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Platform: What IS It? Why Do Writers Need One?

what is a platform, how do we build an author platform, Facebook privacy violations, Cambridge Analytica, social media censorship, Facebook facing congress, social media and privacy violations, branding tips

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.

Great.

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?

what is a platform, how do we build an author platform, Facebook privacy violations, Cambridge Analytica, social media censorship, Facebook facing congress, social media and privacy violations, branding tips

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?

what is a platform, how do we build an author platform, Facebook privacy violations, Cambridge Analytica, social media censorship, Facebook facing congress, social media and privacy violations, branding tips

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.

Squirrel…

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 😉 .

what is a platform, how do we build an author platform, Facebook privacy violations, Cambridge Analytica, social media censorship, Facebook facing congress, social media and privacy violations, branding tips

Story Solutions

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.

A lot.

Just watch.

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

what is a platform, how do we build an author platform, Facebook privacy violations, Cambridge Analytica, social media censorship, Facebook facing congress, social media and privacy violations, branding tips

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.

Shifting trends.

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.

GONE.

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.

Yep.

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.

Too…shifty.

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.

The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, Author Kristen Lamb, Kristen Lamb novel, Kristen Lamb mystery-thriller, Romi Lachlan

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.

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  1. I’m so glad I took your Blogging for Authors class because you’re right about how it makes us leaner, meaner, more disciplined writers. I’m actually enjoying it, even though it a lot of work, yet so rewarding. You’ve been right on point about everything. I loved The Art of Character class, too. It’s great to be part of WANATribe. Hope you feel better, Kristen!

    • Charlotte French on April 9, 2018 at 6:42 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Kristen,
    I bought ‘Rise Of The Machines’ last year. At the time I was busy all day every day with our boutique only dreaming of writing. Since January I am finally in my next adventure (boutique behind me) and I write, write and write. It’s way to early for me to think about a blog, well, I think about it, not ready to start one. My thoughts are always on what I would/will write about. About stuff that potential readers are interested in, that’s as far as I’ve come. I should probably grab ‘my domain’ while it’s still available.

    I have received your blog entries for years. Always good or great so was this one. THANKS! You’re a gem. x

  2. Thanks for this post Kristen. I appreciate how well you explain these things, so they’re a lot less complicated. 😉

    I’ve known authors to questions if they should blog, but in the end they decide to just stick with other forms of social media, such as Facebook. That’s their choice of course, but I stick with blogging for all those reasons that you mentioned (and it’s fun).

    I’m glad I’ve read ‘Rise of the Machines’ and taken some of your social media/blogging courses. I’ve found them all to be extremely helpful and enjoy social media a lot more.

  3. Why is your bed wearing skirts? Victorian sensibilities? Secret life as furniture drag queen? Cunning concealment of trapdoor to Kristen’s underground lair?

    1. Concealing all the crap I shoved under there, LOL.

  4. I so hated that “be an expert” thing. When I questioned it, being the logical INTP, the Non-fiction writer would point at his advice and act like I was stupid. Even blogging on a subject you researched is not always good because it might not draw reader. At one point, I blogged on Microsoft Word for Writers. People treated me like I was help desk when they were too lazy to look it up. If I answered a question for them, they asked another one. My cowriter at the time had the same problem with his Civil War fire arm articles and people asking how much their guns were worth. None of them were ever going to get the book.

    I blog now on science type topics like how cool it is to eat pizza in zero gravity, military stuff (I’m a veteran), and writing topics (not how-tos). It’ll probably change again at some point, but I’m having fun.

    • Robynn L Gabel on April 10, 2018 at 3:50 pm
    • Reply

    I took some time off from my writing when my husband passed three years ago. I recently came back to a project that I want to publish but was overwhelmed with the changes in so many of the social media sites. I have been searching for a month trying to figure out how to build a platform and wondering what social media was best. This article nailed it. I felt this three years ago, and it confirmed what I was beginning to suspect. I believe a good blog is and should be the heartbeat of your author platform. Thank you for giving me a beacon in the storm. 🙂

    1. I’ve been involved with social media since 2004. The ONLY form which has remained unchanged aside from improvements (ability to add better images, video, plug-ins, SEO) has been the blog. Gather, MySpace, Squidoo, G+ and on and on have risen and fallen and something new taken its place. It is a moving target. Social media is SOCIAL and the only territory which cannot be invaded by spammers, automation, unchecked trolls, etc. is THE BLOG.

      It has been around since the inception of a digital world and will remain since it is merely WRITING which has been around for thousands of years. Thus, if I were to place my foundation on ANY bedrock, the blog is the only one that has thousands of years of success 😉 . Just started as symbols on pyramids….but still was sharing stories, information and pictures of CATS 😀 .

  5. With the mess with Facebook, I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m going to do. I want to remain where friends are but that may not work too long for the book series. I have a website that languishes because I’m always talking on Facebook about what is going on, with both a personal (which is pretty open) and an author page, I struggle to keep up with those. Twitter…uh, I often write more than 140 characters and so that makes me nuts.

    Here’s a topic for you: how do you look at the different platforms and choose which is best? Or do you go to all of them and, if so, how do you schedule that and still find time to write (and research).

    I need help. (and not just psychiatric. hahaha)

    1. I use the blog as my hub then hang out the place I enjoy most. For now I enjoy FB. Twitter is all spam (book spam), though I check it daily. Platforms are best built the stablest place which is still the blog. Everything else we are a sitting duck. As far as time, other than the blog, I just hop on FB a handful of times a day. Maybe a half hour total over the day. Scroll down newsfeed and like, like, share, comment, post on my wall, back to work.

  6. One of, no, correction, THE best post I’ve read in, oh, forever.Thank you.
    I have a small presence on social media, but, like you, I mainly use my blog. Anyway, I find Goodreads difficult to use, Facebook, And Twitter non-productive and while interesting and sometimes helpful, LinkedIn seems to be mainly writer threads, not readers.

    • Robin T. Vale on April 12, 2018 at 4:02 pm
    • Reply

    I have a WordPress blog, but no idea what to post on it, this will give me some focus thank you! This also goes with a nagging worry I’ve been having about Wattpad lately, it’s been getting very advertisement happy this year, and offering a ‘premium” account to get rid of them as members have asked for this. Feels fishy to me. All I know is once a website starts offering premium anything what follows next is a separation of the free members from the paying ones. Gaiaonline is a real and extreme example, look for them in rip off report.com

    I’ve seen this happen on sever other websites, if it gets bad enough people get banned for no reason, locked out, along with members stat fighting with each other more, more trolls come out of the worlds and start pushing the rift farther apart.

    I was having a conversation with a friend on Wattpad, trying to get her to see why it’s a bad idea to offer all of her books for free on there, and expecting people to go buy the full book on Amazon. I’m sure some will but I think most won’t bother as they are already getting it for free. After this first book of mine is done I’m going to post a few chapters of any others I make as a sample and send them to my blog. Your posting has definitely helped with this decision, thank you.

    I just hope my friend has backed up her books and sent them to herself by email, as you never know when a site will be down for months on end due to a server attack, bad weather, company going broke, stuff like that.

    As I like Fantasy I’m going to have fun looking for blog topics. <3

    1. Wattpad is making people (writers) ad mules. Free is never free and actually is very costly. I’d ditch that asap. She could have been offering free books other places that helped her SEO and drove sales though I am not a fan of free with no strategy.

        • robintvale (Jessica) on April 28, 2019 at 12:28 pm
        • Reply

        I’m awful at replying, forgive me. I plan on ditching Wattpad once this first book is done. I really like the editor they have to write in and am looking for something else. Wattpad is offering this weird coin thing were readers can pay to read certain stories that the wattpad CEOs have chosen. *screams* Hum, no still not good enough. Ugg. I’m going to go check out my WordPress account again and see how much it costs to upgrade, as free stinks. At least I’m still unknown and upgrading won’t mess up my nonexistent platform.

        I’m going to keep reading the rest of the articles here, maybe an idea for what to blog about will come to me. Maybe Warcraft? I played that online game for eight years. I also played Final Fantasy from the very first one to #10. Maybe old school video games? Wonder if people would be interested in that? Or how about how fantasy books have changed over the years and such.

    • robintvale (Jessica) on April 28, 2019 at 12:34 pm
    • Reply

    I have no idea just how to go about buying my own blog domain? Do you just buy your own domain or do you go to a website hosting and buy the domain there and then put your own coding in and make it a blog? I only know HTML and little CSS. I have no idea how to make forums and such for like comment areas.

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