The Latest Publishing Wisdom: Authors Need to Shop Themselves 'Til They Drop

I've been publishing books since 1990 in many genres with different publishers and have seen wave after wave of answers to the question "What will sell this book?"

Once it was believed that author tours could do it. Or advertising in the right media. Author web sites and newsletters for fans became another magic solution. With the advent of book groups, book group Skyping was all the rage.

As the Internet became more and more a part of our lives, blogging, blog tours, blog reviews, guest blogging, and a social media presence became essential -- or so authors were told. Having professionally produced book trailers and doing book giveaways on Goodreads have also been hawked as crucial for authors. More recently, the talk is all about "platform." What is that? Here's a description from the CEO of Smashwords:

If you're an author, your platform is your ability to reach readers. Authors who can build, maintain and leverage their platforms will have a significant competitive advantage over those who cannot. Think of author platform as a multi-layered infrastructure that allows you to reach both new and existing fans. Elements of this infrastructure include your social media followers on Twitter, Facebook and the RSS feed of their blog. It includes the breadth of your retail distribution (more retailers is better than fewer), your uninterrupted presence at each retailer for every book, and the reviews at those retailers. It includes the number of readers who have "favorited" you at Smashwords, or who have added your books to their book lists at Goodreads. It includes subscribers to your private mailing list. It includes your celebrity, and your ability to leverage social media or traditional media or the love of your fans to get your message out.

Sound a bit daunting? Sounds as if it'll take time away from your writing? It will, and it is, especially since the tens of thousands of new indie authors are increasing competition for sales, on top of all the authors who have already successfully built gold-plated platforms.

In the same Huffington Post blog where the Smashwords CEO urges authors to build platforms, he also urges them to "Organize [their] time to spend more time writing and less time on everything else."

Authors can't do it all, but may feel compelled to try as there are more of them every day and e-books sales are flattening. Is every author, new or old, going to be able to build a platform that guarantees success? It doesn't seem likely. And within a few years, we may be advised to forget about platform and think about something new. Maybe launching our own satellites...