As I am learning about the business of becoming a writer who can get published, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about an author platform, and how to build one. So I thought I would spend a little time this week talking about why platforms are part of today’s business of publishing, what they are, and how a person can go about creating one. I’ve spent a few weeks building my social media network but haven’t really focused on why.
Back in the day when writers wrote, editors edited, and publishers promoted, an author couldn’t spend too much time worrying about their platforms. Of course, the things existed, but there was a barrier between the author who wanted to promote a book and the audience who would read it. The author could do some things, like go on book tours, do readings and interviews, sign books and make appearances, but all of that was pretty small scale compared to today. And even then, you had to be published to be able to do them.
Today, we are able to connect with each other in mere seconds and the barriers have broken down between public personas and the audience. Twitter allows people to respond to each other no matter how big or small you might be, and blogs, Instagram accounts and YouTube channels can make even the most ordinary person a celebrity.
So in this sea of social media, where millions of people are Facebooking, tweeting and posting, how can a person navigate it, or even rise up to the top and let the swell of public sentiment carry you to success?
(I’m tempted to make an “Old Man and the Sea of Social Media” joke now but I’ll spare you.)
First of all, what is an author platform?
The easiest definition might be that it is an open conversation with readers and authors. Anyone can join it, and no one is obstructed from participating. This is both awesome, and daunting. Awesome because it creates connections where before there were none. Daunting because what if people are mean, or the platform is abused? Either side could potentially cause an author’s platform to tip. Readers could respond negatively and the author will most likely hear that feedback. Or, an author could behave badly, and take advantage of the voice they have been given.
But, what is the point of this conversation?
Some cynical person might say it’s just about getting as many followers and likes as possible to sell more books, and while they wouldn’t be technically wrong, it’s not the way to view a platform. Unless of course, you are just a cynic who only cares about the bottom line and doesn’t mind living a soul sucking existence. Really, it is about the consistent effort over the course of an author’s whole career to carve out a place where they can speak and be heard. And hopefully, as an author increasingly has something to say that people want to hear, this will extend their network to attract more like-minded people who appreciate the content the author is producing. This can help make the author more marketable to larger content providers, like publishers, which will in turn increase the author’s network of like-minded people.
As far as these larger content providers are concerned (and therefore we are too) a strong platform shows three things:
- Visibility- Who you are, what connections you have, what media outlets you can use to expand your network.
- Proven Reach- That you can actually reach the number of people you claim (one of the major reasons why buying followers is BS!)
- Target Audience- That you can reach the kind of people who are going to be interested in your content.
A platform is not about self-promotion just to make you feel popular. It is not about hard-selling your products. It is not about being an extrovert (thankfully!). It is not about being the most active person on social media. If your network isn’t into social media but you have strong engagement through another format then do what works for you! Jane Friedman has more to say here.
Brooke Warner, over at The Write Life has some great advice that I need to keep in mind and you might too. She says: “The key is to take it slow. For writers who are just beginning, it can feel like you’re coming really late to a party that’s been going on for years — and that’s in essence exactly what’s happening. If you look at someone who has thousands upon thousands of Twitter followers, it’s likely they were an early adopter.”
But, that’s okay! You still have a seat at the table! Your authenticity and your contribution is a foundation. Slow but steady growth is healthier because it leads to a long term career. Think about all the one hit wonders you’ve seen blaze out over the years. Now think about the musicians who toured for years, and kept putting out albums, even before they were well-known and might even still be touring. You want to be Keith Richards (only with less drug abuse). In order to be Keith you need to continue producing, publishing, connecting with people and partnering with other authors. You also need to let your voice shine. Your personality, authenticity and expertise are vital parts of making you a trusted and connected voice and that’s what an author platform is really all about.