If you are an author who seeks an agent or publisher, you know that it is important to have an audience platform. What’s an audience platform? Historically we think of the soapbox a speaker stood upon at a busy intersection of streets hawking one’s ideas or wares.

Author platform, soapbox

Print advertisers have long based their rates on the size of their circulation, or the “reach” of the marketing message. Since the advent of radio and then television, serious scientific efforts to measure the size of audiences have been underway. Many of us are familiar with the Nielsen TV ratings. Today, Nielsen offers the most comprehensive and accurate numbers on book sales in the US with their service known as Bookscan. Their measurements come from point-of-sale and electronic sales data based on scanning the book’s UPC and ISBN codes. These sales numbers are the proof in the pudding of audience platform.

Before you can get a book deal these days, publishers want to know about an author’s audience platform. If the author is a TV or movie star, a politician, celebrity, super athlete or public figure with international name recognition, it is easy to convince an agent or publisher that you have a platform. Too easy. This helps explain why so many books are published that aren’t really worth reading. Fans are willing to buy a book based on its cover. It isn’t enough these days to have a well written manuscript. You can’t live like J.D. Salinger and get published in today’s competitive market. Publishing is about engagement with your readers: the public.

So if you aren’t a celebrity, you need to convince a publisher that you can pull readers to your writing through online inbound marketing strategies. Why does the publisher care so much about this? The publisher’s goal is to make a profit (from which you will benefit) and knows the author’s readers are the target audience market. Estimating the size of this audience is how publishers decide how many books will be published in the first print run.

How do you measure the size of your audience platform? Social media metrics.

What are they, you ask?

Descriptive statistics gathered from internet traffic. From how many hits on your website each month, rankings on search engines, to a breakdown of age and sex of those who visit your Facebook Page. There are a variety of tools that help an author analyze and track their “reach” with readers. Two of them are available free to individuals and used commonly to assess audience platform.

Google Analytics and Hubspot’s MarketingGrader.com offer important benchmarks. They reveal how visitors are engaging and interacting with you online, and whether time spent on social media is paying off. Next Saturday we’ll feature a blog on how to install the Google Analytics code snippet into your website so that you can begin tracking your social media marketing efforts like a pro.

The really important thing to keep in mind as you review your social media metrics — whether it’s your Klout.com score or the Insights from your Facebook Page — is that quality matters as much as quantity. Knowing your audience through social media engagement helps you become a better writer and builds reader loyalty into book purchases. You don’t need 100,000 Twitter followers if 99,900 of them won’t ever consider buying and reading your book. If you have a 1,000 diehard fans who read every word you write, you’re on the right track. Agents and publishers have quickly become savvy about reading social media metric marketing reports in the past two years.

If you’ve never evaluated your online presence as an author, a simple start to this process begins by searching for yourself  on Google, Yahoo and Bing. When you search for your author name, you need to assess the links appearing in the search as well as how far down the list someone must scroll to “find” you. Search for keywords related to your book’s subject, your target audience and your professional history, too. This is more qualitative than quantitative, and statistics are simply descriptive.

Descriptive statistics help you measure the size of the crowd drawn to your soapbox platform and assess the kinds of people who make up the audience. Social media metrics offer direct feedback to the author. Most free tools for assessing social media marketing efforts reveal areas in need of improvement and gaps in your marketing strategy. The trick is in learning how to read the metrics and choosing those tactics which suit your author platform and book project best.

Time to start tracking with metrics.

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