Platforms before writing?

Diving PlatformAuthor Laura Munson wrote a very interesting blog post recently about platforms:

All-too-quickly the honeymoon is over. Because I learn that there is no Platform band wagon. You have to build it brick by brick and it takes time. Lots of time. A lot like writing a novel. But there isn’t really time to write a novel with all this finding friends on Facebook and Twitter, and blogging and newslettering…and why bother anyway, because apparently no one’s buying books by unknown authors and no one’s reading them. Even though I read them. But apparently I’m not “normal.” I am beginning to build up a whopping dose of resentment. Resentment is bad.  I take a pause and go back to a novel I was working on before the Social Media witch landed on my house.

Munson shares a link to a video by Arielle Ford promoting Ford’s new book marketing program, Everything You Should Know. In the video, Ford states that publishers and editors buy platforms, not books (for non-fiction, anyway), and her message stems from that assumption. The video is worth watching, regardless of whether you are interested in Ford’s product, because it can help you to think about an author’s platform from her perspective, ask questions, and come to your own decisions and plan as to how to proceed.

Platform ShoeI like a lot of what Arielle Ford says, and she has helped me to think about my own platform in a broader context, one that includes speaking engagements and interviews as well as social media. But I can’t help wondering if a single-minded focus on platform precludes the time necessary for those 10,000 hours of writing practice needed for mastery, especially for young or new writers. Let’s face it: there are only so many hours in the day, and many writers are already drawn all too easily to the lure of “instead of writing” activities. And in the frenzy of trying to collect friends and followers, we may lose focus of how to interpret the numbers.

Platform 9 and three quartersWhat do you think? How much time do you spend on building or maintaining a platform? Do your platform and your writing ever compete for time? What are the elements of your platform? Or do you even think about it consciously at all?

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My defrag update from yesterday: I caught up with adding/updating Twitter follows/followers (this time around I’m being careful to create and maintain lists from the beginning, so as to keep up better), replied to a backlog of blog comments, and created a Facebook list I can use for sending blog post updates, so that I don’t have to send them to folks who may not be interested. Today I plan to map out a loose schedule for October, so that I have an “at a glance” view of my defrag month.

4 thoughts on “Platforms before writing?

  1. Platform is in the air this month. I would urge your readers to check out literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s excellent post about author platform, which sums up what it is and why an author needs it nicely.http://www.rachellegardner.com/2011/10/10-tidbits-about-author-platform/

    As a former agent, I’ll tell you…taking a nonfiction book proposal or fiction manuscript with little or no substantial platform portfolio from the author (articles, columns, newsletters, radio, TV, social media, etc) is like asking for a loan with just a business plan but no work experience behind you. It’s not just about a great idea or a deliciously written novel, a publisher wants to be sold on your track record as well as the audience you’ve already earned.

    For example, if you’re a nonfiction author giving advice (prescriptive nonfiction), then you’re likely a specialist…maybe with letters behind your name. You’ve likely spent years building your practice or your role as an advocate or expert. The wise thing to do during those years of growth if you even think you might write a book down the road – is to start communicating NOW with your audience because it takes a solid year minimum to build your platform (and that’s if you’re a hustler).

    Fiction writers, submit to literary journals and magazines and join organizations that support literary writers, like PEN. Commercial writers, join organizations that support education and growth within your genre. Submit your work to contests. Learn how other bestselling authors got their start and become inspired to build not only your voice as an author, but your lit cred.

    Hope that clarifies some issues with platform. I know it’s frustrating, writers, but keep working it. Social media has certainly sped up how we connect with information, but the rate at which we produce hasn’t quite caught up, darn it.

    • Erin, thanks very much for both the link and the perspective! I absolutely understand the need for a platform. I guess I should have titled the post “Platforms instead of writing?” to give a better sense of my wariness. If nothing else, it’s a fascinating topic!

  2. What an excellent topic, one I’ve tossed around with other creatives I’m connected with on Twitter. One thing I find that isn’t often mentioned is that in the social media context at least, you can build a platform, but it requires a lot of work to keep it maintained. I have spent more time writing in the last few months, which is good, but as I spend less time on Twitter and post fewer blog entries, RTs and traffic decline accordingly. So be it. I remain engaged to the extent it’s enjoyable, knowing I can always ramp it up when needed.

    I’d note that as a non-fiction writer, there is a more traditional definition of “platform,” i.e., expertise in your field. That takes longer to build, but isn’t as ethereal as a social media “platform.”

    • Patrick, the distinction between expertise and platform is a good one (and it gets kind of murky these days). All I know is that I’m grateful to have started writing at a time when it was easier to have the time both to write and to “get out there” (local columns, speaking, etc.). I wouldn’t want to be starting out as a writer now.

      I want to write at some point, too, about the psychological effects of getting too invested in the numbers game. From a writer’s perspective (perhaps not from an agent’s or editor’s), it can have a negative impact on the practice and craft of writing, for some people, anyway.

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment!

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