Understanding Author Platform Part 2–All the World Wide Web's a Stage
Photo credit: Thomas Hawk Creative Commons
Last week, in Understanding Author Platform–Part One we talked about how platform has changed in the digital age, why tools of yester-year won’t work and how an outdated approach can do little to eventually drive book sales (and also leave a writer too worn out to create). We also talked about why some experts may make us break out in hives when they try to give us tools to build our author platform. If sales or marketing isn’t our art, then the tools can feel awkward and clumsy and can do more harm than good.
Yes, I am giving you guys permission to hate sales, marketing and PR, but I am not offering permission to avoid building a platform. I have been saying for years that all authors—traditional and nontraditional—needed to have a strong platform.
A strong social media platform takes a lot of pressure off authors, leaving them less stressed out and more able to do their art. A solid platform can assure sales of new books and even revive old titles.
In short, a platform is vital for anyone who wants a writing career.
My two year-old-who commandeered my new iPad 3 is your future reader. Every teen with an iPhone and every college kid with a laptop is a future reader. In a world where bookstores are fading to the pages of history, if you aren’t on social media?
How else will they know you?
Redefining Platform for the Writer-Artist
I feel that, if I’m asking you guys to commit time, talent and energy to build a platform, it is only fair you should understand what I’m asking you to build and why. We need to pan the camera back. We also need to forget all those mind-numbing lectures about metrics and web sites and demographics and target audience, etc. etc.
To change our approach and make social media our art we need to slip on some WANA rose-colored glasses and really see the opportunity we’ve been given. Social media isn’t a free way to advertise and spam people about our book non-stop.
It is our stage.
Meet the Author-Performer
Think of it this way. Technology has finally made it fiscally possible for us to do what other artists have been doing for generations. Platform is getting our art and ourselves out there and getting known. What people then think of us and our art, the emotional response they get from our name and our art eventually becomes our brand.
The problem for writers has been that printing was extremely expensive. Until the Internet and e-books, NY had almost total control over printing and distribution. There was no other way for fiction authors to create a platform…unless they had a ton of cash.
Writers all want to write one book, hit the Beginner’s Luck Jackpot and become world famous for being brilliant. Hey, I’ll admit I wanted that, too. Yet, that almost NEVER happens, even in the traditional sense.
This is like us learning to play guitar, writing some songs, recording a CD on our Mac and hoping a smooth-talking agent drives by our house as we are practicing in our garage, hears our siren’s song and lands us a million-dollar recording deal.
Yeah. Keep dreaming.
No, what do musicians do? Many start playing in church or at the state fair or the local nursing home for FREE. They then get older and better at their craft and their art and play at restaurants, dives, the VFW…for FREE! If they get good enough, they might be able to sell downloads or CDs for $5 a piece. If they keep working hard and getting their art seen by more and more people and people LIKE it they then get bigger breaks.
They get to open, for FREE for a bigger band. If they do enough work and put in enough time and get themselves out there as they are improving their art in ways that create a market for their sound, they are then rewarded with record deals and people are then willing to pay money for their music.
I still remember years ago, I went to an unveiling of the stealth bomber out at Alliance Airport here in DFW. This was a private event before an air show. A sound caught my attention. One of the bands was warming up before they opened the show to the public. It was an all-female country band and they used a banjo, which I thought gave them such a fantastically unique sound. I chatted with them for a while and told them that I just knew they would make it.
That band was the Dixie Chicks.
The same band that was playing for free or close to free at an air show was the exact same band that went on to tour the world, win Grammys and make millions. But they didn’t get that in the beginning just because they were talented and unique. They had to convince others that they were worth the investment.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this. The digital age has changed the learning curve/career path for the writer-artist. Before we wrote and wrote and wrote, and, after enough drafts and submissions we either gave up or we wrote what the gatekeepers were willing to try and sell. Most writers, even after a book deal, failed to ever make a living writing.
That path is still available (for now), and, if that is the way for you, I won’t stop you. I will, however, say that career longevity doesn’t look so hot if you don’t have a platform (those people who dig your sound). Yes, writers have a sound–it is called writing voice.
Yet, now that amateurs can get out and sell books for 99 cents, people in publishing are aghast at the swarm of talentless hacks that will inundate the world with bad books.
These authors are the “free or darn close to free band” we get to listen to at the local bake sale or BBQ pit. If audiences like them, we buy their $5 CD or drop money in a hat. If we don’t? We don’t make eye contact, and the band doesn’t get a second invite. Positive word of mouth will not spread for lousy bands, no matter how great their “marketing” is. Same with bad books.
So, when new writer runs out and slaps up a 99 cent book or a $2.99 book or give books away for free, it is part of building a platform. If the writer uploads a horrible book that gets pummeled with digital tomatoes, he either cries and gives up or he tries again to write a better, more crowd-pleasing book. He performs again and again and he gets feedback a heck of a lot faster so he can tune his art accordingly.
Thus, writers who don’t go the traditional route can build a platform with minimal social media and writing a lot of inexpensive books (playing for almost free at the State Fair)…or we can make social media an extension of our art and rely more on blogging. Since social media relies on a lot of WORDS, we should totally ROCK at this! Or we can do both—write lots of books and do social media. Isn’t technology AWESOME?
Define Social Media as Part of Your Art
Social media is like us being the band that goes to all the parties and all the mixers so people at least get to know us, like us as artists and grow to be loyal fans. Blogging isn’t a chore, it is a demo tape of our artist voice. It is a free performance at a local mall. And, since writing is our art, if we will approach it as such, our attitude toward it will improve because we will be approaching with a totally different intent.
If our intent is to share our passion, to affect people, instead of a chore to be endured and a way to part people from their money, the experience will be more enjoyable for all concerned. Eventually, once people come to love and trust the artist they will be more willing to part with more money to buy the art.
Please Stop “Targeting” Readers—It Makes Them Nervous
That group of people who dig your sound–writing voice–will likely be a certain demographic. This is why it is critical for writers to stop blogging about writing all the time. It limits the audience. This is why I train writers to blog in a totally different way that uses the same voice as their fiction. For more about why blogging about writing is bad, I highly recommend my post Sacred Cow Tipping–Why Writers Blogging about Writing is Bad.
Writers often freeze on words like “target audience” when it is really far simpler than we try to make it. Blogging (the way I teach it, at least) will naturally connect you to your demographic organically, and just like fans are loyal to their bands, readers are loyal to their favorite authors.
They can be loyal to you, too ;).
Does this make you feel better about social media and blogging? What are your thoughts or feelings about my definition of author platform? Feel ready to get your laptop case and go on the digital road? Remember, you don’t have to do it all alone. Make sure you check out the #MyWANA crew. They love being Roadies. They think it makes them more mysterious.
I LOVE hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of March I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.
No Mash-Up of Awesomeness this Week. I am preparing to teach all weekend at the Texas Two Step Conference held by the NTRWA. So for any writers in the DFW area (or who want to drive to the DFW area), come hang out with me! The conference is only $150 and there is going to be a lot of talented people there, including the amazing Candy Havens and Roni Loren. Check out this link for details!