When working on an author platform, writers can feel overwhelmed with all the things they have to do or think about. How to tackle the universe of platform without going a little insane?
Part of it depends on personality, so I’ll address this for:
1. People who use goal setting
2. People who don’t use goal setting
(That said, you will find something useful in both sections if you are developing a writing career.)
Author Platform For Goal Setters
Goal setters almost always have a definite path they’re on, so before deciding on your plan of action, identify your primary goal(s) for the next six to twelve months. These are the ones I see most often:
1. Developing as a writer or figuring out who you are and what you write
2. Creating, making, producing (which may spin you over to #1 on occasion)
3. Publishing and building formal recognition of you and your work
4. Reader engagement, platform development, and/or audience development—which can be difficult to pursue until you have a body of work and/or some level of recognition in the community.
If you feel like #1 or #2 is most closely aligned with your 6–12 month goals, then you should spend about 10% of your writing time on platform-building priorities.
If #3 or #4 are most closely aligned with your 6–12 month goals, then you may want to spend up to 50% of your time (or whatever percentage seems right to you—how deeply you want to dive, or if you have a book release coming) on publishing and platform, or the business end of your career, until you’ve gained some momentum or you realize it’s time to get back to producing. Many writers operate in this on-cycle/off-cycle because it’s helpful for focus and productivity.
If you’re not sure what your platform-building priorities should be, think about your long-term goals, or where you want to be in 1-5 years. This can quickly become a paralyzing task, so keep it simple. For instance, if you envision having several books published in five years, but you don’t yet have a website, then a platform priority would be establishing one. If you want to grow your reach online, becoming involved in social media or writing online articles (or a blog) is a common step.
Here’s what I use as a general rule of thumb for platform-building priorities, specifically for new and mid-career writers:
1. Establishing or improving your website and/or blog. Sometimes this means investing a little money in design or development.
2. Identifying new publishing opportunities or partnerships to get your work spread to the right target audience or to a bigger target audience than the one you currently reach.
3. Improving your overall brand cohesiveness. This might be as simple as having a business card that matches your website, or having a Facebook cover photo that reflects your brand. It may involve hiring design help.
4. Adding an e-mail newsletter to your overall efforts if you don’t have one.
5. Identifying the social media outlet(s) you want to be strategic about and focus on for growth, as well as those where you might want to simply experiment and play.
6. Looking at how you can diversify the mediums in which you present your content or stories. If you’ve focused solely on written work, is there an opportunity to also try audio, video, or images?
Author Platform For Non-Goal Setters
In full disclosure, I’m someone who rarely sets goals for herself. I mainly work based on “signals.” I pay close attention to how people are responding to my activity (and sometimes I measure it, using a tool like Google Analytics), and what themes are showing up in my classes/conferences, then I adjust. I also pay attention to people whom I admire, and sometimes I imitate them if I see a better way to do things.
I do read trend articles and stay current on how the industry is unfolding, but such things don’t influence me on a day-to-day basis; it’s more about understanding how best practices evolve and intuiting when it’s time to make a change in how I direct my efforts.
Mostly, I favor experimentation and letting my enjoyment drive the platform building. And whether you’re a goal setter or not, it’s important to pay attention to what’s giving you energy, and what’s taking it away. Avoid pursuing a platform-building activity if it doesn’t feel like a good match for the rest of what you’re doing. Or, put another way: don’t make your life difficult by trying to force something that’s not really you. There are so many ways to develop a strong platform that you have the freedom to focus only on the activities you like, which in turn will lead to the satisfaction and growth you want.
Author Platform: The Bottom Line
Set some goals. Or don’t. But do get started on the process of building. It takes time, and you won’t get too far if you keep waiting for some kind of magical moment. The magic happens as you make a writing life—piece by unforced piece.
Photo by Doug Kline, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Jane Friedman.
Looking to develop your career into a long-term, potentially money-making endeavor? Consider working with Jane through our Poets and Writers Career Package.
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Janie Chang says
Thanks for writing this, Jane. Platform sometimes feels so amorphous both in its definition and in its strategy.
The ‘pay attention’ is very useful in tandem with Google Analytics. If you look strictly at the numbers, some of the articles on my blog did not attract a lot of visitors. But they are also the ones that attracted a few highly engaged followers who have become friends and fans who support me on social media — and vice versa.
Jane Friedman says
Yes! It can be so much more valuable (and fulfilling) to measure engagement rather than numbers. Or, the old cliche: quality, not quantity.
Marcia Degelman says
Thanks, Jane. I’m not really a goal setter either, But I just made some room in my schedule to devote to writing my blog on healthy living, and posting it around. Like to google+, which I had not been paying much attention to, before. It really does have a pleasing interface, and well, google does rule. Will have to see what happens, as I give myself the space to grow. Thanks for bushwacking this digital wilderness, for those of us who follow.
Jane Friedman says
Thanks, Marcia. I think G+ is only going to grow, and especially given Google Authorship, has the potential to be quite powerful. (If you haven’t signed up yet for Google Authorship, definitely recommend that.)
Ellie Anthony says
Thanks Jane,this is a really helpful post. I loved the ” – piece by unforced piece” comment and the notion of aligning your platform with what works for you.
I’ve (largely) enjoyed the journey thus far, but it does indeed take time and genuine intent/commitment. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to expand my learning (in many areas), meet new people, make new connections and share in others journeys as they achieve milestones of various kinds. In fact, it hasn’t felt like I’m building a platform so much as developing new relationships and making new connections, which has the added bonus of expanding my platform.
I guess the downside for me is I’ve often felt as if my turtle-like pace will take me a zillion years to move forward.
Your post is a good reminder of the need to keep things in balance (or perspective or both)work with what is natural for you or appeals to you and to allow time for things to grow.
L. L. Barkat says
Ellie, for some reason I suddenly thought how cool it would be to have a “visual” on what you’ve got already and where you want to be. I imagine a whole web of connections, milestones, map destinations that might really make you smile when you see how populated your life already is with things that have been done.
Someone should make author platform software with a graphic capability. How fun that would be. 🙂
L. L. Barkat says
Fascinated by the fact that you rarely set goals for yourself. I’m guessing the goals are much shorter term (like maybe even weekly?).
Could you comment on the difference between author platform and publicity efforts? I think writers tend to think of these as one and the same.
Jane Friedman says
Re: goal setting. I have a priority to-do list (and a longer to-do list), but most of my work is deadline driven. I agree to do a range of things, which forces deadlines on me! I probably suffer from not being a little more goal-oriented.
Platform vs. publicity
Platform is all about the long term, and it’s quite organic. Publicity is about gaining short-term visibility for a very specific book/product, and it’s often campaign-driven where you’re measuring results and adjusting. Unless you’re Coca-Cola, you probably won’t be running publicity campaigns all the time. Publicity for a writer is often very special, limited, and focused – a period devoted to getting attention on X.
E.g., publicists at book publishers have intense focus on new releases for 3-6 months, then they move onto the next new releases. If you hire a publicist, it’s usually during a book launch window.
Platform building has no beginning or end, and is not about a particular book or product.
Hope that’s clear.
Amy Billone says
This piece was both incredibly articulate (clear) and also flexible (agile)–Thank you for being a guiding light, Jane.