What Fiction Authors Really Need to Know About Their Platform
Several times a month, writers ask me, “How can I balance blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, Goodreading, and all the other stuff I’m supposed to do to build my platform, while also focusing on my writing? I have a full time job, a family, and a cat. I just don’t have time for all that other stuff.”
Writers today are overwhelmed, frustrated, and let’s be honest, a little pissed off. Why do we have to build a platform anyway? Can’t we just focus on writing?
It all came to a head for me when I read Michael Hyatt’s bestselling book Platform: How to Get Noticed in a Noisy World. The book was interesting enough, but when I looked for information that related to fiction writers, I found the only advice specifically focused on helping fiction writers was tossed into an appendix in the back of the book.
That’s when I realized most of the so-called “experts” who said every author needs a platform were really just speaking to non-fiction authors. They didn’t have a clue what a fiction platform would even look like.
Meanwhile, thousands of fiction writers followed their advice, creating blogs they resented, Twitter accounts that overwhelmed them, and Facebook pages with thirty-seven likes. For most creative writers, this whole platform experiment has been a waste of time.
That’s when I decided I needed to learn everything I could about how to build a platform specifically designed for fiction writers.
How NOT to Create a Fiction Platform
I started my search for the best way to create a platform for fiction authors by talking to popular writing bloggers like Joanna Penn, Holly Lisle, and K.M. Weiland. These authors had built large audiences by blogging about the writing and publishing process. I wanted to know if their audience, mainly of other writers, also read their fiction.
In other words, is writing about writing a good way to build a platform for fiction authors? Should all fiction authors create writing how-to blogs?
Their answers surprised me. Here’s what veteran novelist Holly Lisle said when I asked her whether her blog’s audience overlapped her fiction audience:
Not so much…. The difference between readers and writers is the difference between people looking to buy houses, and those looking to buy hammers with which to build houses…. I ended up creating two almost completely separate audiences. There’s a bit of crossover, but I wouldn’t put it above 10%.
Ten percent?! That means most of the authors who started a blog to give writing advice, weren’t just postponing their own fiction writing to build their “platform,” they weren’t even building very good platforms in the first place.
Take Back Your Platform
To really understand how to create a useful platform for fiction writers, I think it’s important to talk about what a platform really is.
Many default to saying that your platform is your blog. A few, savvy experts, say that while having a blog is important, to build a successful platform you also need to have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a Pinterest account for good measure.
And yet, J.K. Rowling didn’t have a blog when she wrote Harry Potter. Does she have a platform? Stephen King doesn’t have a Twitter account. Does he have a platform? Agatha Christie, the bestselling novelist of all time, wasn’t alive when Facebook was invented. Did she have a platform?
It’s time to take back our platforms:
- My blog is not my platform. (Share that and take back your platform)
- My Twitter account is not my platform. (Share that)
- My Facebook page is not my platform. (Share that)
- My Goodreads profile is not my platform. (Share that)
Your blog, social media accounts, the Internet itself, they are just tools. Your platform is bigger and more important than any of them. Platforms existed before these tools, and they’ll continue to exist after they’re replaced by newer, shinier tools.
— Joe Bunting (@joebunting) August 23, 2013
What Is Your Platform, Then?
In The Story Cartel Course, we spend two full sessions talking about platform, and I share what I’ve learned from more than a year of studying how platforms work for fiction writers. Here is the definition of platform I give my students:
Your platform is the authority, trust, and attention given to you from a group of people.
Your platform isn’t your blog. It’s the trust you have with your audience.
Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling sold less than 1,500 copies when it was first published. When the media discovered Robert Galbraith was actually the pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, the book instantly became a bestseller. Why? Because we love Harry Potter and even though The Cuckoo’s Calling is a (very) adult detective novel rather than a middle-grade series about a secret community of wizards, we trust J.K. Rowling to tell a good story.
We trust her, just as readers trust Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, and William Shakespeare. What does this mean? You don’t build your platform by blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking about your writing process. That’s not how Jane Austen built her platform. You build your platform by sharing your stories.
“My stories are my platform.”
Share that and take back your platform.
— Joe Bunting (@joebunting) August 23, 2013
The Secret to Building Your Platform
After a year of searching for the perfect platform for fiction authors, here’s what I discovered.
This isn’t much of a secret. It’s the same thing writers have been doing for thousands of years. Authors built their platforms using this secret method before the Internet was invented, before the first printing press was built, before even the alphabet was written on stone tablets. Writers built their platforms through their stories.
The most important thing you can do to build your writing platform is to share your next story. (Share that?)
You can and should use tools like a blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads to share your stories. After all, a book is a tool, too. It’s a wonderful tool that we love, but it’s just a tool.
Don’t confuse story sharing tools with your platform. Your platform is too important for that.
5 Tools To Share Your Story Further
I think it’s possible to build an online platform without taking time away from your creative writing. To help you do this, I’ve created a brief guide called 5 Tools to Share Your Story Further, specifically designed for creative writers who don’t want to be owned by their blog or their social media accounts anymore, but instead want to use those tools to grow their audience and create deep connections with their readers.
The guide is completely free for writers who sign up for the Story Cartel Course waiting list. There’s no commitment, just helpful information. You can get the free guide, 5 Tools to Share Your Story Further, here.
In a few weeks, we’re going to be opening enrollment for the Story Cartel Course. If you’d like to build a better platform, grow your audience, and sell more books. You can sign up for more information about the course and get free lessons here.
What do you think? What is the best thing you’ve done to build your writing platform?
For today’s practice, share your story. You can choose to share your story on your blog, as a Facebook post, with sequential tweets, or even simply in the comments section of this post. After you share, leave a comment with a link to your story so we can read it!