Building your writing platform: writers as marketers.

wooden platform“Platform” is the buzzword in publishing and writing circles at the moment. It’s tossed around so casually that you might find yourself nodding along with the crowd but lost once you’re by yourself. If so, I’m here to help.

So what’s a platform? Think of your platform as the structure you’ve created to reach potential readers. The bigger the platform, the bigger the potential reach. You probably have several “planks” already, even if you don’t know it. Do you have a Facebook account and mention your writing on there? Do you tweet about writing or books? Do you have a blog? A LinkedIn or Google+ account? You should. All of these are free. They make easy, foundational planks to promote your work and connect with those who are interested in your writing.

There’s good news for writers looking to create a platform. The best advice I have is something that should be second nature to you: write, write, write. It’s obviously one of your strengths: play to it. The caveat? You can’t spend all of your time writing the great American novel; you also need to spend some of your writing time and talents to connect with others. Write responses to blogs you follow. Write and contribute to forums. Write tweets and write additions to re-tweets. You are your own best advocate. Get your name out there and connect with other writers, other reading groups, other folks who love the written word. Despite what television and the “internets” want us to believe, there are tons of us book/word lovers out there.

Even better news: I’m convinced that writers can be great marketers. Why take my word for it? Well, I have experience at both. I’m a writer, by both proclivity and profession. I’m a marketer, by both inclination and occupation. Yes, that makes me a “marketing writer” and “communications manager” (my official title). I’ve spent years thinking about and exploring how narrative works, in both novels and in real-life. I have a PhD in English, a certificate in marketing management, and a novel (hopefully to be published this summer) under my belt. Writers, I adamantly tell you, make fantastic marketers.

Don’t be intimidated by marketing. Use your writing skills and think of it as an exercise in narrative. If you’re a writer, then you’re a storyteller. That gives you a huge advantage when thinking about marketing yourself and your book. Here are a few questions to get you started (or if you’re already started, these should be easy for you to answer):

  • What story do you want others to tell about your novel? I know, this is a bit meta: what’s the story about the story?
    • Don’t think of “story” in a negative, un-true way. I’m simply suggesting that you should know up front what story (or “history” if that makes you feel more comfortable) you want people to understand about why you created your book, how it came to be, why it’s important, etc.
    • What story do you want readers to understand about you? How does that story (set of facts) tie into the story from the bullet point above?
    • How do your stories (both the novel you wrote and the life you’ve created) fit with or contest the stories (again, plural) of other authors you come in contact with?

I’m fascinated by this connection between authorship, promotion, platform creation, and narrative. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Lots more to come on this topic, with lots more concrete suggestions on platform building.

While you’re here, take a look at other recent blog topics (list is on the left-hand side, under the menu!)

–Patrick

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Waiting for the publisher

Writing a novel, I’ve discovered, is not an ideal undertaking for those who are impatient. I’m not good at waiting. I hate going to the bank, or the post office, where lines seem to take forever. I’d rather take surface roads and drive the long way home than sit on the freeway in rush hour traffic and move slowly. You get the idea.

Beyond the hours and months and years invested in taking an initial idea to completion as a novel, though, there is an unbelievable amount of time where you can’t do anything but wait. What looked like the finish line–completing the novel–is actually only about the midway point. Then it’s time to find an agent or look for a publisher directly. That means a query letter. Then waiting, weeks or even months, to hear back. If they like what they read, maybe you’ll be asked to submit a longer sample, or even the full manuscript. If not, welcome to form letter rejection hell.

I’ve experienced both, several times. I’m never quite prepared for either outcome. Logging in to find an email from an agent or publisher still gives me a shot of adrenaline. Opening the message is like getting a gift from a secret Santa at work: you have no idea whether it’s something you’d like to display on your desk or bury in a drawer, but you’re pretty sure that whoever is doing the gifting would do a much better job if they just knew you a little bit better.

Assuming the gift is a good one and you’ve been asked to submit a full manuscript for review, the process feels like it’s jumped forward dramatically, only to come to a standstill almost immediately afterward. Publishers and agents are ridiculously busy. And though your novel should, obviously, be their top priority and you know it will grab their attention once they start reading it, there is evidently some unusual wormhole in the publishing world that slows time to a crawl. Four to six months seems to be pretty standard for a manuscript review. In an age filled with texts that jump back and forth with ease and messaging that has become “instant,” waiting months for something that is so important to you feels interminable.

I’m in that interminable, difficult, wormhole-like spot right now. The good folks at Oak Tree Press have asked to review my manuscript. They are exactly the type of press I’m looking for: a company that has helped other new writers get a start and forms a partnership with authors. Sunny has been especially helpful already, quick with replies and suggestions. Check out their books when you get a chance. Here’s hoping that this time my gift is an offer for publication–that’s a gift I would definitely enjoy seeing on my desk.

–Patrick