book had a major impact,” file that away someplace and keep it and return to it when you need to because this is the reason you’re doing this: is because the impact that book has on other people. And I’m not going to say, you know, it’s always easy building the platform: it takes patience; it takes time. And some days you’re going to be like, “I just don’t feel like it.” Or, you know, “I don’t feel like I’m making any progress.” Open up that file with those things and remind yourself of why you’re doing this because you need …
Boni Wagner-Stafford 30:47
Yes, yeah. Perfect. Excellent. Alright, so any last thing? What did I forget to ask? What’s popped into your head that you want to leave our listeners with before we call it a day?
Anne Janzer 31:04
You know, just to approach this idea of author platform not with fear and distaste and trepidation but as a growth opportunity. And with recognizing that, you know, relationships: adding more meaningful relationships for your life is almost always a win. And when you look at it that way, I think it’ll change the way you approach the whole process.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 31:29
Yeah. And I would just take that one step further, which is, there are people who want what you have. And there are people who need what you have – and what you have to say, rather: I’m not talking about, you know, they you want your car; that’s not what I mean. You have something to offer and people both want and need it. And if you stay silent and don’t share, then you’re not able to help people.
Anne Janzer 32:04
Yeah, that’s right. That’s the reason we do this.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 32:07
Excellent. Well, Anne Janzer, thank you so much. This has been a very illuminating conversation about author platform, content and relationships. I love it. Much appreciated. We will have you back another day when we come up with yet another brilliant topic from you.
Anne Janzer 32:25
We will. I’ll start working on it now.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 32:29
Okay, excellent. Sounds good.
Anne Janzer 32:31
Alright. Thanks, Boni.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 32:33
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