to create and connect: defining ‘author platform’

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I’ve come to hate the term ‘author platform’. It sounds concrete and specific – like something you buy at Home Depot (“Excuse me, miss? Where can I find the author platforms?” “Aisle 3, beside the snow shovels”). But the term itself seems to be a bit vague, meaning different things to different people.

Here are some definitions I’ve rounded up:

Author platform describes all the ways in which you can gain visibility among readers. It refers to your web presence, public speaking and classes taught, media contacts or previous publishing credits such as articles written for magazines, newspapers or websites as well as your networking skills. Your platform is the difference between a reader passing your book up or her giving it a chance by flipping the cover open to read the inside flap. Guide to Literary Agents

how you are currently reaching an audience of book-buying people, or how you plan to do so. It is your influence, your ability to sell to your market. It is your multi-faceted book marketing machine! The Creative Penn

a series of interconnected relationships that mutually serve the parties involved—so as a writer (me) it’s about building relationships I care about. Writer’s Inner Journey

Platform is not an act or a show you put on for the benefit of others. It’s a natural extension of your own curiosity, exploration and discoveries that you share with the world. It’s taking things writers traditionally love—stories, process and creativity—and making them public. Platform is aligning your niche topic and unique expertise with the appropriate audience to create a unique context and forge relationships and community. Christina Katz

platform isn’t about superficial relationships or basic name recognition but rather a real connection built between an author and their audience. Basically platform is the number of eyeballs you can summon at any given time Nathan Bransford

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You build your platform through content, connection, credibility.

You can’t really separate one from the other: they feed each other: it’s like the circle of life (cue swell of Disney music).

You provide great content. Your content gives you credibility. People connect with it, with you, with each other. That creates community.

What platform is not: collecting lots of ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ so you can spam them with messages about how they should buy your book or vote for your story and join your fan page. That doesn’t work. Nobody cares. We automatically shut that stuff out.

A platform is not a numbers game, where you push out your message to as many people as possible with the expectation that a certain percentage will bite.

A platform is not an extended sales and marketing pitch.

You are not marketing your content. You are marketing yourself through your content.

You are your content.

Your content should speak for itself. If you have to push it as great – then sorry, honey, it ain’t.

Your content needs to fascinate people. Or they’ll click away from you and never come back.

You need to go to where your people are. Conversation doesn’t just happen in one place anymore: it’s not just on one blog or one Facebook page or one Twitter stream or one forum. Conversation splits off into fragments and ranges across the different forms of social media. You need to strike out and explore. You need to find the places where you can feel yourself resonate.

You build your platform bit by bit, day by day. Slow and steady wins the race.

Start now.

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Feb 10, 2010
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14 comments · Add Yours

Perhaps a better metaphor is not building a platform, but staking out and cultivating your plot, your territory, your ground.

If what you want to sell people is flowers from the forest, you are just naturally going to be developing and advertising your establishment differently from somebody who is the author of strawberry jam, or beer festivals, or greatswords.

I wonder if this isn’t a better fit for a livelihood inherently as various as writing?

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Yes, yes, and yes!!! Thank you for putting this so succinctly and clearly. :)

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Just nodding in agreement, Justine. Great post.

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When the hell did this industry stop being about writing good stories and start being about buzz words and political landscaping (So to speak!)

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It’s more about writing good stories than ever — your stories have to be good to cut through all the clutter and noise. What’s changed is the level of connection and interaction readers now expect with their authors — it just means that instead of mailing out book plates, you’re online, talking to people. I prefer it, to tell you the truth — the new school form of ‘promotion’ (which actually isn’t about old-school ‘promotion’ at all, since as soon as you start ‘promoting’ something people tune you out) is more authentic & more interesting to me.

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I think these lines perfectly summed up the idea for for me: Platform is not an act or a show you put on for the benefit of others. It’s a natural extension of your own curiosity, exploration and discoveries that you share with the world. It’s taking things writers traditionally love—stories, process and creativity—and making them public.

I think that is also the way to keep it fun and fresh. If it is something you would be doing anyway, than you are probably on the right track. If it is something you are doing just to get “platform” then you might want to step back a little.

And yes, I agree. Start now.

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Good point. And ‘cultivating your territory’ gets at the organic nature of it — you have to nurture it consistently over time, tend to it, etc.

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Thank you for saying!

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Thanks, comments like yours help me know I’m on the right track.

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You quoted my favorite quote in the post — Christina Katz also talks about how platform is the context for your content, the community that grows around it. (Although in the quote it sounds like she’s talking about the content itself, so I don’t think there’s any real clear division between the two….How does community express itself except through more content?)

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Absolutely in agreement throughout. I particularly like “You are your content.” Many writers working to establish their own author platform often become little RSS feeds themselves, puppeting everyone else’s comments/posts and neglecting their own! ::yawn::

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That same quote gave me the go ahead to be more my natural self. I was racking my brain as to what to post that wasn’t more of the same.

Though I must say, Justine, that your blog is one of my favourites. It runs way ahead of the pack. I’ve been coming and reading it for a while now and your posts nearly always resonate.

Your leopard skin banner, too, was inspirational and the leopard-inspired eye is sumptious.

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“…what to post that wasn’t more of the same…”

What I’m learning, though, is that people will come to you to hear what *you* say in *your* voice, so I wouldn’t worry overmuch about overlapping content, so long as you infuse it with who you are and what you think. It’s about the connection as well as the content.

I’m glad you like my tribal eye! It’s supposed to be a play on the cool, dispassionate eye of the writer/artist…..I liked the leopard skin too, and when I get the site professionally designed am wondering how I can incorporate that.

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Yeah, I think a lot of writers are still bringing the old-school PR/marketing mentality to the new world of the Web, which runs on principles of interaction and participation and thought leadership, and you can’t ‘fake’ that (at least not that I’ve seen). There’s definitely a place for aggregating and filtering content — I think that will be increasingly important — but there’s got to be some kind of living persona behind it, shaping it, or else it’s just a random bunch of content.

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