Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Successful Platform Building Doesn't Have to Be About You

Building a writing platform can seem daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Today, guest bloggers Elaine Kiely Kearns and Sylvia Liu talk about how they built a successful platform organically by focusing on helping others.

How can authors and illustrators blog successfully as part of their social media efforts? A year ago, we created, a one-stop information shop for writers and illustrators. Since then, we have been named one of The 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2015 and The Top 50 Writing Blogs for 2015. We also have a very active community around the site. In this interview, we talk about how we got here.

Sylvia: How did you come up with the idea for Kidlit411?

Elaine:  KidLit411 came about from a need to pool resources from the internet. There are so many great sites out there and the kid lit community was sharing many great links, but there waasn’t one place to find them all. I started making a list of the sites that I would return to again and again to share with my online critique group, the Penguin Posse. Then I thought that perhaps other kid lit people would enjoy the information, too. One of my Penguin Posse critique partners, Sylvia Liu, and I partnered up and KidLit411 was born!

Sylvia: What are the elements of the site that you think helped us connect with the kidlit community and make it successful?

Elaine: I don’t think that we “set out” to build a platform, but we found a need and then attempted to fill it. It was an organic process that evolved over time.

One thing that made our site stand out was the combination of not focusing on authors but also illustrators. Sylvia, as an author-illustrator, wanted to have a site that was welcoming to both. We have art from Caldecott winners to up and coming artists featured on the site. Even though I am not an illustrator, I love the way it looks! It’s aesthetically pleasing to every kind of artist.

We also have weekly interviews with authors and illustrators, geared towards providing advice and inspiration. Many of the interviews include giveaways where we encourage people to share our site, which helped grow our presence. The interviews also promote our fellow creatives, both those who are established and those who are up and coming, a win-win for all.
Our Weekly 411 email provides all the new links we add each week. People really responded to all of these “extras.” Now we have a KidLit411 Facebook group with over 1,500 members and a KidLit411 Manuscript swap group where you can go and swap manuscripts for a set of “fresh eyes” with other like-minded people. It’s been very successful!

Sylvia: Tell us more about the Facebook group.

Elaine: Having a Facebook group associated with our site has been key in building our community. With many blogs, the comment sections are the place where community is formed. But we have found that a Facebook group provides a more flexible format to have conversations. People ask questions or share links, and friendships are formed. I think some people are part of our Facebook group that don’t even realize we have a website! But they eventually figure it out.

Elaine: How important was it to have information for illustrators included in the site?

Sylvia: Because both of us write picture book manuscripts, we naturally felt that both authors and illustrators are an integral part of the kid lit community. The benefit of adding illustrators to the mix was that we could make the website look nice. I had the idea to present the main pages in a Pinterest-style layout. This lets us showcase illustrators we like on a rotating basis and keeps the site from being static.  (Illustrators: please submit your low-res images to kidlit411 (at) kidlit411 (dot) com to be featured on our front page).

Elaine: Do you feel that it is important for authors/illustrators to create a social media platform, such as a blog or Kidlit411, or do you think that it isn't necessary as a step to publication?

Sylvia: The most important thing for authors and illustrators to do is to focus on their craft and create the best stories and illustrations they can. Creating a platform will help authors and illustrators market their books once they get published, but I don’t think people should create a platform just because they feel they need one.

It’s also hard to just decide to create a successful blog or platform. You have to enjoy doing it, and it has to be an organic process. Elaine and I have figured out that the key is to provide information that other people need or want.  In other words, it’s not about you but what you can do for others.

ELAINE KIELY KEARNS is the founder of KidLit411 and a picture book and middle grade writer. Armed with a master’s degree in Education and working from her home office, she spends her time perusing the internet for golden nuggets of information about children’s writing and creating her own stories. Her

SYLVIA LIU is a former environmental attorney turned writer-illustrator. She won the 2013 Lee and Low New Voices award and her debut picture book, A MORNING WITH GONG GONG, is scheduled for publication. She is inspired by aliens, cephalopods, bunnies, and pigs who want to fly.  Her portfolio: and blog:


  1. Great interview, ladies! I'm super impressed with

  2. Love KIDLIT411. It's an excellent resource. I'm proud of you both for the fantastic job you have done with it. I really like your thoughts on platform building being an organic process that you enjoy. That makes so much sense. Like a garden, it's partly the work and love that you put into it and partly the natural growth. I also appreciate the philosophy of "it's not about you but what you can do for others."

  3. You know I'm a Kidlit411 fan! Well done, Sylvia and Elaine!

  4. I love having KidLit411 as a resource! I no longer feel the need to bookmark every helpful blog post or website as I know it will be catalogued at KidLit411 for future reference. Elaine and Sylvia, can you estimate how many hours per week you spend developing and maintaining the KidLit411 site and content? TY

    1. It's hard to estimate exactly. Elaine and I take turns doing the interviews and we both add links. I add links as I see them, so it's an extra few minutes after I read a good post. Getting an interview in shape can range from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the amount of editing or formatting.

    2. I have to agree with Sylvia, it definitely takes time, but it's hard to say just how much. It's a labor a love, and as long as people find it useful, it's time well spent. Thanks for your lovely words, Cathy!

  5. Great post! I love KidLit411! The articles, interviews and resources are outstanding, not to mention the wonderful community on the website and facebook group.

  6. KidLit411 is one of my go-to resources. Thanks for all your hard work Elaine and Sylvia!

  7. Words of wisdom, ladies! I loved watching grow from just being a gleam in Elaine's eyes to birth to its current popularity. It was brilliant because it came from a place of selflessness. Here's to its - and both of your - continued success! xoxo

    1. :) You know I mean it! But I meant to say "it IS brilliant" not "it WAS brilliant."

  8. Sorry I'm late to the platform building party. :) But better late than never, especially for such a valuable post...thank you so much, Elaine! KidLit411 is an exceptional resource for all of us.

  9. Great interview! I like perusing over my weekly 411! Thanks so much for your hard work, Elaine and Sylvia!


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