Last time I talked about my preparing-for-manuscript-submission To Do list. The first thing on that list was getting up to date on my social media and working on my writer’s platform.
Today, I’m going to review the elements of the writer’s platform and why they matter in terms of marketing a book.
What is a writer’s platform?
As the name suggests, the writer’s platform is the ‘stage’ that gives the writer and his or her work visibility. It promotes you, the writer, rather than any one specific work.
It says something about who you are, your interests and aspirations;
Your personal and professional contacts;
The avenues you have to promote your work, such as blogs and twitter.
Common Writer’s Platform Components include any or all of the following:
- Your blog or, if you’re very fancy, website
- Social media presence such as Facebook, Linkedin, or Twitter.
- Membership in professional organisations. These don’t have to be writing-specific. If you write about tadpoles and you’re a card-carrying member of the Great Tadpoles Support Group of Little Whinging, then you should, by all means, include it.
- Public appearances: in print, on TV or radio, in a column
Why do you need a Writer’s Platform?
- It helps you establish your presence in the world of writers
- It gives you a way to interact with other writers and potential readers
- It allows you to widen your audience
- It serves as an example of your ability to write
Caveat Number One:
Now, before your run off half- (or even completely) cocked, a word of warning: The platform is a tool to serve your primary objective, selling your manuscript. The platform should never become the end in itself.
I’ve seen a number of writers who tweet thirty or forty times a day about all sorts of things. At first I felt daunted: am I a slacker because I’m not spending as much time tweeting or blogging as they are? Then I realised: a lot of these people are pouring so much energy into building a professional image, they’ve forgotten that the image is hollow if there’s no foundation beneath it.
The Eureka! moment came one day when one of these twit-aholics tweeted that she’d just finished writing a whole 250 words of her first novel and she was up to page six… Woo-hoo! This after weeks of tweeting sage advice about how to plot, develop characters, find an agent, etc.
The writing comes first.
Not the blogging. Not the tweeting. Not the networking.
Look at it this way: how can you present a professional image as a writer if you don’t even know what sort of writer you may be? And the only way to tell that is to, you know, write!
Caveat Number 2:
You only have so many minutes in the day to accomplish everything, so be selective. I don’t think you have to have an account in every type of social medium that’s out there. It’s better to have just one and keep it up to date, than have four and let them all grow cobwebs.
Examine each type of site and ask yourself:
- How well does this fit my style of writing?
- Are the people on this site likely to be my readers?
- How much time will I have to spend each week maintaining it?
- Does this sort of site fit my personality?
After you’ve answered those questions you can select what appeals to you most.
Many elements of your platform are optional. If you prefer to tweet rather than post on Facebook, that’s fine. If speaking engagements are not possible or are outside your comfort zone, you’ll get by. But you really ought to have a blog or a website.
Even if you have minimal experience, you should be able to do this on your own. Or if you’re really scared or stuck, ask the teenager next door to help you. (Promise to let them name the serial killer in your novel. They’ll love that!) But, honestly, you can do this.
I’m using WordPress. I’m not particularly computer savvy but I, like you, can read. Here’s the link to WordPress’s ‘Getting Started’ page: http://en.support.wordpress.com/getting-started/ It will guide you through the process. Just take your time, read through the directions a few times and follow the instructions. There are others available too, such as Blogger and Blogspot and many more that are free and easy to set up. If you aren’t sure which one is best, visit the sites and see what the templates look like. Check out the blogs of other writers and take inspiration from them.
Here are a few tips to help you:
Have a name for your blog in mind before you begin. It might be as basic as your name. I’d avoid being too cute unless cute is what you write. There’s too much of a disconnect between ‘Sal’s Sweeties” and a hard-boiled detective novel. If you write a lot of different stuff – I write literary short stories, non-fiction for a couple of entertainment sites, and thriller novels, for instance – you should try to make the name as open as possible.
Decide what you’re going to write about. If you have a fascination with a specific topic – Victorian England, for instance – you can make that a major element of your blog, but only if it connects with the novels or short stories or articles that form the spine of your writing work. A blog about Victorian England won’t support your novel about robots in Alpha Centuri in the year 2522.
Create a pleasing appearance. The first, and most obvious rule, is the reader shouldn’t have any problems reading your prose. Cute fonts in red on a yellow background will cause a migraine and ensure no one pays a second visit to your site. The KISS rule applies here as in life: Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Most blogging sites offer a variety of graphic options to pretty up your site. Try to choose something that fits your style of writing. For instance, a romance novelist might prefer something soft and gentle over hard, cold abstracts. Ideally, you should use something personal, something you connect with. I am currently using a photograph of Windsor Castle that I took myself. The Castle plays a big part in my novel and I like the picture so it makes sense. Take your time picking something that fits your style and your personality.
If you don’t have a twitter account well… why not? Of all the social media available, this one takes the least amount of time. It allows you access to the thoughts of established writers and people just starting out. It gives you the opportunity to ask questions for research, and to find experts.
An account is easy to set up and you can be as active or inactive as you choose.
I would suggest if you do start a twitter account, you should set the wallpaper to match your blog. It establishes your ‘brand’, so when people see certain images or fonts they remember you. What do you immediately think of when you see a deerstalker hat? Exactly!
Link your blog to your twitter account and vice-versa.
Who to follow:
People you like and who inspire you, obviously. People or groups that are helpful to your writing. Yes, of course, include your friends, family and significant others.
What to tweet:
Items related to your work. My novel is in the form of diary entries written by Sherlock Holmes in 1897 so tweeting about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his canon, about famous diaries, or about the Victorian period all make sense.
Tweet about writing such as the progress of your work. Don’t be obnoxious about it though. Telling us you spent all afternoon in a quandary about a comma makes you look like a pretentious git unless you’re James Joyce. Actually, Joyce… Never mind.
News about your career: where you’re doing a public reading; links to where your latest short story is being published; good reviews.
Information about publishing such as sales of books in your genre, the status of bookselling (including libraries and bookshops) in your city, or updates on your favourite writers are generally welcome.
Networking items such as retweets of other writers whom you are following; tweets congratulating them on their successes; and generally supporting their careers. You have to give to receive.
What NOT to tweet:
Anything libellous, obscene, sexist or racist. Yes, you might get a certain number of followers by being provocative, but are they really the sort of followers / readers you want?
Please don’t bombard us with demands that we read your book. Someone I used to follow tweeted two or three times an hour about how his short story collection made even the greats pale by comparison. Here’s a hint: If you really are that good, your readers will figure it out. Be classy. If you’re obnoxious people will avoid you – on the internet as in life.
Don’t rubbish the competition. Your turn will come.
When I was a girl (she said with gummy teeth) you were either a Rolling Stones fan or a Beatles fan. Nowadays it seems to be Facebook or Twitter.
That’s silly, of course. There’s no reason you can’t enjoy and use both. But if your natural tendency lies more in one direction or the other I’d say don’t fight it. Just focus on the one you like best.
The twitter dos and don’ts apply to Facebook too. And, remember: whatever you put on the internet is there forever.
LINKEDIN, TUMBLR etc.
I read a statistic recently that claimed the most used social media site in the world in LinkedIn. Certainly it offers a professional platform in a way that FB and Twitter do not.
My impression of Tumblr is that it is primarily for quite young people. That said, Neil Gaiman has an account there, as do many other writers. Check it out and see if it’s your sort of thing.
It’s not essential that you belong to a writer’s organisation, but it can be very helpful. Organisations offer a chance to network, they provide information and a variety of supports, depending on their function.
Sadly, most of these organisations cost pennies so be selective. The ones to consider are:
- The Writers’ Union.
- The Writers’ Guild (in Ireland this is the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild); there’s also The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.
- The Society of Authors.
- Societies that support your genre such as the Crime Writers Association or the Horror Writers Association.
The annual Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook offers a comprehensive list, so check it out and see what grabs your fancy.
It’s been my experience that such groups are not ‘one size fits all’. Some are very professional, well organised, and helpful. Others serve only to stroke the egos of tyrants. If you are lucky enough to have a few different ones in your area, then you can afford to be selective. If you have none, maybe you could start one?
The New Writers’ site offers a list of writers groups in the UK and in Ireland: http://www.thenewwriter.com/writers-library/writing-groups/
It’s not for everyone, but if you have a knack for public speaking and a forum that allows you to do so, then go for it. It’s a great opportunity to share your work and to get instant feedback.
These events – poetry or book readings, panel discussions, and so forth – can also prepare you for the public aspect of the writing life. That said, if you’re really phobic, then by all means, don’t do it. It’s still possible to have a career even if you never appear on telly, you know.
There are other ways of networking that work for some people. If you’re lucky enough to have a column in a newspaper, that’s fabulous (no, I’m not jealous at all). Or if you have a job that relates to the subject matter of your writing – if you belong to an Amateur Dramatic Society and write about theatre, or if you are a police officer who writes about crime – these things should be mentioned in your blog and on twitter. You are a bona fide expert, and there are far too many of those around.
If you have other suggestions or want more information on anything in this post, then please let me know in the comments. And thanks for following me.
Next time: How to compiling a list of agents and / or publishers for your submissions.