A writing platform is basically a writer's reach to their target audience on a specific subject or topic.
One writer can have multiple platforms, and those platforms can intersect and co-habitate or be completely separate. For instance, writers who deal in poetry and fiction may be able to use credits in literary magazines interchangeably for their literary pursuits, but those same credits likely won't help much in pitching a how-to book on woodworking (unless it's somehow targeted at literary types).
In this post, I just want to cover the basics of planning out a platform strategy. I often find that success follows successful preparation and adaptability (to things not going exactly as I planned).
Since most online platform-building tools are available for free, let's start there.
Here are some basics I think all writers should have as part of their online writing platform:
- Buy your domain name. Preferably, buy your actual domain name. Even if you don't have any imminent plans to build a site, buy your domain name now before someone else does. For instance, I've been procrastinating on building a basic RobertLeeBrewer.com site, but I do own the domain name. Eventually, that url will point to a site. (Just ask @JaneFriedman on Twitter why it's important to snap up those domain and user names as soon as possible.)
- Start a blog. Whether you go with Blogger, WordPress, or another blogging site, blogs are free and easy to create. Start today. (Click here to read my Blogging Tips for Writers post.)
- Create a Twitter account. It's free, and Twitter is one of the fastest growing social media sites. Plus, it's a great place to share blog posts. (Click here to read my Twitter Cheat Sheet for Writers post.)
- Create a Facebook account. Again, it's free. Plus, Facebook apparently has the most traffic of any website on the Internet, including Google. (Yes, click here for my Facebook Tips for Writers.)
- Create a LinkedIn account. Again, this site is free. It's more of a professional networking site, but it's one more way for people to find you and your work. (Sorry, no LinkedIn Tips for Writers. Yet.)
Great work! You've built the foundation of your online platform by accomplishing the five tasks above. Plus, if you've read my tip and cheat sheet links above, you probably have some idea of how to optimize some of these tools. However, building a successful platform takes time and planning.
Think about how the pieces fit together
Use one site as your central hub. Preferably, this would be your domain name url website. Or it can be your blog. Avoid making it your Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter profile--just because it's hard to predict if these sites will eventually be the next MySpace (or in other words, a social media ghost town).
However, use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other sites (online forums, etc.) to filter people to your central hub. And make sure your central hub lets people know that you exist on these other sites. (For instance, you can follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer, follow my Facebook fan page, or find me on LinkedIn.)
If it helps you visualize, get a piece of blank paper and write the word "HUB" in the middle. Then, draw 2-sided arrows out of the hub that are labeled things like "Facebook Profile," "Twitter profile," etc. Connect the dots and remember where your base of operations is located. (My current hub is this blog and my Poetic Asides blog, which as mentioned above is not ideal. Eventually, it will be robertleebrewer.com.)
Start small and build
Many writers get frustrated when they invest time and energy into platform building and don't receive the instant gratification of lots of friends, readers, comments, etc. I totally understand that. These writers are excited and pumped up to connect and then nothing happens immediately. However, building a platform is something a writer does throughout a career. It's not a get-rich-quick scheme. It's a long-term communication between the writer and his (or her) audience and readership. As a result, I advise writers to start small and build.
If you're new to blogging, don't post every five minutes. Post once a week and spend time communicating with other writers and readers on social media sites. When you think it's time to increase your blogging frequency, do so. Over time, you'll develop a feel for what works with your audience.
Also, don't stress out about how many (or few) followers and friends you have. This too is a process and will build over time.
Experiment and adapt
When I first started connecting with writers online, it was through forums, message boards and MySpace. I rarely use any of these tools anymore. In another 5 to 10 years, I may not be using the sites mentioned above. So, writers need to be open to experimentation and adapting to changes in technology and finding "where the people are."
This is why having a good central hub is so important, because it will serve as your rock solid virtual real estate that should be the same in 2010 (or 2011) as it will be in 2020 as it will be in 2030 and beyond.
A few other platform building tools to consider:
- Business cards. If you attend events or speak regularly, then you should realize that business cards are important to networking and platform building in the real world. Include your name, contact information (mailing address, phone, e-mail), and central hub.
- Events. Writers can make actual human contact with writers, editors, agents, and other publishing professionals at events, such as writing conferences, workshops, literary festivals, book signings, readings, open mics, etc.
- Mailing lists. This old school method of reaching your readership may cost more to maintain, but when done well, writers can often expect to get what they pay for--in a good way.
- E-mail lists. These are very important and powerful and can be handled in many different ways. Very important, though, make sure your e-mail list is permission-based and that you don't practice any spamming tactics, or you'll lose any of the value your e-mail list may have provided.
Just remember: Platform building is a process, not a goal. There is no finish line. So try to incorporate it into what you do as a writer, and you'll likely be more successful with both your platform building and actual writing activities.
Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer
Here are a few great platform-building related resources to check out:
- Get Known Before the Book Deal, by Christina Katz
- Internet Book Marketing: An Author's Guide to Building an Online Marketing Platform, by Morris Rosenthal
- Guerrilla Social Media Marketing: 100+ Weapons to Grow Your Online Influence, Attract Customers, and Drive Profits, by Jay Conrad Levinson and Shane Gibson