If y'all have been kicking around my corner of the Internet for awhile, you might've heard me waxing lyrical about platform building before. Or maybe not, as in skimming through my back catalog here I'm not finding something about platform specifically.
Anyway, that wondrous thing known as platform is the real topic of this here set of ramblings. Platform, as defined in this case is not the flat area you stand on while waiting for a train, but rather the position from which you market yourself. Ah yes, our old friend marketing -- now I know I've written about that before. And I also know that authors, almost as a rule, tend to dislike marketing. (Well, at least people who write novels do. Nonfiction writers tend to take marketing as a matter of course.)
However! A good platform can be an integral part of any writer's success story, even for those writing fiction. I can hear the question now -- "But I write novels, how does a marketing platform help me if I'm creating a made-up world? Shouldn't the book be able to sell itself?"
Au contraire, mes auteurs. A book cannot sell itself, no matter how brilliant it is, if no one knows that it exists. To drive the point home a little bit stronger, conventional wisdom states that very few people are willing to purchase a book by an author they don't know. Looking back, I think that saying "very few" is probably an overstatement -- try instead that it's much harder to convince a stranger to purchase your book than it is to convince someone who knows you to do so.
That comes back to a combination of things really: word of mouth and platform. We're talking about platform today though, so that's where I'm going with this.
Now, a common misconception is that your "platform" is that you're a writer. WRONG! Your platform is that you're a writer of mysteries, of Steampunk, of historical romances set in the Elizabethan Age, etc. Extrapolate this out and you realize that the topic you're knowledgeable about is not really writing. This is mostly becauss every writer writes about writing (sort of like how most filmmakers will inevitably make a film about making a film).
Am I saying you shouldn't write about your struggles with your latest chapter? Or about plotting and characterization and the like? No, of course not. Everyone has their own style and everyone has something to offer to everyone else. But what I am saying is that the real thing you have to offer is your skill in the research you've done to write your book.
Take Gary Corby for an example (I know I use him a lot for my examples, but there's a reason for that). His platform is that he's a writer of mysteries set in Classical Athens. Well wouldn't you know it, but Gary build his blog "A dead man fell from the sky ..." around that very topic area -- Classical Greece. So we then say that Gary's platform is that knowledge of Classical Greece, and Athens in particular. One would find his material online, realize they like his voice, and say "Oh look his debut novel came out. I like Gary's style, so I'll go purchase The Pericles Commission."
Granted, this is a much truncated example, but you get my point. If Gary hadn't built his platform at his blog, he still might have gotten represented by Janet Reid and then sold his novel to Minotaur, but a lot fewer people would've known about it. And there are a few people (myself included) who might not have bought Gary's book if they didn't know him prior to it being released. Full disclosure: I'm not that big a fan of mysteries, but since I know Gary I know I want to buy his book.
Dear lord that was a rambling bit of randomness, wasn't it? Anyway, final point: Building a platform can establish you as a writer that someone wants to read. Since I started Free the Princess back in July 2009, I've built my platform to the point where I have a network of contacts that spans 4 continents. I might not be able to count on every one of those contacts as a sale for if and when I have a novel coming out, but my chances are significantly increased because of that platform. This also means that there's a network of hundreds of people who know my name and know my work, and may even pass that word along.
Now do you see the benefit of building a platform?