Here’s some of what I hear from writers around platform:

—“Do I really have to do all of that?”
—“It sounds like a fulltime job.”
—“What you’re describing sounds great, but it doesn’t pertain to my genre [fiction/memoir/poetry].”
—“But so-and-so [Stephen King, Annie Lamott, Isabelle Allende, other famous person of choice] probably didn’t have to do this before they got famous…”
—And so on.

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This Tuesday (October 1), She Writes is hosting a 3-week thought leadership webinar, taught by Deborah Siegel. On her free webinar last week, during the Q&A section, someone asked a version of one of these questions and it prompted me to think about how valuable it would be for all authors everywhere to reframe the platform question for themselves. (By the way, platform, in a nutshell, is what you do to get your ideas out into the world to gain visibility for yourself, your message, and your brand.)

Here’s a fact: Publishers are obsessed with platform.

Here’s something for you to chew on: If you want to get published, you need to be too.

But most important above all else: Your platform is not for your future publisher; it’s for you.

Last Friday I attended a sales meeting for SWP’s spring list. Here was the depressing message I got after delivering an enthusiastic editorial presentation of all of our books: “Sales people don’t really care about the content.”

Ouch.

But look at this dispassionately, and you’ll start to see why platform matters as much as it does.

600,000 and 1,000,000 books a year are published. As the sales reps’ boss told me on Friday: “You are fighting for shelf space, and in order for a buyer to take your book, you have to convince them that the customers are going to come.”

This is not Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will not come. The way to make them come is by setting your sites on some very basic tenants of platform building and buckling down for the long haul. Customers don’t come just because your writing is good. Customers come because of things like advance praise; advance publicity; and advance reviews. Customers come when an author has a strong online presence (blog with followers; Facebook page with fans; Twitter followers; etc.). Customers come because you are able to create a compelling message. You are able to ask the question that Deborah will be prompting participants of her webinar series to consider: WHY ME? Why are you the person to write your book? You need to dissect this question and let it serve as the foundation for the platform you build out in the larger world.

To me, authors who think they shouldn’t have to build a platform are missing a critical point. By asking, WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO DO THIS? instead of the much more important question, WHY AM I THE PERSON TO DO THIS?, you are wasting valuable emotional energy.

As Deborah says, “Platform is a marathon, not a sprint.”

I’d also like to share my response to the question that was (inevitably) posed in on last week’s webinar: Why is it important to have a platform, and, as storytellers, do we really need a platform?

The gist of my response was what I tell all of my authors who wish they didn’t have to think about all of this stuff:

You can write your book without attending to the outside pulls of platform, and some of you may need to. But it’s a lot like writing your book in a cave. When you come out of the cave, don’t expect there to be a huge group of expectant people there waiting to buy your book. In order to build interest around you, you have to build interest around your ideas. This takes wrapping your mind around what it means to be a thought leader. It also takes some time—anywhere from six months to a few years to do it well.

Platform-building is not for the faint-hearted. It’s an exercise in discipline and self-validation. There will be lots of days when no one pays attention to what you’re doing, even when you’ve put your own blood, sweat, and tears into prepping a post, or making sure you attended to your social media, or hosting an event (online or in person) where only a handful of people showed up.

Remember that you’re in it for the long-run. And don’t let the word “platform” intimidate you. Most important, try not to think of it as something that other people are telling you you need to have. When it becomes a burden, the already hard work of it will feel unbearable. Your platform is about you, for you, and to support you. If you want to get published and sell books, you have to get noticed. When you buckle down and do it in measured ways, you will start to change your relationship with platform on a conceptual level. You’ll even start to change your conversation—not why, but how?

Join Deborah and I for these three weeks to discuss these questions and much much more. Plus there are special guests, and you get a free PDF copy of my book, that includes Chapter 4: The Almighty Author Platform: Understanding How and Why to Build Your Platform So You Can Prevent Rejections and Sell More Books.

See you online and next month!

Read other posts I’ve written about platform:

Your Fiction Platform in a Nutshell

Platform Vs. Portfolio

4 Comments

  1. Great piece. Thank you. What do you think is the “size” of a publishable platform in the eyes of most publishers? How many Facebook “likes?” How many followers in Twitter? How many names on a mailing list?

    • This varies, Tom, but a good question. I generally say the benchmark is 1000 FB followers, maybe twice as many (at least) on Twitter. Maybe even more like 5K on Twitter. For a database, 500-1000 would be a good base. Very general here. Some publishers might still think this isn’t enough.

  2. Awesome piece, Brooke. I’m sharing with the authors I work with, many of whom still think platform doesn’t matter as long as they write a good story.

  3. Brooke, you have landed on the best approach I’ve ever heard about platform building. Changing the relationship a writer has with the experience, and moving the process from something “I have to do for my agent, publisher, or even potential readers” to something “I want to do for myself.” Can’t wait to start the webinar tomorrow. Thanks for once again bringing so much value to your posts!

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