Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What is platform?

On Monday, I talked about why having a platform is important for every writer. Today, I want to chat about what exactly is your platform.

The short and easy answer is...Everything.

Since that answer isn't exactly helpful, here are five places you need to be aware of your platform and the brand you are projecting to readers.

1. Head shot & Bio
Your picture and short bio show up everywhere. Probably more than you think. There are the obvious places like your website and social media accounts (like Facebook and Twitter). There are the slightly less obvious spots such as guest posts and less frequently used sites (do you have a LinkedIn account?). Then there are the places you might not think of at all. Your picture shows up when you comment on other blogs and community posts. As you expand your platform, your picture and bio will be everywhere. So make sure they reflect the image you want to portray as a writer.

2. Your website
Whether it's a full website or a blog, this is a big part of your platform. Your web home is the online equivalent of curb appeal. Your site needs to put forth the image of you as a writer with everything from color and font choices to content. A good site will draw readers in who want to learn more about you and your books. A poorly organized site or one that gives the wrong impression is likely to have readers clicking away faster than you can say "hello".

3. Social media interactions
The average Joe can jump online and post anything they want without giving much thought to the repercussions. As a writer, you don't have the same luxury.  Hopefully, readers are hanging on your every tweet and status update. This means, you need to guard the image you portray on social media with a steel shield. Now, you don't have to make every post writing and book related. Readers will enjoy getting the occasional update about the pint of ice cream you ate for dinner or your inability to write because your cat is sleeping on your keyboard. Nothing controversial there. But unless you are a political writer, you should stay away from politics. Same goes for controversial parenting ideas, religious themes and pretty much anything considered hot button. No matter what you say on these topics, you are going to alienate readers which is the last thing you want to do. So save your thoughts on the flat tax for arguments with your family around the Easter ham and keep your social media posts focused on safer topics.

4. In person interactions
As a writer, you probably don't get a ton of face to face interactions with other writers or readers. But when you do, you need to make it count. Remember that readers are the only reason you have a job, so make sure to treat them with the respect they deserve. Going the extra mile doesn't have to be difficult. My best tip, stay present when you're with readers. Don't check your phone when sitting at the signing table. Sit up with a smile on your face to greet the next person who just willingly stood in line for who knows how long to get your autograph. Ask for names and use them. Be gracious to fans who just want a minute of your time.

I want to give a quick example. At a recent conference, I got the chance to meet Brandon Sanderson. I was waiting outside of a conference room where he was about to be on a panel, but we were a bit early. Now, Brandon could have stood to the side with other writers on the panel and waited for the room to open. Instead, he walked into the middle of the group and offered to sign books and take pictures. He signed my book, posed for a picture and asked me if I had any questions for him. He took the time to be present for those few minutes of me fangirling. I was already a fan, but you can be sure I'm an even bigger one now. And all it cost him was a few minutes of time. Remember, you want to be writer that readers like, both in your books and in person.

5.The books you publish
Write what you love no matter what that is. But be aware that what you write is part of your platform. If Nicholas Sparks puts out a new book, I expect it to be a clean, adult romance. I don't even need to read the blurb to know that's what I'm getting. If I picked up his latest book and started reading it only to discover an Alien-style SciFi, I'm going to be surprised. And possibly mad. Why? Because Sparks writes clean romance. That's his platform. Just like John Grisham writes legal thrillers and Rick Riordan writes myth-based MG. That's their platform.

Now, they are welcome to write whatever they want, but a book outside of the established platform will need to be leveraged in a new way. Often times, an established writer will choose to write in a new genre under a pen name, just to avoid platform confusion (I'm looking at you Nora Roberts/JD Robb).

The books you write and publish are as much a part of your platform as your website and twitter account, if not more. So make sure you love what you write.

Your platform is the way you project your brand, who you are as a writer, to the world. As the owner of your platform, it's your job to protect it and make it work for you.


  1. Excellent post, Sarah! You explained everything perfectly, and I completely agree with you. It's funny how many writer post inappropriate or very personal/TMI things on FB. Don't they think it affects how they're perceived -- and how much they'll sell?

    Funny thing about LinkedIn though. I've disliked their spammy "so-and-so invited you to join us" approach to dragging in new members for a long time and never joined. But C.Lee McKenzie had a contest thingie on there, so to support her, I registered. Now they've started spamming me with job-in-your-area advertisements and other things. None of the many groups/forums/sites I belong to has ever done that. I'll un-register as soon as Lee's thing is over. I don't want my name/platform associated with any business that gets hold of your contact list and "cold calls/emails" all the people on it.

    1. I'm not a huge fan of linkedin and I don't actively use it. That said, I do keep a profile updated there. You never know when one outlet is going to take off and be the next big thing.

  2. Such great advice as always. (And another reminder I need to get a website going.)

    Also - so jealous you got to meet Brandon Sanderson, I love his stuff!

    1. Brandon was really nice. And yes, I recommend a website. :)

  3. It is surprising (though it shouldn't be) how many of these tips apply to teachers as well. As teachers, we're told that the public (particularly the parent crowd) is watching us, and we should beware that our image is everywhere. I wonder if these ideas are all a part of being "professional" in a way.

    That's so cool you met Brandon Sanderson and that he was so nice!

    1. Good point, Wren. A lot of these could be applied to anyone who needs to maintain a good public image.

  4. Thanks! I felt good that I could tick off each of the platform listings you mention. The only thing I wondered about was that our books are a part of our platform, so it's important to stay in the same genre. That just helped me decide which book to write and publish next!

    1. Sounds like you are on the right path for platform. Keep in mind that your books don't necessarily have to be in the same genre. They just need to meet your readers' expectations. Steven King writes horror, thriller, psychological drama, mystery and even paranormal. But no matter the genre, King's readers expect to be nervous, unsettled, scared and stumped while reading his books. By bringing in those elements to the work, he could (theoretically) write in any genre. Good luck with your next book!

  5. I think a lot about #5. I have a YA contemporary that had some requests, but nothing panned out. While it may be a heart wrenching read, it doesn't quite fit with my other works. I'd like my platform to be YA fast paced, romantic, speculative-fiction. So far I think I'm on track!

  6. This is a great post, Sarah. You've given me much to think about. I do some of the things you mention currently, especially with regard to what I post on FB and Twitter. Glad to see that I'm at least on the right track.


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