Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My kingdom, my kingdom for a platform...

Author platforms? What are they and do authors need them?

The general consensus is yes, we do, in fact, need a platform. But that leads me to question what on earth is a platform, and how do I create/maintain one. Last night, I participated in the #asmwrite chat on Twitter (for those who do not know, #asmwrite is a group/twitter hashtag of authors who are trying to figure out the publishing world without inundating the same people constantly--something I think we would all appreciate). We discussed platforms. Now this is something I have heard about ad nauseam and have generally avoided because it seems fake to me.

However, after last night and some further research, I am willing to take my stance under review. I now understand that building a platform is more than collecting as many nameless faceless followers as possible and trying to shove your book down their throats. Despite what my mother thinks, my book isn't for everyone, I get that, so I don't want or need to market it to everyone. The idea is to build a network of people who hold the same interests and reading tastes as you and get to know them. This is an excellent thought, but how does one do this? (I don't have the answer I am asking.)

In my research on platforms in today's global community, this is the most clear definition I found of what goes into it.
  • How many people are on your email list or subscribe to your blog?
  • How many followers do you have on twitter?
  • How many Facebook friends or fans do you have?
  • How much monthly traffic do you get?
Pay close attention to this last bullet point. You can have tons of followers and friends, but if they aren't checking out your stuff and participating in your life then they really don't count. You need the people who are actually interested. So that begs the question, what do we have to do to interest them. Twitter is sort of like speed dating. You get 140 characters to find, talk to, and connect with complete strangers. While blindly following (something I am so guilty of) will get you followers it doesn't get you connections. Those you have to forge on your own. Facebook is a little easier to get to know people. There is more information and an easier forum for a relaxed conversation, however how many of us really talk a lot to the people we don't already know well? Goodreads is definitely a source I think I under use. The groups would be a great way to meet people who are into your genre and talk to them (not sell your book to them).

Once you make these connections, how do you keep them interested? This is where the content comes in. There seem to be two types of strategies people have taken.

The first is the author persona-centric platform. This is the idea that you should use your blog/web site/social media persona etc. to talk about your book, your writing, and things that have to do with you book.

The second is the human-centric platform. This is the idea that the reader wants to get to know the person behind the book. They want to feel like you could be their bff and hear about your daily life and struggles.

I don't love either of these strategies. First off no one will keep coming back to your blog to have your books shoved at the constantly. That is no fun. Second, no one wants to hear about what you had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner unless they are a stalker. I think the middle ground has to be the key here. I think you have to talk about your book, but not too much. I also think you have to talk about your life, but not too much. Somehow we have to find a middle ground that will be interesting and engaging.

I will try to implement what I have learned here (wish me luck). Until next time,



S.M. Carrière said...

A nice post. This whole finding a platform thing confuses the hell out of me, I must admit...

Anne-Mhairi Simpson said...

There is a middle ground. I mention my book in passing on my blog and I have book covers, release dates and so on up there, but mainly I talk about, well, stuff. Not just writing stuff, but health stuff, weight loss stuff, author/human interviews, a bit of fiction. I don't generally tell people what I had for breakfast, lunch and dinner, mainly because I would probably be inundated with comments along the lines of "Well, and you wonder why you need to lose weight?"

As you say, it's no longer enough to just have a website which says "buy my book". You've got to connect on a personal level as well, which means giving people content they can relate to. Your life is your life, but there should be something there that other people can relate to. Which is something writers have to bear in mind when they write fiction, so it's not as hard as it might seem :)

Liz Schulte's Blog said...

Thank you S.M.

Anne-Mhairi,I completely agree. That is what I need to do more of. I do more than writing. I try to eat healthy, train for 5 or 10ks, write, balance my day job, and family. I have the bad habit of not posting if I don't have some awesome idea for a blog about my book or about writing. I need to mix both in.

Anonymous said...

Hey Liz,

Just to throw a wrench at you (so duck!), check out this link by Kris Rusch -- as well as the nearly 100 comments.

Just another side of the coin.

Jennifer Starks said...

I agree with this to an extent. My blog is about my interests and my interests include writing, reading and my life. Do I want to be blog popular, sure, but the rebel in me realizes that I'm going to do things my way. If it works for some people, great. If not, oh well. I've never been any good at playing the part given me. I know I'm not as popular as many of you in the blog world, but I think there's a BIG difference between drawing fans in with your talent and doing whatever it takes to get blog hits. Liz, your talent will bring them. Turst me.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post Liz! I now have one more thing to add to my list of To Do's!! I have been doing a little bit of this already just from gut instinct... BUT I have lots more work to do!

Liz Schulte's Blog said...

@Jeff, No wrench. That was a great blog post. That has pretty much been my plan the whole time. I hate marketing and selling. I would prefer word of mouth. However, I am starting to come around to the idea of making myself more accessible and human to the readers. Again I think it is a matter of moderation in all things. It is possible to do too much and too little. But in the end, though, I completely agree with that post the publishing more books is the key.

@Jennifer. Thank you. I don't know that my blog is terribly popular, mostly it is me yammering on. I enjoy your author interviews and I think you will gain popularity.

Chrysoula Tzavelas said...

The best tip I've ever encountered for connecting with other people is to be interested in other people. I mean, people are going to read their blog either because they find you intrinsically interesting, or because they like you, and people respond positively to people who seem interested in and like them.

It's easier, of course, once you have a bit of celebrity, because having a celebrity interested in you, even for a single twitter exchange, is a huge rush. But the popular kids get there by being friendly, approachable, interested and enthusiastic about other people.

It's a lifestyle, though. A personality, even. I think just posting more doesn't do anything unless you're writing something actually entertaining, or you're incorporating the connections you've already made with people.

Liz Schulte's Blog said...

Thanks M.d.

Absolutely @Chrysoula. You have to talk to people and be interested in them. It is basic friend making. I think the problem many authors run into is they are trying to make lots of friends so they can sell lots of books and that just isn't possible so they choose quanity over quality. It is a hard balance. Lord knows I am still figuring things out.


Great post. I have been trying to "build my platform" for awhile now. Not sure that I'm building it the right way, and it's entirely possible that as soon as the first big storm comes, the roof is going to cave in. Your post gave me much to think about. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Great post Liz. I think the answer lies somewhere between #1 (telling ppl about your book) and #2 (talking about you).

I think you need to connect with the reader in a way that they expect - i.e. if you write mysteries, then write about mysterious things in your life. A funny anecdote about the car keys that went missing (who moved them?). Something your audience can relate to (because they've been there) and it also ties into your book(s).

Platforms are hard (there's a lot of layers to them), and there is no one answer to rule them all. You need to build what works for you. Kate (@katebowyer) and I have worked really hard on her platform, and even tho her book isn't out yet, it's starting to really pay off.

It's great to hear the chat inspired you. I love putting those on because it brings people together and a lot of good ideas are shared.

Shay Fabbro said...

I post about book stuff and personal stuff (mostly biology stuff since I'm a research scientist). I find that the blogs I read the most are those that have a mixture of book promo/release/pics/etc and the author's personal life too.

Anonymous said...

Terrific blog Liz! I'm struggling with this too, and your blog struck a chord. Thanks for sharing!

Liz Schulte's Blog said...

Good luck @Sarcasm Goddess (BTW love your name). If you come up with any good tricks let me know!

Thanks, Phil. I definitely see all of this as a learning process so it is wonderful to get others opinions and experiences to help guide the journey.

I agree @Shay. Most of the blogs I visit repeatedly are a bit of both.

Good luck, David!

C.G. Powell said...

The begining is always the hardest part. Once you have a good base, the rest will build itself. I don't like acting like a pushy used car salesman, but you still have to get your book out there and if you don't do a little pimping of your own stuff, no one will do it for you. I like to keep my blog random, only a few of the post are about my book or writing.

Liz Schulte's Blog said...

Maybe @Christine. I do think if you write a good book that people enjoy they will talk about it and word will spread. I think patience is also a virtue in this. Too many people expect to start on the best seller list. You have to allow time for your book to gain momentum. Also as the link Jeff posted said, you have to publish more. The best way to get your name out there is to have more material. So much to think about.

Belinda said...

I'm glad I read this because I had no idea wha a platform was. For me, it sounds like running for office and its definitely not something I'd tie in with being an author. I honestly believe the key is just being yourself and letting readers see that. It shouldn't be about trying to be a certain way, who you are is perfectly fine and the important thing is making the connection. Sure we want people to buy our books but I really feel its a by product of being seen as personable. I look at it as a reader, as well. You hit the nail on the head that readers LOVE feeling they have some kind of connection. Sure, it doesn't have to be the extreme of "I went pee 5 times today" but definitely let readers see you are real. Making connections or "developing platforms" takes time but are so worth it. It took about a year to develop The Bookish Snob to where I have it. Taking the step to publish, I need to tweak it a little but being myself has paid off. I say Liz, do what feels right for you. There's no set in stone formula. You're sweet and personable, let everyone see that and be consistent :) Pair that with your writing, and the world is yours. That's been my experience.

Nichole Chase said...

Great post, Liz!

I love reading blogs of my favorite authors that tell me about them on a personal level. I also hate going to blogs that only push their book(s). I honestly stop going to those. Don't get me wrong, I like hearing about their projects, about the books I love.

I guess my goal is to write what I like to read. In both, my books and my blog. I am a mommy writer... and I almost always get more hits and comments on the posts about being a mother while writing a book. But then again, I am writing YA and a lot of mommy's out there read YA, too. So it helps.

Also, I think that Belinda hit the nail on the head-- Platform translates really well into Connections. That's what everyone is really looking for!

Anonymous said...

This post was very helpful, i like your take on things :D

Liz Schulte's Blog said...

Thank you guys!

Angie said...

Hiya, Lizzie. Read your comments on building a platform. Good stuff. I am a real person with setbacks and feelings and now I think I'm going to share that with the rest of the world!
Thanks so much for this advice.

vvb32 reads said...

first off, i love the image you used for this post. it drew me in.
as the internet is everchanging and flaky, i think diversity in types of posts (not so much personal) help to keep an interesting internet presence. and visits to a variety of fellow book bloggers.

Liz Schulte's Blog said...

Thank you! It is my remote control zombie (he's way cool) and of course Jane Austen. :-) I also have a Silent Bob and a Stewie figurine who resides on my desk.

I agree variety is important. It makes the blog a lot more interesting. I think a certain amount of personal information might be good for letting the readers get to know you.

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