How a Platform Works for Writers
We’ve all pictured it: writers sitting reclusively in a cabin in the woods, sometimes handwriting a novel (yeah, right), sometimes using a typewriter (okay, it’s been a while), or sometimes using a Macbook Pro (that’s more like it). Outside of any sexism, we often picture this writer as a man with a beard and in his pajamas because we romanticize the notion of a writer who has been in seclusion for so long that it’s okay to lose a few social norms, and he’s writing in such a fury that he’s even absconded basic hygiene. Even cynic writers embrace this image because all writers –all of us- love this idea that the novel is so intense and so important that we must get it out, must get it on paper or typed before the idea fades, before the potential for the Pulitzer or the Nobel Prize for Literature gets lost into the folds of our gray matter, only later to come back as vaguely as a wisp of smoke. We love the idea that a human –bearded male or not- can be rewarded for sacrificing relationships and “real work” to the idea that he or she can write something beautiful and amazing, that this person can get a hefty advance, a spot on the New York Times Bestseller list, a promotion from Oprah, and a gaggle of awards –and then recede back to the cabin in the woods to do it all over again.
But these days are gone.
The extinction of the reclusive writer is something that is lamented, because writing is hard. No one tells you that when you see images of a writer sitting down and typing out “It was a dark and stormy night…” No one tells you that it doesn’t just flow from you, that it’s like a long-term relationship that you need to work at and commit to, even when it’s not interesting anymore. No one tells you that writing your novel has to happen around life –around potty training, writing assignments for school, and around the pressured, unrealistic deadlines your boss gives you. Every writer wants to be the reclusive writer because that means that you can shut out the rest of the frustrating world to do the thing that you want to do. That is a dream, my friends.
Some writers blame technology for the death of the reclusive writer. After all, because of technology, the publishing world demands more now of a group of people who would rather be left alone, thankyouverymuch. But let’s look for a second about how the market is changing: readers are busier than ever. Why do you think eBooks available on smart phones and iPads have done so well? Readers are busy people, people who –if they read at all- need to get their hands on a book fast. There are fewer and fewer bookstores and libraries, and there are more and more technology-savvy readers who will read whatever they can get their hands on –and sometimes that isn’t just the book. Readers –just like many users in several categories- demand information immediately, which could mean lower-quality books being written faster (rare) or permission for the writer to take longer writing higher-quality books as long as the reader can indulge themselves with other information about that writer –often that writer’s life.
You might ask how this affects the writer. Well, with the book world changing, publishers are far more selective about who they pick up as new talent and who they keep as old talent. They want their writers to have something called a “platform.” For established writers like James Patterson, a platform is Facebook, Twitter, a website, and a blog (though we’ll discuss other technological platforms here in just a minute). A platform for a big writer like James Patterson is important to keep the readers engaged between books. But that’s not all a platform is essential for: it is life-giving for the new novelist.
A new writer cannot be picked up without a technological platform. A platform is an online presence that not only engages readers, but it’s also something that the publishing houses see as (near) guaranteed buyers. For example, if you have 300 friends on Facebook, the publisher sees this as okay, but not great, because that’s only 300 books sold. It might sound like a lot, but publishers would really like to sell tens of thousands of copies of a book title, and if only your friends on Facebook buy that title (and, of course, you know that you’re not going to get all 300 to buy your book), it’s just not enough. It might be nice that a big writer like James Patterson has a Facebook, a Twitter, a blog, and a website, but the new writer must have these. Say you have 300 friends on Facebook, you have 500 followers on Twitter, you have 50 readers a week on your blog, and you have 10 readers a week on your website. That’s nearly a thousand people a week that you have potential access to –and nearly a thousand looks much better than merely 300 first time buyers.
Whether you’re a new writer or just new to the technology game, you’ll find that a blog, a website, Facebook, and Twitter are excellent engagers –and you can even throw in Instagram and Tumblr. Your readers, now, feel somehow connected to your life. You might be posting an Instagram photo of you writing at a coffee shop, share it on your Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, and you followers will get excited. In the Information Age, your readers don’t want a prickly, reclusive writer that doesn’t connect to his or her audience: a reader wants to feel like a follower, to feel like a supporter, to feel important to a writer’s career. What many writers of today don’t realize is that those supporters really are essential to his or her career –in fact, the fate of your novel could depend on something as seemingly unrelated as how many people “like” your Facebook page.
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