Forget Platform. Think Tribe.

*Note: this is a reprint of the earlier article from my “imploded” version of the blog.  I’ll be posting the ones I’ve been able to recover.  Thanks for your patience!

I’ve been researching, working on a simple plan book for how to build a platform. And as I’ve given questionnaires, read business books and blogs, and delved into the pros, cons, and conflicting tips on how to build a platform, I’m slowly triangulating on one thing that keeps surfacing:

Platform building doesn’t work.

A different way to think about promotion

Here’s an illustration. I get two emails. One is from an author I am loosely acquainted with on Facebook, telling me she’s added a Facebook page to promote her new book that’s being released on Tuesday, and asking me to please “like” it… and hey, maybe buy the book while I”m at it, because it’s a great read. The other is from a dear friend of mine, someone I’ve been in a critique group with for a few years. Her book is being released on Friday, and she’s thrilled.

Guess whose book I’m picking up on Friday?

That seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? I am thrilled for my friend. I’ve watched her grow. She’s listened to me rant. She’s lent me books and recommended new authors. She’s been there for a quick beta read when I’ve needed her. I want to support her. Of course I’m picking up her book. And I’m announcing it on my blog, Facebook status and Twitter account. Not because she asked me to, although I wouldn’t mind if she did. Because I like her and I want her to succeed.
I don’t know the other author. While she seems like a nice enough person, I don’t necessarily trust her. Why should I “like” her page, just on her say-so? What incentive do I have? Who is this person, anyway? I’d like to help, but it’s like a casual acquaintance asking to borrow your car. My friend, I’d hand over the keys in a heartbeat. But I don’t know you, Facebook author… and I get requests just like it by the dozens every day. Sorry to be blunt, but what makes you special, random author?

What does this mean for you?

This doesn’t mean you throw in the towel, write what you can, and hope for the best. I still think promotion is important. I think that there have been two camps: the Militant Introverts, artistic purists who think self promotion is “shameless” and who will live or die by their draft; and the Aggressive Promoters, who strategize, implement, and “promo-whore” as best they can.

There is a third band of refugees who cycle from one camp to the other, randomly blogging like mad when a release is out then retreating to a cave for months at a time.

At one time or another, I’ve been all three. And I’m starting to see that there’s another, better way.

Promotion Karma

I’m still developing this theory, but I think that the important thing is to make friends. I’ve seen comments from readers saying they are more likely to buy a book from someone that they “know” even if their only interaction has been online. So the key is to become a friend to people.

I’m sure there are nay-sayers that will point out you need to sell about 100,000 books, at least, to become a bestseller… and you have enough problems keeping track of your family, much less “being a friend” to a cast of thousands. But that’s not what needs to happen.

Remember the Right Reader post? Find your target audience. Then pick one or two groups, and become a friend. A real friend, not just someone hanging out for promo. Listen to what they have to say. Authentically care when there are birthdays, or sicknesses, ups and downs. Participate for at least a month without mentioning your books at all.

Listen. Help. Connect.

Find a few authors who are in the mid-list in the same genre that you’re targeting — discover ones whose writing you enjoy. Then promote them . Do a review on your blog, comment on their blogs, mention them on social media.
Who knows? Maybe they’ll blurb your book when the time comes, or mention your releases. Maybe they won’t. It’s not quid pro quo… it’s karma.

Maybe it’s a crazy dream, but I think that this is the promotion “strategy” I’ve been stumbling around, searching for, for years.

It feels right. After all, your brand is how others perceive you — the way you interact with your readers on a consistent basis, every day. What could be a better brand builder than simply putting yourself out there as a good friend, and mean it?

If this sounds right to you… if this sounds like something that is just crazy enough to work, please re-tweet this, “like” it, tell your friends. And if you know of other writers who are already clued into this, who have written about it or taught it, please email me. I think we’re onto something here.

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