Mon 19 Aug 2013
It’s impossible to throw a rock into the Internet and not have it bounced off an article explaining why an author needs a platform.
Here’s an example from Why a Writing Platform is a Must: 13 Ways to Build Yours by Pearl Luke:
Having a writing platform means that you have an audience, and that you have some vehicle in place to reach that audience when you have books to sell. This platform is as important to those not yet published as it is to established writers.
Before an agent or publisher considers signing you, he or she will do a Google search on your name to see how often it comes up. Publishers can’t afford to do all your promotion for you. They want some assurance that you will be able to help create a buzz about your book. They want you to help sell your books.
According to Chuck Sambuchino in his Create Your Writer Platform, the most common building blocks of a platform include the following (list truncated, emphasis mine):
- A website and/or blog with a large readership
- An e-newsletter and/or mailing list with a large number of subscribers/recipients
- Article/column writing (or correspondent involvement) for the media—preferably for larger outlets and outlets within the writer’s specialty
- Guest contributions to successful websites, blogs, and periodicals
- An impressive social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, and the like)
- Membership in organizations that support the successes of their own
And then I read this by Jane Friedman in a post at Writer Unboxed.
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.
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If you’re a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, memoir, poetry, or any type of narrative-driven work, forget you ever heard the word platform. 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.
Here’s another article by Ms. Friedman on author platform.
So is this woman crazy? Is she attempting to undermine writers? I don’t believe so. Think about it. The number of writers who publish the first book they write is infinitesimal. Many write three or four before an agent or publisher thinks it’s worth publishing. It takes time to write this much, time that for many fiction writers is scarce. Most, even some who have a number of publications, have full-time jobs and/or families demanding their attention.
For the writer, building a platform means participating in writing groups, posting on a personal website or blog, updating a Facebook status, tweeting, going to conferences, and so on. None of these activities help in getting the book finished. If anything, they detract from it.
The first job of any author, and the effort that should consume the most time, is finishing the book. Am I suggesting you move to a cabin in Vermont for three years and eat berries and rabbit stew? Of course not, but be selective in what you do. A writing group is a must. Someone else needs to read your work to help find the weak spots. Attending a conference once a year is a good way to meet authors and publishers interested in your chosen genre. Joining a professional association does the same. On the other hand, a personal blog that hasn’t been updated in two years because the author is too busy (or has lost interest) doesn’t do anything to promote you or your work. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. At the point that your outside activities detract from the work of writing your book, you’ve gone too far.
But I plan to self-publish, you say. Okay, at some point you’ll need to ramp up your social media activities. However, you still have to finish the book.
Chuck Wendig, in DROP THE PEN, GRAB A HAMMER: BUILDING THE WRITER’S PLATFORM, puts things into perspective when he says:
Here’s the thing: a writer without a platform can still get published if he has a kick-ass book, but a writer with a great platform isn’t likely to get published if his book is better off being dragged out behind the barn and shot in the head.
What do you think? I’d especially like to see comments from any publishers or agents who read this. For a new author looking for their first publication, is an author platform important? And for you writers who believe it is, remember that one of the suggested ways to build your audience is to write guest posts for your favorite blog. *wink* *wink*
Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears, Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Interim Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.