Platform: what the heck are we doing?

file0002108341536Platform.  It’s agreed that every author needs a platform.  There are a lot of debates raging, though, regarding when to start, what to do, and why.

First and foremost:  I believe in promotion.  You can have the most wonderful story in existence, but if no one knows about it, or can’t find it, then you’re never going to get read.

That said, I have mixed feelings about the term “platform” simply because I think most of us just don’t get it.

Why are you doing what you’re doing?

I have spent the past few years studying courses from, and the dynamic duo of Naomi Dunford and Dave Navarro.  In their course “Your Next Six Months,” they wrote a fantastic observation :

Let’s look at someone who wants to get serious about music. What might they do to show they were serious?

They’re going to find Middle C on a piano. They’re going to figure out the correct way to hold a French horn.  They’re going to learn how to moisten the reed on a clarinet without getting a tongue splinter.  They’re going to pick up a biography of Beethoven on the Kindle.

Looking at these people from the outside, what’s the first word you think of when you look at their behavior?  Is it serious?  Or is it scattered?

Applied to music, or sports, or home decorating, this approach is insane.
Applied to business, it somehow seems not only reasonable, but the only responsible thing to do.

How authors apply this insanity.

I can’t tell you how many authors I’ve spoken with who say “well, I’ve got to get my platform going, because I’m going to be querying soon.  So I have got to get a website.  And I’m starting my Facebook page, and get a Twitter profile.  Oh!  And I’ve been hearing good things about Pinterest.  And maybe Tumblr.  And I need to start a street team.  And I really have to figure out how to spend more time on blogging.  I hear that’s really good for SEO.”

Right there, that’s essentially presenting a similar approach to the scattered music analogy.  They’re going to do a little bit of everything.  But it’s not going to necessarily tie up coherently.

If you ask them what the purpose of this “platform” is, they will look at you like you’re crazy, and say, “to sell books, obviously!”

But it’s as if they’re following a recipe: have these elements, mix vigorously, and sales will result.  That’s essentially like someone throwing eggs, butter, flour, and sugar in a bowl, and then hoping like hell a cake comes out when they take it out of the oven.

What might work better.

There’s a method behind the madness.  Here are some example elements, and how they work:

1.  Website. 

Who goes there:  people who want to find out more about you and/or your books.

How they got there:  either because they saw a guest post and found you interesting; they saw your title in a search, and they want to know more before they invest in your books; or they read your title, liked it, and want to know what else you have and when your next title will be available, especially if there’s a series.  They either Google search your name or click on a link, again from a guest post bio, or Goodreads, or social media.

What it should do: 

  • offer information about you in a way that’s compelling to your Right Readers, reassuring them that they’re in the right place.
  • Offer ways to purchase your books and information that might sway an on-the-fence reader.
  • Offer a clear overview of the series order if you write series
  • Provide a way for readers to be notified about future titles, perhaps even with a signing incentive, in your newsletter.

2.  Social Media:  Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.

Who visits your social media:  Different types of people use different types of social media for different purposes.  They go to see interesting things, find things to share with other people, and to feel connected. Almost none of these people go to these places to be actively sold to.

How they get to your social media:  Generally, you get “followed” by fans on social media after they find a book and enjoy it, or because they’ve seen you interacting with other mutual friends, and they feel they connect with you on a personal level.  They like what you share, what you “say,” and generally your social media personality.  Or, they are signing up to support you, because they like your work and want to feel closer to you.

What social media should do:

  • Should be primarily social.  It’s hard to connect with a continually ongoing ad.
  • Even if it’s promoting work, there is an element of “we” to it… “You guys got this book to #3 on the bestseller list!” reads a lot differently than “I hit #3 on the bestseller list!”
  • Should be focused on your Right Reader almost exclusively.  That way, you’re cementing your relationship with those people who will be the most connected to you, and the most vehement about helping you promote.

3.  Guest posting/blog tours

Who goes there:  people who are “fans” and followers of the book blog.  Making sure you’re a right fit for the book blog is a good first step.

How they get there:  They follow social media links or simply visit the blog regularly.

What guest posting should do: 

  • In some cases, it will result in either a sale, or at least an “add” of interest on Goodreads, both good things.
  • In some cases, it will simply promote interest — they aren’t ready to buy or add, yet, but they might research a bit more.  Links to your website would probably be a good thing, especially if it comes with a bribe to subscribe or extended excerpt.
  • In other cases, they may not be interested in the book, but they will respond to your tone and decide to follow your social media, giving you opportunity to connect and possibly sell a book they find more to their liking down the road.
  • Finally, if nothing else, it increases visibility of your title.  Every blog tends to promote their guest posts and reviews on all their social media — which then gets cross promoted and retweeted, etc. by many of their followers and friends. So people start seeing your title and name in their social media feeds, and when they finally click on a link, they’ll think “man, I’ve been hearing about this book everywhere.”

Like a puzzle, a platform has interlocking pieces.

It’s not brain surgery, but a certain amount of strategy does come into play.  If you don’t know what you want a platform “plank” to accomplish, think twice before leaping in.

If you’re interested in developing that strategy…

I’ve put out a book to help with just that.  It’s called Painless Promotion: Strategy. It will give you the interlocking pieces, going into more detail than I’ve done here. Better still, it will help you decide what you need, and why… and how to start putting that plan into place.


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