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Posts tagged ‘writer’s platform’

Blogging, what’s it all about?

Writers are usually advised to have websites and blogs. There are lots of reasons even though blogs aren’t as popular as they were, say, back in the 1990s when the concept began. Blogs become, so say the experts, part of your platform or presence on the Internet.

Nonfiction

No, I don’t look anything like this clip art.

Not counting widely known writers, blogs seem almost mandatory for those writing nonfiction because they help establish subject-matter credibility. Such blogs have a built-in niche and tend to draw readers who are interested in beekeeping, home repair, investing, or whatever the author’s subject matter is. If the author is busy, s/he may have announcements of upcoming events related to that niche along with links to his/her articles along with resources links to sites and articles written by others. So the blog becomes another clearinghouse of information and (so the author hopes) will be a way of publicizing the books.

Fiction

Widely known fiction writers have a built-in audience of readers who are looking for them; they want to know the latest news about new books, presentations, panels, signings, etc. Unknown writers don’t have people looking for them. So, they are often told to blog about the subject-matter and locations of their books more than their books. If they write several posts a week about their books, that’s often considered SPAM. On the other hand, after maintaining this blog for a number of years filled with posts about Montana, Florida, mountains, swamps, hero’s journey, hoodoo, the environment and related subjects that relate to my novels, I can say that after a while, the writer runs out of book-related subject matter to talk about.

And, as far as I can see, there’s little correlation between those who read my posts about hoodoo, for example, and the sales of my books in which the main character is a conjure woman. Of course, most of the people who read this blog aren’t fans of hoodoo and related subjects, so I can’t establish a “hoodoo niche” and write about that all the time. But even if I did, I suspect that readers searching on hoodoo and conjure are looking for how-to more than fiction.

This brings me to the point that some writers make: blogging takes time away from writing the novels one is supposed to be writing. Yes, it does, and while I appreciate all of you who follow this blog greatly, I’m wondering if the blog is “earning its keep.”

Politics

J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, and other well-known and wealthy writers can make political comments on Twitter all the time without harming their authors’ reputations. They may lose a few readers, but I’m sure they don’t care. I wrote a political post on this blog yesterday and deleted it today. Why? I guess I wish I hadn’t written it even though writers–among others–are being urged to speak out more and more about political matters. The thing is, politics has become so polarized these days, one can hardly say anything that doesn’t bring down the wrath of the multitudes. Suffice it to say, I’m a political moderate, yet the polarization in venues such as Facebook is so extreme that moderates get beat up by both conservatives and liberals. I don’t see a lot of real dialogue on Facebook. Just a lot of nastiness from people who wouldn’t dare say the things they say at a backyard barbecue or a bar or a party. I don’t think I want to bring that nastiness into this blog even though my political views are just as real as everyone else’s views.

So, What’s Left to Say?

My first thought is “not a lot.” I’ve been blogging for a long time on many platforms over the years. I’ve met a lot of cool people, found interesting discussions, been lured into exciting blogs of others, and had fun shooting off my mouth. But after 25 years of that, I’m not sure I know what I’m doing here on WordPress. As people reach my age (I’m not telling you what it is) they often find they’re out of sync with the world. That is to say, it becomes more and more obvious with each passing year that they are part of the older generation which is variously considered to be: (a) responsible for what’s wrong with the world, (b) out of touch with the major thrusts of culture and popular culture, (c) trapped in the past.

The days are long gone when old people were venerated for their wisdom.  (Hell, my generation grew up with the admonition not to trust anyone over 30.) Not that I have any wisdom. When I was a kid, I thought I would know lots of stuff by the time I was a grandfather. Boy, was I fooled!

This is almost goodbye, I think.

Malcolm

 

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Writer’s Platform: Writing About Your Novel’s Subject Matter

The experts–and I use that term cautiously–tell authors not to write posts, tweets, and Facebook updates that say, one way or another, “Buy my book.” Why not? For one thing, it’s SPAM insofar as others are concerned. For another thing, it’s boring.

I think the experts are right when they say prospective readers won’t flock to your blog or Facebook page if all you’re doing is running a series of advertisements. On the other hand, I’m not convinced that most readers of popular fiction are drawn to mainstream novels because they’re interested in a novel’s location, the careers/hobbies of the characters, or the various tie-ins the novel has to old myths and legends.

Most of us buy books for a compelling story. I read a fair number of black ops books. Right now, I’m reading Agent in Place by Mark Greaney. I picked it up at a CVS and thought it looked interesting. I wasn’t attracted to it because I’m a student of guns, spies, conspiracies, or anything else related to the plot of the thriller. I think a lot of readers are like me in this respect.

We see a few reviews, we hear friends talking about what they’re reading, and we read the back covers of the novels we see in the local Barnes & Noble. I doubt that many of us consider ourselves experts in the subject matter itself except, perhaps, in historical novels where we like certain time periods and dynasties.

So why do the experts tell us to write about the subject matter behind our novels? Obviously, they think that we’re writing for people who like certain subjects and might tend to read novels about those subjects. I can see that readers might choose novels about witchcraft or political intrigue or rogue lawyers. Yes, they may find an unknown author’s novel by using search terms focused on the subject matter and discover his/her novel in the process.

While this seems logical, my experience is that very few of the readers who come to this blog and read about the hero’s journey, hoodoo subject matter, or magic ever purchase my books related to those subjects. They read the blog, enjoy a few hundred words about a subject they like, and then move on. That’s to be expected because most fiction readers buy books by authors they’ve already heard of.

I’m not a typical reader. I buy black ops books and I buy magical realism books. I suspect many readers are like this: they have likes that nobody suspects. Yet, the marketing gurus have to tell little-known writers something. They tell me to write posts about hoodoo, magic, 1950s racism, and Florida. So that’s what I do, but not because I think those who read those posts will zoom out to Amazon to buy my novels. I write posts about those subjects because I’m interested in them.

It’s gratifying to see–from this blog’s statistics–that a fair number of readers have been lured to Malcolm’s Round Table to read those posts. I read similar posts on other people’s blogs and get a lot out of them. In fact, finding readers for our posts is almost as good as finding readers for our novels. We’re exchanging facts and ideas, and that’s a good thing.

As a writer doing research, I love finding blogs and websites created by people who believe in their subjects and freely give away information and ideas. I compare such information to Wikipedia, peer-reviewed books about the subjects, and professional websites hosted by museums, societies, and foundations. One has to double-check everything. But those who offer information for free on their blogs have my respect and admiration. Many hope that I will click on the Amazon links to their books, but as a poor, starving author, I can’t buy from everyone!

I wish I could. I’m often tempted. Yet, months or years later, I see novels by those blog posters and recognize their names. I read the blurb on the Amazon listing or, in bricks and mortar store, the back cover of the book. And I think, “I’ve seen this author’s name somewhere before.” So I buy the book. That’s what most of us hope will happen even if it takes a while.

–Malcolm

 

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.

Malcolm