This column excerpted from my book, CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM  (Nov. 2012, Writer’s Digest Books), a guide on how to build your visibility, brand, and network to better market yourself and your books. The book includes lots of interviews with literary agents and platform-heavy authors.
I understand why people don’t get enthusiastic about platform building. Writers want to—shocker—write, and then (maybe) spend time talking about their writing journey. But building a blog? Tweeting? Volunteering to be a guest contributor to local radio stations all in the hopes of impressing literary agents? “If I did that, I wouldn’t have time to write!” is something I hear writers often say.
Building your writer platform means increasing your visibility, reach and network in the marketplace. It means creating channels through which you have the ability to sell books. The planks of platform include a successful blog, social media, article writing, public speaking, and more. In today’s publishing environment, nonfiction authors need platform to get the attention of publishers, whereas fiction authors simply want platform, as it will increase their value.
While creating a platform is not something writers generally get excited about in the morning (“Today, I’m gonna build my platform! I’M SO HAPPY!!!!”), I often tell people that there are definite upsides to the endeavor. Here are 5 off the top of my head:
1. Platform gives you a degree of control. In a previous WU column , I discussed how frustrating it is to have such a lack of control over the sales of your book. But platform building means you’re establishing concrete, solid connections through media outlets, with other professionals, and/or through social media channels. If you build these avenues, you can use them to sell books later. Creating a platform is an opportunity to, as writer Alexis Grant once put it, “make your own luck.” If you host a contest on your blog or speak at a writers conference, you are taking matters into your own hands, not waiting on an outside party to possibly have some luck spreading the word about your work.
2. You are your book’s ideal marketer. No one knows the audience(s) of your book like you do. Have you talked to a publicist about marketing a book ? What’s the first thing they ask of you? Your list of e-mail contacts! They know you’re the best person to have contacts, so they mine you first. You know who will buy the book; you know where those people live online; and you know the best message to craft to market your work.
3. Platform is a break from writing. If I sit down to the computer one evening and the inspiration isn’t flowing to crank out a new screenplay, I don’t have to give up on the night’s work. I can still produce by platform building. I can add website elements, or format a blog post, or engage some people over Twitter. It’s easy work that can always be done to further my career. (A word to the wise: Do not get lost in the platform monster. Platform building can be considered “easier” than writing. So it may be tempting to dedicate a disproportionate amount of your time and energy to it.)
4. Platform = money. When you build your platform, you are constructing channels that will help you sell books. And when you do that, you are helping yourself by putting the means in place to sell more copies and make your royalty statement a little bigger. Not only that, but the size of your platform could also influence your advance (upfront money from publishers) — even for fiction. Young adult novelist Elana Johnson previously said that she attributes an amazing $25,000 of her total advance  to successful blogging platforms she had built.
5. Opportunities to build your platform are everywhere. As you build an online presence and network yourself, always be thinking: How can I use this to get me closer to my goals? Is there a way to use this to help my brand, meet new people, or sell books? Consider this: For years, I’ve posted videos of me playing music on YouTube.com. As view counts increased, I realized that the clips served no larger purpose. So I went into the description for each video and added a note about my first humor book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack , then included a link to buy. I don’t know if I’ve sold five books through my adjustment or 150, but I am making an attempt to put all my efforts to good use. (And even if 99.9 percent of those who view the note do not buy the book, they do see the title and therefore learn about the book, building awareness for it. In the world of writer platform and book promotion, it all adds up.)
Consider this other scenario to see platform building in action: Let’s say you run a blog all about local businesses in your hometown and want to interview three owners of printing companies in a roundup for your site. If you can make a clear case to owners about how being interviewed is a great opportunity, then you should have no trouble getting people interested. So whom will you interview? I suggest you find three candidates who are on Twitter and have more followers than the rest of the possibilities—then go after those three first. If they have a solid Twitter presence, they will logically spread the word to their followers to notify others of the roundup. This way, they get more eyes on an interview all about their business. Meanwhile, you’re getting more page views because you’re not the only one promoting the post. Everyone wins, and you get new followers because of whom you strategically chose to interview when you had options.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s by The James Kendall