Well, I'm back from my trip and, although I had an extensive amount of fun, let me just say that I am glad to be home. There's nothing like a few weeks roughing it in the mountains to make you appreciate the warmth and comfort of a house sitting in the middle of an Illinois cornfield.
Yes, warmth—in the middle of summer. It was very cold up there!
But though I know I promised you guys more pictures and more adventurous stories about a rough and tumble trip into the Rockies, that is not what this particular post is about. In fact, this post has nothing to do with my trip what-so-ever.
Instead, let's talk about "Platform".
Yes, I said it: the dreaded "P" word.
Actually, Platform isn't necessarily a dreaded subject; it's just a topic that most new authors don't know how to approach… and that includes me. Until now I've been able to put the matter on a back burner with the excuse "I'm just not ready yet". But now I've completed, rewritten, and edited my first novel (several times) and I can no longer ignore that little voice in the back of my head that's telling me to get my back-end in gear and get out there. However, "getting out there" is a lot easier said than done.
Essentially, building a platform just means getting your writings into the public's eye and getting people to notice you. The first thing every book publisher and literary agent looks at when reviewing a potential client is the writing. If the writing isn't up to par, an author won't get past the slush-pile. However, the second thing that's looked at is credentials. When a person is trying to get a new job, the employer usually asks about previous job experience; he wants to know whether you are qualified to do the job he offers and do it correctly, and he wants to know whether or not he should take a chance on you. The same goes for publishing. A platform is like publishing credentials: the bigger you've built it and the more good publicity you have behind your writings, the more likely a publisher will take a second look your way.
But how does a person build a platform? What all does it entail?
I don't really know that there's a right or wrong way to go about it. The first step is almost always getting over that initial fear that your writing won't be good enough or that your idea has been over-done; that is by far the hardest step. And sometimes you find out that you were right… but that doesn't mean that your writing can't improve or that your story can't evolve.
The first time I found my courage, I posted the first chapter of a novel I had written on the Writer's Digest forum. Some of the WD members might remember that first chapter. Simply put, it was awful. I've come a long way since then – a very long way – but that first courageous showing of my work was my first real step in building a sort of platform for myself, as well as introducing me to an amazing online writing community, and the pretty awesome people that came along with it. It gave me the opportunity to show others my writings and to learn what people thought of them. Plus it helped me develop my writing to be the best it can be, even though I've discovered that writing development is an ever evolving process. Still, I have found writers whom I deeply respect and whose works I know I will someday read. I've grown to appreciate the different writing styles and the different stories I've found on that forum, as well as the different writers. And perhaps I've gained some sort of a following too: maybe (though they are under no obligation what-so-ever) some of the people on that forum will get curious and have a look at my book when it comes out.
But a forum, though great as a critique group, can only take a person so far. I soon discovered that as my knowledge of writing and publishing grew, so did my understanding and opinions of it – and my opinions often varied from those of other people. So I started a blog.
Now, a blog can be many different things. To some people it is like a journal, carefully documenting the details of everyday life. To others it is more like a newspaper where they can put tidbits of interesting information in hopes that people will find it useful. Still to others it is rather like a writing practice sheet where they feel obligated to write a story of some sort in order to keep their minds busy. Mine is like a conglomeration of all three. However, though the content of a blog can be very intriguing, I think the most interesting part of every blog is its followers. When I started "The Pen and Parchment" I never considered the fact that some people might find my random musings interesting, yet apparently many people did. My blog serves a double purpose: it gives me a place to practice writing where others can see and enjoy it, and it serves as a website which potential agents and publishers can refer to when considering my queries. It also counts as my official website. Some people build a separate website for their writings and just post a link to their blog; I totally respect this. In fact, I encourage it. But for me, a blog is simple enough to do what I want it to do and to have what I want it to have without getting overwhelming. I can have up to ten separate pages on it, and link to almost anything else I might find interesting or worthwhile, and yet all I need to do to update it is post another entry. I can do more to it if I want to: I can change the look, the theme, the title… almost anything. But it never seems to get complicated.
Here's a platform builder that thousands if not millions of people have come to love and often visit several times daily: Facebook. Now, I admit, I'm not the biggest Facebook fan myself, but I can't deny the potential it shows. Facebook has grown from something so small that people hardly knew what it was, to one of – if not THE biggest – online social site ever built. It's even bigger than My-space, which I remember was quite the fad for several years (though at the time I was never allowed to have one). On Facebook a person cannot only find and communicate with friends and family, but they can also find other people who share the same interests they do, build groups of just about every sort, and choose what they are fans of. They can arrange meetings online and offline, they can talk with people all over the United States and the world, they can follow people whose accomplishments they admire… and they can access all of this information from a computer, or even from a phone. These are just some of the benefits of Facebook and, while all of these facts make it a potentially dangerous site for those who don't know how to use it correctly, many businesses, bands, authors, and more have decided to use this social network to their advantages.
Twitter walks hand in hand with Facebook. Some people laugh that I never did get the hang of it – not for lack of trying, mind. I just can't seem to condense what I have to say in so few words, though if you're looking for quick info on a subject, you can always find something on Twitter.
And then we come to Authonomy, an online writing community where writers can post their work for critique and feedback, and have the potential to eventually be seen by publishers and agents around the world. The trouble with Authonomy is that it has been turned into a kind of game: people say they will read your work if you will read theirs; they will give comments if you do; they will back your book and follow you, if you will back their book and follow them. For some people this method has worked. Many publishers do keep an eye on the Authonomy site and, though the site is relatively young, several book deals have been signed from it already. I suppose my biggest problem is that I don't like to play such games. That said, I have discovered quite a few interesting books that I've read and started to read, and I've also met a few interesting acquaintances through this online network. If a person is willing to learn how the game works, he or she might go very far on this site.
But enough with online social networks; what else can we find to help us build up our platforms?
Contests, people! Contests have great potential when it comes to platform building, even if they seem meaningless and have nothing to offer except for a sparkly cyber trophy to the winner (which is always fun to receive anyway). Contests give writers the opportunity to practice and hone their craft, and to compete with other writers to see where their particular story might fit. Winning a contest will not only give a writer confidence in his or her ability, it also provides the writer with a foothold in querying. For instance "I've won several (small) writing contests and this is my first novel," sounds much more assuring than just "This is my first novel". By entering contests with the possibility of winning one or two, you are giving yourself and your writing a solid background that publishers respect. And on that same note, submitting to anthologies is another good, solid way to work on building your own publishing platform. Publishers will look twice at you if you have had something put in print before.
Then you have interviews. Now, granted, many people would most likely rather read an interview from a published or soon-to-be-published author than a writer who has never seen their work in print or in ebook form before, but why should that stop you? I've read many an interesting interview by an author who wasn't published yet, and I can truthfully say that I enjoyed and learned from those interviews. Besides, there's nothing in the rule book that says you can't be the one interviewing someone else. With you asking the questions, you may find that you learn a lot, enjoy yourself, and perhaps form relationships and acquaintanceships that may help you later in the publishing world. I've never done an interview before, but I think it must be a very enlightening process and I've always taken pleasure in reading interviews on other people's blogs.
Some people work on building their platforms by publishing their works in e-book format, or as a podcast or audio clip, and then advertising via their blog, website, or any other person's website willing to promote them. I've seen and heard of this being done on several different occasions. There are some writers who would swear by the process. I don't know that I would ever be brave enough to try it, but it is an intriguing thought. I once looked up a thriller writer who had done his entire book series as a podcast and posted it for free on the internet while simultaneously having the POD hard copy version for sale. Many people listened to the podcast, but just as many people, if not more, bought the book anyway and read it in its printed form. This man built himself such a large following that afterwards he had publishers vying for his attention. Unfortunately I can't remember the guy's name, which is very frustrating though not altogether surprising; I've read so many different articles on publishing in the last four or five years that my mind chooses what it wants to remember and what it would rather toss.
And last but not least (at least for this entry) you have the good old fashioned platform building tool that has been used for centuries: Word of Mouth. It's one of the biggest and most assuring platform tools writers have ever had. You see, people are naturally talkative, and if they like something, they tend to say so. Getting yourself involved in hometown writing groups, or helping out at the library, or just mentioning that you have written a book in passing conversation are just a few WOM ways to get people to think about your writings. I can't tell you how many people I've talked to who've actually CONTINUED on dying conversations based solely on the fact that they found it interesting that I was a writer and had written a novel already, even though it wasn't published yet. Several of those people went on to read up to three chapters of the manuscript, even though the genre I write in wasn't necessarily their favorite type of read. One lady (a trusted friend and co-worker) even became my first betta reader because she liked to read and found it fascinating that someone she knew would actually take the time to write something she might someday pick up in a book store. People are naturally curious creatures. Walking into a bookstore to find an author sitting at a table with books beside her waiting to be signed, the average customer will usually pause, check out the book cover, perhaps even pick it up and flip through a few pages. Never underestimate the power of human curiosity and the amazing abilities of random conversation. Who knows who might hear of you next?