Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Platform By the Letters: A Beginner's Guide by Lisa Lawmaster Hess


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.


Jeanne Doyon said...

Thanks for the practical advice. I think I need to discover the fine point of platform. I have a web presence. I write, teach, speak--all related to God's word and life. But, I am praying for that thread of gold that ties it all together.

Mechele said...

Yes, that is what I was thinking, too, Jeanne; I definitely have a web presence, writing for, but I have other interests and more to contribute than what I write about daily with Huliq. I started a blog that I recently re-started, Losing it in the Real World about the (my) weight loss journey, but I also have Christian ideas and musings I would like to discuss; do I need a blog for that, too? When do I find the time to contribute to all of these "platforms?" Sigh ... the life of a writer, I guess ... :)

Thanks, for the advice!

Mechele R. Dillard

Jeanne Doyon said...

It would be helpful to discuss this in community, don't you think. Often others see our gold thread before we do :)

What is the "work" in Ephesians 2:10 that He is calling me to?

Mechele said...

Yes, you are right; fear, I know, holds me back. I think, "Who will listen to what I have to say?" But, then, I have to remember that, one, they are not going to listen to ME but to GOD and, two, if He is with me, none can be against me.

It is harder to live it sometimes, tho', than it is to know it--at least, it is for me ... need to get out of my own way--God's way--and step up to my greater purpose. :)

Going to check out your blog, now, Jeanne; thank you! :)

Jeanne Doyon said...

Mechelle, FEAR is a big one for me too. I am writing a book? ebook? now about fear. The enemy would like nothing better for you to listen to the voice of fear. God's voice of Faith is louder and more powerful....He says, Come, follow Me.

Blessings as your sort this out. I am right behind you.

D. Gudger said...

Thank you your timely post. I am struggling with the platform concept, especially as a writer of fiction. It seems from all the reading I've been doing, is that publishing pros are expecting platforms before product. As a YA writer I am trying to find a way to connect to potential readers through Tumblr since that is where statistically, teens are hanging out online. I am struggling with content since I don't have a book contract.

I have been in panic mode, seeing only one or two new followers a week, wishing I could hit a magic number of sorts in me days. What your post offered me is grace. It doesn't have to be built overnight. Just the fact I started is a move in the right direction. Thank you for that encouragement.

D. Gudger said...

Fear is probably my biggest obstacle at the moment. I had a good platform building a few years ago, even had an agent and was moving toward my dreams. Then life happened. K locked me down, knocked me out. Left me wounded. I gave up. God is putting opportunity before me now as life continues another round of debilitating trials, yet this time I know throwing my hands up and running is not an option.

I am afraid of putting anything of myself "out there" again because I was judged so harshly last time. I cannot get over the fear of what being vulnerable, talking about deep faith issues might bring. So I hear ya, I'm going to check out Jeanne's blog too.

Jeanne Doyon said...

Praying for you D Gudger. Our words will touch hearts primarliy by the Holy Spirit and His divine appointments. Platform is the buzz word we need to deal with but our God is bigger...His platform is broader...and He will be the one open the way for us to walk with influence.

Take heart, my friend. He is in control--we just need to follow His nudges without fear.

Lisa Lawmaster Hess said...

Wow, ladies, what a great discussion and what wonderful support!!

One takeaway I've consistently gotten from Michael Hyatt's work on platform (book, blog, etc.) is that it doesn't happen overnight. That, to me, removed a lot of the element of fear. I can do anything in baby steps. Blogging about something - anything - is better than letting fear grip me and silence me.

Thinking about platform is the first baby step, and you all are already there - some even ahead of that! What baby step can you take today/this week/this month that moves you one step closer to your goal? Choose your baby step, choose your time frame and go from there!

Thanks so much for reading!!

Mechele said...

Thank YOU for giving us the, um, platform ... :D

You know, you clarified one thing for me, too: Just exactly what an editor/publisher/agent might consider to even BE a platform. I always thought that if I wasn't a professor in [insert your topic here], or some similar "documented" authority, it wouldn't be enough. From what I understand here, however, what I need to express, truly, is a knowledge of my subject and connection with readers that transcends the degrees and certificates (although, I'm sure, those things are good, too, of course).

Jeanne Doyon said...

Thanks for being a great catalyst, Lisa. I know one step I need to take is to write more about overcoming fear. And, to begin writing some ebooks I can put on my blog and website.

The other thing I need to do, though I struggle a bit with it because of the time it takes, is to be more visible on other's blogs.

And lastly, I need to be dependent on Jesus the Vine--who is the source of all wisdom, for it is His wisdom I want to share with others--not my own.

I appreciate you,

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for being a great catalyst, Lisa. I know one step I need to take is to write more about overcoming fear. And, to begin writing some ebooks I can put on my blog and website.

The other thing I need to do, though I struggle a bit with it because of the time it takes, is to be more visible on other's blogs.

And lastly, I need to be dependent on Jesus the Vine--who is the source of all wisdom, for it is His wisdom I want to share with others--not my own.