When Keith Richards steps onto stage, a specific horde pays big bucks to be part of him and hear his inimitable riffs on the guitar. When David Sedaris steps onto stage, a smaller but sizable crowd pays a fair sum to be part of him and to hear his inimitable riffs from the page.
Both men – one a haggard warrior of a musician, the other a hilarious trooper of a writer – have built platforms, albeit in altogether different ways for different audiences. Neither of them likely heard the word “platform” when they each got their start – one at London’s Marque Club playing the blues in 1962, the other on NPR recounting his days as an elf in 1992. But they’ve each built one.
What is a platform? Why should an aspiring author, veteran author, or even entrepreneur care to build one?
What a Platform Is
First, let’s get clear about what a platform is and is not.
A platform involves the consistent actions an author and his or her team takes to reach, build, and engage the right audience. Give me the name of a successful author, and I’ll break down how her or his working platform has been built (including that of the authors who claim they’ve never thought about it).
Several authors, aspiring and veteran, get thrown off-center in the online-driven world of publishing and reading. Is there one attribute in a platform that’s the most important? I think so, but whether you’re an author or entrepreneur or creative in another field, I want to hear what you have to say in the comments below.
What a Platform Is Not
Building a platform is not about throwing planks together in your back yard, getting a bullhorn, and screaming for your neighbors to come and hear you because you’ve finished the first draft of your book.
In other words, just putting up a snazzy website and buying 10,000 Twitter followers and blogging 4 times a week alone won’t a platform build. At least not a very viable one – whether for an individual or for a business. A senior-level executive from one of the top 6 publishing houses recently said at a publishing conference, point-blank, “We do know that inauthentic marketing strategies don’t work.”
You do have to step into the public world, but there’s no rule that says you must be utterly egotistical and attention-grabbing to do so well. In fact, for authors, it’s probably better that your platform be less about you and more about your work, your message, your story – with your persona mixed in. Unless you’re already a celebrity or unless your message is all about you.
3 Starting Planks
If you extend the metaphor of platform, then you grasp how building an author platform is about three qualities:
Visibility: Readers have to find you. There are integral and not-so integral ways to build visibility. There are effective and ineffective ways to build visibility. Hint: Drop the bullhorn.
Here’s the remarkable thing to consider: In the early 21st century, you have more opportunities than ever to engage your readers directly and in more avenues and venues than solely through print or even through digital readers.
Visibility Reframe: See “visibility” as an opportunity for more people to be served, captivated, provoked, and touched by your message or story.
- What are all the ways your work could be found and seen online?
- List the small publications you could reach out to for shorter pieces. What conferences and events could you attend? Present at? Lots of events such as Patti Digh’s Design Your Life Camp and Wisdom 2.0 offer break-out sessions from participants. This means you think clearly about what general interest topics beyond your book you could speak about.
- List the non-writer groups and organizations you could start to connect with, people who might become readers whom you also could learn from.
New York Times best-selling memoirist Julie Metz, for instance, continues to build her platform with a stellar signature talk about changing course in midlife – a topic that grows out of her memoir Perfection.
Excellence: Whether you have an Ivy League degree or Nobel Prize or reality show (all helpful platform-builders), you still must learn to create an excellent book in your genre and field (or hire someone to write or co-write it for you). Neither Keith Richards nor Eric Clapton could get away with publishing a sub-par memoir. Richards’ A Life is exceptionally well-written, and openly co-written, and Stephen King favorably reviewed Clapton’s memoir Slow Hand in the New York Times. Hone your craft knowledge, build your chops, establish your creds.
Excellence Reframe: There’s no way around not producing an excellent book or eBook. If you’re new to writing a book or eBook, find the support and resources to up your knowledge of, for instance, how story design and story architecture work or how an idea can be conceived, shaped, and developed in book form. If you’re a veteran author but have not kept up with readers’ appetites in your genre, reach out to someone for perspective on your writing.
I emphasize “excellence” over “credibility” alone. For most authors, credibility arises out of consistent excellence on the page and in your field.
Engagement: Keith Richards is engaging on stage. David Sedaris is engaging on stage. Authors with platforms are engaging. Social media is one form. But there are also live and local ways to engage as well.
To what extent and how you need to engage your audience depends upon several factors such as your native strengths, your natural modes of influence, your background, and your field.
The engagement economy is not about being a social butterfly. It’s about having conversations that matter. It’s about inventing captivating ways to mix it up with readers and fans – your patch of the planet. Be bold and audacious. But be real.
Engagement Reframe: Discover and honor what you love in the potential exchange between you and readers besides it being about your being adored. Susan Orlean is a notorious Twitter fiend, especially since she moved from the city to New York’s Hudson Valley a few years ago (it can get lonely talking only to geese and ducks). Julie Powell’s Facebook page is rife with her signature wit (sarcasm?) and stances and questions. You don’t have to guess where Powell stands on certain issues – refreshing for many fans.
It’s obvious that Orlean and Powell each use these forums because they enjoy them – not because the forums are manipulative tools to sell books (although they do that, too).
What’s the Most Important Part?
I’ve watched authors, entrepreneurs, and author-entrepreneurs soar and crash. The difference? Over and over again, the best-sellers and mid-list books that continue to sell well (and I do watch the numbers) come from authors who have built a platform marked by the elements above and are infused with one other part.
Integrity. The audience trusts the author. The audience feels the engagement comes naturally and consistently from the author’s native strengths, natural modes of influence, and field. They don’t feel toyed with or manipulated.
These elements and more we call at Tracking Wonder a creative entrepreneur’s Core-Form.
Your Core-Form lays the foundation for a platform that can be built over the long run with integrity instead of a bullhorn.
There’s a lot more to building a viable platform than what I’ve introduced here, but this marks a start.
Ready to Step Up?
If you’re ready to step up and onto your platform on behalf of your book’s message or story and for your life’s next act, and if you’re curious about what your Core-Form might look like, then consider taking the final Mastermind Author spot in Your Captivating Book.
You do not have to be a “mastermind.” You simply have to be committed to pursuing your deep longing for this book and your platform.
An all-day Virtual Author’s Platform Retreat with 5 other committed writers +
Your very own 1:1 VIP Author Catalyst Day with me at a 19th-century castle in the Hudson Valley.
You will come away with a clear portrait of yourself as an influencer for the good and how to apply the science of creative branding & platform-building to an action plan.
And you also receive one of my signature editorial reviews of your manuscript and/or proposal (up to 150 double-spaced pages).
You think you don’t deserve it? What about your book’s message or story? What about the patch of the planet that might be served and salved? Do they deserve it?
Think about it.
Then contact me today. Registration closes April 20.
Update: The Mastermind spot is claimed. However, we do have two Scribe spots left – for less than the cost of a Mac laptop (which, ahem, is a machine not a mentor).
I can see you standing up there and standing for what you believe in.
What’s your take? What element do you consider to be the most essential for an author platform to be successful and gratifying over the course of several years? Share your thoughts and examples below.
Grateful to run with you,