Solving the "What do I write about?" problem

By far, the question I get most often from writers looking to build their platform is “What do I blog and email about?”

I especially hear this from fiction writers.

They’ll ask, “I’m a young-adult fantasy author. What do I write about on my blog? I can’t help people make more money or lose weight. So what can I do?”

Or, “I just have one historical novel out. What am I supposed to write about? Just keep telling people to buy my book? I can’t do that!”

In this article, I’m going to solve that dilemma for you.

First, deeply embedded in most of these questions are a few unconscious lies that authors tell themselves:

  • Lie #1: My book is the only interesting thing about me. That’s a much too narrow view of what you have to offer the people who are coming to your platform.
  • Lie #2: People are only interested in reading practical, self-help stuff. Look at the tremendous amount of online content that is not practical. There’s far more entertainment-based content online than there are business tips and weight-loss guides.
  • Lie #3: My books don’t really help people. This is the big one. So many fiction writers don’t really believe that what they do is good and helpful for people.

I’m going to camp out on that last one for a moment.

All good marketing begins with the belief, The best thing people can do for themselves is to buy what I’m selling.[1]

Yet so many authors, especially fiction authors, don’t really believe this deep down.

But you must believe it.

That belief has to be behind everything you do. You have to have it in your bones.

I’m facing that fact right now.

I’m working towards releasing my first novel next month. And if I’m going to successfully promote it, I’ll have to believe that the best thing that you can do is to read a copy of it.

So, tip #1…

Ask yourself, “Do I really believe people will benefit in some way from reading my book?”

I recommend spending some time alone, fully facing that question, before you do anything else.

You are a writer. You got into this for the love of writing. Are you going to share that love once your book is done?

Once you’ve taken this step, everything gets much easier. Then you can answer the next question:

Are we building a platform for your book, or for you?

Whenever somebody asks me about setting up a book website, I encourage them to set up an author website instead.

Your online platform should be for you, the writer, not for your book(s).

Here’s why:

1. You are the one thing that will never change throughout your writing career.

Your genre, series and titles will shift and change over time. But not your name.[2]

One of my longest-standing clients is #1 New York Times bestselling author, Daniel Pink. He has a very strong platform. But if he had tried to build that platform around any one of his books, it would have hurt him in the long run.

His first book, Free Agent Nation, was about the freelancing workforce. Next was The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, a career guide disguised as a Japanese comic book.

He then wrote A Whole New Mind about “right-brain” thinkers, Drive about motivation in the workplace, and To Sell Is Human about how we are all in sales.

That’s quite a vast spread of topics! And they don’t really fit together in an obvious way.

The only common denominator in that diverse line of books is the author.

Dan’s platform has grown and shifted with him, while he’s constantly changed his focus and expanded his scope.

His growing readership would have been impossible to create if he had built smaller separate platforms around each of his books instead of one big one around his name.

2. An author-based platform allows people to become fans of you first.

You want people to love your writing and to love your books. But most of all, you want them to be connected to you as the writer of those books.

Look at these covers from recent books by Stephen King, Janet Evanovich and John Grisham:

bookcovers

What’s the most prominent thing on each cover?

People don’t buy a book by their favorite authors because they like the title. They buy it because they connect with the author’s name.

This is why well-known authors are able to switch genres, go in new directions, and have a lot of flexibility in their careers — they’ve built a fan base around their name.

You want to do the same!

I’m experiencing some of this myself right now.

As I’ve talked about the fantasy novel I’m working on, many of you have told me you can’t wait to read it.

Why?

That makes no sense, logically.

All you’ve ever read is my nonfiction writing. Why would you care about my fiction writing when there are already plenty of good, established fiction writers out there?

It’s because many of you have become fans of my work — how I see the world and what I give to my readers — more than any one thing I’ve published.

I’m the same way with many of my favorite writers. I buy whatever they publish, because I already know I’m on their wavelength.

You want your fans to be the same way with you, so they’ll follow you throughout your career, though every turn in the road.

3. Having an author-based platform greatly expands what you can talk about.

This is where we finally dig into the how.

When you focus on building a platform around you instead of your books, it gives you far more room to run with when it comes to finding topics for your blogs, emails and social media posts.

Of course you don’t want to just talk constantly about your book, but that is far from the only interesting thing you have going on.

What have you read lately – both fiction and nonfiction – that you really enjoyed? Ryan Holiday has built an email list of 35,000 subscribers just by sharing his book recommendations every month.

What have you been learning lately?

Have you had to do weapons research for your latest novel? Have you started taking a pottery class?

What interesting life lessons or obscure facts have you learned along the way?

Have you gone to any conferences and met other writers? Could you interview them on your blog? Or reach out to the authors of the books you’re reading and ask to interview them?

Once you open up your mind to the world around you and the life you’re already living, you’ll start to see a vast amount of things you can write about.

I keep a running list of topic ideas as they come to me. The list is always growing much faster than I can possibly keep up with.

You are more than your books. You are an interesting, multi-faceted person, and your books are only the tip of the iceberg.

As you are looking at your platform and asking yourself, “What should I blog, post or email about?” — expand your view of what you have to offer.

Realize that you’re already tapped in to many topics that you can create helpful, interesting content from.

You’ll be surprised at how much you can come up with.


  1. My definition of marketing, given in my book Your First 1000 Copies, is: 1) The act of building long-lasting connections with people and, once you have those connections, 2) focusing on being relentlessly helpful to them.  ↩
  2. This is where the question of multiple pen names comes up. In most cases, I suggest not using different names for your different books, even in different genres. There is usually no legitimate reason to keep your writings separate from each other. If you do have to use separate pen name for some or all of your books, I recommend building a separate platforms based on that pen names, instead of on your book(s). That gives you the most options for your future work.  ↩

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