Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Platform Building 101 for Writers: Planning

Of course, platform building is a huge topic, and it's certainly one of the more important topics for writers who want to "make it" who haven't yet "made it." The definition of "making it" may be changing as we speak, but the platform is pretty easy to define.

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:


Kelli Russell Agodon - Book of Kells said...

Hi Robert,

I'm going to link this post up to my blog (Book of Kells) as I just wrote a post a couple weeks ago about how I'm concerned with the word "branding" and "platform" for writers.

This was the first post I've read about building a platform that didn't come off as sleazy (and I mean that as a compliment!) I think my concern with the idea of "platform" is it puts the writer before the writing, a *huge* red flag for me. But your post felt more like different ways to make sure writers can get ahold of you and to have a presence in the online world.

You have a much more of an informative touch than a sell-your-soul-and-your-art-for-your-brand mentality.

Anyway, I'm not sure this is sounding like a compliment, but thank you for sharing this info in a way that didn't give me the heebie-jeebies. ;-)

best, Kelli

Robert Lee Brewer said...

I know (or think I do anyway) exactly what you're trying to say, Kelli.

The writing should always come first, but the platform helps connect the writing with the world.

John Backman said...


May I suggest a follow-up topic: how to know when your platform (or an element thereof) isn't working for you--and what to do about it. What if you're trying to reach an audience of, say, 10,000, but your Twitter account never has more than 200 followers? What if your blog gets a steady 200 hits/month for three years? I know there are no one-size-fits-all answers, but I'd love to hear your reflections on this.

Doreen Pendgracs said...

Great, tips, Robert! I've spent the entire year building my platform, as my current book (on volunteerism and non-profit boards) is a completely different subject area than my upcoming book on chocolate and travel - although the audiences will certainly overlap.

I now had a professionally-designed website (which serves as my hub), 2 blogs (one on the writing life and the other on chocolate & travel), a FB fan page for my current book, LI profile and Twitter account (I'm @wizardofwords.) It sure takes a lot of work, but I'm hoping it will all be worthwhile.

Happy New Year, and may we all find 2011 to be a happy, healthy and prosperous one.

Anonymous said...

Robert, excellent post. Your inviting and easy-to-follow approach makes building a platform doable instead of overwhelming. I enjoyed going through your checklist and noting what I had already accomplished and what I still needed to do. Like Kells, I would love to post this link on my author's website http://jodeeluna.com with your permission of course.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

John-That is a good idea for a follow-up topic.

@wizardofwords-That chocolate and travel blog sounds like a good combo.

JodeeLuna-I'd be honored if you'd link to this post from your site.

Anonymous said...

Hi Robert I too would like to link to this post from my site with your permission of course?!!!

Thank you!

Julie :)

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Definitely, Julie!

I'd be honored.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I just found this blog by streaming through your list and found it extrememly helpful. I'm an aspiring writer/editor, although the editor part isn't going too well for me at present. Is there any advice you can offer me as to how to gain clientele or get on with a magazine or website?

Anything at this point would be acceptable. I know I have to start small and work my way up. I'm currently awaiting response from Lyrcial Press regarding a freelance position with them.

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your knowledge with all of us eager readers. And congratulations on finding your wife. I love the story of how you two met. It's so modern day romantic.

marta chausée said...

Fantastic information here, so well presented. Everything the aspiring best-seller needs to know. I had already realized I would need three different platforms, at least, as I currently have three different lines of books: my Resort to Murder series, a 12-Step Recovery Reflections series and a creative non-fiction book on eating disorders, titled In Search of Size Two. There are so many platform lines that intersect and criss-cross, I am going to feel like the NYC subway system or the London tube!

Thank you again, Marta Chausée

Stephen L. Brayton said...

Thanks for the post. Thanks for the 'don't get frustrated' advice. I still do sometimes, but I keep plugging away.

Jenny Milchman said...

Thanks for the tips, Robert. I like the practical, slow build angle you recommend. Sometimes I think that a better (less intimidating) term than marketing for writers would be connecting. The more we connect with other writers' work, and with readers desires' from a story, the more interest we inadvertently build in our own work.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

It's funny you use that term, Jenny. I often describe the whole process as connecting, because I think the word marketing often makes people think of advertising and sell-sell-sell.

Anonymous said...

Great overview Robert! I would love to hear your opinion on something that seems to be happening to writers who are building platforms. I have been approached my several large websites in my niche who want to "use" my blog content. What are they offering? Exposure, links, free products. It really hits me the wrong way but I also understand the lure of exposure. Big content websites seem to be gobbling up the little guys as fast as they can offering empty promises. The monetary gain is the websites alone, not the writer. One contract I looked at today even went so far as to say that although I will continue to "own" my content, they have the write to repackage and sell it. Even the best writers struggle to make ends meet and it seems an insult to the craft. What do you think? Is there any value to the writer in this kind of exchange?

dark side of the moon said...

Hi Not-Bob,
What a perfect title for a blog. OMG. The worst piece of software ever written was named Bob (Microsoft). My brother's name is Bob. It's just sad.
Great article as well. thanks much for your efforts.

Pennie Reese said...

This gave me a few more tasks for my Master List. Thank you!