the secret ingredient to a strong author platform
I have come to believe that an author platform is its own cool thing. It isn’t something you can just slap on top of your novel – a coat of promotion, a sprinkle of marketing – but a living, growing entity in its own right.
It needs to reach into many different places. You can’t just sit on your blog like a spider in its web and wait for the pretty flies to come. You need to find your readers across the different platforms – and you need to re-imagine and re-purpose your content to fit those platforms.
This requires work and time. An editor at a webinar advised her listeners to take half of your writing time and dedicate it to platform. Gone are the days when marketing your novel was something that happened after the fact. Now it has to be baked into the process.
Now it requires big meaning.
And by this I mean a big idea, a theme, an obsession, a vision, a mission statement, a full-fledged manifesto/a. Call it what you will. I like the phrase ‘big meaning’ because meaning is what we seek and make out of our lives, fleshed out through our creative work.
A sense of meaning is intrinsic to happiness. We need to love and work in meaningful ways. When we’re depressed, we say our lives have no meaning.
If an author platform is to be truly powerful, it has to mean something to you and to others.
It has to represent something that taps into your deepest values. Your intellectual and emotional sweetspot. Your core.
It has to be juicy.
This is because it needs to inspire you on those days — and you will have them — when you’d rather poke your eyes out than blog or tweet or do anything that has anything to do with social media. ‘Should’ just won’t cut it: as in, I should do this because I need to do this because I have to build a platform because everybody says so. Dammit. That line of thinking leads to discouragement and burnout.
There has to be pleasure in the process. And if the pleasure isn’t always there, it helps to have a sense of purpose that goes beyond selling your books and yourself; goes to somehow making the world a better place.
Which makes your platform something that other people can buy into. Because then it’s not just about you, it’s about them, and the satisfaction and stimulation it gives them, and even the sense of identity they get through aligning themselves with your mission, your vision, your particular point-of-view.
Meaning is the crack cocaine of the Internet. If you can provide that, you’ve got a world at your fingertips.
Which helps you create your author-brand. I know that ‘brand’ is a bit of a dirty word, tainted by many many years of one-way corporate-speak, but think about what brand is: an evolving set of ideas and associations that represent you when you yourself aren’t anywhere around.
Your brand is like your avatar, your alter-ego, your signature style, walking around the ‘Net and growing or shrinking according to the conversations that other people have about you (or don’t).
When you know the meaning behind your brand, it’s easier to streamline and focus. You’ll know what to share, or include, or jettison, or edit out, and what not to bother with in the first place. You will know what is relevant to your brand. This enables you to find the method in the madness of the stuff that’s on the ‘Net; what to build on, deepen, collect and curate for your readers.
But most of all, it’s your big idea, your big meaning, that generates and feeds your content ecosystem.
(Full disclosure: I just really like to use that phrase. ‘Content ecosystem.’ It gives me a bit of a thrill. I don’t know why. I’m just like that.)
Because your platform cannot live by your blog alone. Or your Twitter stream or Facebook page or Youtube channel. You have your hub, your online home, the place where you lure and catch your readers (and their email addresses), but moving out from that you have all the other places that form your social media framework.
(For example, the mighty online Obama presidential campaign reached out to a network of millions through 15 different platforms. Each vehicle you use – LinkedIn or Tumblr or Ning or Goodreads or whatever – creates its own little network, which links up to all your other little networks, which can create something very very big.)
And those different platforms require different forms of content. But you can take your big content – long blog entries, or ebooks or whitepapers — and break it into smaller chunks and bites and tweets. You can take your small content and explode it into something more in-depth. You can transcribe your podcasts and post on your blog; you can tweet cool quotes from your video interviews; you get the idea. Your content feeds your content feeds your content.
And it’s all fueled by your big meaning.
Your big idea.
Which generates and grows your content.
I was doing yoga at a Big Sur retreat called Esalen when the big meaning for Tribal Writer popped into my head (somewhere between the chanting and the naked people in the mineral baths). I saw it simply as this, an image emblazoned across my mental mindskin:
art + entrepreneurship
Tribal Writer is about creativity, craft and platform, but ultimately it’s about learning how to become a creative entrepreneur. Being entrepreneurial is part of how I define being a twenty-first century writer (combining self-publishing with traditional publishing). I’m early in the journey…but it is a journey, and one I’m psyched to be on.
And if Tribal Writer is part of a larger platform – my Justine Musk author platform – then the big meaning that drives it has to do with empowerment, including creative empowerment, including this idea that once you yourself start to find it, it’s your duty (and privilege) to share your process and tools and knowledge with others. Everybody wins.
Did I know this when I first started blogging, or took my first (mis)steps into the world of social media? Well, no. I didn’t think in these terms at all; author platform was not a phrase that applied to fiction writers until a relatively short time ago. Finding your big meaning is part strategic thinking, and part following-your-instinct as your social media life takes root, and grows and shifts in your hands. It’s about listening to the voices that emerge through your work, the voices of your deeper self, and giving them the respect they deserve. It’s about paying attention to your life, your past, your self, the things and themes that tend to obsess you, or that surface and resurface within the ongoing narrative of your life. It’s about figuring out what you’re truly driven to write – and not what you feel you should write.
Chances are that you at least have an inkling of your Big Meaning, and that’s all you need to start. Go in the direction of your inklings, which lead to other inklings, which lead the way. You’ll promote your own work while you’re at it.