If you ever pictured life as an author, there were probably a few key images that you hit on. Tapping away at an old typewriter beside a slowly growing stack of papers. Or maybe writing in a notebook in a cafe on the left bank. Or dictating really clever metaphors to your faithful robot secretary. I don’t know. It’s your imagination. But nowhere in that reel of stock footage did you ever imagine yourself tweeting, did you? Or sending emails to people asking if you could write a guest article on their blog. Or wearing a sandwich board on the street, shouting at strangers to read your book. “It’s excellent!” you’d shout. “What’s your problem? Come back!” you’d add.
That’s not writing. That’s advertising. That’s someone else’s job, isn’t it?
Unfortunately not. An author is the best and and most effective salesperson for their own books due to the simple fact that there’s not a single person on the planet who will be more passionate or knowledgeable about those books. From the perspective of publishers, editors, and agents, signing an author who’s capable of selling books entirely on their own is an incredibly attractive business proposition. And how do they expect authors to perform this miraculous feat? With something called a platform.
So if you’re an author, or want to be one, you’ll definitely need a platform. Which raises the question of what the hell is a platform? And how do you get one? To help illustrate this, I’ll share my own platform building story. This might not work for you; I’m a little surprised it worked for me, actually. It probably shouldn’t have.
Years before I ever considered writing a novel, I began writing little comedy bits and short stories and things of that nature. Just on forums and message boards at first, and then a friend’s site, and then on my own blog. They were terrible, but that was ok, because I was just some idiot on the Internet and wasn’t hurting anyone. But I kept at it, and kept at it, and kept at it, in a pattern which will be familiar to most people who’ve managed to finish a novel. Writer’s write, for fun, for the sheer thrill of it, or because it hurts not to. And I got better. In the span of about three years, I went from writing my own blog, to publishing articles for a failed children’s magazine, to writing a weekly column for a very successful failed children’s magazine. And now, although I remain just some idiot on the Internet, I can now reliably count on thousands and millions of people reading my idiocy.
So you should definitely do that too! I have no idea how though! You can kind of see there how I fell into my platform ass-backwards. Maybe you should try that? Walking backwards into things? If you’re interested, the failed children’s magazine I write for is always looking for new writers, and are really great people to work with.
Are there any broader lessons to derive from my tale of undeserved good fortune? You’ll note that by the time I realized I needed a platform, I already had one, which sort of sounds like a backwards way of going about things. But it turns out to probably be the best way. Put another way, platform building isn’t something you do to sell your book. It’s what you do all the time. Your platform isn’t your blog, your social media accounts, or the skywriters that you hire. Those compliment and support your platform, sure, but they’re not it. Your platform is what you’re good at, what everyone knows you’re good at, what people look to you to be good at. Eventually when you’re an incredible author, and are famous just for being you, you won’t have to think about platform building. You’ll just write incredible books, and not worry about tweeting, and people will still coo at you and beg to touch the hem of your robe.
Or so I imagine.
So are you good at something? Can you be famous for it? Do that right away! This is, admittedly, a complicated step. It will involve years of article writing, public speaking, class teaching, social media whatevering, and skywriting. Start now – it helps big time if all this was done years before you need it.
And if you’re not good at anything, maybe see if you can become famous for being bad at something. Like, let’s say if you’ve written a novel about dog walking, then maybe you’d start a failing dog-walking service. One where you just continuously misplace people’s dogs. Again and again. Losing them in sporting events or hospitals. Airplanes. See if you can lose the mayor’s dog. Then at all future media appearances and arraignments, you’d talk about your book. That’s your platform. You’ve done it!
I’d sure read your book. Who wouldn’t read the reckless pet care guy’s book?
Chris Bucholz is a columnist for Cracked.com. His first novel, Severence is incredible and will be out this winter.