I heard the word “platform” a couple of years ago at a writers’ conference but never really understood what it meant. Sure, I got a vague notion it was about marketing, but I felt shaky about how to do so. Nobody ever defined “platform” in any subsequent workshop or conference, yet I did my best to build mine as I completed my manuscript. I made myself a website and later, this blog.
When I sent my first 6 queries, I had 6 followers. The queries came back “NO” so fast I decided I’d better build a sturdier platform. So I joined author Rachael Harrie’s third Platform Building Campaign. After I stuck the badge on my blog, I visited other writer websites and joined the challenges with no real idea of my goals other than submitting a query that would cause an agent to laugh for the right reasons rather than seeing my measly following. I did reach my goal of 100 blog followers, got great query critiques on my blog, and still I procrastinated querying.
I couldn’t put my finger on why. Then I volunteered to teach a social media class for Emerald Coast Writers. I might have been like the blind leading the blind, except I knew I had enough time to research expert advice before the presentation. The night before, with everything else in place for my class, I realized I was still shaky in my understanding of platform. Even though mine was bigger than before, I was in imminent danger of falling off. Time for more research. Yea for the internet! Except I couldn’t find a definition of a writer’s platform that made me happy.
I don’t hold with the idea that you are your platform, or that it’s merely you and your body of work, past and present, although that’s a start. The most fitting definition on Dictionary.com says a platform is “a raised floor or stage used by public speakers or performers so that they can be seen by their audience.” That was better. But when I thought of the proverbial soapbox, I decided my definition of platform would have to include more content.
Merriam-Webster uses the synonyms plan and design, then goes on to this definition: “a declaration of the principles on which a group of persons stands; especially : a declaration of principles and policies adopted by a political party or a candidate.”
That’s even better. Now we have content. Shouldn’t a writer’s principles influence his or her platform’s design? Shouldn’t we all plan our policies to better market to our target audience? We should if we’re serious about attracting readers and selling our work.
That was enough to create a mnemonic to teach what a writer’s PLATFORM should include:
P = Place: Choose at least one place to start positioning yourself for sales, but don’t race. Add more places as time allows. The most visible places get more traffic through Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but the best social media for me to reach my audience may not be yours. Blogger, WordPress, Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, LinkedIn, Amazon, Smashwords, Twitter, the list goes on. You can even make a website. Weebly is free, with templates, easy drag and drop text and pictures, and every widget you could want, plus purchase tools and SEO. Even their paid version is a bargain.
L = Language: This is pure content, a writer’s best tool. Need I say the lack of professional editing gives indie authors a bad reputation in the language department? With the right language, properly edited, we can hook our audience and reel them in with luscious prose. Catch and release, please. We want our readers to live and come back for more. Don’t think of them as small fish. In fact, don’t think of them as fish at all or you may find yourself in deep waters in the middle of a feeding frenzy. Get the picture?
A = Audience: Know them. Decide who you’re writing for and find out which books and bestselling authors they like. Go where your readers go and read what they read. Visit blogs of readers in your genre or their mom’s blogs, if your readers are too young to blog. Mommy blog reviews can make or break the sales of a children’s book, a YA, or an adult romance, thriller, or even horror. If you don’t know your audience, they’ll never want to know you.
T = Targeting: Targeting requires knowing your audience plus narrowing the focus. One editor told me to hang out at the mall and listen to teens talk. But younger teens at the mall are usually with parents and not acting like they would amongst peers. I get better target practice by watching and listening to teens at school and in my neighborhood. If you’re not reaching your target audience, adjust your aim. Tastes and trends change over time.
F = Friendly: I debated using fun because readers want to have fun reading, even if their definition of fun is being frightened. But friendly won out because this principle is key to winning the friendship of other writers who cross-promote and of winning devoted fans to help spread the word. I’ve heard more than one agent mention that having a negative blog is worse than none at all. Be polite and friendly in posting and responding. Note that John Locke didn’t stop blogging until he passed the million sales mark. But he still responds to his readers’ questions.
O = Outreach: Forget trying to fit a square platform in a round hole, become flexible to fit more shapes. Stretch out to include more people in your audience. This goes hand in hand with friendly. Seek new followers. All your communications should increase your circle of influence, but be careful not to spend so much time outreaching that there’s none left to write. Pinterest and Twitter will hog all your time if you let them. Writing in a new genre may give you better outreach.
R = Research: Educate yourself about your subject and your genre.This is more important for non-fiction than fiction, but even fantasy has to stick to a set of rules which vary depending on the age group. Joining SCBWI has netted me valuable knowledge about word count limits and voice as well as agents and editors. Each genre has organizations geared to give us all the information we need to succeed. Use them or your whole platform will fall apart, one reader at a time.
M = Marketing That doesn’t sound quite as greedy as money, LOL. But if you want to sell your work, you’ve got to include a big chunk of marketing in your platform. Even with traditional publishing, first time authors rarely earn out their advances. These days many get little publicity from their publishers. Cross promotion is your best chance of building a network that will make your book release a success. And if you’re an indie, you would do well to follow John Locke’s pricing policy.
So there you have it. My definition of platform is the places, language, audience targeting, friendly outreach, research and marketing writers use. Build your platform with all the attention to detail you would in constructing your dream house, if you ever want to live in one. In the meantime, you’ll become such an expert builder that your platform will grow in size and sturdiness to where you can’t ever fall off. You don’t want to be in the position of the woman at the left. I can guarantee there are authors behind her who paid better attention to building their platforms for maximum sales. Those sharks could be video games, one of the biggest dangers to writers because they eat the good reader fish.
Repeat if you want, but give me credit and link back to this post. You may want my cross promotion someday. I’ve seen some weird codes on twitter. I just use #xpromo. KISS and hugs.
Oops, forgot to mention the links for my class are under the social media marketing tab, top right of my blog. It was a talking paper so what I said about the links isn’t there. Even so, you can read the great info I found about how to get started and which social media tools work to sell books for most platforms. If you don’t have time to check them all, the two most valuable to help you make your decisions are by authors Anne R Allen and Karen Baney. Happy platform building!