5 Industry Trends Requiring Every Writer’s Attention

photo by @Doug88888

We’re so glad that former WU contributor Jane Friedman agreed to visit today as a guest, to give us some updates on the state of the ever-changing publishing industry. 

Most writers are aware that the publishing industry is undergoing a range of transformations, new beginnings, failures, and consolidations. But there’s so much change it can be difficult to weed out and understand the most relevant and important changes—especially when hundreds of opinions seem to surround the smallest change.

Based on industry conversations I’ve had in the last six months, as well as reports I’ve read by people I trust, here are five trends that writers should keep a close eye on.

1. Publishing Contracts

When I started working in trade publishing (1998), it was very rare that the company’s boilerplate contract would change. Obviously it was negotiated in minute detail by every agent that came into contact with it—so contracts differed from author to author—but the process always played out by a certain set of expectations or guidelines.

By the time I left trade publishing (2010), the contracts were being tweaked every 6 months to reflect a changing business environment and new opportunities in digital and multimedia publishing. I’m starting to wonder if there will ever be a “typical” contract again, given the increasing number of variables. Consider:

  • The increasing leverage of successful self-published authors (see Hugh Howey and his traditional publishing deal that allow him to keep his e-book rights).
  • New digital imprints or start-ups that offer very different contracts than established outlets—and rightly so, though some are good contracts and others are bad, more on that below.
  • Print publishing deals and distribution rights are becoming more and more like subsidiary rights. In other words, they’re not always the most important or profitable right for an author to license.
  • Foreign and translation rights will become increasingly important as e-book sales grow in international markets.

Unfortunately, most publishing contracts are closely guarded and not available for public review. So what is an author to do? Here’s my advice.

  • Do your due diligence on any publishing contract you sign. Fully understand what rights you’re granting and if it makes sense for your career and what you’re getting paid. If you don’t have an agent to negotiate your contract, consider hiring one on an hourly basis.
  • Think carefully and negotiate hard when it comes to digital-only publishing contracts. Some ebook-only publishers take a healthy share of your profits for doing things you could accomplish on your own. I’m skeptical of many digital start-ups that promise visibility and “talent discovery” when they have no success stories, no better distribution than what’s already available to a self-publishing author, and limited (or no) industry experience. If the publisher isn’t reaching a greater audience than you could on your own, ask yourself why you want to sign a contract with them. What value are they providing?
  • Always double-check how and when rights revert to you (the reversion clause). With traditional publishers, rights often revert after sales fall below a specific threshold. With digital-only publishers, rights often revert after specific time period has passed, or upon written notice. Make sure you understand the terms, and always negotiate for a better deal on this particular clause—to make it easier for you to get your rights back. (For more detail, read Dean Wesley Smith’s post on rights reversion.)
  • Don’t be afraid to walk away from a deal. Too many authors get caught up in the excitement of a publishing offer, and overlook contract terms that could hurt them in the future. If you can’t be hard nosed about negotiations, find someone who can. No deal is better than a bad one.

2. The Evolving Role of Agents

To further complicate matters, your relationship with your agent may be the first contractual obligation you need to consider or reconsider.

Traditionally, an agent takes 15% commission on every book she sells. But what happens when you self-publish some of the titles that your agent couldn’t sell? Or what if your agent sells your work to an imprint that pays no advance and even charges you (the author) upfront fees—a scenario that was briefly on the table when Random House rolled out new contracts for their digital-only imprints? Or what if you get the rights back to older titles that your agent sold, and you want to self-publish them on your own?

It’s a hornet’s nest of complications, but some of the best practices I’ve seen work off some variation of the following:

  • As usual, the agent takes 15% commission only on those books they’ve sold (where there is an advance or the makings of a “traditional” deal).
  • The agent does not take 15% commission on any type of self-published work by the author. However, if the agent is able to sell subsidiary rights or make other deals with that work, then they get their usual share on those specific deals.

Most agents are not interested in selling your work unless an advance is involved (70-80% of books never earn out their advance). However, agents often assist existing clients on all kinds of deals if there’s a longstanding relationship in play. A good agent will be transparent and upfront about how all deals are handled, and will be closely following the evolution of best practices in the industry.

3. The Value and Distraction of Author Platform Building

As far as trends go, the idea of building a platform has been around for at least five or six years now, if not longer. Unfortunately, as time has passed, I’m not sure the discussions surrounding platform—or the common wisdom that gets spread—is any better than it was in 2007, and social media as both marketing tool and creative tool has greatly complicated matters.

The questions that often get asked include:

  • When publishers or agents look at a writer’s platform, what are their criteria? Is it a numbers game? What numbers do you have to reach?
  • Do you need an established blog or website?
  • Must you be on Twitter, Facebook, or the social media site du jour?
  • Do you need to be a “brand”?

I’ll make a bold statement right here that I don’t think I’ve made before.

If you’re a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, memoir, poetry, or any type of narrative-driven work, forget you ever heard the word platform. 

If you’re a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, memoir, poetry, or any type of narrative-driven work, forget you ever heard the word platform. I think it’s causing more damage than good. It’s causing writers to do things that they dislike (even hate), and that are unnatural for them at an early stage of their careers. They’re confused, for good reason, and platform building grows into a raging distraction from the work at hand—the writing.

Therefore, build your platform by writing and publishing in outlets that are a good fit for you, lead to professional growth, and build your network. The other pieces will start to fall into place. It might take longer, but who cares if you’re feeling productive and enjoying yourself? Go be a writer and take a chance on the writing. Writing and publishing good work always supports the growth of your platform—and I’m willing to bet more valuable platform building will get done that way, especially for narrative-driven writers.

Exception to the rule: Nonfiction/non-narrative authors and entrepreneurial authors who are self-publishing. Sorry, but you should probably focus on platform as much as the writing.

If you want more of my take on platform, read my definition here.

4. Transmedia & Authorship

Let’s start by defining transmedia; I’ll lean on Guy Gonzalez here. He wrote the following in 2010:

[Transmedia] focuses on the storyworld first, distribution channels second, with the latter determined via a collaborative process that puts the author’s creative vision at the center. Most so-called transmedia projects are really just cross-media marketing initiatives and/or brand extensions, driven by licensing deals and a parceling out of rights in a manner that often includes loss of creative control by the author. Star Wars is the go-to example of a transmedia property, and while it has definitely evolved into a legitimate one, it didn’t start out that way.

My two cents: Unless you’re already a high-profile commercial author, don’t worry yourself about transmedia. Yes, you will set yourself up better if you’re thinking of expansive storyworlds to begin with (think: Game of Thrones), but unless you already have friends and colleagues involved in media—e.g., app development, audio/video production—you’re probably not going to be shopping around your transmedia project any time soon.

However, when it comes to platform building (which I just told you to forget!), it does help to think beyond blogging, tweeting, and all the text-based forms of communication, and consider the whole world of opportunities available to you, to produce fun, interesting content that complements your published work. Think John Green’s YouTube videos or Seth Harwood’s podcasts or Tweet Speak Poetry.

Which brings me to No. 5.

5. Emerging Tools for DIY E-Books and Multimedia Publications

It’s an explosion. That’s how I’d describe the market for easy-to-use (and often free) tools to produce digital books, magazines, and other tablet-based media. Because these are emerging tools, I can’t point to a specific author project that uses them, but this is good news. You can be among the first. Here are a few to begin exploring:

  • The Periodical.co: Create your own app-driven publication for Apple’s newsstand.
  • iBooks Author: OK, this isn’t emerging any longer—a lot of cool projects have been spun out of this Mac-based software
  • AerBook: create graphic books in your browser without knowing code
  • Graphicly: create visual stories distributed across all major digital platforms
  • BookCreator: create beautiful books for the iPad

What other publishing trends are you wondering about? Ask your question in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

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About Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman has more than 15 years of experience in the book and magazine publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. She speaks around the world at events such as BookExpo America, Frankfurt Book Fair, and Digital Book World, and has keynoted writing conferences such as The Muse & The Marketplace. She currently teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia. Find out more.

Comments

  1. says

    Great post, as always, there’s a lot for us to watch for. I do want to focus one one thing:

    “If you’re a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, memoir, poetry, or any type of narrative-driven work, forget you ever heard the word platform.”

    As a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, I can only say this: HALLELUJAH! Blogging, Facebook, etc. largely hooks up unpublished writers with other unpublished writers. There are definite benefits to this, yes, but I think most expect something from it that it can’t deliver.

    Unless I’ve misunderstood some other things you’ve said about platform (definitely possible) this seems like a bit of a position-reversal, Jane. If so, is there anything in particular that caused you to revisit your beliefs?
    jeffo´s last blog post ..Monday Musing

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  2. says

    Hi Jeff,

    In one of my previous posts for Writer Unboxed, where I discussed whether a writer should focus on writing or platform, I more or less advised the same thing, but in less bold terms. Sometimes it takes the appearance of a position reversal to get the message across: Platform building is being misunderstood and executed in such a way that many new/unpublished writers are better off forgetting about it.

    So it becomes simpler to say: Perhaps platform is best approached as an organic process when you’re new to the field. Too much advance engineering may be interfering more than helping.

    Finally, if lots of people are responding with “Hallelujah” in response to that line (which I expect), then it only further confirms my belief that too many writers have had this concept unproductively shoved down their throats—and any of us who *do* believe in platform (like myself) should limit discussions to those who are eager and prepared to be more strategic about the business end of their careers.
    Jane Friedman´s last blog post ..5 Publishing Industry Trends for Writers to Watch

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    • says

      Thanks for your reply, Jane. I don’t know if a lot of others are shouting “Hallelujah” with me or not. My own response is due to seeing so many in the industry (agents in particular) shouting, “Platform, platform, platform” when they should probably be saying, “Keep writing, keep improving.” Maybe they think the latter goes without saying, but I’ve noticed that a lot of new writers glom onto rules and things that look like rules as if their lives depended on it. Writing should be first.

      And now that I look back, I’m not sure how I misinterpreted your earlier posts on the topic. I’ll chalk it up to faulty memory. Thanks!
      jeffo´s last blog post ..Monday Musing

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  3. says

    What a great article. It really feels like the self-pubbed industry is starting to mature a bit when articles like this come out. Hugh Howey had one recently on his website where he said his opinion was that authors shouldn’t worry much about promotion until they had ten books written. I write pretty slowly, but I’m looking at trying a bundle of three short stories sold as a novella so I can try to fill the gap a bit.
    Christian Frey´s last blog post ..We Apologize of the Inconvenients

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    • says

      Christian,
      I like that word: “maturing.” These topics matter so much more than sound bytes or people running to the newest shiny button to push.

      Everything Jane talks about here requires some for of commitment and understanding, and I think she is so great and helping writers prioritizing the laundry list of advice being thrown at writers.

      Thanks.
      -Dan
      Dan Blank´s last blog post ..How to Build the Relationships You Need to Become a Successful Author

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    • says

      I like this approach but I doubt I have enough time left to write ten books! I would like to finish five more but that is likely my limit.

      But I do agree with not jumping into social media right away. The time invested would be better spent on writing and editing, even working two books at a time would be an improvement because it would still be honing my writing skills. Once you leap into the quagmire of social media, and try to learn it all, the process becomes overwhelming. Unfortunately I find that once I start something I hate to give up, I need to do it right. Its still a challenge that I’m working on it but not as aggressively.

      If you are young this will be easy but for those of us who are no longer spring chickens it is a major challenge and takes much more time than I would like. I believe that if you write what you feel passionate about ultimately it will be successful, even if it only appeals to a small audience. Having it read and appreciate will be enough.

      Good luck to all you new writers which ever way you decide to go.
      ML Gomes´s last blog post ..My Father vs My Daddy

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  4. says

    So much to ponder. The advice I receive centers on writing a great book. Now, it seems that’s just the beginning of a writer’s journey. Thanks for the list.
    Mary Jo Burke´s last blog post ..Hello world!

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  5. says

    Really juicy post, Jane, thank you. I’m psyched to explore the links in #5.

    I feel that platform-building is a fun, challenging, stimulating, rewarding art in itself + it’s really too bad that the conversation around it (at least for writers) has been kind of limited + discouraging.

    Maybe the problem is it taps into so many different areas — blogging, social media, personal branding, content marketing, creative entrepreneurship (terms which generally make a writer cringe, flinch, roll their eyes) — that the learning curve is steeper than it would appear (it’s not just about posting updates on Facebook and Twitter). If you’re not genuinely enthusiastic about any of those disciplines you’re going to be resentful and wonder why you have to bother with any of this freaking stuff.

    Platform-building also demands a lot of self-awareness — who you are, what you represent, what you write, who you write for — some of which unfolds itself to you as you go (which makes it a process of self-discovery as much as anything).

    Maybe we just need to see more examples of it being done *well* — by writers who don’t already have a following — before we as a community can more fully buy into it. But I, for one, am still in awe at the opportunities to directly grow your own audience and the possibilities this opens up. The future promises to be a very interesting place.

    Thank you again for all your insights + wisdom.
    Justine Musk´s last blog post ..18 principles for highly creative living

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    • says

      Justine, you’re one of those people who has developed a unique blogging voice over a period of years. I’d contend you’re leading the way in establishing the blog as a new writing form that stands on its own.

      There is only one of you, and that’s very clear. You raise the bar and challenge us all to find new ways of developing our voice. I’ve learned to listen very carefully to you but not try to do what you do. I’ve learned from you to zig and zag along my own path and make my own clearing in these dense woods.
      Cyd Madsen´s last blog post ..Irrational Childhood Fantasies

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    • says

      100% with you, Justine. As soon as writers hear the word “platform,” I wish I could send them to folks like you and Dan Blank for a primer on it, to illustrate how it IS fun, challenging, and stimulating.

      I think your theory is correct—that because platform encompasses SO much, it can suck away a writer’s energy when they think about it, especially if they can’t find an entry point that helps illustrate the potential and generates enthusiasm for the long haul.
      Jane Friedman´s last blog post ..5 Publishing Industry Trends for Writers to Watch

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      • says

        Yes, Jane, this whole “Should I blog?” thing seems a morass. I’ve been doing it for almost 3 years now, but I’m lucky: I don’t rely on income from writing. I will say this: I went to bloggers’ group meeting discussing how to generate audience. One woman said she writes about “Musical instruments in 17th. century England.”I asked “How’s that working for you?” (believing she’d say her audience is tiny, indeed.) Not the case. She’s brilliant–got legions who follow her because she found an underserved population–WORLDWIDE!!! My genre? “Encouragement” If one Googles the category, I’m there, with all the Christian groups (I’m not that.) So, I’m in a very big pie, grappling for attention. I’ve learned, a targeted niche audience is better…

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    • says

      Justine,
      As usual, I love your perspective here. Yes, platform when done well is a craft unto itself, and something deeply rewarding.

      Where I tend to see conversations around platform go off the path is when it is shoved into the panic of promoting and selling a book.

      What I find again and again in my work with writers is relief that author platform is not about spamming people on social media, but about communicating based on shared purpose, and developing trusting relationships.

      Also: I agree with Cyd on how inspiring you are to others in your own platform!

      Thanks.
      -Dan
      Dan Blank´s last blog post ..How to Build the Relationships You Need to Become a Successful Author

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  6. says

    Add another Halleluiah! to the list. I blog and suck at it. The choice had been whether to spend time and resources on being a better blogger, or spend that time on becoming a gooderer writer (I think that’s evidence I should focus on the latter). There is a bigger and better platform for me, and that’s the route I’ll take. Good riddance to my own rubbish.

    The changes you point out in publishing make me wonder if a good attorney is the newest! bestest! most needed! addition to a writer’s team. You do such a good job building awareness of these traps, but will writers recognize the lingo of these traps when they see them?

    What role, if any, do you see in face-to-face networking through conferences and real life seminars. Will they grow in importance? It seems the pendulum always keeps swinging, and perhaps we’ve swung far enough to the virtual side to knock us back towards the tactile, gee-he-needs-a-breath-mint side of it all. Would you suggest more time and resources spent in these areas?

    Thank you. You stand as the guardian angel of writers everywhere.
    Cyd Madsen´s last blog post ..Irrational Childhood Fantasies

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    • says

      Hi Cyd,

      I don’t know about a good attorney (they need to be a particular type of attorney who understands the publishing industry—not any will do), but there’s value in a good agent, even if on an hourly basis, if you’re new to publishing contracts.

      Conferences are almost always a terrific investment. It shortens the learning curve, helps you get straight answers to questions you may struggle to find online, and connect with industry professionals. Online events can be helpful, too, but when you’re at an event in-person, it reduces the distractions and multi-tasking, and forces you to focus on one thing: writing and professional development. If you want to do something wonderful for your platform, attend a strong conference for 2-3 days.
      Jane Friedman´s last blog post ..5 Publishing Industry Trends for Writers to Watch

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      • says

        Jane,
        Thanks again for great advice for first-timers. I plan to attend the NY Writers Digest Conference in NYC in April – mainly to meet agents for my memoir. Do you advise contacting any participating agents in advance with short proposal as below? Will that help when you meet in person?
        Best wishes,
        Judy Glass
        (Former stringer for New York Times for 15 years; award-winning medical and financial writer, well-traveled with loads of interesting stories to tell. Now teaching college online Creative Writing and Journalism classes.

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      • says

        Yes to conferences! I can hardly wait to attend the MWG conference in St. Louis next month. One of the sessions on my list to attend will be Janet Cannon’s session on how to use the computer more effectively.

        It is so much fun to meet people at the conferences, sit down and have a drink or eat a meal with a table full of new people! LOVE IT!!

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    • says

      Cyd,
      I’ll just chime in here from my own experience, that live events are so valuable because they offer an opportunity to differentiate. They rely on age old ways of how people connect: via eyes/faces/voice, and dare I say: touch. (handshakes!)

      I also think this applies to author platform, so many people do it poorly, that it becomes an opportunity for other writers to do it WELL and truly build meaningful relationships with readers. And this too can involve eyes/faces/voice, and dare I say: touch. (still handshakes!)

      Thanks!
      -Dan
      Dan Blank´s last blog post ..How to Build the Relationships You Need to Become a Successful Author

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  7. says

    Jane, I absolutely love this! The last time you told us we don’t have to blog. I’ve been burned out for some time now. All the blogging was taking writing time away. But everyone said I had to blog. (Unpubbed, querying agents at this time) So I kept on blogging. My blog was hacked which made matters worse. I have been unblogging in 2013. (My term) It means stepping away most of the time and stepping back in to remind folks I blog. Now I KNOW I don’t HAVE to do that at all. *whew* This post needs to be read by all authors. Just as your last one. (I forwarded it to many)

    The branding thing is something I never really understood anyway. I just want to write. I think of the great authors of yesteryear. They did NOT worry about branding. Of course, they didn’t have the internet either. But my name is out there. Writers know me. Is that enough? I’m querying. And writing more than ever. I long to be a writer with her typewriter. Doing what she loves best. She’s creating. Thanks Jane. As always. *waving and smiling*

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    • says

      Robyn,
      I really appreciate that you are changing your blogging routine to only sharing when you have something meaningful and well-crafted to share!

      Nice.

      A blog post should not be a commodity, but rather, it should be a connection with the reader.

      I would disagree that writers from the past didn’t worry about marketing their work. It was no easier to get published then as it is now, and no easier to get read. Relationships were critical to being a writer then as they are now.

      Lots of examples of this, but I don’t have time to dig them up. But these Hemingway ads for beer do make a point:

      http://danieldalton.me/post/25064219438/ernest-hemingway-ballantine-beer-ad

      Thanks.
      -Dan
      Dan Blank´s last blog post ..How to Build the Relationships You Need to Become a Successful Author

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      • says

        I agree that I mis-thought that one Dan. Hmm. Mis-thought. Not sure that’s word. But I don’t think it was front and center for the writers that came before us. Their writing came first.

        It seems to me that now we’re told to market before we even have agents. Marketing takes a lot of time. Branding takes a lot of time. I’ve decided to quit blogging. But look around for posts I can contribute to, so I can keep my name out there. Guest posts and the like. I know a lot of writers who might like a break or two. I’m on twitter and FB also.

        But the Hemingways and the classic guys and gals wrote first. Then with the extra time they might have branded or advertised themselves. These days writers are doing all the extra and NOT writing and then feeling like frauds. You know? I’ve had writers say that to me. That’s NOT a good thing.
        Robyn Campbell´s last blog post ..This Is For You Renn!

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  8. says

    Thank you for this post! This is a great run-down for newbies like myself. To me, it underlines the fact that agents are necessary in this quickly-evolving world.
    Onward and upward!
    (now to stop working on my platform and start working on my book, haha!)
    Laura Lee´s last blog post ..Getting back on the horse

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  9. says

    Question on publishing trends: do you think supernatural thrillers (horror books) are on the rise? I’m seeing on these internet bookclubs (Goodreads, Shelfari, Library Thing) in increase in people reading not only the classic horror stories but also more women reading horror and supernatural thrillers. Do you have any info or stats on what are the reading trends for fiction now? Thanks!
    Paula Cappa´s last blog post ..Defying Death, Bloody Jack Is Back

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  10. says

    Jane,
    I love this so much I hardly know where to begin!

    For the author platform portion, I just crafted a long response and submitted it to Huffington Post as my first post for them. When it gets posted there, I’ll share the link.

    In short: I appreciate how you approach these topics with the seriousness that they deserve, and are honest with writers that their careers require different types of commitment and serious decisions to choose when and when not to pursue certain opportunities.

    Okay, I’m going to reread your post again, and then onto the comments!
    Thank you!
    -Dan

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    • says

      Wow, looking forward to that, Dan!

      The thing that most frustrates me about the platform issues: regardless of where I go (online or off), a writer (or even a professional) will equate platform to “you need to blog and be on Facebook and Twitter.”

      That’s about as helpful and accurate as saying that the key to writing and publishing a successful book is to get yourself a box of No. 2 pencils and a copy of Microsoft Word.
      Jane Friedman´s last blog post ..5 Publishing Industry Trends for Writers to Watch

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        • says

          Dan and Jane,

          There is definitely a huge lack of understanding about what it takes to build platform in a meaningful and engaged manner. I think that’s why so many writers balk at getting on social networks. They think they are just going to Tweet or post status updates about what they ate for breakfast. They think they are going to comment on the silly photos their friends post. They see this as a waste of time. They have no idea what is really entailed. And what is entailed does take time, but it has much meaning and great reward if done well.
          Nina Amir´s last blog post ..Writing Prompt: Will You Participate in the National Day of Prayer?

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  11. says

    Jane, could you hear the great, collective sigh of relief from many of us writers who have gotten bogged down in blogging and social media? Keeping up my blog has become a source of anxiety and a distraction. I enjoy it when a topic strikes me as interesting and important to write about, but the whole editorial calendar/strict schedule thing just isn’t for me. So I will continue to blog as inspiration strikes but stop feeling guilty for giving my fiction writing top priority.

    There’s much more wisdom here, too–an article to file and re-read, for sure. Thank you!
    Gerry Wilson´s last blog post ..Polio Summer

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  12. says

    So good to have you back visiting WU, Jane. We sent you off with warmest wishes but we have missed you. Thanks for coming back to visit the old ‘hood.

    It’s so refreshing to have your supportive and liberating message putting platforming in a less demanding and overbearing perspective. ‘I write, therefore I am’ not ‘I platform, therefore I am’.

    You ‘de big momma of publishing understanding.
    alex wilson´s last blog post ..Why do it?

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  13. says

    So many great points here already.

    I agree with Justine that platform building is “a fun, challenging, stimulating, rewarding art in itself,” and I agree with Dan Blank that it is a craft and deeply rewarding. And it is about so much more than blogging and tweeting. It’s so hard to communicate that to new writers…or even established authors.

    Jane is right to tell those who find this activity overwhelming and totally uncomfortably not to do it. And some writers may never need a platform to get published. For novelists and memoir writers, their extraordinary stories and writing may be enough. So, they should focus on their writing.

    That said, a platform benefits every writer when it comes to selling books, and that’s why publishers do scream, “Platform, platform, platform.” They are looking for good publishing partners–writers who can help sell books, and the larger our platform (they believe) the better job we, as writers, will do selling books. Yet, studies have shown it isn’t about large numbers of followers; it’s about engaged followers. A small platform that is very engaged–commenting, sharing, etc.–will actually serve you better. Quality, not quantity counts.

    Speaking has been mentioned here: I’m a firm believer in getting out and meeting people, and I think that builds platform faster than any other methodology. That said, I love blogging, and I do believe it’s a great way to build platform and to tie into social networks.

    But you have to find this activity fun, stimulating, rewarding…you have to see how it serves you and your book(s). When you can do that, when you can see how it will, indeed, help you succeed as an author, you are more likely to engage in platform-building activities and to do them in a meaningful manner–in a way that actual builds an engaged audience. I think that’s the key.

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  14. Lisa says

    Thanks for this, Jane. You are confirming what I’ve thought for a long time – as a unpublished fiction writer my best time spent is on the writing. I think we can get excited about the “Platform” thing because it’s a spotlight shining on “us”, and in our fame-driven culture suddenly we feel like we’ve arrived. I want that spotlight to be on my work, NOT on me, so I’d better make the work worthy of the spotlight, no? I’m not worrying too much about the platform thing at this point, just hoping that the work I do will eventually build that platform for me, rather than the other way around.

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  15. says

    Ah, so good to have our zen-master mentor here. As you can see by the comments, you are so appreciated by our community!

    I like something Dan said above, about the point of blogging/social media is forming a connection to the reader. I’ll second that. I’m enjoying blogging much more than I dreamed. I think it’s because, like Robyn, I only write a post when I feel like I have something to say (or work out for myself). And I appreciate the conversation in the comments (for me it’s the best part). It’s two-way communication!

    I think it’s the same reason facebook remains my wheelhouse vs. the other social platforms. It may have started because of the WU fb group, but have good connections and two-way conversation there that I never developed on Twitter or G+. Last year I decided not to fight that, in the same way I stopped forcing blog posts just to keep a schedule. I enjoy my connections on fb, so I quit trying to force myself to do more than I’m comfortable doing elsewhere.

    But I will still add a hallelujah, and keep working on improving my work and focusing on two-way communication with my community! So nice to see you here again, Jane, even though I follow you elsewhere. Please come back often!
    Vaughn Roycroft´s last blog post ..Keeping the Faith (In Spite of All Contrary Evidence)

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  16. says

    Thanks for sharing the advice. On the unpublished author platform, it’s a relief to know we don’t have to do everything. But I do think it helps to start establishing it and your network of writer friends before getting an agent. I know I’ve learned a ton from blogging and reading others blogs (and it sucks time away from writing). The problem with not having a platform is that some agents are looking to see if you have one in deciding on representation.
    Natalie Aguirre´s last blog post ..MINDEE ARNETT INTERVIEW AND THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR GIVEAWAY

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  17. says

    Good discussion here of Jane’s comments on platform — and I appreciate what I’m gleaning from Jane, Dan, Justine, Nina, Vaughn and others: while we tend to think of platform for fiction as being “loud and out there,” it’s much more a matter of following your own natural inclinations, finding your own voice, and building community. Which means different things for different writers, for different books, and at different stages in our careers.

    But I also want to acknowledge Jane’s comments the other 4 trends. I’ve been on the fringes of organizing a small writers’ conference (Authors of the Flathead–Jane spoke to us in 2011), and it’s clear that writers still have a lot of questions about contracts, whether they still need an agent and why, and the whys, hows & whats of DIY. Trans or multi-media, not so much that I’ve heard – but some, esp among younger writers and in some genres. Thanks for touching on those as well.

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    • says

      Yes, Leslie. Jane has offered great information on contracts.

      I, for one, would never sign one without an agent’s advice. Many years ago I received a contract when I was unagented. I used the book “Be Your Own Literary Agent” to help me understand the contract to some extent, and then I took my questions and concerns to an agent who was also a lawyer and paid for her services. Since then, as Jane said, contracts have begun to change so quickly, I would never want to go it alone with a traditional publishing deal.

      The contracts offered by subsidy publishers and by Amazon should also be read carefully.
      Nina Amir´s last blog post ..12 Parts of a Perfect Pitch for a Nonfiction Book

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      • says

        Nina, you’re right. There used to be sample contracts floating around, via MWA and Authors’ Guild, but I don’t know if that’s still the case. I’m also a lawyer, so I read them and read about contracts to help me understand the business. When I signed a small press contract in 2009, I felt I had a pretty good understanding, and was able to negotiate for myself. The big house contract I signed last year was pretty dense, and while I got most of it — and had an agent to explain what I didn’t — I think it’s probably Greek to most people. And if something hasn’t been addressed, the average writer may not know what to look for or ask. But neither will the average lawyer — it’s really critical to have someone with publishing experience on your side.

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  18. says

    This is an amazingly packed post. Not just the platform stuff that we’re all responding to, but the contract discussion as well as the list of tools for e-books and multimedia presentations — I’ll have to make time to go through those links on a day I don’t put up a blog post ;-)

    Count me as another unpublished writer who really enjoys blogging. I, like Vaughn, like to work things out in my blog. And Justine Musk was a big part of getting me started blogging — she’s an inspiration.

    As a novelist, I also appreciate the opportunity to get words out there on a regular basis. It takes a long time to write (draft, redraft, redraft, etc.) a novel, but a blog post is something I can produce in a couple of hours and put up there and get feedback and have a conversation. It’s something I can *finish.* Which feels pretty significant some days. It has led to other opportunities for me, although it hasn’t helped get me a publishing contract. Yet :-)

    Thank you for all this wonderful information.
    Natalieahart´s last blog post ..Why I Do What I Do

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  19. says

    Great to read your thoughts on platforms. There are only so many hours in the day and I’d rather spend what little free time I have on writing fiction and getting better instead of blogging and doing the social media thing.
    H.L. Pauff´s last blog post ..It’s Time

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  20. says

    This is such a fantastic (and fascinating) discussion!

    One thing that I haven’t seen come up yet with regard to platform is whether or not you need to earn a living from your writing and/or activities surrounding your writing.

    I feel fortunate because, like Justine, I find author-preneurship exciting and creatively rewarding. It’s not difficult to do something you love. I don’t love the platform/business work as MUCH as writing, but I do love it and strongly believe it can be an enjoyable part of your creative life if you do it in a way that’s authentic to you.

    People often compliment me on my platform efforts, usually followed by a lament that they don’t “do enough” of their own. I usually ask them two questions. 1) Can you live off the royalties to your writing and know that you will be able to for the foreseeable future? If the answer is yes, then sure, you don’t need to worry about platform. If the answer is no, then I ask question 2) Do you need to be able to earn a living from your writing as your sole career? Often the answer to this question is no because the person has a day job, a supportive spouse, etc.

    BUT, for those of us who DO need to earn a living from writing and writing-based activities (such as speaking, school visits, developing products for writers), I don’t see how you can do that without a strong platform.

    My two choices as a recently-divorced mother of two young children are 1) go out and get a “real” job that will most likely require me to work in an office for a specified number of long hours that are mostly set outside of my control, or 2) make this writing thing work, have the flexibility I want and need for my kids and do what I love.

    So in addition to considering what genre you write and whether you enjoy platform-building, people must also factor in whether or not they need to earn a viable income. IMHO

    Thanks for starting this great discussion!
    Julie Hedlund´s last blog post ..In the “Storyapp” Spotlight with Melissa Northway

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  21. says

    I do the best I can with my two blogs at this point, in terms of building a platform. I’ll get a Facebook page for my book, not for me, to sell that, when that gets done, and I get an agent. But I have to admit that I’m hoping my work sells so well that a Facebook page or a website will suffice, or I can hire someone to create and maintain all that for me.

    I’d rather just write all the novels, short stories and memoirs that I have on my plate.
    Steven E. Belanger´s last blog post ..Guilt by Jonathan Kellerman

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    • says

      Steven, if you plan to write more than one book, you might reconsider your plan to put the FB fan page in the book title rather than your own name. IMO, platform is about you AND your work, not just the book. Yes, we all want to focus on the work, but the writer is at the hub of the wheel. When you meet folks at a conference, or when you speak to Rotary or run into an old friend and tell him about your novel, it’s your name they’ll remember, not the title.

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  22. says

    What an invaluable article. I, too, have wondered about the “value and distraction” of devoting so much time to building author platform. Especially when one works a day jobs (as most writers do), there are only so many hours in the day. So we have to choose very judiciously and distinguish between what will be really useful and what is simply the easy lure of the Internet, social media and the ego fest therein. The best writer payout is to truly reach or inspire readers.

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    • says

      Aine,
      I love this: “The best writer payout is to truly reach or inspire readers.”

      To me, and I am biased, I do feel that this can include what a great author platform creates. Too many writers focus only on the date of publication and on sales figures. But a well crafted platform does exactly what you say: it helps to reach more people, and to ensure your work affects them positively.

      Thanks!
      -Dan
      Dan Blank´s last blog post ..How to Build the Relationships You Need to Become a Successful Author

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      • says

        Yay! I love this stream. In my class, Author of Change, we talk about this exact aspect of platform building–that with a strong platform you can actually inspire more people via your writing (to take up your cause, create change in their lives or to create change in the world). If you are writing a book that you hope will, in fact, inspire readers in some way, this is good reason to want to build platform. It will serve you well!

        Personally, I find that I get more messages from people on Facebook and Twitter and in my blog comments (or email) telling me I’ve inspired them, or I’ve changed their lives because of something I wrote on my blog, than through my books. And I’d equate that to my platform-building efforts. That keeps me building platform for sure!

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  23. Ronda Roaring says

    Jane, thanks for this informative post. It’s going to take me a while to digest everything.

    You mentioned hiring agents on an hourly basis. I’d never heard of this. How does one go about finding agents that will work this way?

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  24. says

    Hi, wonderful post and thanks. Wanted to know if anyone here has some actual experience working with the suggest platforms in Item number 5?

    Thanks,
    Elizabeth

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  25. says

    Thanks again for your wonderful posts. Platform came organically as I’m a historian and writer. I was already giving talks and workshops. My self-pub novel has a subject that interests people so I was accepted into a state-wide humanities program, but I don’t blog on that. I blog when I want to one subjects that range from family history, writing historical fiction anything historical. I could not post for several weeks. I do tweet, but I’m looking for articles on the publishing industry, writer friends. Mainly, I’m writing and researching. That’s my top priority but it’s nice to know that you don’t have to do it.
    JLOakley´s last blog post ..Next Big Thing Blog Hop

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  26. says

    Thank you, Jane, for this informative and helpful post. I am weighing in late here, because I just discovered you after a friend sent me a link to this post.

    I, too, am happy to hear your advice about platform. Even though I have a successful blog (aboutamish.blogspot.com), which just turned to 400K hits three days ago, I have never warmed up to FB and Twitter. I find it a waste of time and it depletes my creative energy. When I post something new to my blog, however, I feel energized and ready to write more of my second book.

    I do have a question about a publishing trend. When trying to decide whether to spend time finding an agent or putting my energy into self-publishing, I find myself torn between these two options. My first book was published by a university press, and my numbers are approaching 10K books sold in two years (and this with distribution SNAFUs at crucial times). Most of the marketing was done by myself (and a publicist for several months after my appearance on American Experience). I could probably lament all this, but in all honesty, I have gained so much from learning the business and marketing end of publishing, so that I CAN actually self-publish. I have done more than 125 speaking engagements, so I now have a successful speaking business going. Yet, I know that self-publishing excludes me from certain markets, such as B&N bookstores, Ingram, and Baker and Taylor and many major reviewers will not bother to review a self-published book. I do know that the nearly 8K people I’ve had in my collective audiences are eagerly anticipating my second book.

    Any advice?

    Thank you again for your helpful advice to writers and authors.

    Saloma Miller Furlong

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    • says

      Hi Saloma,

      One question to ask is whether your book requires physical/traditional bookstore distribution to be successful for you. The more you think your audience either requires that hard copy—or will discover your book by random browsing—the more you probably need that publisher.

      However, it sounds like you have a strong relationship and community with your readers, and you can connect with them directly, in which case, self-publishing might be the better path. Physical store distribution isn’t as important as it used to be, unless that’s really what your readership requires.

      Final note: You can always self-publish/e-publish first, and later partner with a publisher. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one way or the other. (Publishers are not biased against successful self-pub efforts; they’re seeking them out.)
      Jane Friedman´s last blog post ..Your Story Opening: Shock vs. Seduction

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      • says

        Thank you very much for answering my question. I have thought about going the epub route, but I need a physical book to sell/sign at my venues. Are publishers biased against someone who has done well with POD books, or is that also a plus?

        I think my book is probably right on the cusp… I don’t know if store distribution is important. That is part of what makes my decision so confounding.

        Finding the right agent/publisher requires time and effort… so does self-publishing. My dilemma is where to put my efforts.

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  27. says

    Great post. There are a few things that have changed in agency agreement as well. . Especially as it relates to self publishing. If the agent has worked to develop the authors manuscript and tries to sell it but can’t there are clauses now that ask the author to pay a fee for the development work.

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  28. says

    Hi, Jane!

    Great post. I should have listened to you the summer of 2011 when I was “shopping” for a publisher. Too impatient to wait, I forged ahead. I’m not sure when I will have all my rights back, but it won’t be a minute too soon.

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  29. says

    My rule is write books first and everything else comes second. It’s not either/or, though. Time and energy management allows both. Building your platform early is valuable to connect with others and find allies. When you eventually need that author platform, it will be built taller and stronger with a following, friends, a track record and better SEO. I turned one pillar of my platform into two books about writing and publishing so nothing was wasted.

    I made mistakes early on. I worked too hard at promoting my first book when I should have been concentrating on writing more books. Now that I’ve got eight books with more coming, I’m glad I started early. With three blogs, two podcasts and other social media, I manage it all, but the core writing is always my first priority.

    Thanks for a great, thought-provoking post.

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  30. says

    Great advice and perspective. Your comments on platform for unpublished novelists will generate some discussion in my writers association.
    One thing I would suggest is that anytime you’re looking at doing a deal with a publisher, agent, or especially–self publishing house–Google their name and the word “lawsuit.” You might save yourself a lot of headaches.

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  31. says

    Jane, this is something I’ve noticed myself over the last few years. When i first heard about blogging and platform as a newbie writer I juggled both and worked hard to build up my following. I don’t regret it for a minute cuz it’s opened many doors and networks. But having also witnessed many debut authors with no platform at all step in and become bestsellers based on content alone, it helped me realize I was beating myself to death for something that’d be automatic with a brilliant story.
    PK Hrezo´s last blog post ..My Top Ten Best Movies

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  32. barry knister says

    Thanks for writing so well yourself, and for debunking the conventional wisdom about the crucial role of social media. I think you’re absolutely right in saying it’s not important for unknown writers. I would only add that money spent by unknowns on professional proofreading and editing, along with professionally designed covers, and carefully crafted book descriptions (a la Mark Edwards’ advice) are what need to be emphasized. Thanks again. What you have to say is invariably worth knowing.

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  33. Laura Moe says

    Yes, I am with everyone else about saying hallelujah on NOT worrying about platform. Thank you for Giving me one less thing to worry about.

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  34. says

    As a new writer (with one upcoming publishing credit to my name) what I know about platform is that it’s made me distrust agents. I stopped worrying about platform and focused on my writing and finding my voice when I saw my ‘dream’ agent jump over chairs at a writer’s conference to get to a speaker and try to convince that speaker to write a book (the speaker politely said no while the agent kept shoving a business card at her). I realized that for agents it’s never about the writing, but how they can make money from a book, ergo ‘platform’.

    But, I do know the importance of a business plan and career building and how much work and time away from writing that will take. But I just don’t like to call it platform because it really is much more than a Facebook page and a blog. To me it’s really more like starting a business.

    But writing well comes first.

    Thanks for ‘giving’ new writers permission to focus on the writing. Wish I’d heard that advice years ago.

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  35. says

    Who might be a good agent for a self-published author, or can you just get me in touch with a reputable source?

    I have no platform and I write non-fiction, mainly interviews of people I respect. I emulate the great Studs Terkel, but I am completely unknown to an audience of potential e-readers. I am currently writing my third Acquaintances With Integrity book. We all know many people who seem to make the right decisions at the right time consistently. Such people have greatly affected my life.

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  36. says

    Hi Jane,
    You have no idea what a relief it was to see the words ‘forget you ever heard the word platform’. I thought I was alone in feeling like social media sites like Twitter were killing my desire to write. It seemed like I was whispering in a screaming crowd. I hated the idea of constantly flogging myself and my work. Getting permission to opt-out is much appreciated.

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  37. says

    Very interesting that you think the author platform can be a distraction. I can see this. Luckily I’m one of those authors that love the social network scene. Thanks for all of this valuable information.

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    • says

      Thanks for the reply Jen. You are one of the lucky ones. Not having a need to keep up, it is now a challenge but coming along. I’m learning something new most days. Fortunately I enjoy learning new things and I have several collage age nieces who seem to be quite good at all this.
      ML Gomes´s last blog post ..Letting Go

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