To Build or Not to Build by guest Daryl Rothman (@drothmanwrites)
Please welcome my fellow Booktrope author and speaker Daryl Rothman to the blog as he shares about why authors should build their writer platform.
I hear it less frequently, but I still hear it: I don’t need to mess with any of that stuff—that’s an agent’s job. Let me just write.
The “stuff” in question typically refers to various components of author-platform-building: social media presence, networking, marketing, branding…you know, all the stuff you do when you’ve written something you actually want other people to read. But some of the old stubbornness we scribes tend to harbor persists, and many authors still are of the belief that If I Build It, They Will Come. Or, more to point, If I Write It.
A fantastic marketing guru I know likes to posit this formula. SW2C. So what, and who cares. I was once among the stubborn minions who swaddle themselves in the soothing fallacy that all they need do is write. A handful of them are correct: those who are already bestselling authors, and those who never wish to publish a page. For the rest of us, this dalliance with delusion is a problem, because it is increasingly the case that for an author to sell books, she must indeed “build it”—an author platform, that is. Yes, even if she has an agent.
Philip Pullman said, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Hear! Hear! We need stories, and we need yours. But there are two parts to this equation—the creative act of the writing itself, and cultivating a readership.
Enter, platform-building. While I have a long way to go, I can tell you that it has advanced my literary career more in the past 6 months than any other thing in the last ten years combined. And it can do the same for you. Perhaps you’re light years ahead and if so, great. But if you’re like me, having harbored what at times could be a paralyzing anxiety about this strange new world, then I hope sharing some of what I’ve learned may help you in your journey too.
If only the platform in question was as magical as Potter’s Platform 9 ¾. I would sprint headlong into the wall between platforms 9 and 10 and emerge on the other side, manuscript in hand, and find myself fending off agents and publishers just dying to represent me. Alas, no–more was required, but where to start? There seemed to be so many different components to an author platform that I wasn’t even certain how to begin.
So, I did.
I finally decided that rather than dipping my toes only to recoil from the icy waters, I would jump in, warm up and swim around a little. Social media sites abound. You don’t have to be on all of them—I’m not. I’ve focused on just a handful: Facebook, Twitter, and my blog. I’m on LinkedIn and posts through my website automatically upload to Google+. Some swear by having an Amazon author page. There is Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest. Myriad more. Pick a few, and start engaging. Doesn’t have to consume you. Start at your own pace but do start. Joining these forums but remaining inactive can be counterproductive and give the impression of someone unserious about their craft.
For me, building my website and blog has been the most important thing. The last thing you want is for people to become interested in your work and do a search, only to come up empty. It doesn’t have to be the most elaborate website in the world, bedazzled with bells and whistles. But it should be professional, clean and user-friendly, and avail the reader of information about you and your work.
Rules of Engagement
As I’ve said, don’t let your account or page or blog sit idle, gathering cyberdust and constituting the online equivalent of crickets chirping. I launched my website and started my blog. I began researching the top-rated author websites and began pitching guest post ideas. Find estimable websites and forums, and comment and engage. Be selective, but offer to provide some reviews (and be polite, but always honest, please).
I eased into Twitter, focusing primarily upon my target audience—writers and readers and to some degree agents and publishers—and concentrated more on interaction, rather than sheer numbers of followers. Few things are more irksome and disingenuous to me than all the offers I see to “buy followers.” Hey, look at me, I haven’t published a thing but I have 200,000 followers, I MUST be good! (And yes, I see plenty of those examples.) No thanks. How about, find your niche, build slowly, share value, engage authentically and reciprocate.
Joel Friedlander has a savvy method for building your Twitter following, one which I have at times engaged, with good success. But if it starts to feel like you are merely “collecting” followers, slow down a bit, and ensure you are being strategic and doing all you can to make it about authentic engagement. Many promulgate the 80-20 rule vis a vis Twitter: ensuring 80% of what you share/tweet is from or about others, and only 20% is about you. I know this may seem counterintuitive, since part of what I am preaching here is the need for self-promotion. But there is a spammy, hacky way to do it, and there is a better way. I think you know the difference.
Ok, you say, I’m in. But doesn’t all this involve, you know, TECHNOLOGY? Well, yeah. A bit. But before you become apoplectic, take a breath. I am an unabashed Luddite, and I am here to tell you if I can do it, so can you. Technology is a good and necessary thing in this world of platform-building, but hardly the only thing, and certainly not worthy of panic attacks or machine-destroying revolt. I’ll confide here and now I got help—lots of it—building my website. Odds are you have a friend or relative who may assist you, and there are plenty of templates and resources to help you along the way. Again, it’s more about the steak than the sizzle: make it professional and easy to navigate, but after that it’s all about content.
As for social media, sure, those by their nature typically involve at least a modest foray onto a technological platform, but it doesn’t have to get complex, and there is almost always guidance to help you access more detailed features. Be strategic. It’s far less about mastering the technology than understanding your goals and making the technology work for you. Although some are far more prolific on Twitter, on most days all I endeavor to do is tweet at least one or two things—usually a quote about writing, perhaps an article or story from a friend or another author, maybe an article of mine or something about the book I am working on (remember the 80-20 rule though, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof).
Oh Yeah, WRITE
This will make the purists happy. The writing itself is at the heart of the matter, the why of what we do. The stories which Pullman references. Our hearts, our souls, our voices soaring on the wings of our words, so let us ensure they are the best of us. Write, edit, and write and edit some more. And, of course, read. Copiously. But the main point is, hone your craft. We are here stressing the vital importance of building your author-platform, and it would be downright tragic, I believe, to successfully execute that vital process, only to fail to create something of quality and value.
After You Publish…
Okay, when (we believe in one another here) you are published, remember the goal was not only to write the book and publish the book, but to SELL it, and so your work has only just begun. Yes, I know I am talking a lot about work, but it is also the stuff of dreams, and as such something far worthier of celebration than lamentation. Toward that end, be prepared to continue and even intensify your platform-building. Promoting through your blog and social media; seeking reviews; being interviewed or writing articles about your book; maybe even a blog tour. Have a strategy and whatever the particulars, engage them with gusto. Even if you’ve an agent, you are still your own best advocate and want to hold the reins, including during this crucial phase.
I hope sharing these experiences and suggestions will prove useful to you, but remember there are helpful tools out there as you start building. Kimberley Grabas has some great resources, and Rachel recently shared a fantastic piece about some of the building you’ll want to do BEFORE you have a product.
So what do you think? Have you found platform-building to be important in your growth as an author? Or are you just getting started, and not sure where to begin? Please comment, and let’s do a little building of our own. 🙂
About Daryl Rothman:
Daryl Rothman is an author and speaker who has been published on many top-ranked author sites. He writes novels, short stories, flash-fiction and articles, and is in the process of shopping his YA/Fantasy manuscript.
Daryl is on Twitter, Linked In and Google + . Daryl is not sure why he is speaking of himself in 3rd-person—like George, he likes his chicken spicy. You can also find Daryl at his website.
The Awakening of David Rose:
Navigating the awkward world of bullies, girls and adolescence is hard enough, but for thirteen-year-old David Rose, those have been the least of his problems. All he wants to do is find the truth about why his mother disappeared a year ago, leaving nothing behind but a suspicious note and devastated family. David does all he can to help his little sister cope, while he confronts a string of strange and mysterious incidents. A new woman has entered their lives, and David knows he should be happy she is coaxing their father from his depression, but something doesn’t feel right. He befriends her son Donovan, but they can’t seem to stay out of each other’s way, even competing over the same beautiful girl, Amanda. Things keep getting worse, but David finds a ray of hope in Marcel, the school counselor with whom he feels an immediate and somehow familiar connection. Marcel not only believes the strange stories David shares, but seems to know something of the secrets they harbor. When David and his family travel with Donovan and his mother for a vacation at a medieval castle in England, things grow stranger, and more dangerous, than ever. David must summon all that Marcel has taught him and confront the truth: that in order to survive the world he knows, he must come to terms with a magical world he never knew existed.