Constructing My Platform

Anyone who has ever seen me try to nail together two-by-fours knows that when it comes to construction work, I should be kept far, far away from even building a doghouse. Luckily, when I talk about building my platform, I’m talking about enhancing my ability to successfully market my writing to potential buyers, not about building a physical structure.

Of course, the first thing in marketing is to have something to market, and it helps to have something good to market. Since I haven’t actually published anything yet, it may seem a little premature to worry about marketing. In the software development world, we call marketing something that doesn’t exist yet as ‘selling vaporware’. Vaporware may never be finished, let alone may never work, and a potential buyer’s time is wasted if they become too wrapped up in the product before it ships. A manuscript may never be published, but the interaction with the author can be a product in itself for the potential reader.

When marketing books that aren’t yet ready for publication, the goal is to attract potential readers to the author; to make them aware the author exists in the first place, and to make them aware of the author’s style. As an author, you want to maintain a consistent presence that keeps people coming back to check to see if the novel is ready yet, and keeps them spreading the word about the author to their friends. When the book is ready to be published, a market (hopefully large) would then be aware the book is being released.

Building a platform isn’t something you can do overnight, but there are a hundred things you can do to add to your platform. My approach has been a little bit scattershot over the last few years, but here are a few things that I have found that I enjoy doing. I can’t say they’ve been completely successful, since I have no product to actually sell yet, and I know I have a long way to go before I realize what I would consider critical mass in my reach. Right now, I focus on doing what I enjoy, and adding to that as I find other ways to expand my platform.

  1. I built this website a couple of years ago, and it has slowly evolved to be the epicenter of my on-line presence. If you search for “joe beernink” on Google, this is the first place you come to. Make sure you get a web site that ties closely to your name (or your pen name if you have chosen to go that route).
  2. I try to provide new content to this site every-other day. That changes when I am actively writing a new book, but I try to stay consistent to give people reasons to come back to the site on a daily basis. Notices of new posts are distributed to Twitter, Facebook, and via subscription on the site.
  3. I joined Twitter in October of 2009, and while I am not a really frequent Tweeter (compared to some people I follow), I do understand the power that medium provides, and see a great potential in driving people to both my site, and to my friends sites.
  4. I’m an active member of the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be a member of a great organization like the PNWA. Going to the classes and lectures has helped my writing and inspired me, but the network I have made through the PNWA has helped build my platform more than anything else I have done.
  5. Ben Newland came up with the idea for the Puyallup Writer’s Co-op, and while the group is still gaining traction, participation in that has exposed me to new local opportunities within the public library system, and from there, to the local Arts Commission, which has led to even more opportunities.
  6. Reviewing Books. I started reviewing books so that I could make recommendations for good books to friends and family. That evolved into what writing lessons I’ve learned from books. Documenting those lessons really helped me to become a better writer as well. A large percentage of the traffic to my web site comes from people looking for reviews on these books, and from authors of those books linking to them. Those visits add up, and if even a few of them browse to my other pages and other blog entries, I have gained another opportunity.
  7. Writing short stories is something I hadn’t done in quite a while. I have always been focused on novel length work, thinking short stories would be a distraction from that. I’ve discovered that this is simply not true, and that short stories are a great way to not only hone my craft, but to also gain exposure for my writing. Entering contests and simply publishing a story on your blog on a regular basis is a great way to extend your platform.
  8. Have a signature on all the personal / writing related emails you send out. It’s a simple thing, but let’s say you’re sending a question to the city about a swim class for you kids, and you include the signature. The reader of that email sees that you are an author and passes that on to the city arts commissioner who is looking for authors to sit on a panel at a writers event. Bingo.
  9. Get professional looking business cards that clearly state that you are an author. Having something to hand out every time you meet someone new is absolutely necessary.

I don’t want you to think that I do all of these things only as part of some grand marketing scheme. I do the things I enjoy first, and when there is an opportunity to both do something I enjoy, and to expand my reach, I take that opportunity. Perhaps when I am much closer to being published, and my family’s well-being is at stake, I will shill more frequently in self-promotion. For now, I’m satisfied with a go-slow approach that is fun.

There are a few things I have planned, but not yet done:

  1. Tune up my Facebook presence so that my author page is easier to find, and includes updates from my blog
  2. Create an email list so I can send out push updates when something really big happens. I’m a little bit split on this, because I generally don’t sign up for emails, but enough people must sign up for things like this, because I hear about email lists often enough.
  3. Market short stories to magazines

Anyway, this is one of those posts I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I hope it helps other people to come up with ideas on how to build their platform. If you have any suggestions, or questions for me, please let me know!

One Comment on “Constructing My Platform

  1. Good summary of platform planks. I especially like the sound of that Ben. Newland guy you mention…

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