The Writer’s Platform: What It Is, How to Build It, and How It Helps an Author Sell Books

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Last week, I promised to discuss platform; what it is, why it is important, and how to build it. But first and foremost, we must define our terms. In this case, just what is a writer’s platform? The closest definition Merriam-Webster Dictionary* has that would accurately describe it is, “2: a declaration of principles on which a group of persons stands; especially: a declaration of principles and policies adopted by a political party or a candidate.”

Based on this definition, it can be said that an author’s platform consists primarily of a blog/website where he makes his thoughts known to the world. Agents and editors always – always – look at a prospective client’s blog when considering accepting their manuscript(s). If a writer does not have a blog that he maintains regularly – i.e., on which he posts standard content of some sort – then the publisher/agent will likely not accept his manuscript.

Some writers may acquire a publisher or an agent right out of the gate without a blog, but those authors are the exceptions to the rule. The odds of being accepted by a publisher or an agent this quickly are extremely low for most of us. If a novelist wants to gain any attention from these heavyweights in the industry, he must have a blog where he posts content of some kind frequently.

Publishers do not look at a blog’s content per se – although they will, of course, read through it to learn more about the person with whom they might be dealing. The three specific things which a publisher will be looking for are 1) does the writer have a blog, (2) how often does the writer post new material on his blog, and (3) whether or not the writer has followers /subscribers. Number three is the single most important part of the a writer’s blog which publishers and agents consider when they research a prospective author’s platform. Why? They look at this number to see how many people are interested in the author’s writing. If the writer has thousands of followers on other social media sites but only about thirty blog followers, then publishers will not consider them a viable asset for their company.

For some this would seem to be a cruel disparity; if a writer has hundreds or thousands of followers on various social media sites, why does the number of blog followers matter so much? It matters because one can literally buy Twitter followers. As of 2016, it was possible to spend a thousand dollars to gain a thousand Twitter followers. I discovered this by listening to an agent’s videos on building a writing platform, and these videos were posted in that year. This is not hearsay, nor am I making it up. It is an actual fact of life for publishers, agents and yes, writers.

So even if you legitimately earned those thousands of Twitter followers, future writers, there is no way that the publisher/agent can confirm that fact. Not without more time and effort than the publisher/agent has to spare, anyway. These people must scan a slush pile that, if it were printed out, would bury them at their desks. They do not have time to search the minute details of a hopeful novelist’s social media presence in order to verify that they are actually capable of holding an audience’s attention and maintaining that grip.

The Benefits of Building a Writing Platform

However, if the prospective writer has a thousand blog followers in addition to his thousands of Twitter, Facebook, MeWe, and/or Youtube followers, then the publisher/agent knows the prospective writer is someone who will (likely) produce a salable product. In the eyes of publishers and agents, the number of blog followers validates the numbers which writers have following them on their other social media accounts. Thus far it is impossible to buy blog followers the way one can purchase Twitter supporters. And blog posts are somewhat harder to lose/ignore than Facebook posts. They also require more engagement than posts on that platform do.

If you want to gain the attention of a publisher and/or an agent to prove you are Somebody Marketable, if only a relatively small somebody, you need a website/blog. You need to be someone they can find within a few minutes of typing your name into a search engine. Nonfiction or fiction, if you have a blog with a wide enough audience in addition to your other social media audiences, then you are marketable. While you are writing your novel(s), short stories, and articles – and yes, maintaining a place on various social media sites – you have to “build your brand” on the Internet.

And the best way to do that is with a blog.

Now, for some prospective writers, this is discouraging news. They do not have a blog, they have one but they only have a few followers, or their name is not in their blog address. (There is a reason my URL has my name in it; the blog is titled “A Song of Joy,” but the web address is my name. It makes me easy to find.) First and foremost, future authors, do not be discouraged. Blogs are easy to establish, and if you can get a posting rhythm going, not too difficult to maintain. Even if you only write and post a paragraph or two every week/couple of days, then that regular schedule will help you to establish your brand.

If you are just starting out and have few to no writing credits, connections, awards, or sales, then the minimum number of blog followers you want to reach to gain a publisher’s or an agent’s attention would be around two hundred (200). If you have two hundred followers and more on the way, with an equal or greater number of followers on other sites, then those other numbers become more believable in the eyes of a publisher/agent. You will also want to follow and befriend other authors with a similar following or who are reaching out to the audience which you are aiming to entertain.

For example, if you have written the next great grimdark fantasy, you will want to follow other writers in this genre. You can comment on their posts, agreeing or disagreeing with them, and trade shop talk in the comments section of their posts on their sites. As long as you are civil and make good points (or a few understandable blunders), they will likely notice you and check out your platform. Some may even follow you back and become good friends. This is what used to be known as “fostering connections” in the industry. Who you know may not land you your first contract, but it will not hurt your chances at it, either.

Additionally, to grow your list of followers, you will want to make contact with bloggers who enjoy the same things you do – or who post on totally dissimilar topics from your own. The more eyes you can get on your site and your work, the better you will be able to market yourself to both your audience and potential agents/publishers. People like knowing that they’re friends with an author, and if they realize you enjoy the same things they do or are interested in things they can help you understand better, then they will be happy to follow you, as well as leave likes and comments. They will help you build your platform without necessarily realizing that is what they are doing.

To some, beginning writer or not, this may sound utilitarian, materialistic, or even abusive. If a writer treats it that way, it can and will be. Seeing others as stepping stones to success may lead to a temporary achievement of fame and fortune, but it will not lead to long-lasting relationships with one’s readers.

Writer Platform - Why YOU Need One | ACE Writers

Rather than view this tactic in a materialistic light, try to look at it as finding people who like what you enjoy, future authors. They just do not know they like your stories yet. By posting articles or links that your followers and you enjoy, you are building a relationship with people who will support you in your dream, and surprise you with their suggestions, ideas, and friendship.

You may not recall all their names all the time, or be available to every one of them all the time. That is not a problem that cannot be rectified when an opportunity presents itself. What matters is the feeling and the understanding that you can talk to one another anytime, anywhere, and have a good time doing it.

Not all of your online followers will stay. Some may follow you only to cause trouble. But the majority will be quite happy to keep loose tabs on your thoughts as you pursue your writing journey and offer them a new form of entertainment. Even if they do not enjoy all your stories, they will at least give them a try. And when they do like something you wrote, they will be sure to spread the word. Who can keep a good thing to himself?

People naturally want to share something they find entertaining, helpful, or otherwise good with others. You do it all the time with your friends, family, and even the odd acquaintance you meet every now and then at the grocery store. Doing it on the Internet is really not that different, save that it gives you a wider platform on which to do it. 😉

Given the emphasis this author has placed on having a blog, one has to wonder about the viability of other social media platforms. Should a beginning writer shun all but the blog, or can he make use of other media websites. Besides the Big Tech companies, what about sites such as Archive of Our Own, Fanfiction.net, Wattpad, “et cetera and so forth”*? Do authors setting out on the road to publishing need to avoid using these websites and focus only on the blog?

The short answer is no, they do not. Having fans/followers on more than one social media site is a good thing as far as agents and publishers are concerned. It simply cannot be the only thing; they need to know that the numbers on these sites are real. The number of blog followers they find usually does that for them, but this does not imply that they do not want to see similar numbers on the author’s other social media sites.

If you have a significant number of followers on any of these other platforms, then you need to make certain you include them in your queries to an agent. Unless you sent a publisher a book proposal (which we will discuss some other time) with details on you, your platform, and your story, this is not information you need to put in the letter. Putting links to these various platforms on your blog will make it easier for them to find these numbers, if you have not already sent them on with other material.

Also, if you are only beginning your writing career but have followers on these platforms for various other reasons, let them know what you are doing now. They will want to know, and they will want to help. Everyone likes to know a celebrity – even a small one. An author’s fans who “knew him/her when” are no different.

Now, with all of this being said, the final thing you have to do is make sure that keeping up with your various social media outlets does NOT interfere with your fiction and/or nonfiction writing. Social media tends to be a time-sink no matter how one slices it, so balance is important. Make sure you reserve certain times of the day for social media and/or develop the ability to curb your impulse to spend hours posting, liking, and reading other people’s pages. If you do not do this, the odds are that your ability to deliver on any promises will decline sharply.

This will be very, very bad not only for your writing but for your platform, future authors. If someone promises something and does not deliver it, people stop trusting said person to keep their word on anything. If you post daily word counts for your book on Facebook but do not produce the novel you promised, followers on that platform and others have every right to pull their support. You have taken up their precious time for nothing. What is worse, you have lied to them about it.

Integrity is everything, future authors. You have to be able to keep your word, or your audience will be more than justified in withdrawing their support of your work. To prevent that, keep a balance between posting and “business” writing. Your first priority is to write and sell books, short stories, and the like. Your second is to build your platform. It is a very narrow second, but the distinction is there and must be watched.

I hope this post is helpful, future authors, and that it gives you an idea of what you will need to do to accomplish your goals. Things may change as time goes on, but the rapport between the creator and the audience should never be underestimated or exploited. To borrow a quote from a good film*: “Build it, and they will come.”

What is a Freelance Writer Platform (and Do I Need One)?

Build your worlds and your platform, future authors. If you do good work, good will come of it. And you will know that because, having built it, people will come to you for entertainment. This is both heartwarming and humbling, and it will sustain you through trials big and small as you continue on this journey called life.

So do not keep them waiting, future authors. Build your platform, invite people to come, and give them something to enjoy. “For all the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players….”*

If you liked this article, friend Caroline Furlong on Facebook or follow her here at www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com. Her stories have been published in Cirsova’s Summer Special and Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth, while her poetry appeared in Organic Ink, Vol. 2. She has also had stories published in Planetary Anthologies Luna and Uranus. Another story was released in Cirsova Magazine’s Summer Issue. Her most recent piece is available in Planetary Anthology: Sol. Order them today!

*These are Amazon affiliate links. When you purchase something through it, this author receives a commission from Amazon at no extra charge to you, the buyer. If you want more insight on how to improve your craft, take a look at K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story. Order it today!  

3 thoughts on “The Writer’s Platform: What It Is, How to Build It, and How It Helps an Author Sell Books

  1. Thank you for this information. I started my author blog back in 2008, but it has been arduous getting followers for it. I posted regularly on various topics, from writing and illustrating to my current WIP. Of course, everything is shared on social media, and that is where everyone wants to follow me. Do you have any words of wisdom for encouraging them to follow my actual blog? I’m currently working on three different YA fiction novels, and adding even more content to my site is becoming difficult. Hopefully, this comment will help foster more connections.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your blog looks very good, and the topics you cover are worthwhile. As I said in the article, it helps if you leave likes and comments on other sites, sometimes on posts about things you’re only tangentially interested in. For instance, if you like knitting, you can look up knitters’ blogs and leave likes and/or comments on several of their articles. They will probably visit your site and, if they like what they see, they may follow you in return.

      To that end, I have to say that you might want to consider streamlining your subscription process. Not everyone is comfortable signing up for a newsletter; some prefer to just hit “Follow” and let WordPress tell them when you have put up a new post. As things stand now, I can’t Follow your site unless I give you my personal information. Though an email address is all that’s necessary, the added options might turn some readers off. Some people prefer anonymity as well as ease, which makes the Follow button a preferred WordPress widget. If you can streamline the subscription process a bit your number of followers should increase.

      Finally, do you post links to a new article on your other social media sites? If you post links in writing Facebook groups, for instance, then they will know where to contact you for more detailed information.

      Like

  2. Pingback: The Query Letter, Part 3: How to Write a Query Letter for a Novel | A Song of Joy by Caroline Furlong

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