Monday, January 19, 2015

And the Word is: Platform

The year 2013 was not the easiest for me or my family.

My mother had to be moved from her home of 58 years to a retirement home, which meant the “breaking up” of her house and the breaking up of where her three sons had spent most of their formative years.

Work, normally a state a barely controlled chaos, dropped the “barely controlled” and went through severe regime change and was rather suddenly “under new management.” Work demands on my time escalated, and sharply.

I was trying to get a book manuscript completed (what was eventually published as Poetry at Work) and I know I was driving the editor frantic (on a good day) and off the cliff (on a bad day) as we struggled, or I struggled, to get it done. I was also trying to promote my second novel, A Light Shining, published right at the end of 2012. That was three books published in two years.

I wasn’t think a lot about marketing and promotion.

I don’t have a household name. I don’t have three million people following me on Twitter, or hundreds of thousands of likes on Facebook or Google+. I’m not on the public speaking circuit.

To use the word that is the Holy Grail of agents and publishers everywhere, I don’t have a platform. Or if I do, my platform is barely big enough to hold me and two or three friends.

Publishers like authors with a pre-existing platform – it helps guarantee sales, and publishers like to make money. That’s how they stay in business. It makes perfectly good business sense for a publisher to contract with, say, Justin Bieber, rather than a more literary author. (It also provides an interesting commentary on the state of American culture, but that’s another story.)

For an author, it’s only marginally easier if you write non-fiction rather than fiction. Self-help has been a major publishing category for much of the last 100 years. If you have a method or a formula that will seemingly help lots of people do something they want to do – get hired, lose weight, deal with difficult relatives, conquer depression – then you have a pre-existing platform and audience. And the publisher may help you find it.

But you, the author, have to work at it. I know the writer’s mantra – “I’m a writer not a marketer” and “I’m an introvert not a gifted public speaker” (been there, done that) – but the fact is that self-promotion of what you write isn’t a luxury. Even the best and biggest publishers won’t do that for you, unless your name is Jan Karon, Max Lucado or Karen Kingsbury in Christian publishing or Stephen King and James Patterson in general publishing.

So what about the rest of us?

In On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts, Ann Kroeker (co-author with Charity Craig) has something simple yet profound to say about this, and based on her own experience: “Promotion and marketing – whether speaking, radio interviews, social media interaction – are best positioned as an extension of the original book (or story or poem) a writer felt compelled to write down and submit for broader distribution.”

In other words, the promotion and marketing you do for your writing is simply an extension of the story you’ve already written.

I stumbled partially (and rather marginally) into this with A Light Shining. To help promote the book, I interviewed the two lead characters as if they were real people (and for me, they had become essentially real people). While this didn’t result in a massive increase in sales (in fact, I’m not sure of it increased sales at all), it’s this kind of approach – understanding that your story doesn’t stop at the end of the book – that will lead you in the direction of creating and building a “platform.”

And this, too: your reading audience isn’t going to magically find you. You have to find the audience.

Unfortunately, that takes work, work that isn’t strictly writing. Seeing is as an extension of your writing, part of the same creative process, will help.

Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


kchripczuk said...

Sound advice that rings true, Glynn. Thanks.

Martha Jane Orlando said...

Yes, the platform is a necessity. I've done what I can, but know I could do more to promote my books. I love the idea that whatever we do as authors to promote our work, it should be an extension of our story.
Thanks, Glynn!

Doug Spurling said...

Perfect timing. As The Voice, slowly works it's way toward the birth canal, this was a well needed breathing lesson. Thank you.

Nancy said...

You make some very good points here. I'm going to share on my fb page where many writers will see it. An insightful post!

Mary Sayler said...

Glynn, I'll highlight your post on the Christian Poets & Writers blog as many members want to know more about this. Thanks.

Ann Kroeker said...

"...your story doesn’t stop at the end of the book." I like your take on my experience in promotion (and platform). We didn't call it platform back then, back when the editor pressed me to consider speaking, but that's what people say now. It's what you discovered along the way.

And that was a crazy year, trying to get that manuscript together! But we did it--and it's moving into workplaces helping people see what they do each day in a new light. It was worth it, for me. I hope it was worth the frantic effort for you, too.



Planes, Trains, Roads | Charity Craig said...

Glynn - I love this post. You have demonstrated well the difficulty writers have in promoting their work, but you've also captured the heart of people-centered marketing. It's not about annoying each other with what we have to offer. It's about gently inviting people into our work. Especially in a community of other writers, artists, and creators of all types, we each contribute to the whole in this way.

Thanks for hoisting Ann and me up onto your platform with you for these few weeks. You've welcomed us so warmly into your space.