Cathryn Prince and Andrew Kessler came to Ithaca on the 10th and 11th of October for two book events. As authors of new titles related to Mars and meteorites, Prince and Kessler found Ithaca a town of stargazers and skywatchers. On Sunday, Bob Proehl hosted the authors for a reading and book signing at Buffalo Street Books. Cathryn Prince read an excerpt from A Professor, a President and a Meteor: The Birth of American Science. Andrew Kessler shared selections from Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Space Cowboys, and My 90 Days with the Phoenix  Mars Mission.

Monday at noon, the Museum of the Earth hosted a special presentation by the authors. The room filled with families for this day of discovery in celebration of Columbus Day. Cathryn Prince shared what research Professor Bejamin Silliman of Yale College conducted in 1807 on how other people in other places and times had thought about meteors (Thunderstones) prior to the Weston Fall.  Andrew Kessler told the audience how he won the “nerd lottery” to gain unfettered access to Mission Control. The purpose of his book was to share the hard work of scientific discovery with those who might never get to know what mission control is like and  meet the scientists who are Earthling heroes. He showed this videoclip he used to promote his new book.

That’s right. A movie trailer created to promote and publicize a new book. And not just one movie trailer but many.

Both Andrew Kessler and Cathryn Prince are authors who have websites, Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts and they use them effectively in the social media marketing of their books and their public events. These electronic means of promotion and publicity work together with face to face methods like book store signings and special presentations and guest lectures.

Social media are more than marketing tools for these authors. They are writing, presentation, and research tools, too. The emphasis here is on the social and public. It’s not an either-or decision of online v. face to face. It’s both.

When her book first came out Cathryn discovered she shared the market with another new book, Meteorite Hunting, self-published by Geoff Notkin, notorious as co-host of The Meteorite Men, the popular television program on the Science Channel. Becoming facebook friends, and following each others’ Tweets, they met earlier this year at a book signing. Finding your readers is good business for an author who builds and maintains a “platform.”

What’s a platform? Publishers look to authors to have a following, a contingency of customers for your publication. Who will buy your book? Your peeps are your platform. You can measure your platform with social media metrics like Google Analytics, Klout, Webgrader and other tools. The influence of your electronic persona (your brand) is what publishers want to see in an author’s platform. The way to build your platform is to create an engaging website, blog, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn identity that befriends others and provides positive value to visitors.

Without a platform it is difficult in this new era to convince publishers to take a risk on an unknown writer or a literary hermit. But a big platform alone may not land you a publishing contract. You have to write a really good book. If it is not well written, no matter how much you push and promote, it won’t sell.  This is a double danger to those considering self-publication. One, if you don’t have a platform, you probably won’t be able to sell many copies even if it is very well written. Two, if you are self-publishing because of editors’ rejections, it may mean the manuscript is not good and then you may be unable to sell your self-published book even if you have a huge platform.

Authors need to build slowly in their use of social media and work at it fifteen minutes a day; every day. It may take you more than a year to find a substantial following and garner some real Klout. When you launch your book, you have a window of one month to sell out all the printed copies. After that, many big bookstores box up extras and ship them back in returns as shelf space is valuable real estate. Your platform is what launches book sales and your future success as an author.

Platform? It may be time for some additional construction in your social media zone. Never too soon to start.

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