Today I talk about platform. What I share here includes what I’ve learned along the way. Maybe my web site isn’t as pretty as some but it works for me. And I stumbled around on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook long enough I think I have them sorted out. It’s not exhaustive, but a good start. Here goes.
What is a platform?
A platform presents you to the public, your audience, your readers.
Now, wait just a darn minute. We’re writers. We hole up in a remote, snowbound cabin somewhere and write. We don’t commune with the public directly. Right?
You must become a brand. Your name, your reputation, your image, your pubic persona all become your brand. It’s communicated to the public–your audience–via the platform. You are the one that must meet people, shake hands, talk to them about your book, and make friends.
Your platform is what you use to help expose you to the world, build your brand, maintain your reputation, and inform your audience. It becomes you to the rest of the world.
Why do I need a platform?
You need a platform because you need to reach your audience, your readers. Without it, you are just another face in the crowd, and no one knows your name.
But, we’re working on getting an agent and will sell to a traditional publisher. They have people who do all that. Right?
Check the agent listings. Most want authors to have a platform. They’ll even help you set yours up. Yeah, that will cost some money. And, if you do get an agent, and you do manage to get your book sold to one of the big five, you need to have that platform and working. Unless your book is going to sell millions of copies in the first year, your chances of getting time and help from a house publicist is slim to none.
What it boils down to is, if you want those books to get sold and into the hands of readers, it is up to you to get the job done. You have to blog, tweet, post, like, retweet, guest blog, blog tour, and interview like a maniac. You must set up readings and signings, and make sure you bring your own inventory of books to sell.
Contrary to what folks think, those books aren’t going to sell themselves. And, honestly, readers want to meet and get to know the person who wrote the book maybe more than they want to read the book.
Set up a reading and signing event. Post it as an event on Facebook, blog about it, tweet about it. Let folks know about it. Fill the venue. If you don’t, you’ll be sitting in an empty room , not signing anything from a stack of books that nobody is buying.
How do I build a platform?
First, you. The platform starts with you as a person, a writer. If you are new to this, no one knows your name or your face. Get a professional head shot, then decide how you want your name spelled or used. Do you include the middle name or initial? Decide, then stick to that.
Google yourself. Find out what it looks like searching for information about yourself. Just typing your name in Google’s search box works to a degree, but you can get more specific and accurate by enclosing your name in quotes. Try variations on your name–like with or without the middle initial.
If you are completely embarrassed by what you find, you have some damage control to do (and that is outside the scope here). If you don’t find anything, you are in great shape and starting with a clean slate.
Set up a Twitter account. It’s free. Look for and follow other writers in your local area or in your genre. Don’t worry about followers. They’ll come in time.
Set up a Facebook author page. If you already have a Facebook account, that’s okay. Set up an author page anyway and only share from the author page to the regular account. Let folks know and encourage them to “like” your author page.
LinkedIn works as a professional social network. Set up a free account and search for people you know to connect with. As you build your network, you will reach more people with each blog entry you post.
Google+ is popular with some folks and you are certainly encouraged to set up a Google+ account if you have a lot of friends there.
If you use or are familiar with Pinterest, think about how you might use that to promote your work.
Set up a channel in YouTube. Yeah, you may have a book trailer to post there someday.
Some folks use Instagram, too.
Now all that above is free (except for the headshot). All it does is take time and you do have to pay attention to it all daily. The next thing isn’t free.
You need a web site. A domain. A blog. You can get a free blog site any number of places. But that isn’t your site. It doesn’t give you a place to show off your wares, events, and links to your books.
Your best bet is to get advice from someone you know to purchase a domain and set up a web site just for you. If you are lucky, you can get your name as a domain. Seek good advice on this, and make sure you have someone who can help you when things get confusing or problems crop up. They will.
If you get your domain and web hosting set up, you can install WordPress on it in a few minutes and have it up and running with nice theme shortly thereafter. If you know what you are doing, you’ll fly from here. If not, get help. Hire it, if necessary.
Your web site is your primary tool to display you, your work, and your thoughts. You can configure your web site to automatically share your blog posts to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+. You can also have people subscribe to your blog, so when you post a new blog entry it also goes out via email as a newsletter.
By the way, don’t use the “web site builder” provided by most domain/hosting services. Just don’t.
Manage the platform
Once set up, managing the platform is time-consuming. Set up a time and routine to keep up with tweets, posts and communications. At all times keep your reputation in mind. Language, attitude and other behaviors represent you to your audience. If you are writing children’s books, use language and attitudes children or their parents would find comfortable. Always consider your audience, and protect your reputation.
I’m going to talk about trolls. Trolls, on the Internet, don’t live under bridges. They “troll” for arguments or fights on the ‘net. Usually, it starts with something you say about some product, some grammar rule, some book … something. The troll jumps on this and makes a contrary remark; maybe calls you a name, or says your book is stupid.
Do. Not. Respond.
On any social media you can just ignore this person and they will go off looking for fights elsewhere. If the troll keeps coming back, on Twitter, you can block and report. On Facebook, you can unfriend or select to not see that person’s material.
In the old days, we had flame wars on the old newsgroups, listservs and other venues. They were unproductive, but generally limited to a specific forum or thread. On modern social media, the audience is entirely too broad and getting sucked into a troll’s agenda can destroy a carefully built brand.
Try to limit the time spent managing the platform so it doesn’t infringe on writing and family time. Find a blog frequency that works for you. Once a week. Once a month. Somewhere in between. Then be consistent. Your readers will start looking for your updates.
It is up to you.