Understanding Author Platform Part 1–Making Platform our Art
Image from Street Art Utopia.
One of the words writers hear a lot of is “platform.” What is it? How do we get one? How much time do we need to put in on social media for it to count? Do we get time off for good behavior? All good questions, but before I address them, I’d like you guys to understand something very important:
Author platforms are not the same as they used to be.
If we fail to understand how author platforms have changed, we will look as ridiculous as the guy trying to hitch horses to the front of an automobile. Not only will we look silly, but it will only be a matter of time before we give up in frustration, because nothing we do seems to work.
Platforms Once Were Easy to Control, Thus Easy to Measure
Back in the day, platforms were generally only available to those who could afford one. Hiring a PR expert, distributing a newsletter and even building a web site were all extremely cost-prohibitive. Sure, one could also build a platform by doing speaking gigs or writing articles for publication, but one had to establish credibility before getting a toe in the door, so we are right back to platform went to only a handful of individuals.
And if we happened to be fiction authors, then just forget about building a platform. It was simply too expensive. The only way we had of building a platform or brand was through publishing our books…and that, too, only went to a slim percentage of people who made it through gatekeepers.
Additionally, platforms used to be built in ways that were easy to quantify and measure–I.e. how many clicks on a web site, how many attendees for a speech, etc. In The Old World—B.F. (Before Facebook)—it was easier to measure our influence because our brand/platform was relatively static. It was easy to measure how many people tuned into a radio show, a morning show, and how many “clicked to buy” after these types of events.
PR experts would create an image and that image remained largely unmodified unless it wasn’t working…or the “subject” decided to go crazy and create a Kardashianesque scandal worthy of hiring a spin doctor.
Ah, but Times, They Have Changed
These days, platforms are organic, especially those platforms built using social media.
Is there any other kind?.
We can’t control what happens to the content once we let go. Additionally, social media is a two-way exchange. If Bed, Bath & Beyond sends me a mailer, they aren’t expecting me to like it, then photocopy it and distribute it to my friends. Yet, that is exactly what we are after when it comes to social media. We are trusting others to take in what we offer (content), like it and then pass it on to their networks.
The Upside & The Downside
What is wonderful about social media is that we always have the potential for world-wide exposure, to go viral, etc. We also have a lot more fluidity than years ago. We can write in different genres or dabble in transmedia or become hybrid authors because followers are interacting with us daily and real-time.
Yet, the downside of the new paradigm is that social influence is virtually impossible to measure. For more about why, go here to my post The Dark Side of Metrics—Writer Friend or Ticket to Crazy Town? Not only is social influence virtually impossible to measure…but it is accessible to everyone. In the old days B.F., we were only competing against a slim few with the cash or tenacity to build a platform. Now? To quote The Incredibles…
When everyone is special then no one is.
In a time when everyone has access to the same tools, how can we ever hope to stand apart?
So all of this is to say that platform and brand have changed as much as publishing has. If writers want to survive and thrive in the new paradigm, they must let go of the old and embrace the new.
A New Attitude
One of the largest hindrances I see to authors building a great platform has to do with their attitude toward being required to build one. It’s just another chore, a drudgery. It makes us feel weird and dirty, like we are selling out and compromising who we are. I totally appreciate these feelings, because I have felt them, too.
I felt them before I really understood what author platform meant.
In a world where most writers are moaning and groaning about being required to have a platform, the only chance we have of standing apart from the masses, is we must change our attitude and our approach. Sure, easier said than done, right?
No. Not really. I think if we take a moment to peel back why we feel the way we do, it will be easier to enjoy this new leg of author evolution.
So Why Does Building a Platform Make Most of Us Feel Icky?
How many of you ran out and bought John Locke’s book, How I Sold a Million Books in Five Months? Hey, I did. I can always learn, and Locke actually had some really great ideas, but I did have to ask myself some hard questions. Why didn’t his methods resonate with me? Why did many of Locke’s tactics make me feel queasy, as if I had escaped one sales job just to land another one? After a lot of thought, I realized it had to do with intent.
When experts throw around phrases like “target your audience,” I must confess that all I can think of is a red-dot laser site landing on someone’s chest.
I am writing a book. Prepare to be targeted.
Maybe it’s just me *shrugs*.
See, Locke will even tell you in his book that he is a born capitalist. He worked in sales for years and started all kinds of businesses. To him, books were just a new way of making money. He saw a tremendous marketing opportunity in the shifting paradigm, and he used his talents and went for it and it paid off. He spent $25,000 figuring out what tactics worked and what failed. He experimented with all kinds of genres and tactics, but not because his art and love happened to be writing.
Locke’s art and love was capitalism and marketing.
You can see Locke’s excitement coming off the page as he relates his stories of how he tried all kinds of tactics to see where the numbers went. Locke’s art form happened to be numbers. Writing was just the medium, much like a sculptor might choose marble or clay. The reason Locke has such passion is he is doing his art.
But is Their Art Your Art?
For writers who have a love of sales, Locke’s book will really resonate because you will be doing your art. OR, you will at least be blending two arts you love together—sales and writing. Yet, for writers who break out in hives at the mention of the word sales and who are in this for the art of writing?
Hasta la vista, Baby.
Same thing with the PR & social media marketing people. They love to offer suggestions of how to help writers. They are lovely people who are sharing their art, and they want us to love it as much as they do. Some writers do love their methods and find PR and social media marketing is their art, too and that is why these classes have a lot to offer even if they differ from mine.
But what about the rest of us?
What if Sales/Marketing is Not My Art? Am I Doomed?
No. Not at all. But I will challenge you to stop trying to make their art your art. Think of it this way. Some of you, if I said you would be required to also design your own book covers would squeal with joy. Why? Because you also have a love for drawing or graphic design in addition to being a writer. You have more than one art.
Our art is not our skill; our art is where our heart and passion rests.
Some writers do wonderfully learning marketing and sales skills because it is congruent with an existing passion. Some writers didn’t even know they had a passion of on-line marketing, but, after a class at a writing conference, they were hooked once they had the know-how.
For the rest of us?
You could teach PR and on-line marketing until the end of time, and we would still hate it with every fiber of our being. We’d hate it just as much as a kid who loves building model airplanes being forced to learn to play the piano. For this kid who is forced to learn an instrument, piano would be a chore, and because it is a chore, any music he makes would always be robotic. It would always lack the essential ingredient that makes music art—passion.
This is the same reason that writers who hate sales and marketing will always fail. Because it is a chore, it will lack the critical ingredient to connect—passion.
But, Kristen! All of us have to get out there and sell and market!
No, you don’t. I know many well-meaning people have told you this is the case, but it is a false syllogism. A false what? A false syllogism.
All people who dig ditches sweat profusely.
You are sweating profusely, therefore you must be digging a ditch.
All master salespeople and marketers have platforms that sell lots of books.
Writers need platforms that sell lots of books, therefore writers need to be master salespeople and marketers.
All social media technology experts have a large platform.
Writers need a large platform, therefore writers need to be social media technology experts.
We Can’t Fake Passion
If we hate what we are doing, people feel it. Conversely, when we interact with passion, people feel that, too. Why do you think I am so against automation? People who pre-program all their tweets do not love Twitter. They don’t LOVE interacting and thus there is no passion, so no connection.
This is why doing social media this way takes such HUGE numbers to be effective. It is the same ROI (return on investment) we would get with sending out spam e-mails or junk mail–about 1-5%. Thus, for every 20,000 followers, only about 200-500 will listen and fewer will care.
Words are Our Art
Social media is nothing but words. We writers use words to create feeling and emotion. We use 26 black letters in various combinations to spark passion and interest. Social media can be a drudgery when we aren’t connected to our muse. Yet, when approached with the correct attitude, social media a new canvas for the writer-artist.
We will talk more about platform and ways to make social media our art next week. In the meantime, I want you to answer some questions:
What is it I fear the most about social media?
What do I believe it is taking away from me?
What are the emotions I want readers to feel when reading my work?
Of all those emotions, which one is the most important? Do I want people to feel love, passion, inspiration, courage?
So what are some questions you guys have? Do you feel better now that you have permission to hate sales? Can you spend some time defining your own art and think of ways to infuse it into your social media? For those already doing this, can you share with the rest of us?
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!
Note: I will announce last week’s winner later this week. I am having problems with my web site and e-mail and my web people are working to remedy the problem. Thanks for your patience.
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.
This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness
50,000 Inimitable Smiles by Margie Lawson over at More Cowbell
How to Get Media Coverage for Your Book over at Jane Friedman’s place
Was March 2012 the Day that Traditional Publishing Died? by the ever-brilliant Bob Mayer
Beautiful Breakups–What the Revision Process Can Teach Us by August McLaughlin
How Can Modern Writers Become and Stay Visible? by the fabulous Jody Hedlund
Ten Things You Should Know About Setting by the awesome-sauce Chuck Wendig