Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On Platform and Why It's Important

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?


L. T. Host said...

Great post, and very worrying, haha, because the platform I have online has NOTHING to do with what I write. Well, except for one book-- that ironically is Gary Corby's fault.

Anyway, thanks for giving me this to think about! And worry about... and bash my head against the desk about... :)

dolorah said...

Your blog platform is the very description of EXCELLENT Matt. My first introduction to Steam Punk; and yes, I'd defitely buy the novel. Your knowledge of your subject matter is intriguing.

I haven't seen any posted excerpts at your blog for a long while. I imagine you're hard at work on revisions still; honestly, I don't know how you would have time with all the indepth, interesting research posts you've accomplished.

Like LT, this platform reminder is kinda scary to me. My novel is about substance abuse and domestic violence, and I don't know how to present that kind of "atmosphere" without scaring everyone off. Can be real depressing.

But once in a while, maybe I should post something informative . . hmm, food for thought.

Have a happy holiday season all at Alliterati! Its been a great year.


Gary Corby said...

You're very kind, Matt! You just inspired me to check some ancient history, in this case my own.

You're dead right on the effect my blog's had in attracting readers for my books. But I think I might be getting credit for more deviousness than in fact occurred.

I began my blog in July 2008. No one noticed for the first month and 6 posts!

This was after Janet had offered, but before I signed. So the blog had no influence whatsoever on acquiring an agent. (In fact if I'd had the blog running, the now infamous Case of the Missing Gary would never have occurred.)

Matthew Delman said...

L.T. --

I wouldn't say your platform has nothing to with what you write. Rather, it's more that your platform is that you're an inquisitive person about the world. And if people like that style, they're still likely to read your work.

Donna --

Why thank you for the compliment. As to the excerpts, there's a surprise over at Free the Princess today that might assuage your concerns about my fiction. Between all my other activities though, I've been slowly chipping away at CaN in my off hours.

Hmm ... I might have an idea about how to post on those topics without "scaring people off." If you want, feel free to shoot me an email.

Gary --

No one noticed Free the Princess for the first 3 months or so, until I really started getting involved in commenting on other blogs.

As you say, the influence on getting an agent may be minimal, but the influence on readers finding you and decided to purchase your book can be key.

Interesting thoughts as always though.