I’ll admit it right now: I have a bit of a subversive streak. Tell me that I “ought” to do something and I’ll question it until I figure out that either, A) You’re full of it or, B) Whatever you’re telling me to do is completely reasonable and I’ll do it. So it has gone with “platform building.”
Now that I’m in the process of, once again, querying a novel, everyone is telling me that I need to build a “platform” before I can even be considered for publication. I’m told that I need a blog/website, huge Twitter following, and boatloads of likes on Facebook. All so that if, one day, I’m published I’ll be able to sell more books.
But here’s the catch: The “experts” say that this platform has to be all about my writing. I shouldn’t feel free to talk about much of anything else because it isn’t “professional.” If it’s not somehow related to writing, publishing, or books, forget about it. It’s not relevant. And here’s where I call BS.
I agree that a platform can be helpful for selling books. It’s pretty obvious that the more people who know about you and your books, the more you’re likely to sell. Duh. It’s no different than that old thing called “word of mouth” that was around in the 20th century. Now that books have to sell huge in the first weeks of release, though, there’s no time to gradually build this thing called word of mouth. You have to get maximum results in just a few days or else your book is dead. So, yes, having a platform to quickly get the word out can help.
However, it’s what goes into “platform” that I have a problem with. The idea that I must never write, Tweet, Pin or Like anything that isn’t writing-related is ridiculous. I’m a writer. Not to sound precious, but that means that everything about me: My interests, likes, dislikes and pet peeves, the things I observe in the world, and all of my experiences, are fair game. They make me who I am and shape every bit of my work.
But for someone who writes non-fiction in a variety of fields and fiction, this idea that I must have a platform all about writing is, frankly, nuts.
It’s nonsense to think that I can somehow divorce one part of my life from the rest. It’s crazy to think that the only people I’ll follow or be followed by on Twitter are other writers, publishers, and “industry professionals.” It’s stifling to suggest that my Pinterest boards reflect only my writing life. I am so much more than any of that. And that’s a good thing because otherwise I’d have nothing to write about. Certainly if I were pursuing a non-fiction career and attempting to set myself up as an expert in one field, this limiting advice would make sense. But for someone who writes non-fiction in a variety of fields and fiction, this idea that I must have a platform all about writing is, frankly, nuts.
And boring. Building a platform based on only one aspect of my life is a snore. It won’t be long before I’ll run out of ideas, get frustrated with being able to only do one thing, and the whole enterprise will stagnate, defeating the point of the project. I’ll come to resent it and that level of resentment is something that readers and followers can sense. You can’t fake enthusiasm for long, and if I’m going to give up my creative writing time to focus on building this platform, I’d better enjoy it. Otherwise it’ll do more damage than good to my reputation.
Besides, what I have to ask myself is this: Are any of these industry professionals going to buy any books that I might write? I’m sure some will, but generally the readers I need to reach are a different bunch. Certainly they might be swayed by a review of my work, or a Tweet from an industry professional, but there are an awful lot of readers that don’t read industry related publications or follow publishers and reviewers on Twitter or Facebook. They get their information elsewhere. Maybe it comes from friends, relatives, co-workers, or from a mention in a non-writing related publication. Those people won’t be reached by a platform that focuses only on the business of writing.
Here’s a thought experiment: Maybe someone sees my Twitter conversation about board games (a hobby of mine) and says, “Hey, that’s interesting, I wonder about this person.” Maybe they go to my website and see my books and decide to buy one. Or maybe a friend says, “Hey, I read an interesting blog post about personal finance (another hobby of mine) and guess what? The writer has some books out, too.” Neither event happens if I am not “allowed” to build a platform that focuses on my interests and gives readers a trail of breadcrumbs to follow to find me.
Readers certainly won’t like or care about everything that I do, but creating common ground is often the first step to building trust and interest which are what ultimately lead to sales. If readers aren’t interested in writing, then all of the writing advice in the world won’t let them know that I’m here. However, if I can connect with them via some other interest we share then, boom, I have a potential sale. It makes sense to me that the more interests and experiences I share via my platform, then the more potential readers I might reach.
You might be able to build a platform from such a myopic focus, but I suspect that it’ll be nothing more than a rickety shack on a pole and not the strong, large party deck that it could be if you invited all of your interests and observations to participate.
So while I can sit here and dispense nothing more than writing advice (and I don’t mind because I do enjoy it) and navel gaze about my writing, that isn’t me. It’s a part of me, but it’s not all of me. And if readers are going to connect with my work, then that means connecting with me, at least on some level.
Platform has its place, but I think that fiction writers and people who write in a variety of non-fiction fields need to question this advice to focus only on one tiny part of our lives. You might be able to build a platform from such a myopic focus, but I suspect that it’ll be nothing more than a rickety shack on a pole and not the strong, large party deck that it could be if you invited all of your interests and observations to participate.
(Photo courtesy of Sgarton)