Platform: What IS It? Why Do Writers Need One?
A platform offers major advantage when it comes to selling books. Before social media, non-fiction authors had an edge. These authors already had an existing audience by the time their books were ready for sale.
Novelists, conversely, found themselves relying on a lot of pure luck, prayer, and alignment of the stars. The fiction author had little to no control regarding the business side of their business. The only way to build a platform was to not completely FAIL with book one.
Non-fiction authors, however, were not nearly as vulnerable because they had ways to cultivate a following ahead of time. Those ways also permitted them to KEEP growing the platform even bigger as they continued to publish more works.
For instance, if one happened to be an expert of some sort, it was far easier to build an audience interested in your topic. Therapists, psychiatrists, physicians, personal trainers, business owners, etc. obviously could begin with their ‘job’ (I.e. a private practice). Then these experts progressively expanded their platforms in a logical fashion.
They might broaden to speaking engagements, guest appearances on television and/or radio, serve as ‘experts’, and maybe even fold in lectures and seminars. With every expansion, the NF author added more numbers to their ‘platform.’
What IS a Platform?
When we think of a platform for the NF author, it’s simple. Dr. Jane is an expert pediatric psychiatrist with a thriving practice. She graduated from Super Fancy School. Dr. Jane has successfully treated X amount of children for social anxiety for fifteen years. You may have even seen Dr. Jane on daytime television or listened to her on NPR. Dr. Jane knows what she’s doing because look at her c.v.!
If we have a kid whose shyness is to the point of a neurosis, we (audience) feel confident Dr. Jane might have an answer. We buy her book(s).
For the NF writer, the platform is far more cut and dry. The point is to be an expert people trust to answer a question or solve a problem. If I want to learn how to start a business, cook French cuisine, lose twenty pounds, or train my cat to stop terrorizing my bed skirts, I look for an expert. Right? Thus the NF platform, in a nutshell, is measured by how many people trust you for information and guidance.
Again, What IS a Platform?
Right now I know a lot of you are scratching your heads (or panicking). Um, Kristen, I write paranormal. Am I supposed to be an expert in summoning demons?
No. First, because all writers know more than they want to about demons. They live in Windows 10 and Printer Possession is unusually common.
It’s why we creatives all marry or partner with ‘engineer’ personalities who seem to be able to coax possessed printers into cooperation. I no longer even try. My printer just shouts profanities at me, then uses up all the green and yellow ink so I’m rendered unable to print something in BLACK.
I’ve seen many ‘experts’ answer this question, ‘What is a platform?’…badly. They’ll claim the novelist needs to blog (I agree) and become an expert in a topic (NO!).
To the first point, novelists are entertainers. Stories are RIGHT BRAIN. It makes no sense to sell a right brain product with a left-brain tool.
Blogging about writing, doing book reviews, conducting interviews is a useless time-suck. Yes, I blog about writing and social media because my audience is mostly writers. I’ve spent a decade demystifying the blog for the writer who’s solely an entertainer.
For the author who’s a pure storyteller, the blog is merely the watering hole where you can craft content appealing to your ‘tribe.’
If I write fantasy, then blogging on all things nerdy is a good idea. What are people who read fantasy interested in? CosPlay, ComicCon, Dr. Who, Dungeons and Dragons, etc. Talk about the same stuff you would with your other fantasy ‘geek’ friends.
That’s it. The platform then simply becomes the number of people who recognize your name and attach descriptors and emotional experiences to it (also known as a brand, which we discussed last time). If brand is what people know, then platform is how many people know 😉 .
If our brand is our story (narrative) then platform is simply how many people have heard, know about, and follow our stories. How many people connect to us enough that they’d be likely to buy our books? In a world where consumers are drowning in choices, they’re gravitating more and more to people they know, like and trust.
Our goal is to gather as many of them into our virtual community as possible—platform. This way, once we DO have a book(s) for sale, other people KNOW about us and are vested in us.
Otherwise, we’ll have to pay for enough ad space to break through the din and that, my friends, is NOT cheap (and doesn’t work that great anyway).
For authors, the blog affords the most bang for the buck. First, writers write. It plays to our strengths. It trains self-discipline, which is essential for success. Blogging regularly makes us leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner writers.
We can cultivate our fan base before our first book is even finished because we’re posting merely to start a dialogue, create community, and chat about something we (and our audience) enjoys. Visitors aren’t feeling all weird that we’re only interested in trying to score a sale.
If we DO have a book for sale? It’s off in the side-bar. Followers can look…or not.
I wrote a post What Went Wrong With the Star Wars Prequels? seven years ago. People are still commenting. I get it. I am an ‘expert’ but I am also a free-range nerd. The brand is me—KRISTEN LAMB—and so I have flexibility to talk about other stuff, too. Topics I find fun. Like Star Trek, Wonder Woman, and Atomic Blonde.
Trust me. Nerds? We all feel very passionately about imaginary universes.
And like to argue about them.
Loki is hotter than Thor *throws grenade and runs*
Posts that talk about what we enjoy are incredibly fun to write. It also takes pressure off us to sell, sell, sell. Engage, then go back to writing books. Our blog can be a fun place where people can join in on ENJOYABLE debates, discharge pent up psychic energy and have a good time.
Kidding! Cap is hottest *runs with glitter*
Using Time Wisely
No, you do not have to blog. No one is going to take you to writer jail if you don’t. Tricky thing is we still need a brand and a platform if we want to sell enough books to do this full-time.
I don’t know about y’all, but I prefer working smarter, not harder.
Yes, we can create this brand and platform on any social site, but the reason I remain steadfast in support of a blog is because of the following:
The blog is stable.
The blog has been around since the 1990s and was popular before Web 2.0 even existed. Short of the internet imploding, the blog will remain because it provides what humans have wanted since the dawn of time—information, entertainment, community.
In my opinion, the blog is an ideal way for writers to build a platform because it’s as stable as it gets on-line.
Stability is vastly important for any brand/platform, namely because we want to have control. It makes no sense to spend years building a massive following only for that entire following to one day vanish. I found this out the hard way by starting my blog on MySpace.
I lost a year of blogs and a large following (that took three years to build) when MySpace imploded almost overnight. After that experience, I vowed to never again be that vulnerable.
We control our domain.
If we build our entire platform on a social site, we are sitting ducks praying nothing will go wrong. Our author web site (blog) is very stable because we PAY for it. We own our content, our domain and possess a degree of immunity to outside shifts.
For instance, on a social site, some troll could gather all his/her troll friends and report us for nonsense just for the fun of being jerks. Our page is deleted and either we have to start over or pray whatever social site will let us have our stuff back.
Sometimes people are deleted without the social site even investigating whether the ‘complaints’ are valid or vicious harassment. It takes a lot of time, gray hair and hassle to get your stuff restored if this happens. Bad news is sometimes we lose and don’t get it back…ever. Trolls have a lot more power to do damage in places where we are not in charge.
Ugh, then Twitter. I have an author friend who recently lost SIX MILLION Twitter followers (built over the span of almost ten years) after Twitter changed their ToS. #OUCH
Don’t get me started on Goodreads.
When we are anyplace we do not control, trolls can say and do just about anything and we have no say about being abused.
Regardless how many fail-safes we put in place, it doesn’t matter. We could spend years building something HUGE….only for the social site to be sold, change the rules, change Terms of Service, or go cray-cray and finally piss off enough people that they begin to bail like rats off a sinking ship…and POOF.
In light of Facebook’s grotesque privacy violations (the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Facebook’s botched plan to access confidential medical records), accusations of censorship, ‘news curation,’ and more, the social media behemoths are hemorrhaging users.
Nothing is ever too big to fail 😉 . In fact, I have been a social media expert so long I now believe I know how Plato felt writing The Republic.
*gets cramp feeling smart*
Cycle of Social Media Rule
Timocracy (Web 1.0) where only super wealthy could afford websites or computers to even look at websites.
Oligarchy—earlier social media where only those who could afford computers/internet could join chat rooms or social sites OR (currently) social sites where we might pay a fee to participate.
***On WANATribe (a Ning I built for writers), we meet every day M-S to sprint pretty much all day. I pay $70 a month of my own money to have a virtual workspace and a drama-free zone where I play benevolent dictator 😀 . There are no ads but that is because I fork out money to keep it that way. Book spammers (all spammers) are smited—smote? smoted?—without mercy. The point is someone is willing to put up CASH for the peace and quiet.
Democracy—FREE! Everyone can join! And do whatever they WANT TO DO! Want to automate 700 identities to post on the hour everywhere? GO FOR IT! You are free to do what YOU WANT, and mob rule is the only rule!
Oh, but remember the social site is free to do what they want to do, TOO! Free! Free to harvest our private information and sell to the highest bidder!
Eventually people (on both sides) go too far with their ‘freedoms’ and those participating need some sense of order and rules so they don’t lose their minds.
Rules start creeping in and the powers that be realize they DIG that kind of power and POOF–>Tyranny. The social site goes all nutso with power. Also, on the other side, jerks/trolls use ‘the rules’ as weapons to unleash mayhem on anyone unfortunate enough to cross them.
We (regular users) rise up against the social site bullying and revolt. Start a NEW site (a republic perhaps?) which won’t have ANY of those problems.
Still waiting on the social media philosopher-poets to rule. Not holding breath, though.
Refuse to be an ad mule. Own your SPACE.
Any outside social network trades a FREE service then monetizes US. They use us for data mining, blast us with ads, make us pay to play (open up the algorithm so more than three people see our posts), and more.
FREE is never FREE.
Some social sites are paid to blast us with ads using our data. Conversely, creatives are being blatantly and unapologetically EXPLOITED. We are the ones creating the lure for the clicks that pay REAL MONEY…while we work for free.
Refer to my earlier posts about the exposure dollar grift and how places we can blog for exposure really are companies using us as a massive unpaid labor force. We generate all their content, content which cannibalizes our own SEO and brand. Meanwhile those in power make hundreds of millions…then write books about how money isn’t important.
Either way, whether we are using a social site or creating content for a blogging site, when we do not own our domain? We’re an ad mule.
Blog Gets Bigger With Time and Love
The blog gives back what we invest. I gain new followers daily from stuff I forgot I wrote. I began blogging just because I was a slacker who needed to learn self-discipline. Now? This blog gets 1.1 million hits a month. When I take out those who are likely spammers, I am still close to 100,000 visits a month from actual people.
This isn’t because of one or five blogs. It is because of almost 1,300 blogs. A little bit over time adds up. Search engines send people to my blogs. Google has yet to send anyone to my quippy tweet from June 11, 2011.
Newsletters by and large have the same open rate as direct mail (less than 8%) and unlike a blog, a newsletter can only reach those who subscribe (provided the newsletter doesn’t end up in the spam filter). It has no ability to go viral.
The blog does.
Blogs, unlike social sites, can also be harvested for content and made into books. Sure the content is on-line and FREE, but what is our TIME worth? Don’t know about you, but if I love a blog, I will drop the five bucks for a Kindle version that is neat and edited and easy for me to navigate.
Every angle you look at it, in my opinion there is no better ROI than a blog. And I mentioned the safe and stable thing already. And you can put troll comments in trashcan where they belong. Winner winner, chicken dinner!
Is What It Is
Now, I know I might have y’all feeling down (sorry), but this is just the way our world is shifting right now. I use social sites all the time. I just don’t build my platform on them. While fabulous for reaching others, they make a lousy foundation for my brand.
Social networks are great for…networking. Ideally, we can use them to encourage others to visit our site and LOVE it enough to hang out. Our website is OURS. We can monetize it, instead of IT monetizing US. The power dynamic shifts. We can add in merchandise, a shopping cart, or get large enough we might court advertisers to pay us.
Our hard work builds OUR SEO, not some mega-brand who expects us to work for free. If we’re going to work our tails off, then it might as well be for OUR benefit, right? This means we can hop on Pinterest or Facebook or InstaSnapPlus and meet and greet…but the party is ALWAYS at OUR place 😉 .
Then, once the book comes out, it’s far less invasive and weird to mention it. Like if you want to learn about social media, check out Rise of the Machines. Feeling bold? You can try my FICTION—The Devil’s Dance— a mystery thriller with even more inappropriate gallows humor and even higher body count than my BLOG!
AMAZING, I KNOW!
I can even mention classes, like my ON DEMAND Blogging for Authors.
Or the other classes (scroll down).
I dunno. Maybe you want to give it a try blogging or writing a novel and don’t want my ten-year learning curve 😀 . I know we writers are masochists but come on. There’s a limit.
Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve…Up Some TRAINING!
For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend my ON DEMAND Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .
The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.
And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get both Plot Boss and Art of Character in the Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND). Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN!
Have to write a query letter or synopsis? Conference season is coming!
Pitch Perfect: Crafting a Query & Synopsis Agents Will Love. Class is May 3rd 7-9 EST and $45 for over two hours training y’all how to do the toughest parts of this job.
I also hope you’ll pick up a copy of my debut novel The Devil’s Dance.
I love hearing from you!
And am not above bribery!
What do you WIN? For the month of April, for 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. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
March’s winner will be announced next post. I know I said this post but have STILL been sick and am a writer so I lie 😛 . Very sorry, but I will make sure I announce it. Been a rough few weeks.