The Second-Toughest Job in Writing

When my first short story, Heavenbloom, came out a couple of years back my publisher advised me to set up a Twitter account. They told me that having an online presence helps sell stuff, so I duly obliged. A Facebook page soon followed. What I didn’t realise was that I’d begun a process just as slow, just as vital and almost as tough as finishing and editing a novel. I’d started building my own writing platform.

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It isn’t enough these days to write a great book. Authors have to be more than wordsmiths, they must be entrepreneurs and, at times, canny businessmen. If an agent is presented with two manuscripts of equally brilliant merit, which writer is she going to choose – the one with 5000 followers on Twitter and the blog with daily updates or the one who, when his name is googled, results in a Welsh rugby player from the late 19th century with suspect facial hair? 

Treat that as rhetorical. In the digital age it literally pays to be a social media geek, or at least rank as “competent.”

Realising this has been a slow dawning rather than an instantaneous eureka moment. The Facebook page was set up in a bout of cringeworthy vanity, and I didn’t fully comprehend why I was creating a Twitter account at the time, only that it seemed like a vaguely good idea. Even this blog was initially started simply because I had too much spare time.

It wasn’t until January this year that I came across the idea of the “writing platform.” The Big Publishers haven’t got the time or resources to market their works like they used to, and the vast new realm of the interwebs is a resource best plumbed by individual authors. For that reason it’s every man, woman and her cat for themselves.

And the knock-on effect is that if your books fail to sell then it’s partly your fault. Getting savvy with the social media should be a top priority for writers now, be they first-time self-publishers or Big Pub veterans with 30 books to their name. With a platform you can promote your work to thousands, encourage fan participation, initiate competitions, build hype, interact with other author platforms, write and exchange reviews and generally make your work fully accessible. The potential rewards of a strong platform are bountiful.

The only thing is, it takes time. Platforms don’t spring up overnight. If you’re just starting out it will probably take you literally years to work your way towards a thousand followers. Even then you have to remember that the vast majority won’t take the full plunge and actually buy your book. You’re carpet bombing – even if the % of followers who engage with you is small, if you’ve got lots of follows you’ll still have tolerable interaction.

And how do you get lets of followers? Firstly, you produce quality online content to get people hooked on your writing style. Secondly, you produce it as regularly as possible, and get it out there. Like this blog post. Who’d have thought it, a post about platform on a writing platform. Platformception.

Tomorrow, provided my laptop doesn’t attempt to murder me, I’ll be posting further inane commentary about this particular blog’s experiences in celebration of its first birthday. In the meantime, if you’ve somehow missed those unsubtle hyperlinks you can Like my Facebook, Follow my Twitter and Buy my Books. I assume you’ve have the decency to follow this blog already. There’s even a personal history-related non-writing Tumblr out there somewhere.

And if you’re just starting out on building your own platform, remember the number one rule. Don’t shove your stuff in people’s faces, like I just did. 

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