building your author platform even if you’re not published yet, part two: paradigm shift
I mentioned in my livejournal that I found most information on platform-building for fiction writers to be unsatisfactory, and it’s been interesting to think about why.
The advice seems to be as follows: start a blog! get on Twitter! get on LinkedIn, Myspace, Facebook! build a website!
There’s not a lot of info on what to do after that, how to make it so that people will care that you’re at any of those places. Agents and editors will say, Start a blog, but they won’t tell you how to grow an audience, especially as the so-called blogosphere becomes cluttered with more content than there are readers for it.
So we start a blog which we might update once a week or less. We might invest some money in a fancy website. We set up profiles on various media sites using an image of our book as the profile photo. We start a Facebook fan page and invite all our ‘friends’ to be our ‘fans’. We plug our book in online forums.
Does this work?
…Maybe not so much.
One writer grumbled, “You might as well stand on a street corner and hawk copies of your book to people passing by. You’d sell just as many copies.”
Except what I described above is, I think, the Internet equivalent of just that — standing on the corner and hawking your book. It’s old-school marketing in a new-school world. The philosophy is: push your book in front of as many eyeballs as possible and hope that a percentage of those eyeballs turn into sales.
For a writer to develop an online author platform I think the first thing required is a paradigm shift (the Big Shift” as John Hagel calls it).
It’s not about push: pushing your book in front of as many readers as possible. It’s about pull: pulling the right readers to you.
It’s about attracting and gathering your tribe of Ideal Readers because of what you can do for them, not what you’re trying to get them to do for you.
People do not want to be sold or marketed to or “networked”. They don’t want you to ‘friend’ them if all you’re trying to do is get them to buy your damn book. They don’t care about your book. The last thing they want is author spam. I’m not saying that old-school advertising doesn’t work, or that there’s no place for it in an author platform; of course there is. But it belongs mostly in the offline world that complements the online world.
And we’ve learned to tune most of it out.
Unpublished writers will say that there’s no point in developing their author platform because they don’t have a book to sell yet. But that can be an advantage. You can reach out and connect with people without having that underlying agenda to scare them away.
The more I think about it, the more I dislike the term ‘author platform’. It doesn’t get at the organic nature of what you’re trying to grow.
A platform can’t be hammered into place. It is nurtured over time. Most people who start a blog give up within six months, not understanding that a blog won’t bloom a readership overnight. It’s a drip-drip-drip kind of growth.
Your blog and your Twitter are like your pets. They require daily attention and care. You can’t just dump kibble on the floor once a week and then forget about it.
An author platform shifts and evolves. You want to attract the right readers for your work, and you want them to come back again and again. You have to give them reasons to come back, which a static website doesn’t do.
An author platform isn’t about your books. It’s about you.
Or rather: an author platform is you, and you are it.
Something happens when you spend a lot of time online: the various social media sites that initially seem like so much chaos start to converge. There’s a growing sense of serendipity, synchronicity: a wave of motion and energy that you start to feel a part of, and through it you develop a sense (if not always to be trusted) of who your audience is and what they respond to.
So maybe instead of author platform you want to think about yourself as an author presence or author wave: sunlit and inviting, so that people see you from a distance, paddle up on their surfboards, ride you in to shore.