Author Platform Sidekick’s Journey From Idea to Launch
“Ian, it would be so much simpler if you could just do all this author platform stuff on my behalf! Could you?”
It was a simple question, asked of me by a writer attending an author masterclass on Twitter I had been hosting in London in 2016. She’d listened patiently while I'd outlined many of the strategies, techniques and tools detailed in my book Advanced Twitter Strategies for Authors, but had become frustrated that they were too much for her to take on, especially with everything else modern writers have to do to get the word out about themselves and their books.
My answer at the time was an automatic, “No!” Explaining why, I added gently, "I’d have no time left to write my own books if I took on growing Twitter accounts for others.”
I dallied with creating an online course, as so many people are doing these days. At least this would make it much easier for people to follow along with me in applying the techniques in the book. But I wasn’t convinced it would be enough. There’s also lots of competition for online courses now. I know of quite a few authors getting course fatigue. After all, the more we learn the more activities we have to take on ourselves. And the less time we have for writing.
But the seed had been sown and I began puzzling away at the problem. I realised that Anne (that’s her name, by the way) was probably one of many authors who’d love to implement the strategies detailed in my book, but either don’t have the time or, more likely, the technical knowhow or confidence to take them on. And there’s also the financial factor. If you want to implement all the techniques to their full, you need to hand over more than $80/month to the various third-party app vendors I recommend in the book.
Research and Development
After some detailed research, I began making progress. I needed to adjust the techniques a little. And some of the recommended tools in my book also had to change. I even had to have one adapted. But these were all necessary changes in order to make the techniques scale and lower the costs. Because if I took on tens or even hundreds of author platforms then scalability and affordability would be the biggest problems.
In September, with rough testing completed, I approached 1,000 or so authors on my mailing list and explained I was considering launching a service in 2017 where I would apply the techniques from my book on behalf of others. But before I launched, I need to beta test with a handful of ten authors for three months. It would be free. Anyone who was interested could apply.
Over 100 authors applied! This gave me confidence such a service could be something authors really might be interested in. I whittled the beta applicants down to my planned ten. I wanted a range of authors, crossing different genres and at different levels of experience on Twitter, some with only a few followers and some already with tens of thousands. During the beta, I deliberately kept the names of the authors confidential but now that the test has been successful, they have been kind enough to go public by providing testimonials of their experiences and results. One of the authors was Paul Teague, who kindly interviewed me three times over the beta as part of his Self Publishing Journeys podcast. All three episodes are included in this post. Here's the first one.
Overcoming Teething Issues
I got going and immediately walked headlong into a major problem: data collection. The whole point of these techniques is that they need to be adapted to each author. I certainly don’t know the best hashtags for a romance author; after all I’m a thriller writer. (I do now!) I can automate sending out promotional tweets on behalf of an author, but I can't write them in the first place. The author still needs to compose them and then hand them over to me for loading into the system.
It’s not just Twitter either; I wanted to make sure the service offered the ability to generate email subscribers for the authors using it, something not even covered in Advanced Twitter Strategies for Authors. After all, email subscribers are the most valuable assets in any author platform. And that meant I needed graphics to set up book giveaway landing pages and Twitter Website cards.
As I said, data collection. I needed to build out a structured onboarding process, where the authors could hand over all the necessary content to me so that I could set up everything on their behalf. So I resorted to type and created a sophisticated email onboarding sequence with links to Google spreadsheet templates that the author could fill in with all the data. The approach worked for a few, but was a bit of a muddle for others and open to interpretation and error. And the reason was simple, not everyone is as comfortable with spreadsheets as I am!
We made it through, but I later spent a lot of time industrialising the data collection element of the onboarding process. The answer in the end was to design and make extensive use of online forms. Now, customers are presented with a series of online forms guiding them through the data they need to provide in order for me to set everything up on their behalf. Much more simple and less open to error or misinterpretation. By the time I turned on the email element of the service for the beta testers, the online forms were up and running and the data collection process ran smoothly.
Up and Running
We made it through, but I later spend a lot of time industrialising the data collection element of the on-boarding process. The answer in the end was to design and make extensive use of online forms. Now, customers are presented with a series of online forms guiding them through the data they need to provide in order for me to set everything up on their behalf. Much more simple and less open to error or misinterpretation. By the time I turned on the email element of the service for the beta testers, the online forms were up and running and the data collection process ran smoothly.
Eventually, all twelve authors (yes, ten beta testers had somehow become twelve) were on-board and active in the system. And it immediately began to work as expected.
Authors Choose their Own Focus
All twelve were following people based on hashtags of their choice. Some had chosen to automatically Like tweets containing hashtags or their choice. Other braver authors automatically Retweeted tweets containing certain hashtags. These activities immediately began to get the authors noticed more. Their follower counts began increasing rapidly, as expected, but it also increased their engagement with others socially and, after all, it was still remains the responsibility of each author to interact personally on their Twitter account.
Some authors provided website RSS feeds for the system to monitor and automatically tweet whenever a new article or blog post was published on the monitored website. As described in the book, this techniques offered the impression that these authors had their finger on the pulse, breaking news as it happened.
Some provided me with their own tweet content for loading into queues and drip-feeding out to their Twitter account. I’d set up different queues for non-promotional content and promotional content, just like in the book. The old rule of thumb applies. Eighty per cent of your activity on Twitter should be value adding and non-promotional giving you a license to make the rest of your activity promotional. And that’s what Author Platform Sidekick helps to achieve.
Eight of the twelve took it all the way and took advantage of the automated capability to welcome new followers with a special offer of a free book in return for joining their mailing list. I manage the double opt-in process via my own mailing service provider and then automatically hand over the email address to the author via a Google spreadsheet. Yes spreadsheets reappeared, but only for this element. However, I show them how to use Zapier to automatically suck new email addresses appearing in the spreadsheet into their own mailing system in real time, for free.
Author Platform Sidekick Websites are Born
While I worked in the background every day, applying the techniques and tuning and optimising on behalf of the beta testers, I also worked on building out the commercial website. In the end I built two and extended the beta test by a month. The author side of the service became Author Platform Sidekick. However, the site where I hosted book landing pages for readers to sign up became BookSomniac. I have more plans for BookSomniac in the future.
The Results Are In!
Four months later, Author Platform Sidekick had gained the twelve beta testers a total of 75,000 targeted new followers. That equates to an average of 1,500 new followers per author per month. And on the email side, which started a month later, the eight beta testers gained 2,200 new email subscribers. That’s an average of just under 100 new email subscribers per author per month. Pretty good results if I do say so myself!
These were the more measurable statistics. But all authors also valued the massively increased engagement on Twitter, greater reach for their tweets and the greater credibility their accounts were gaining.
Did we sell more books? Some beta testers reported some increases in sales, but I’ve learned from experience that sales growth shouldn’t be the primary reason to use Twitter. An organically growing Twitter account acts as just one funnel into the rest of your author platform. It aids discoverability and, if you convert some followers into email subscribers, then you can build greater intimacy via email updates, which slowly convert subscribers into readers. In my experience, BookBub-style promotions or advertising on Facebook or Amazon are the most directly scalable techniques for acquiring new sales and readers, but they can cost serious money and can be hit or miss. Rapidly growing your engagement on Twitter is more of a secondary funnel. That said, some of the beta testers and I have many examples of followers letting us know they’ve bought our books because of discovering us on Twitter, readers we wouldn’t have gained in any other way.
Author Platform Sidekick is Ready to Launch
It’s been an exciting and interesting journey so far. The website is almost ready for launch. The onboarding process is now robust. The service has proven itself to be completely scalable day in, day out. The results are documented and the beta testers have kindly provided testimonials to let others know the value they’ve received from Author Platform Sidekick.
So now, if any author asks me if I can apply the techniques from Advanced Twitter Strategies for Authors on their behalf, my answer is an emphatic, “Yes! Just head over to Author Platform Sidekick, sign up and I'll become your sidekick!"