That Elusive Writer’s Platform
Big name writers have writing platforms called the big name writer’s platform.
When James Patterson comes out with a new book, you know who he is and what kinds of stories he tells, so he doesn’t need to go on blog tours or work in a hardware store to stay solvent.
If your name is Joe Doaks, are 43 years old, and live in your parents’ basement where you play video games and hack into the dark web, you only have a writer’s platform if you write a tell-all book about the dark web, especially one that the FBI tries to get banned. Otherwise, you can send the best novel in the universe to a big New York publisher and they probably won’t take it on because you don’t have a platform. That is, nobody has heard of you and you aren’t maintaining a business of some kind that will draw readers to your books.
Most of us who write self-published or small-press books need a platform. Nonfiction is easier than fiction, because our books can be an outgrowth of a strong, nonfiction website that gets thousands of hits a month. That is, if you maintain a popular website in which you provide the real stories behind major crimes, your novel will be seen as part of this and will probably sell well.
If you’re on WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Pinterest, and have lots of followers and comments, you’re better off than those who have no online presence unless you have a high-profile teaching position or other offline work that has made you widely known to many people.
Many of us imagine our writer’s platform looks like this:
When, in reality, it looks like this:
But then, for example, after hearing a lot of positive comments on, say, Facebook about a new novel we’re about to release, we realize after it’s been released that very few people on our friend’s list actually bought a copy, and that of the small number who did, few (if any) of them posted an Amazon review.
There have been–and still are–a variety of authors’ networking sites. My experience with these is that most authors are there to sell their own books rather than to buy the books of other unknown authors. While “networking” on the authors’ sites, those people are buying James Patterson, Donna Tart, and John Grisham novels rather than fiction nobody’s ever heard of.
Many small-print and self-published authors depend on Amazon. Some books–mostly nonfiction, it seems–have made a lot of money there. Most fiction by unknown authors doesn’t sell well there because most people never see it and those who do would rather buy books from known authors. While Amazon helps self-published and small-press authors to some extent, it’s still a business that makes more off James Patterson than Joe Nobody.
As others before me have said, those of us who don’t have platforms that get the attention of Oprah’s Book Club or a New York Times reviewers basically have to be content to write in the shadows and earn our money from other jobs. Over time, we may be able so build platforms that attract more prospective readers. My last three novels, for example, were about hoodoo. If I were a hoodoo practitioner (I’m not), then my hoodoo site would be a natural place to promote my book. The same can be true for any other field where you have credentials and a following. Those who have come to your site for facts, are likely to enjoy fiction based on those facts.
You can also build your platform by submitting short stories to literary magazines, including those who only pay in contributor’s copies. The credit line at the end of the story that says something like “Bob Smith is the author of the Andromeda Series of fantasy novels” is a good way to spread your name around to prospective readers. Needless to say, magazine credits, including any where your short story or poem won a contest, give your website something to mention.
I remain skeptical of the paid-for-reviews from the well-known sites who provide these because the reviews are expensive and when published, you cannot be certain those reviews won’t be segregated into a “self-published reviews” category. Labeling them like that pretty much negates the value of the review. Also, if you look at the statistics about the probable sales of a self-published book, the cost of that paid-for-review may wipe out all your profits. So far, I haven’t been willing to roll the dice on reviews or book-of-the-year contests that cost a lot of money and/or advertise the awards are for indie books.
Unfortunately, blogger reviews seem to be of limited help because those blogs don’t attract a lot of attention when compared to the value to a review on a mainstream, traditional newspaper or site. A review from “Bob’s Blog” isn’t really something that’s going to lure a lot of readers away from your mainstream competition. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t solicit such reviews, only that you recognize going in that they aren’t the New York Times or The Christian Science Monitor.
You can, to some extent, widen your platform by engaging with readers and writers on sites like Facebook. It’s easy to log on to Facebook and upload the same old stuff every week: notices about your books, shared pictures of animals, jokes, and an occasional political rant. It takes more time to go to the sites of those on your friends list an actually say something there rather than simply clicking LIKE. The same is true of the bogs you read where you can click LIKE and also read a comment. When you find books and viewpoints you like, you are building your platform by leaving comments so that the writers/bloggers start recognizing your name.
If you’re on Pinterest, you can post links to your own blogs and the sites you like about subject matter that may interest others. You can also PIN some of the links other people share that fit into the various niche areas that fit your interests and your novels. The thing here is: engage with the users about things that interest them.
Many authors think their novels require and “all about me” approach to promotion and interaction on blogs and social networks. Really, they’re an “all about you” kind of promotion. Talking about why you wrote those books is not nearly as important as showing prospective readers what’s in it for them to read those books. Your platform needs to be an invitation rather than a memoir about you and how hard it was to write your novel.