Building the Dreaded Author’s Platform

Posted: May 18, 2016 in Writing
Tags: , , , , , ,


You can unclench; it’s not that bad.

As aspiring writers we suck up advice like that corner attachment on your vacuum cleaner.  Because, well, we haven’t a clue and desperately need one.  If you step back and actually look at what you’re doing, it’s kind of amazing — you’re writing a book. Like, a real book. Who does that?

Well … you, now.

When I was a kid, I thought books were written by people who had special mad skills and otherworldly talent, because I sure as hell could never write one.  And then I did.  It had to do with the idea that everybody — even people like Abraham Lincoln and Ghandi — started out not knowing anything and not being particularly special.  They all became special by reaching for something just beyond their grasp and not giving up until they reached it.

Writing a novel is a lot like that.

Here’s the thing, though. Writing a novel doesn’t make you Ghandi. Because a LOT of people are writing books.  There are hundreds of aspiring writers with complete manuscripts, flooding the ether with queries to the army of literary agents, who each wade though a knee-deep slush pile.  There’s a lot of competition.  But don’t let that discourage you — there isn’t a finite number of allowable books in the universe. They will keep printing more.  I was standing in the middle of Barnes & Noble the other day, looking around me at the sheer volume of books, filling rows upon rows of six-foot high shelves.  Thousand and thousands of individual titles, and more every day.  There is room for your book, no fear.  But getting it out into the physical world of print is a rubicon, for sure.

So, we look for every tidbit of advantage we can get our grabby hands on and feverishly apply it.  Querying techniques, log lines, killer first pages, etc., etc., etc.  And one of the most commonly-cited requirements for success is the “Author’s Platform.”

Cue the horror movie organ sting.

Who has time for that?  It was hard enough writing a book — and editing it and polishing it and getting beta readers to read it and applying their suggestions and editing and polishing some more.  Now they want you to create a brand and promote it and build a website and collect followers and a mailing list and….

Whoa.  Here’s a paper bag to breathe into.  It’s not that bad.  The platform you’re thinking of is mainly for non-fiction writers, who need to establish their authority on a subject so people will have a reason to buy their book.  It doesn’t work that way for fiction authors (unless you are self-publishing and doing your own marketing). Oh, sure, once you sign a book deal, your publisher will expect you to get out there and promote your book, but you don’t have to do it in advance, like with non-fiction.

To be sure, agents still like to know you’re out there, engaging with the writing community.  And there are several simple ways to do that.  Twitter is a platform.  So is Facebook.  Even Pinterest.  You can blog or write a column or podcast.  But they key is to network with your fellow writers.  You want to do this anyway, because you can get feedback and advice and war stories, moral support and ideas and success stories.  You can meet authors who write books like yours who have gotten an agent, who will recommend you, or help polish your query, or beta read your book.  You can begin to comprehend the lingo.

Agents want to see that you are engaged. Because that suggests you’re serious. You don’t have to have a custom website and a brand logo and a long list of testimonials. But agents want to see some results when they google your name.  Look around, see what you feel comfortable with and dive in.  Talk about your process.  Collect a few likes.  Avoid venting or whining when you get rejected.  That’s all there is to it.  It doesn’t have to eat your life.

Believe me, it will make a difference.

  1. seabreeze says:

    you know what, I’m tense enough as it is…worrying whether my novel will ever get out there. But this piece actually helps me say OK…I guess all those manuals about How to do it! just turn me off.
    Take a deep breath and keep your eyes and ears open…believe it or not, I just made a very good contact this week.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mez_blume says:

    Amen to that! I remember the air deflating right out of me when, at an agents panel, the experts said they look for writers with a “public profile”! “But I like books! Not computers!” my dying hopes cried.
    But in testament to what you’ve written, I want to say that even non-computery-networky types like me can get in on the game. Like you say, a little goes a long way. And what’s more, blogging has proved not only doable, but an excellent writing exercise to boot!

    Liked by 1 person

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