In my experience, nothing triggers a panic response in an author more quickly or profoundly than the mention of building a platform. According to the social media hive mind, if a writer hopes to sell his or her first book, they must first have a strong social media platform. How, exactly, does that work, you might ask. How does one build a fan base for a product that does not yet exist?
For years, I dismissed this notion as foolishness. You write the book, you sell the book, and then you flog the book to get your name out there. It’s all common sense.
Except it’s not. I reached out to my editor at Kensington Publishing, as well as to my agent, and they both confirmed with a sigh that an evaluation of a writer’s social media platform does, indeed, play into the decision buy the rights to their work. On the positive side, both assured me that the absence of a strong platform does not work against a writer, but rather, the presence of a strong platform works strongly in a writer’s favor. So, all ties go to the strong platform.
So, this got me to thinking. What is a platform, exactly? And since it’s important to have, how is one constructed? Surely, it’s more than posting desperate pleas on Twitter and Facebook. As far as I’m concerned, people to bombard me with requests to buy, buy, buy(!) are blacklisted from my bookshelf.
I have no idea if what follows is true, but it makes sense to me. I think that people think too hard when it comes to all things platform based.
A platform is not a group that will be guaranteed to go out and buy your book. In fact, the harder you push for a direct sale, the more harm you do to your cause.
A platform is merely a group of people who are interested in YOU. Members of your church, fellow Rotarians, and book club buddies are all a part of your platform. Your poker buddies. The other workers who share your shift. At its center, building a new platform is synonymous with keeping in touch with friends and acquaintances. In the early days, it’s discomfiting to ask for email addresses, and permission to send them an occasional newsletter–too many flashbacks to the days when your college roommate got that insurance sales job right out of school. Mary Kay and Amway, too. You’ve got to get over that. True friends will understand what you’re trying to do.
So, this book is not yet done. What do you send to these people on your list? Progress updates. Here’s a little secret that’s not a secret at all: Almost everyone has dreams that they have not pursued for one reason or another. For good or ill, they will live vicariously through your journey. A blessed few will share your updates with friends who will share it with even more.
As you move farther down the publishing path, you’ll attend conferences in your genre, and there you will make contact with agents, editors and fellow writers who will expand your platform even wider. They may never buy one of your books, but you’ll have made connections. Even if they don’t read your genre, maybe their friend or their mother does.
One thought about conferences. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: When attending, try to resist the comfort of hanging with fellow rookies. Join in with the group you aspire to belong to. This is a business meeting, after all, and successful people have more help to offer than those who have not yet achieved their goals.
You’ve got to have a writer’s website. If nothing else, use it as a long-lasting repository for all those newsletters you’ve written. Make your website interesting, helpful. Mine isn’t fancy, but I think it’s entertaining. Everyone who visits it is given an opportunity to join my mailing list and to subscribe to my YouTube channel–and, of course, to buy my books. Personally, I don’t believe in a lot of flash on a website. I want mine to be informative. I don’t add to it as often as I should, but there’s still a lot there.
With your website in place, develop business cards. The point of business cards is less to advertise yourself than it is to receive the other person’s card in trade. When that happens, you ask, “Do you mind if I add you to my mailing list?” Ninety-nine percent will grant permission, and now you’re golden.
Change your email signature block. Every single email I send–irrespective of topic or recipient–closes with links to my website, YouTube channel and newsletter list.
I personally have been steadily moving away from Facebook and Twitter. Twitter in particular is a cesspool of negativity and anger. To a lesser extent, Facebook is the same way, but my timeline is a way to stay in touch with friends around the world. I’ve moved most of my most active Facebook participation over to my author page, where I talk almost exclusively about books and writing–the business side of my life.
Now here’s the caution: According to the various analytics, my outreach efforts reach hundreds of thousands of people every year–far more than the number of books I sell. In fact, when all is said and done, I have no evidence that any of this effort has sold a single book.
So, TKZers, what do you think? Is this what platform building is truly all about, or have I missed something/everything? I’m really curious to hear y’all’s input.
By way of shameless self-promotion, I’ve added a new video to my channel: