Drop The Pen, Grab A Hammer: Building The Writer’s Platform

Writing Advice

Ahhh. The writer’s platform.

I first heard the term… what? About three, four years ago? Reading various snidbits of advice, you pick up on that increasingly popular question: “Do you have a platform?”

I thought, oh, shit. No, no I don’t. I didn’t have anything that looked remotely like a platform. So, out in the woods I built a small raised dais. On it I placed a chair. In the chair I placed my ass, and on my lap I rested my novel. Just in case, I wrote a crazy person sign — “I AM NOVELIST WILL WRITE FOR HOOKERS” — and then I waited. Eventually I grew hungry — and further, I grew tired of people throwing their fast food garbage at my head. So I went inside, did a little investigation and lo and behold I was doing it wrong.

Sadly, building a writer’s platform does not involve an actual platform. I know, right? Welcome to Disappointment City, Population: Me.

So it goes.

Let me be clear: I detest the word “platform.” I mean to say, it’s fine when used to literally define something that deserves the term: I don’t froth at the mouth and rip out clods of chest hair anytime I hear the phrase “platform shoes,” for example. But when someone says “writer’s platform,” I cannot help but grind my molars together until I hear the crinkly, crunchy snap as my enamel cracks like punched glass.

Still. As a buzzword, it’s got legs.

And in the bullshit of the buzzword, truth lingers. Let us tease it out with a tickle, shall we?

Define Your Terms, Inkmonkey: What In Tarnation Is A Writer’s Platform?

The metaphor of the writer’s platform is — duh — that you as a writer need to stand on a platform with your megaphone and your lectern, and the stronger the platform is — or is it the higher the platform? — the better off you’re going to be when the time comes to get published because you stand on a solid base above all others and you rule them with an iron fist. Blah blah blah. Snargh. Or something.

Fuck all that right in the blowhole.

Here’s a simple definition:

You are your platform.

Lemme explain. Getting published is the sum of two parts: one, the book, and two, the author that wrote the book. The book matters in the short term: the audience (and by proxy, the publisher) want a good book in hand. The author matters in the long term: everybody wants to get behind an author with some longevity, an author they like, or even better, an author that they love.

The writer’s platform is about you. It’s about putting yourself out there. It’s equal parts “putting on armor” and “taking off all your clothes.” Your platform is how people know you — it’s their perception of you as an author, but even more importantly, of you as a human being.

Your Strongest Platform Is A Book That Doesn’t Suck Moist Open Ass

Go read a gaggle of articles about a writer and his platform and the one thing you won’t see very often is advice talking about your actual book. Here’s the thing: a writer without a platform can still get published if he has a kick-ass book, but a writer with a great platform isn’t likely to get published if his book is better off being dragged out behind the barn and shot in the head.

A shitty book will crush even the most well-constructed platform under a ton of manure.

Let it be said: your primary goal is to write a fucking whopper of a book. The lion’s share of your efforts should go into that which makes you a writer: your writing. Many writers are all about the sound and the fury, but it’s all bark and not a lot of bite. They over-promise and never deliver. Don’t be that asshole. Write the best book of your life, and then go write an even better book.

The book is your currency. You and your platform are just the way to get that book seen.

Now, to be clear, I don’t mean you shouldn’t concentrate at all on getting yourself out there. You can, and should. No false dichotomies here — you can do both. As you’re writing the book you should also be putting yourself into the world as the writer you want people to know and to read. Just remember that the book is king. You are merely the power behind the throne.

A Writer’s Platform Is Made Out Of People

“A writer’s platform: the miracle food of high-energy plankton gathered from the oceans of the world.”

No, wait, that’s Soylent Green, isn’t it?

Still, the point stands: your platform is made out of people. You’ll hear a lot about social media this and writer conference that. Those are tools. Those are means to an end.

People matter. Relationships count. That is no less true today than it was 50, 100, or 1,000 years ago — you don’t want to lone wolf this shit. You are not Author Ronin Without Clan.

Your platform is about connecting with people.

Yes, it’s that simple. It is in part about building audience, but to me there’s a bit of a mind-set tweak in there: building audience puts you at a separation from people, and it’s the same separation suggested by the term “platform.” It sets you both above and apart. “I am Author!” you shout from your dais made of human skulls. “Hear my voice! Read my book! When you’re done reading my book, I’ll also need you to lick my feet! And smite my enemies! And buy my t-shirts and coffee mugs! Do not forget to read this interview with me, for it is filled with the blood of awesome! Raaaaar!”

Ah, but the writer’s platform isn’t all about you.

You shouldn’t stand above and apart. You should stand within.

That sounds like some real Zen Hippie Shit, but your platform isn’t about screaming so the cheap seats can hear it. It’s about connecting. It’s about connecting with people so that you may exploit them and make them dance on your puppet strings and then when you’re done you will wear their flesh like a suit and boil their bones for broth! Whoa, wait, no, where’d that come from? Whoo. Zoinks. I maybe need a Xanax. And a Zantac, because I have heartburn from slurping all this bone broth.

No, seriously, connecting with people is about reciprocal relationships. It’s not even all about I Am Writer, it’s in part about I Am Just A Dude Or Chick Who Is Pretty Cool And You’re Pretty Cool And We Should Talk About Coffee And Bacon And Dreams And Writing. Be a writer, but also, be a person. And don’t be an asshole. Or, rather, don’t be a huge asshole. More on that in another post.

Because Damn, Who Doesn’t Love A Checklist?

Okay, fine, I hear you. You’re saying, “This is a big basket of theory and metaphor, but you’re not giving me any practical information. Dickwipe.” And I’m like, “Dickwipe?” And you’re like, “Yeah, I said it.”

Fair enough.

Practical information. Here goes. Ready?

One: Figure out who you are and who you want to be. You know how you go to college and that’s a time to kind of… if not “reinvent” yourself than to make upgrades to your original design? This is like that. You are transitioning from Regular Human to Author Human. No superiority intrinsic to that, I just mean that now is a good time to slap a new coat of paint on who you want the world to see. Want to know a secret? This should be the best and most interesting face of who you already are. No ruse, no illusion.

It helps, too, to think a little about your authorial mission: ideally, who you are or appear to be matches the books you hope to write. Presuming you’re a confident author with some understanding of your voice, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. That said, if they’re totally different, you need to navigate that. Do you sanitize and create an illusion? Me, I say be who you are and let the chips fall as they may. The majority of readers won’t know that you’re a foul-mouthed weirdo on the Internet. And when they find out, they probably won’t really give a rat’s right foot.

Two: Get a blog. That blog should not look like a Myspace page or Geocities blog from 1998. No amateur hour shit. Go pro, or go home. Own that blog. Own it from the ground up. Feel free to disagree with me, but I’ll just pull this lever and drop you into the dark churning ocean. No, I don’t have any sharks. I have squid. Little squid with robot brains and laser eyes. Seriously: own your blog and your domain name and create a space. This is your nexus online. Drive traffic here.

Three: Get slathered up in the sweet grease of social media. Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Goodreads, Forums, Skype, Soup Cans Connected By Cat-5 Cable, whatever.

Four: Remember that the key word of social media is social, which means it’s about people, which means you need to connect and communicate. That means you are not just a salesman of information. You are not just pimp and prostitute. If you act like that, then our hunter-killers will confuse you with a Spam Bot and you will be beheaded on sight by their whirring mouth-saws. BZZZTGGRHHBLLE. Blood everywhere.

Five: Don’t be a huge asshole. Or a giant douche. Be cool. Be funny. Be honest (mostly).

Six: Be consistent. Put yourself out there and stay out there. Communicate with your people frequently. Don’t have to be annoying about it, but don’t drop off the map: connect, and stay connected.

Six-Point-Five: Do not confuse “followers” with “buyers.” Tweets and blog posts are free. Your book will not be. They may buy. They may not. Keep expectations in check.

Seven: Realize that the Internet isn’t everything and that a real world exists. Leave your home. Talk to people. Meet other writers and industry people — your so-called “platform” is as much about audience as it is about connections within the industry. Those people have done it. Listen to them. Extend a hand. Better yet: buy them alcohol. Many writers have built strong platforms out of beer kegs and whiskey bottles. (Alternately, buy them a meal because otherwise they’ll go home to a fridge empty of everything but hobo wine, mustard packets, and month-old Indian food.)

Eight: Go to a conference or three. Meet people who write the kinds of things you write.

Nine: Meet people who aren’t writers or publishers. Break the incestuous little fuck-tangle and meet anybody you can: dock-workers, librarians, artists, bartenders, hookers, and did I mention bartenders?

Ten: Keep writing. Always keep writing.

Caveat, Cuidado, Verboten, Awooga, Awooga

Be advised: nobody is a social media expert. Do not pay anybody anything to help you build your platform. You want to pay somebody, pay an editor. Pay an agent. Pay a cover artist if you’re self-publishing. But you need to handle your own shit. Only you can be the face of you, and it really is as easy as a) finding your voice b) putting that voice out there by connecting with people in and out of the industry.

Further, the platform isn’t a magic bullet. It won’t guarantee sales. It won’t guarantee a publishing deal. It won’t make that dead fish of a book you wrote suddenly come alive and start flopping around on the dock. It is merely a maximization of luck: you won’t get hit by lightning if you don’t stand out in the field.

Your platform can backfire. It can collapse under the weight of your bullshit. If you don’t have a good instinct for dealing with people but you write kick-ass books, then trust me — step off the platform and disappear into the crowd and let the book sell itself. I’ve seen a few upcoming authors who are pretentious jerkoffs or self-righteous blowhards — I know they’re good writers, but their attitude turns me off.

Now Go Forth And Connect

That’s it. Find your voice and use it to talk to people.

And all the while, keep writing.

There you have it: a writer’s platform in a nutshell.

Comments? Questions? Prayer requests? Death threats? Proposals of marriage? Nigerian email scams?

47 comments

  • “Your Strongest Platform Is A Book That Doesn’t Suck Moist Open Ass”

    Amen! (says the atheist)

    At writing conferences, the only people really pushing platforms seem to be the people running sessions about platforms. The agents I’ve chatted with and listened to all said something along the lines of, “If you’re writing non-fiction, a platform matters; otherwise, we just want a really good book!” The other night, author and writer, Jason Pinter, said it again: http://twitter.com/jasonpinter/status/19261327834873856

    Obviously, the more we all do as writers to connect with people, the better. This is one of the writing blogs I really look forward to and respond to frequently. I could reply to bigger blogs in the hope that by posting on a higher profile site that somebody “big” may look at what I’m doing, but I’m more concerned with writing the best stuff I can and finding a group of people who come up with some replies that are right up there with great posts.

    You’ve amassed a following of some badass people, Chuck. I’m glad that Terribleminds provides a platform for all of us.

    Thanks!

  • Christopher:

    Yeah, the platform offers no guarantees. The best it can do is up your chances of being seen, of being just a little bit more attractive to agent (or more likely), publisher.

    The best defense against not being published is, of course, to write a kick-ass book.

    Ironically, even then? No guarantees.

    — c.

  • What Christopher said.

    And also gimme your bank account numbers because I’m tired of crafting letters in authentic broken English just to have you toss ‘em in the spam folder. Let’s cut to the chase: I don’t think you’re honest or principled, or particularly religious, and I’m not the wife of a financial officer or bank CEO half a world away—I’m a crook and I want your dough. Fork over the PINS and I won’t bother you again. Much. Spam this, and I’m selling your e-mail addresses and URLs to the Viagra cartel.

    Sorry—too tired for Nigerian scams this morning. Protection rackets don’t take finesse.

  • I’m always mildly amazed when I do something (halfway) right. If you ever do that book of writing advice, it should have a subtitle or byline along the lines of “Lessons Your Professors Forgot to Teach You” – but in your voice.

  • Top advice, sirrah. I’m utterly sick of marketards, SEO drones, audienceers and all the other vapid parasites that infest online reality nowadays. Anything that can help guide authors away from swelling their fetid ranks is clearly wondrous.

  • Another great post! This is really the only blog about writing I bother reading on a regular basis. It is always easier for me to learn while I’m laughing my ass off & this blog continually leaves me cracking up while at the same time gaining valuable info on the writing process, industry, etc….

    As for platform, I am really just starting to create one. I have a blog(not real happy about site) that I have only recently started writing in with some regularity. I have been on twitter for maybe six months and the biggest thing I have learned is if follow the right people you can pick up a lot of info on the whole of the writing industry. With any luck you can also make some decent connections with other writers & agents, editors, publishers….

    Again thanks for the blog, informative & hilarious as usual.

    Awesome sauce,
    John

  • Another day, another tidbit of fantastic advice.

    You dole this out in dribs and drabs, keeping us coming back for more, relating your experiences while making us laugh and think, but you never say too much… you keep us returning. Waiting for more. Building your platform.

    Good advice and a good example.

  • Hello. I am a member of the Nigerian Royal Family, and I require your assistance.

    All very good points, as usual. I’ve been building my “platform” from scratch since day one, taking notes from people who seem like they know what you’re doing. (Not-so-subtle hint.) Actually liking people helps, of course. That and, I think to a certain extent, being an attention whore. Interesting and worthwhile and overall -good- content is the best way to get people to “look-at-meeee!”.

  • Great post! A published writer told me that she got some advice when she was starting out that she thought did her a lot of good: if you want to be a published author, start acting like a published author. And a lot of what she meant was what your post recommends. Start a blog. Talk to other authors. Quit saying, “I kinda, sorta think I might write a book someday.” Reach out to people who, once you are published, will read and hopefully recommend your book. I started my blog and got on Twitter around the time I started writing my book, and, not only am I getting a jump start on building my “platform,” but I’ve also gotten lots of good advice along the way from other authors.

  • Behind the magic, the reason why people freak out over a writer’s platform is because of something very, very simple:

    People believe that being online will help an author sell more books.

    Only…

    Few track whether or not that actually works with the correct data. I’ve been in online marketing for several years, and I can tell you straight off, that being popular online is no replacement for garnering readers. Your stories require a time investment that people aren’t always willing to give.

    Many books that are supposedly super-popular are not selling like you think they are. Having a platform is just part of your personal brand, but there’s a big difference between brand awareness and monetizing your platform. Two VERY different goals. They may both be important, but they’re not the same thing.

    Having 4,000 followers on FB or Twitter means jack and shit if no one cares about your stories. Can you guess which one I’m shooting for?

    • @Monica —

      To me, the important part of a platform isn’t earning sales. It’s connecting with people in the industry. I know so many writers and agents and publishing people now just because of this blog and Twitter — in fact, I would directly attribute the opportunity to write my upcoming novel, Double Dead, to my so-called (cringe) “platform.”

      Abaddon contacted me and asked me to pitch to them, letting me know they were interested, and I did. That is directly a response to my online persona.

      Will it earn me sales? No idea. But it did earn me an opportunity, and that’s where the platform becomes valuable.

      — c.

  • Love it! I’m in the middle of a blog series on How to Decide on Your Author Brand and this is all so true. I’ll reference this article in my post tomorrow because your point #1 is spot on: Figure out who you are and who you want to be. Exactly! Your brand is not a false representation of yourself, it is also not some limiting little box – it is *you* as you consciously choose to be.

  • Wow! This is excellent, and probably the best explanation of platform I have ever heard. Platforms mean nothing unless they are built with genuine human connection.

    I would add to your list. Our platform works best when interconnected with others. I use my platform to promote other writers and bloggers. This is social media and it works best when we put in a team effort. I think a lot of the writers who act more like spam bots than people are still thinking in the old traditional marketing paradigm. Social media is optimized when we work as a team. Building platforms become like “Barn-Raisings.”

    I know that I am thrilled whenever I see one of my regular followers fall in love with your blog. It means that my platform had deeper meaning than just touting–Me! Me! Me! It means that I played a part in exposing others to true excellence on the web and it is thrilling when they love your blog as much as I do. It’s like taking a friend to a restaurant you hope they will love….and they do. There is no payoff with money. They pay off is far deeper.

    I love your blog. Would have never found it had another blogger not mentioned you. I am a huge fan and make it my business to convert others to the Path of the Wendig….Wendigstrasse for those in the know, ;).

    • @Kristen:

      Thanks for working so stridently to put #terribleminds out there. Much appreciated. Together we can stand on this platform and rule the unwashed masses. That’s how this is supposed to work, right?

      And big points for the “barn-raising” metaphor.

      — c.

  • You said “dichotomies”. I don’t think I have ever been so turned on in my life.

    My pet peeve are the authors that build their little platform and never, ever speak to any but their chosen few, don’t reciprocate in any way, just sit there like they’re on a throne waiting for a foot massage, an ass-kissing or someone to feed them grapes. Really? That’s the last book I’m every buying from YOU.

    So THERE.

  • I laughed so hard at this! I had the same reaction four years or so ago when I heard the term (though I admit I did not go out and hammer and nail a platform together). Luckily I got my act together just in time…set up my website and blog in September, sold my first book in October. Now I’m just trying to be me online without showing all my wrinkles and scars. Like you said, showing the best part of me.

    At any rate – thanks for the entertaining read!

  • This? Made me laugh so hard, and also may have even reached brain cells in the process. I’m very glad that you’re going to be killing monkeys…,I mean that you have the ‘Confessions’ book making the rounds.

    Meeting people, connecting, and trying to “Break the incestuous little f-tangle…” — that’s much prefered to the fake-ish babble of “me, me, me!” Great points~

  • “Social media is social” is getting tattooed on my forearm, right above “show, don’t tell.”

    As always, great advice! A lot of the same stuff I’m getting from other reputable sources, but so much more fun to read.

  • Damn! I have fallen in love with a lunatic again!!! I have newly discovered your blog by paroozing for information on Austin Wulf’s blog and am ecstatic to read what comes written from your fingers next. Thanks for the post.

  • I’ve been trying to warm up to the topic of “platforms” by reading all the advice in the blogosphere, but mostly it makes me want to stick my finger down my throat. Your post was a really good belly laugh–and good advice for a writer who is just trying to get a damn first novel written. I like the fact that you can make me laugh at this whole stupid process and myself.

  • You win! The only site offering words on ‘the writer’s platform’ that made me laugh. Several times. Out loud. Sound advice as well. I’ve gotta look for your books. –RB

  • I like your advice on establishing a platform. I think that the fact that you put be yourself first was spot on. There are so many writers that try to be something they aren’t. It makes their writing and their platform seem hollow. If you write about African safaris, it helps to have been on one. The rest of the advice is great as well. Thanks for your thoughts and the humor.

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds