A long time ago, writers used to be able to write a book, find an agent, get published, and cash their checks. That’s not so today, and there are reasons for it. Publishing houses don’t have the time or staff to coddle new writers like they did back in the day. (Maxwell Perkins edited Of Time and the River by Thomas Wolfe for two years! That would be unheard of today! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell_Perkins ) Another reason is the abundance of information available to a reader. People don’t need to depend on the huge publishing houses for their reading material. Poetry, short stories, novellas, novels, and anything in between is available, and in several instances, for free.
That’s good for us writers, right? We can push our stuff out there, instantly published. Or is it? How do readers find you in the sea of words rolling around in the internet?
More than 700,000 books were published in 2015. Read this article https://www.bkconnection.com/the-10-awful-truths-about-book-publishing?redirected=true for more gut-wrenching statics.
The problem is, the publishing houses have the same issue. With the influx of information, books published on a daily, even hourly basis how do THEY help people find your books? They don’t.
It’s your platform. You, as a writer, need to have a platform. It doesn’t matter if you’re querying and want to be traditionally published—they don’t have the resources to help you on a level they once did.
Where does that leave you? Well, if you see PLATFORM as a hangman’s scaffold, there’s not a lot you can do.
Being present on social media is an expectation from which a writer cannot escape. Not if you want to sell your work. Sure, there are stories out there of people who have made it without a platform, but they are the “overnight successes” like EL James, or the few and far between writers who have a ton of books in their backlist and add more every month. They are the writers who started self-publishing before it was cool and went gangbusters when they were the only ones doing it.
Let me tell you, I went to the Minnesota Writer’s Conference last February. I attended a session about marketing your book, and the speaker told the room you need to have an author website. Half the room wrote that down. Needing a platform still seems to be a new concept to most writers.
So, how do you create a platform? How do you work that into your time? You might feel a little resentful at having to do other things in your small amount of time other than write. Well, from my limited experience, as I am just getting my platform off the ground as well, choose the outlets you like to participate on. That is half the work done, because no one likes to spend time doing what they hate. I love Twitter. If you want to get a hold of me, I’ll respond to you in a couple hours because I’m always there. I also have a Facebook Author Page. I know I need to spend more time on it, but mostly I’m at a loss as to what to post. Usually I just update people on where I am in the writing process, or I share a quote from my work that I especially like. I don’t have many followers, but that is the cycle of social media. You get out of it what you put into it.
There are other avenues you can pursue: Pinterest, Google+, Instagram. Be active on GoodReads. Start your own website, this is essential anyway, and blog on it if you have something to say. Blogging is a great way to reach out, help other authors. Right now, I’m writing a publishing series to help first timers publish their work. It’s slow going, but I’m almost done with it. After that I can blog about other things. I guest post for other authors’ blogs, authors interview me occasionally. If you blog, you can return those favors by interviewing someone, ask someone to guest blog for you. My word of caution here is to not over-extend yourself. Only commit to what you can follow through with. When you build your platform, your reputation is at stake. You need to be dependable with your information, reliable. Positive. Put out good vibes and you’ll receive them in return. I had the opportunity to guest blog for a book review site, but she wanted something once a month. That may not sound like much, but when you only have so much time in the day to write, it’s difficult to commit to something like that, so I passed. It was a tough choice because I knew the exposure would help me, but you need product before you need platform or you’re trying to sell something you don’t have. On the flip side, platform isn’t just about selling. You probably have seen the timelines on Twitter where all they tweet is “buy my book!” You don’t follow them, do you? Or you might out of courtesy because they followed you, but you mute them. There’s no easier way to annoy and alienate someone than to blatantly tell them you want to use them for a sale.
My biggest piece of advice came from Chuck Sambuchino (http://www.chucksambuchino.com/ ), whom I listened to on a podcast not long ago. He said, work on your platform a little bit every day. Follow someone in the publishing industry and retweet or repost their helpful articles. Follow a book blogger in your genre, retweet their reviews, be helpful so when you need help, people are there for you as you have been there for them. Building a platform is give and take. Beta-read/edit for someone. They’ll do it for you. Read indie books, leave a review.
Do a little bit every day, and all your efforts will come back to you, a little by little. Platform-building is daunting and it’s probably why people are not receptive to doing it. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your platform. Build your platform as you write your books, and the two shall meet somewhere down the road and turn your writing into the career you’ve always wanted.
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(Noose photo credit: https://www.turbosquid.com/3d-models/gallows-scaffold-noose-3d-model/617163)
(Printing press photo credit: https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2014/03/lyn-horner/)