building your author platform even if you’re not published yet, part one: why you need to



I am a big fan of Chris Brogan — his TRUST AGENTS is one of those books I practically hurl at people’s heads (in a good way), I recommend it so much — and although he talks about how social media and community-building applies to business, a lot of what he says applies to writers.

The line between writer and creative entrepreneur is thinning all the time. Soon it might just disappear.

In this entry in his Overnight Success series, Chris talks about how platform-building and community-building come before success, not after. This is an important point for writers to realize. I was at a workshop where the instructor was urging the members to get online and start building our author platforms and holding me up as an example (not that I’m some expert, although I like to think I’m working on it).

“But she,” said one woman, pointing her pen at me, “is on a different level from the rest of us,” meaning that I am published and they are not.

But that’s kind of the point. I would have done so much better if I had developed a robust online platform before my first book came out in 2005. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since publication it’s just how difficult it is to win people’s attention and trust (and money) enough for them to take a chance on your novel, let alone win them over as loyal readers.

Also, it takes time.

Think about what needs to happen for word-of-mouth to build: someone has to buy your book, then actually read it, then recommend it to friends, who need to actually read it, then recommend it to their friends…and so on.

In the old days of publishing (which now seem as long-gone as the dinosaurs), publishers gave you the space and patience for that to happen. If they published you in hardcover, your first readers had a year to get the word out about you and jumpstart the second life your book experienced when it came out in paperback.

If you were published in original paperback, publishers would nurture you along for four or five books while you steadily accumulated a readerbase.

Not that any of this was guaranteed — or easy — but you had that fighting chance, and it enabled someone like Dean Koontz to survive as an obscure midlist writer (under various pseudonyms) for twenty years before breaking through to the bestselling lists (again under different pseudonyms, which indicates that maybe, just maybe, personal talent, skill and effort can mean as much if not more than luck).

Things are different now.

Writers are so focused on the Holy Grail of that first book contract, which (usually) takes ten or more years of serious writing practice to attain, that they often don’t realize that the second (and third and fourth) contracts can be as challenging. Publishers can’t afford — and are not willing — to carry you anymore. They want numbers. As in sales numbers. They want you to burst out of the gate like the sleekest of racehorses. If you don’t, they drop you, and you face the challenge of starting all over again, possibly under a different pen name so that the stink of poor sales won’t trail you and drag you down.

I’ve learned enough about social media and platform-building to know what I wish I’d known before I was published, and in this series I’ll be talking about that (alternating with my write like a bad girl series).

In the meantime, another book I can’t recommend enough is Jeff Vandermeer’s BOOKLIFE: Tips and Strategies for the 21st Century Writer.

Fast Company: Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, a Review

SF Signal: review of Booklife by Jeff Vandermeer

Booklife: A Cure for the Post-Millennium Dilettante


Dec 6, 2009

16 comments · Add Yours

Oo! Oo! (Or is it “Oh! Oh!”?)

On a sudafed-fueled insomniac high last night I read the first 80pp. It’s marvelous, and immensely cheering. One of the things books like this (and series like yours) do is illuminate and demystify. But the other, no less important thing that they do is reduce that feeling of isolation.

Keep it up, lady.


Thank you, lady — you too. I just discovered your wondrous blog. I am a fan.


In the process of beginning to build a platform of sorts, I’ve discovered the beautiful bonus of a world of encouragers and supporters and critical (in a good way) readers. I’m learning that a platform is one of those things that gives in a million ways. Thanks for this great post.


Justine–thanks for the link! Love reading your blog, and it was a pleasant surprise to see your link to my review of “Booklife.” (Though I think I violated one of Jeff’s reviewing principles by including a bunch of stuff about me in my review!) Have a good week.


So my years of blogging are good for something after all? Good to know! ;)


Hi Justine :)
Thank you for sharing your wisdom here today.
I would add that networking for the sole purpose of networking is shallow and puts people off. Genuineness is an important part of an online presence.
All the best,


Hugely important point. You need to be authentic. The only way you can ‘sell’ anything is, ironically, by not *selling* anything at all. That’s not what it’s about.


What a great post—every word true (and I say that as a publishing industry vet). I’m so glad to have stumbled on this (via Twitter link). Now off to learn how to write like a bad girl! That title alone makes me happy.



Thanks for this post (and your Part 2).

I just started my writing blog and hoping to finish a book one day not oh so far away. Sometimes it’s hard to keep writing when you think no one is reading.


I started my livejournal about four or five years ago and I remember that feeling (no one is reading) — I felt I was out in the middle of space, talking to myself. But look on that time as practice time — getting familiar with what you like to blog about and developing your blogging voice — experimenting, etc. And just keep thinking of all the bloggers you will leave behind in the dust because they will quit and you won’t. :)

Anyway, you’re clearly reading other blogs (like mine) and leaving comments, which is exactly what you should be doing everyday. Are you on Twitter and Facebook or anything else?



Thank you for this brilliant series. You’ve got one of the most helpful blogs geared toward writers, and I wanted you to know how much your efforts are appreciated. I’m directing my students toward these as we’re wrapping up our term, and our last week looks at the biz of publication.

I’m using a slightly different approach–and believe me, it’s trial and error–but blogging “underground” for the time being. It’s started to explode recently, in a good way, and much to my surprise. The magic ingredient happened by accident. I reviewed a few webcomics just because I love them. Bang. I met some comic artists and they’ve rallied around. (Blows the whole stereotype that artists are snooty; these guys are some of the nicest people on the planet. And loyal!)

On the eve of my birthday (Dec. 3 I turned fifty-one), due to a couple of sweet comic artists posting links of my reviews, I sat back, in shock, as hit after hit flooded in. It was like a New Year’s Eve countdown. Thrilling and completely unexpected. (And what a way to celebrate being “in my fifties.”)

The ultimate goal is to build a steady readership and eventually reveal my i.d. (I’m revising a memoir and plan to hit the search for an agent thing hard in the spring.)

Loving your articles, and I thank you again for your wisdom and willingness to share with other writers.


thanks for this! I actually just started my blog today, and a friend recommended your post, a great source of advice!

Take care.


Thank you. As a newly published author it has been hard to know where to go from here. Sometimes I spend whole days jumping from blog to blog and looking for ways to get my name spoke.



But the biggest problem is time management. Seriously, it’s especially problematic for me (and I would say 99% of people with a realistic view of time management) because 99% of people do not have Godin’s money to start with, and time-wise, you need a lengthy block to write your actual book, which gets chewed up by all this social media junk and that little thing called life itself. Those who have at least some money can afford to hire experts who do this stuff for you (IMHO 16-year-olds with 80,000 “friends” on their social media pages don’t qualify as professional “experts,” sorry). The rest of us have to wing it and then spend 80 years total with little time chunks throughout the day to complete the first draft. Bransford also emphasizes the point that fiction writers need a completed work on-hand to show the agent — and that it’s really *not* a good idea to say the work is finished when it really isn’t. Oh, you’ve got a platform? Great. To quote a certain Ms. Clara Peller circa 1983, where’s the beef?

I should add that I am commenting so frequently on several sites (time I could use writing *fiction*) because I’m recovering from a bad illness and am not yet able to concentrate in the mode needed to immerse oneself in a fiction world. I really do enjoy your site, Ms. Musk, but once I’m better I won’t even be online and would dump the Internet entirely if I could… :-(


Hi Justine.
Love your writing style.
Totally agree about needing a platform first before publishing.
I wrote an ebook first without having a site and realized I was doing it backwards. So I held off on the launch until I had enough “klout” and had done enough guest posts, interviews, blogs, received a bit of a following etc.
I just read somewhere that writing the book is 10% and marketing is 90%. Astonishing but probably true.

Love you site – would love to connect further.



Amazing article and just what I needed today. I love your blog. Thank you for encouraginwriters everywhere.

Christina Briggs



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