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?