A platform. That which is stood upon to be heard. And in this noisy world, where billions of people have direct access to major distribution channels, getting heard is no small task.
No wonder new authors obsess over building their platforms. For most types of nonfiction, a platform before publication is a must. It establishes both your authority and your pull. The importance of a platform for a prepublished fiction author is up for discussion, however. Regardless, keep in mind two points:
- Don’t sweat it. Rarely do debut authors have a truly robust online presence unless they are celebrities. Between someone with an amazing platform and mediocre writing and someone with amazing writing and no platform, guess who I’m going to pick? (This is not a theoretical conjecture.)
- Don’t ignore it. Platform-building normally takes a long, long time and involves a considerable learning curve. Putting in the legwork from the beginning helps.
- Start a blog.
- Create an author page on Facebook.
- Head to Twitter.
These may be steps in the right direction, but more often than not, they’re not. Here’s why.
Unpublished writers seem to love writing about writing. Unfortunately, most of your blog readers end up being other unpublished writers, which might be great for comradery, but less so for reaching your future core readership. Try to think of something that will attract readers, not just writers (or -- if you write kidlit -- the decision makers in readers’ life: teachers, librarians, parents).
Blog with an end-goal in mind. Think about a service you want to provide, a niche that needs filling. Think about the persona you want to portray – Whimsical? Brooding? Twisted? High-minded? Let your blog be a natural extension of your brand – and make part of the draw to buying your work be, well, you.
One powerful way to jumpstart your platform is to piggyback on what others are doing. Many blogs are hungry for content providers – and already have hard-won established readerships. Maybe you can sign up as a reviewer for a book blog, or a commentator for a mom blog, etc. Or you and your fellow writers can join forces and start a blog where you share content responsibilities. Leverage the pre-existing resources – if the connection makes sense.
You know how Facebook works: the people you interact with most often and the posts that get the most comments are the ones that show up highest on your feed. If you’re not posting regularly, and people aren’t commenting back, your author page will soon fade into near-oblivion. And frequent posting when you have no real news can get obnoxious, fast.
You might be better off skipping an author page until you have traction and people who actively want to hear your writing news. Or perhaps help start a group Facebook page where a ring of genre-specific authors share their news. Your collective pull and content will help you all gain more exposure. Or you don’t worry about Facebook– just keep a nice personal account where you can share your squee-worthy news and forget the rest.
Most Facebook posts have a lifespan of hours; a few potent ones a lifespan of days. Most incredibly shared posts are passed around mindless of the originator. If you’re on Facebook and you enjoy it, by all means, continue – but don’t feel any need to make it one of the cornerstones of your marketing plan just yet.
There is nothing wrong with Twitter, and a lot right with it. If you choose to be on there (and yes, participation all these social media outlets are choices – you don’t HAVE to do all of them), just use it in a way that makes sense. Share cool and useful ideas; don’t make yourself a self-promotion hound. Reach out to people who seem like they’d belong in your “tribe;” don’t just mindlessly try to get the biggest follow-ship you can. Remember, the average tweet’s lifespan is much, much shorter than even a Facebook posts’. A select group of people who care about what you tweet and reply, favorite, and retweet often is much better than an indifferent cast of thousands.
Many resources – from books to websites -- exist out there to move you along. Just remember to start with a goal in mind. Don’t just throw something up ad hoc because you heard you had to have a platform. Be strategic – about who you want your audience to be, how you want your persona portrayed, what you can sustainably provide content about and whether there are synergistic partnerships you can start or join in on.
By all means, don’t limit yourself to the social media networks mentioned above – think videos, web comics, memes, speech engagements, online or offline classes, etc. Slowing down during the planning stage will save you a lot of time and effort at the back end. And remember rule #1: don’t sweat it. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.