If we writers had a dollar for every time we read or heard that word, the accumulated pile of cash might even be as large as the elusive advance we've been dreaming of.
So, what is a platform? A wooden contraption? A blog? Social networking? Finally getting to that magic number of hits when you "Google" yourself?
All of the above. And though you're probably safe without the traditional wooden contraption unless you intend to literally get up on your soapbox, the visual is a good one. Just as that wooden platform allows you to be seen in a crowd, so does a virtual platform, consisting of an online presence in a variety of places. Although the physical world doesn't allow us to be in more than one place at a time, the virtual world has no such limitations.
And that is exactly what editors and agents are looking for in a publishing world with ever-tightening budgets. Authors (especially first-time, unknown authors) are expected to play a significant role in promoting their books. Consequently, blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and other social media have become integral pieces in the promotion puzzle.
If you feel overwhelmed (and perhaps a little overexposed) by this whole concept, don't despair. The process doesn't have to be daunting. Read on, and take one letter at a time. In any order. In whatever time frame works best for you. Build at your own pace.
If, of course, you happen to be the lucky writer who has a book deal in hand and whose editor and/or agent is strongly suggesting you wave your flag from your platform, say, yesterday, you may want to build with a bit more alacrity.
Pick up your hammer (or your mouse) and let's get started!
Put yourself out there. This is the foundation of your platform. Anything that gets your name in the public eye qualifies. Book signings. Speaking engagements. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In. Like Legos, some building blocks have bigger pay-offs than others, but anything that makes a connection between you and your (potential) readership is a "plank." Online presences are the most universally noticeable, but e-mailing everyone in your contact list about an upcoming book-signing, speaking engagement or published article is a start as well.
Let go of modesty - professionally speaking. This isn't so much a step in the process as a necessary mindset. You have to believe that there's an audience for your blog, your book, your Twitter posts and your Facebook status. Then, you have to engage that audience. Otherwise, why are you writing these posts in the first place? For writers who are naturally reclusive, this can be the hardest part...until they discover that posting all of their book signings, events and publishing coups online not only sells books, but builds relationships. These posts are also great exercises in writing tight and getting the same point across to different audiences in different ways. Keep your audience and the protocol of the space in mind, though. While an overwhelmed reader can scroll past endless self-promotion posts on Facebook, she may un-follow you if do the same thing on Twitter.
Access other writers. Your best audience is other people who know what you're going through. This part can be the most fun because you're building relationships and nurturing your creativity through these interactions. The best place to find these folks is in the same online PR improvement stores you're already haunting - social networking sites - which can lead to following one another's blogs and careers, as well as sharing what works and what doesn't. Conferences and online forums are also great places to make connections, build camaraderie and share great ideas.
Take advantage of free resources. When I first started blogging, I paid a monthly fee to the site that hosted my blog. Later, I discovered that despite my technological inadequacies, I could blog just as easily and look just as professional on a free site. Don't make the same mistake I did, assuming that sites that cost money look more professional than a free site. Check out all your options and choose the one that best fits your needs.
Find a partner in crime. Blogging is so much easier when you do it with friends and colleagues. Ditto book signings. In addition, if you are one of the aforementioned reclusive writers, having a fellow author along takes the edge off and gives you someone to laugh with, as well as potentially drawing a bigger crowd. Take advantage of guest posts - invite people to post on your blog and accept (and pursue) invitations to do the same on other writers' blogs as well.
Online presence is essential. Google yourself. Go ahead. What do you find? That's exactly what an editor or agent will find when they look you up after reading your query. Are you out in the open, or playing hide and seek? Bear in mind, though, that everything you write online - good or bad - contributes to your public image, so edit all posts in all forums for both quality and professionalism.
Read widely...and then comment. Read in your genre, not only so you'll know what's out there and who's publishing what, but also so you can speak intelligently about the competition. Read blogs, too, and comment on them. Don't be shy, but do be polite and articulate because once you post, you can't take it back. And, if you get in the habit of commenting on editor and agent pages, these publishing professionals may recognize you when your query crosses their desks, or when you meet them at a conference. In addition, your blog comments will increase the number of hits search engines return when you type in your own name.
Make sure you don't lose sight of your real goal. We are, after all, supposed to be writing content, not just tweeting and posting status updates. You don't want to find yourself perched atop that platform with no book to wave!
Unless you're in a hurry for some reason (the aforementioned book contract, for example), building a platform can easily be a weekend project - one that you undertake in small pieces over a period of time. Start where you are most comfortable (Facebook, perhaps?) expand from there, and from time to time, step back to review your work and see if it looks the way you want it to. If not, make changes to the content or the aesthetics until you have it looking the way you want it to. As your platform expands and you become more comfortable, seek out other resources on the subject to see where small tweaks can yield big results.
For a writer, a platform is simply another work-in-progress. And who knows? Maybe you'll even learn to love the possibilities revision brings.
reprinted with permission from the Institute of Children's Literature
Lisa Lawmaster Hess is a writer and retired school counselor on a constant quest for organization. The author of Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce, Lisa is currently at work on an ebook as a means of putting off revisions on her novel. She indulges her teaching muse as an instructor for community education classes and classes for retirees. Her blogs are The Porch Swing Chronicles and Six Children and No Theories.