In publishing, the evergreen issue of Author Platform is one more and more savvy writers are finally becoming familiar with. Ah yes, the P word. The very short and sweet definition of platform from a publishing perspective is how you reach your audience; columns, articles, journal pieces, newsletters, blogs, workshops and regular appearances on TV (or your own show!) are considered platform. Pick up a reputable publishing trade magazine and no doubt you’ll see a “how to” article on crafting a successful platform. Head to your local bookseller and you’ll find a few books on the hot topic. The bottom line is, if you want to attract an agent or editor’s attention, you must possess a strong platform, period! Clearly, I see aspiring authors are listening to this “must have platform” message when I scroll through their social media pages and read their status updates about their projects and blogs – another building block of the author platform.
Relatively new to the social media scene, I’m totally fascinated by how today’s author is using this tool as a means to promote their work and broaden their network and influence. Authors don’t just have a website anymore, as they did when I was agenting, they’re now updating their status (stati?) on several social media and professional networking sites. They’re blog, blog, blogging away. Some even have pages for the main characters of their books, which I find fascinating. What agent or editor wouldn’t love an already strong following of a character that hasn’t even been formally introduced to its book cover yet?! Brilliant! Caveat: You better make good on your promise to deliver your exciting character and get that book published one way or another or suffer some very public professional humiliation not to mention loss of integrity.
Looking around my city, I see the majority of people’s attention turned downward to the glowing rectangle in their hands. Scrolling through scads of info, suddenly “more important” things are happening online in real time. We’re getting used to this, aren’t we? This new speed of instant connection, communication and gratification? Push button publishing is easy! Sweet validation!
So does all this super quick online activity affect the speed of successful platform building, which traditionally takes years to build? Amazon has so far successfully proven self publishing through e-books has saved many writers from years of traditional publishing anguish. Will we experience the same evolution in platform crafting?
I asked Glenn Yeffeth, Publisher at BenBella Books:
"Since an author's platform is so critical to their publishing success, how have writers become more creative with their platform building? How are you seeing writers use social media to boost their platform?"
GY: There has been an enormous amount of nonsense posted about social media and the need for a platform and I think this has taken a lot of writers in the wrong direction. So here are a few realities about social media and building a platform.
Your book has to be strong, original and fascinating to your target market. I see a lot of proposals by folks who seem to have put a lot more thought into their platform building activities than their book. Everything you do with platform building and social media is simply to light the kindling underneath the big logs – word of mouth. If your book isn’t great your social media efforts will be fairly pointless.
Having said that, using social media effectively takes as much effort and creativity as writing a book. It takes focus and passion. “Everyone should blog” is nonsense. Authors should blog if they have something unique to say and if they are prepared to invest years in building an audience. A platform transcends any given book; in fact it transcends books altogether. A strong platform drives opportunities for speaking, consulting, free-lancing, selling non-book products, career-enhancement, etc. Whipping up a platform for a book proposal is pretty much impossible. It takes time – calendar time as well as hours.
Figure out what you are really good at – speaking, television, essay writing, radio, short pithy blog posts, whatever – and what you really know a lot about and leverage these two things to build your platform. Focus is important, and don’t feel like you need to do everything. If twitter doesn’t fit your strengths, don’t tweet. Originality and creativity are less important than finding your strengths and focusing around them. Once you’ve done that, creativity will come a lot more readily.
TLC: So, dear writers, you may have more options and opportunity to connect than 5 years ago, but this new connection speed doesn’t necessarily change the speed or quality of platform building. It doesn’t mean your book will write itself, either (check out Inkygirl’s apropos cartoon, First Things First for some comic perspective). Take heed and take a breather – good books are still good books no matter the format. A well written book by an author who has taken years to build an impressive platform will still distinguish itself well above the slosh in the marketplace. And stellar platforms are built slower than you can say, What’s your status update?
Your Exercise This Week: Do a little research on your favorite author (this century, please. Even more preferable, no later than the last 20 years). How did they get their start? How long did it take them to build their successful writing career? What was their first publishing success? What do they do (other than write books) that makes them uniquely qualified to be THE EXPERT in their field (for nonfiction work)?
Have any platform building tips or success stories? Share them with the group! I want to hear all about it!
Have a fruitful day, writers!
Glenn Yeffeth is Publisher of BenBella Books. Before BenBella, Glenn was a corporate strategist and marketer who ran companies in Chicago, London and Dallas. BenBella Books, named after Glenn’s children Benjamin and Isabella, publishing boutique that aims to be the publisher of choice for a select group of authors who value personal attention, a partnership philosophy, flexibility and a creative approach to marketing. Glenn has an MBA in marketing and finance from the University of Chicago and a BA in history from Oberlin College.