Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What's a Platform and Do You Need One?

by Jill Williamson

There have been quite a few questions lately about platform, so I thought the topic needed to be talked about where everyone could participate.

What is a platform?
A platform is who you know (have access to) and what you know (can offer the people you have access to). Your skills, accomplishments, education, awards, reputation, what you stand for in life … When all this is communicated to others so that people come to know who you are and how you can help them, that’s platform.

Some might define an author platform as your ability to sell a product to your chosen market.

And literary agent Chip MacGregor says that platform is simply a number that indicates how many people you can reach.

Do you need a platform?
In this day and age, all published authors need a platform of some kind. But do unpublished authors need one? Yes, Then when do you start? Now. Is it ever too early or too late? Nope.

Just do it.

But don’t freak out. This doesn’t have to be stressful. The important thing is that you will showing an agent or editor that you’re willing and capable of marketing yourself in some way. Also, the sooner you register a blog or website and start putting in time on it, Google starts your ranking credit (my term, not theirs). I’ve owned my domain name since 2002. That’s over ten years of me being online in some way, proving that I am Jill Williamson. If you Google my name, I’m not only the first name you see, I’m all over the place. I’ve done a good job of putting myself online. And Google knows who I am. You want your name or platform to be in the number one spot when an agent or editor Googles you.

But how do you know what to do?
Chip MacGregor says that the trick to good marketing is “to figure out where the readers who would be interested in your story are gathering, then go stand in front of them.”

I think that says it best.

You might not be able to stand in front of people in person, but you can be findable online. Fiction authors often get frustrated with platform since it seems like most everyone is either writing a blog for authors or doing book reviews. And, yes, it’s true that those things have been overdone by fiction authors, including Stephanie and me. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do blog about writing or books if that’s your passion. You simply have to find a unique approach or angle that sets you apart and attracts your potential and unique audience.

Here are some steps that should help you brainstorm what types of platforms might work for you.

1. Pinpoint your audience
Do you write science fiction, fantasy, mystery/suspense, Amish romance, books for teen girls, books for middle grade boys, or steamy romance novels? Whatever you write, that’s the audience you should be seeking to connect with. And if you’re writing for kids of any age, you might consider parents or teachers as part of your platform. But a blog for parents likely will be a blog that teens don’t visit. So you have to choose which audience to go after based on who you are and who you best relate to.

2. Figure out where your audience gathers
Where do the readers in your genre hang out? Are there any professional organizations they like to join? What magazines or blogs do they read? Are they on Facebook or Twitter or YouTube? Know them enough to find them.

3. Do you already have access to people?
Are you famous? Have connections with celebrities? Are you an officer in a big organization? Do you work for any type of media? Do you teach or speak to a large group of people regularly? Do you appear on TV? host a radio show? have a newspaper column? write a popular blog? have a regular column in a newspaper, magazine, website, or e-zine?

4. What interests you? What are you good at or an expert about?
Are you funny? Smart? Do you have a unique skill? Do you like a certain topic enough to become an expert? For example, Gillian Adams knows a ton about horses. She could start a blog about horses that, over time, could make her an online expert. And as long as there are always horses in her fiction books, that might work well.

Consider writing a mission statement for your life to help you pinpoint goals, what you stand for, and what message you hope to share with the world so that your platform. I wrote one once. Click here to read about how I did it.

Here’s a list of ideas of things you could do:
-write articles for newspapers, magazines, newsletters, blogs, or ezines
-lead online discussions groups
-develop educational or entertaining resources (mp3 downloads, YouTube tutorials, radio shows, podcasts…)
-give away your content via audio or video recordings (short stories, chapters from a novel, cut scenes, cool research, drafts of work-in-progress that invite comments, extras like maps and drawings. You could deliver this through your blog or places like ScribD or Smashwords)
-create YouTube videos like Rachel Coker does
-Partner with peers to share the work and create a bigger platform

All of these activities have a number of potential readers associated with them. Be creative. But always offer something of value. And don’t rave about how awesome you are.

5. Choose a home base for your platform
Yes, platform is the number Chip MacGregor talks about. To get that number you add up all the places you appear before people. For example, if I talk to one school with 400+ students each month. That’s 4800 students a year. I have 2400 Facebook followers. So I add those two numbers and now my platform would be 7200 people. Add to that my ezine subscribers, Twitter followers, blog followers, YouTube followers, the Go Teen Writer’s blog followers, etc, and I get one big (hopefully) number.

But there is a place where I should be spending most my time. (And I’m still struggling to identify this, which is why my platform is weak.) Do I point people to my website? My Facebook page? YouTube? I still don’t know. And that’s bad. I need to figure it out, and so should you. Once you do, pour most your efforts there, and all other online platforms should feed into that main one. For example, Julian Smith is on Twitter and Facebook. But YouTube is his home base. And his Facebook and Twitter point people to YouTube, where his real platform is.

So think about your strengths and which online location could best display those strengths to the public. You don’t have to have a blog. If acting is your strength or singing or music, you could start a YouTube channel or podcast stories or discussions on your blog or iTunes. Think about how famous people can get on YouTube. Justin Bieber is a great example. And Julian Smith (1,255,698 YouTube followers) with his funny videos. My favorite is I’m Reading a Book.  Or the Piano Guys (1,444,542 YouTube followers) with their clever videos. I like so many of them, but one of my favorites is the Cello Wars (Star Wars Parody) Lightsaber Duel that has 11,777,184 views. Now that’s a successful platform.

How can you attract these kinds of numbers? What are your strengths? What can you do that will get people talking and sharing links to your stuff. That’s what you need.

Chris Kolmorgen and his friend Jacob Parker have a gift for making people laugh on YouTube. They did some videos about the word wars they had writing their novels. This could easily become their platform. Check out these two: Jacob loses and eats grasshopper. And Chris loses and must sing the song Jacob wrote.

6. Include your personality
If someone likes you, he will likely buy your book. He will want you to succeed. So be authentic. Be you. Let your personality come through in whatever you do. Let people know what you’re good at, bad at, love, hate. You will attract people who like you and repel people who don’t. And that’s a good thing.

7. Be consistent
If you only blog once, no one will find you. Chris and Jacob’s fun videos aren’t really a platform because they only made two of them! You have to be consistent at whatever you do. You could do it once a month, once a week, or daily. But your followers will come to expect that you follow through on your promise. If you don’t, they’ll find someone who will.

8. Never ask
Platform is not about self-promotion, calling attention to yourself, bragging, or yelling “Here I am! Pay attention to me!” It’s not about telling people they should read or buy your book. That’s annoying.

Instead, draw people to you by offering them something they want. Platform is about giving away something of value for free. It’s about sharing and helping others. Be entertaining or offer valuable information. Make friends.

Some people are better at platform than others. That’s life. And there is no list of rules I can offer that will ensure a successful platform. You can’t buy one, either, nor can you create one overnight, even if you had a Harry Potter wand. Platform takes time. If you start now, it will add up eventually.

What are you doing to build an author platform? And if you’re not doing anything, what could you do?

30 comments:

  1. Hmmm, reading through this, what stands out most isn't my writing blog, it's my book review blog. I've platformed jumped a while lately, but I think my book review blog will be my platform! As well as twitter, I just need to figure out if I want a pen name or not.

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    1. Good, Allison! Way to think it through. :-)

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  2. Oh wow. What a great post! Platform building has been a big one for me... Not that I'm good at it, but I really, really want to be. Thank you so much Jill, for writing this.
    I like how you talk about writing your 'mission statement'. I hope to check out that post, soon. One of my goals for this year is to figure out and write down my goals for the next year. I have daily, weekly and yearly goals, as well as a '21 before 21 list'. Plus I know about where I want to be at the end of my life, but a mission statement and longer-term goals totally need to be in my life plan. =)
    ~Aidyl

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    1. You're welcome. I'm not good at it, either, Aidyl. You're smart to set goals.

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  3. Great post! I am interested in platform, I want to be a better blogger. For me its not how but WHAT to do it about. I have a tired little blog. I only did book reviews because I love to read. However I learned I don't like writing reviews. So I'm up a crick over what to blog about. I'm talented, knowledgeable, of funny so what do I do? I like quotes and pictures and stuff but how much of that can be blogged about, copying someone else's picture? I like writing too but am afraid my fiction isn't good enough on its own to simply post to a blog, I'd need a someone else to proof read and guide, like a crit partner and that's super hard to find! *sigh*

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    1. Don't stress, Tonya! Keep thinking about it. Do you like photography? Maybe you could take your own pictures? As far as crit partners, see about trading chapters with some of the GTW people. If you click with someone, keep at it. If not, my suggestion is to look into in-person writing groups or join a professional writing organization that can help you connect with other writers. And save up to attend a writers conference. Lots of writers meet their crit partners at conferences.

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    2. No photography more like Pinterest, lol! I don't know how much of a blog that really is. Maybe tumblr? I've never used it.

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    3. I think that Pinterest could be an interesting platform. Can you use Photoshop to make your own quote pics? To make the quote pics I've been putting in the GTW posts lately, I got my pics from Microsoft Images since they're free. You could look there. You just have to make sure that they're royalty free and free of charge. I think it could be interesting.

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    4. I pinned all the GTW graphics :) I know how to make graphics. I'm going to look more into Pinterest as a blog and maybe tumblr. Tumblr may have more options if ever do want to write.

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  4. I blog, occasionally tweet- not much for platforming, I have a novel page for one of my WIP's that to my surprise has almost fifty likes, and I think it would be a fun way for me to reach out to people by vlogging and singing. I actually love acting and singing as well as writing. I post a lot of book reviews, but I also talk about life, and my stories, and different things, and I try to add a bit of humor in. I'm not sure I'm the best platformer... :/ Haha.

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    1. It's hard to get started, Bethany. And you might try something and find that it isn't working. And that's okay. Trial and error will help you narrow things down. I love the idea of vlogging and singing. Do you have a video camera?

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  5. Thanks so much for this post!!!!!!! I have a blog but my younger brother also blogs with me and he is really annoying and specific so that doesn't really help me;( However, I write letters to the guy who works at penguin and he can hopefully help me publish my book!!!! Do you think it would help to post some of my writing on my blog?
    Layla.

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    1. It will only help to post your writing if you can get people to read it and get hooked and want more. If you're only going to post one chapter and end it, that won't build a following. The idea is to get people coming back for more.

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  6. I've seen a lot about platform on various author and agent blogs, but I'm not sure I'd go about starting one :/
    There's nothing I can really blog about, and making videos isn't really my thing. Also, I'm still unsure about the idea of having my full name out on the internet.
    But this article might be useful someday, so thanks!

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    1. That makes good sense, Kate. If you're not comfortable doing these things, don't do them! Wait until the time is right and you have a plan. Besides, who knows what cool ideas you may come up with later on?

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  7. Currently my platform would be my blog, but the posts are just all over the place it feels like now and then, as in topics from writing, to books, to series I love, to travelling and so on, basically all I like in life, but I guess I'm still trying to figure out that way what it should be really about.

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    1. That's okay. Some people blog for a few years before they figure out what it is they really want to talk about. The practice of blogging can help you figure it out.

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  8. My platform right now is definitely my blog. My mom has this thing about me not being "google-able" so I can't have a twitter or a website or anything. If I got published I'm sure that would change, but I really don't know how to get an audience if I just have this blog that no one I'm trying to reach can find. I guess I can wait until I'm an adult, but that's a long time to be blogging only for myself, my best friend, and my grandma.

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    1. Yeah, but it will be great practice. And your mom makes a great point. If you don't have a book to sell, you don't need to be Googleable now. Getting into the habit of blogging regularly on your family blog will train you well for when you are an adult.

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    2. What's your blog? I'm curious :)

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  9. Since I'm interested in gymnastics and enjoy telling people about it, I could start a blog with gymnastics articles to begin my platform, right? But does that mean my books would absolutely have to mention gymnastics as a general theme? Because I feel that would get really repetitive and boring to the readers, right?

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    1. Maybe. Unless you tweaked the idea a little. Focused on writing about training or practice or hard work. Then you could incorporate other ideas later on, maybe interview some athletes or whatever. But it wouldn't have to be gymnastics alone. The trick is to find something that you love that people want to know about or talk about. Then they'll find you when they go searching the internet for information.

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  10. I blog (a lot!) to build my platform. Sometimes its quite slow going building an audience, and I'm never sure if I'm doing all the "right" things. There's so much advice out there! Trouble is...not all of it fits together. :/

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    1. I know! I'm sorry, Cait. The best thing to do for now is to keep at it when you can. Try and be consistent, but truly, focus on your writing craft. Platform is important, but craft is more important. If the editor or agent loves your book, they'll buy it even if you have a little or none sort of platform.

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  11. This post makes me sooooo tempted to start a Facebook fanpage for myself even though I haven't gotten past a first draft on any book yet.

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    1. Facebook fan pages really aren't platforms. They should feed into your platform. But fan pages are really for people who come looking for you because they like you already. Platforms pull people to you, and once they like you, they might join your fan page. Besides, with the new way Facebook does feeds, few of your fan page followers actually see what you're posting. It's a weird thing. It's my two cents, but I'd look for another platform for your homebase.

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    2. Phenomenal point... You can't find anything almost with Facebook. Blogger, YouTube, or even Twitter or Instagram where you can be found easier would work better. I'm just pondering where my audience (Middle-Schoolers) hang out most... But it certainly has my mind turning and realizing how important platform actually is. Thanks!

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  12. Hmmm, that's something to be thinking about. I guess right now my platform would be my blog and perhaps Google+, because those and word-of-mouth is how I interact with people the most/best. :)

    But the thing is, I use both of those for EVERYTHING, not just my writing stuff. I mean, I guess that's how it's going to be for a while, because I'm not just a writer, I'm a teenager. xD But it makes me wonder...

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  13. This is such great advice -- thanks Jill!! You inspired me to start a blog :) I'd been considering it for a while, but I wasn't sure if I'd be able to keep it up... decided to go for it. If you're interested:

    http://readerwritercookiebaker.blogspot.co.uk/

    Thanks again for writing such an awesome blog -- I feel like I want to bookmark every single post! ;)

    (p.s. This is ChocoChihuahua on a different account)

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  14. I don't have a real platform for my original stories, but I am on fanfiction.net. They track your visitors and views like blogger or youtube does. It makes my day to look at the numbers on there :D

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