Christina Katz recently sent a message to me on Twitter:
Can you do #platformchat this friday from 2-3 EST? I’d love to have you talk about your pre-pub. platform development.
I said yes. Later, I realized this chat would have only two guests: Jane Friedman, the Publisher and Editorial Director at Writer’s Digest, and me.
The event itself went well, though. Christina asked thought-provoking questions about life as a nonfiction writer, fiction writer and blogger. Many of those who’d tuned into the event spread the word and retweeted lines that resonated with them; others asked smart questions, made insightful comments. Once finished, I had about 60 new followers–most of them writers. (You can read the transcript HERE and learn more about Twitter chats HERE.)
Since a lingering effect of the chat has been platform-on-the-brain, that’s the subject of today’s blog post.
What is platform?
In easy terms, platform is what’s available to you so that when you have something to say, you’re heard. In our interview with Christina Katz, she described it like this:
A platform is a promise, which says you will not only create something to sell (a book), but also promote it to the specific readers who will want to purchase it. A platform-strong writer is a writer with influence. Your platform includes your Web presence, any public speaking you do, the classes you teach, the media contacts you’ve established, the articles you’ve published, and any other means you currently have for making your name and your future books known to a viable readership. If others already recognize your expertise on a given topic or for a specific audience or both, then that is your platform. Your platform communicates your expertise to others, and it works all the time so you don’t have to.
How do you build a platform that will stand out?
You build a platform by building a specific reputation, developing a niche, and connecting with others, regardless of what you write. But take care if your plan is to latch your name to a big genre label.
Rosini Lippi blogged recently about Genre Jackets, writing, “Genre is a marketing convenience; it is also a straight-jacket for creativity.”
Genre can be a straight-jacket for your platform as well.
Consider the My Name Is badge. Once your name is on the badge, you’re labeled, more easily identified by your peers. Now imagine that your badge doesn’t just state your name but lists your niche as well. If you’re imagining merely a broad genre—romance, fantasy, mystery, women’s fiction—it may not be enough to help you stand out or grow your platform.
Think about it. There aren’t many authors out there who are so strongly identified with their genre as to almost be the genre, who could really wear the basic genre My Name Is badge and later be recognized for it. Mystery = Agatha Christie. Romance = Nora Roberts. Horror = Stephen King. Fantasy = JRR Tolkien.
You want to compete with that?
Most successful authors have created niches for themselves within their genre (fantasy + historical elements = Juliet Marillier; women’s fiction + foodie goodness + paranormal elements = Barbara Samuel/Barbara O’Neal). Others have grown their platforms strong and wide with successful cross-genre novels (urban fantasy + sci-fi/fantasy + romance = Ann Aguirre, our newest contributor).
What have you done to distinguish yourself within your genre? What is your niche? How many others share that corner of the book world with you? The fewer, the better, as long as the niche isn’t so obscure that your books won’t sell. One of my Twitter friends and I recently joked about crafting zombie cowboy stories. Not a well-known niche, but there’s probably a reason for that!
Okay, you have a well-defined niche–comfortable, not too many people sharing your space. Isn’t that enough?
Not if you haven’t done anything to connect with others. Say you’re wearing your name badge at a party. The place is jamming—people everywhere, some guy wearing a lampshade dancing to YMCA on a table, people hunched in groups of two, three, five. What do you do?
a. find a drink and a corner and hope someone comes to talk to you
b. grab a lampshade and start dancing with the guy on the table
c. mill around, listen in to conversations but without participating
d. find a conversation you like and join in
Option A–hoping someone comes to you–is like starting a blog (or a Facebook page, etc…) but not going beyond your self-crafted borders to make real connections.
Options B & C–both forms of non-participation–are like mute lurking on blogs, message boards and social network sites.
Option D–joining in relevant conversations–is like visiting others in the blogosphere, though social networking sites, etc… and making connections by sharing ideas and links to your site.
Option E is like opting out entirely, which isn’t an option at all.
One of the most efficient ways for an emerging writer to increase visibility and develop connections–to get people to read your badge and remember it–is through the Internet.
Find blogs that ideally have already built platforms similar to the one you’d like to have and become an active member in those communities. Leave comments; don’t just lurk.
If you start your own blog, find a way to distinguish yourself. Kath and I decided early on that we were going to provide empowering info to others through useful posts and interviews, and explore unique, “unboxed” fiction–because that’s what we wrote. Once you’ve defined your online niche, grow it. One of the smartest things Kath and I did was invite published authors into the WU fold, increasing the blog’s credibility. Stick with it, and your blog can become a central component of your platform.
Websites become important once you’ve sold a novel, further revealing your niche. I’m not convinced that they have a high value pre-sale, though some authors say they’ve conected with editors and agents based upon writing samples posted on their website. On the other hand, I’ve heard of writers who invest a hefty sum in a beautiful site thinking they’d be published in X genre, and turns out they were published in Y–or weren’t published in either, but have completely switched gears. This is something that can wait.
Though you have to be careful with social media–it can be a time-suck–its value to writers appears to be great. Twitter is a networking goldmine, a publishing news source, a forum where you can participate in discussions like Christina Katz’s platform chat. It’s the place to ratchet up buzz when you have a novel about to hit the shelves. And it is–in all honesty–a great place to meet new people. I’ve connected with writers of every genre, met people who love to read, and shared messages with book reviewers. Used wisely, Twitter and other forms of social media may be the quickest and most effective means of developing platform available to writers today.
What about local connections? It’s not all about the ‘net, is it?
Local connections are important, too. How can you grow your name in your community? Become involved in things that interest you and know that it doesn’t have to be all about the book; a garden club can turn into an avid group of supporters once you’re published. And if there are opportunities for you to promote your writing in your community, take them. Maybe you can write an article or teach a class. Whatever you do, get out there; don’t be the guy with the lampshade on his head.
That’s all I’ve got, so it’s your turn. What are you doing to distinguish yourself within your genre? What is your niche? How will you be heard?
Write on, all!
Photo courtesy Robert S. Donovan