The idea of having a platform–something you can use to help you get noticed, be it a website, a blog, connections, etc…–is one that’s simple on the surface but requires a lot of work to perfect. Carve a niche for yourself, develop an expertise, figure out who your audience is and then figure out how to talk to them. But how to do it right? What if you don’t have an expertise? And is any of this really important for fiction writers?
Christina Katz, author of Get Known Before The Book Deal: Use Your Personal Strengths To Grow An Author Platform, says that, yes, even fiction writers can benefit from this approach–and she’s happy to tell us how. We’re thrilled she took time out of her schedule to chat with us. (Psst, If you missed part one of our interview, click HERE then come back for part two.)
Q: Nonfiction writers should perfect their niche in order to better their platform (ex: developing an expertise on how to parent twins). Is this just as important or less important for fiction writers? What should every fiction writer do who wants to carve a niche (or micro-niche)?
CK: In a sense when it comes to platform building, what nonfiction writers do and what fiction writers do seem like opposites. As you point out in your example, a nonfiction writer will often micro-niche to reach a more specific audience that matches their expertise. But a fiction writer will spin off a series of topics they can explore to help promote topics or themes they’ve written about.
However, once a fiction writer starts spinning off ideas, it’s still a good idea to make those ideas very specific to separate themselves from the masses of other fiction writers. For example, Marc Acito wrote How I Paid For College, A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater. Afterward, it made sense for him to write and teach and speak on how to write humorous fiction or how to write a page-turner. Note how specific these topics are. He spun them off after mastering them in his process. For fiction writers, the question is not merely, what do you know how to do? But what do you specifically do well so your offerings will be credible to others?
Q: “But I don’t have any expertise!” the masses cry. How do you help them?
CK: I talk to them and ask them questions. I encourage them to get the input of knowledgeable others to speed up the process and illuminate next steps.
I understand that it’s hard to see our own expertise and know our strengths. Writers have to dig deeper than whatever the media broadcasts as hot right now. The reason I wrote a whole book on the topic is because there’s no short formula for discovering, naming and claiming expertise. Platform development is an inside job first.
Expertise works best when offered in response to an actual need in the real world, not when it’s slapped together and trumpeted in haste. Platforms must be grounded in reality or at least a genuine desire to serve. This is why I caution: avoid the urge to jump on a bandwagon. The results are often superficial and don’t invite respect. To respect yourself, you have to tap into something authentic for you. Expertise emerges over time and comes from the habit of self-reflection and self-assessment. When you think you’ve discovered some expertise, do something with it. Take it out for a test drive. What we know gets stronger when we do something with it. That’s what Cindy Hudson’s did with her platform for Mother-Daughter Bookclub and today she has a book deal.
Q: How can social trend watching (like you’ll find at www.faithpopcorn.com, and which is different than book trends) help fiction writers with their platforms?
CK: Writers are observers, so studying observers of the future like Faith Popcorn can be extremely inspiring. How can you mash up what you already write with what’s coming? For example, one of the trends is “99 Lives,” which refers to people living many roles simultaneously—parent, Internet friend, artist, employee, daughter, wife—and living in many dimensions all at once. A smart nonfiction writer sees book possibilities in this trend. Sees ways to micro-niche to an audience that suits them perfectly.
A savvy fiction writer notices fictional spin-offs. Like what about a story about someone who is so busy that his or her life literally keeps speeding up, up, up and in the end, they finally realize that the only way to slow down time is to…what? Or what about a person who is so into their Web 2.0 life and then one day they can’t make their way back to regular life? How will they find their way home? This is the kind of mashing up of ideas I’m talking about.
And then, in terms of platform positioning, you’ll know some key things about your audience. I’m not talking about being superficial about this. I’m talking about picking up on trends that are meaningful for you to explore as a writer. Trend sites are invaluable to thoughtful writers who are trying to get a finger on the pulse of the future because writing is always a response. Exposure to future trends keeps you viable as a writer today and tomorrow. Studying these sites might spark an AHA! experience, which may have otherwise eluded you.
Q: You wrote, “A lot of writers are already prolific, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are productive. Prolific means you write a lot. Productive means you write with an eye toward the results. I often tell writers, ‘You need to produce yourself.’ By that I mean: Go ahead and be prolific, that’s important. But also shepherd your work into the world.” How do being prolific and/or productive relate to platform building?
CK: Many writers promise publishers they have the ability to make readers seek out and purchase their book. But when it comes time to demonstrate this ability, they can’t deliver. This explains why so many books get into print, only to go right out of print within the year. My mission is to empower writers to be 100 percent responsible for their writing career success and stop looking to others to do their promotional work for them.
When I was writing my first book, Writer Mama, my agent wanted me to think about my vision for my career. I had no idea how to do that. Now I’ve written the book that would have helped me. It shows writers of every stripe how to become the writer who can not only land a book deal, but also influence future readers to plunk down ten or twenty bucks to purchase their book when it comes out. It all starts with a little preparation and planning. The rest unfolds from there.
Platform development is crucial to the sustainability of your writing career. Don’t just think: get a book deal. Think: get book deals. A prolific writer can churn out words. A productive writer closes deals and signs contracts to write the kinds of books she’d love to read.
Q: Please fill in the following blanks: The best thing a writer can do to help build his/her platform is ________________. The worst thing a writer can do to sink his/her platform-building efforts is ___________________.
CK: The best thing a writer can do to build a platform is accept that no one is going to make waves for you and start making waves for yourself.
The worst thing a writer can do to sink their platform-building efforts is do nothing while waiting to be discovered.
Thanks so much, Christina, for a great interview. Readers, you can find Christina’s book, Get Known Before the Book Deal, at Amazon HERE or at bookstores nationwide!