In Defense of Platform

August 11, 2017 § 28 Comments

He’s got 11.5K followers

I heard it yesterday, and I’ve heard it before. At conferences. In workshops. In podcast interviews. Always from a reasonably famous, multiply published writer. The workshop leader. The big visiting cheese.

“Don’t even think about platform.”
“Don’t worry about platform.”
“F*ck platform.”

I know they genuinely want what’s best for their students. They want us to focus on words, not clicks. Want us to make great work before thinking about the market, not let what’s selling this week influence the book of our heart.

They are wrong.

They are näive, out-of-touch, factually incorrect and a little bit condescending. Darling little writers–first make a book! Don’t put the cart before the horse!

Of course we want to write a good book. That’s why we paid to take your class. But you know why else we paid to be here? Because we’re hoping (mostly in vain) that you will slam down your pencil, announce “this is the greatest work I’ve ever seen!” then end class immediately and lead us by the hand directly into your agent’s office, shouting “Marlene! You gotta rep this one!”

That’s not going to happen.

You know what else isn’t going to happen? My memoir won’t be magically plucked from slush by an agent who says, “Nobody knows who you are, but you’re so brilliant, don’t even worry about it! Sure, the memoir market is glutted right now, but you–you’re totally different than every other author and the glistening diamonds of your words will bring the world to your door!”

What I see on #MSWL–that’s Manuscript Wish List for those who scorn hashtags–and on websites and in interviews is agent after agent after agent looking for “Memoir/self-help with strong platform.” Sometimes they switch it up: “Memoir/self-help with existing platform.” Novelists have it a bit easier–it’s more about the words, but platform doesn’t hurt. Platform can be why the agent requests the full manuscript instead of saying no to the query, because they know you on Twitter and you’ve been cool. Platform doesn’t get you the book deal (famous-person books are a different category), but it can get you in the door.

The social-media slammers genuinely don’t understand social media. Now, I’ve got a horse in this race–I am, as you probably know, Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. I give talks on using social media to practice writing craft. I am invested. But as a person who cares about effective and genuine social media, I also know this:

Platform is not clicks, or follower numbers, or multiple posts a day, or going viral.

Platform is the ability to directly connect with potential book buyers. And my wonderful, brilliant, famous teachers, there’s a reason you don’t think much about platform:

You’re already standing on it.

Platform = fame+genuine, personal connection. That notable book award? The reviews you got in the New York Times? Your Oscar nomination? The conference I just paid $900 to hear you speak at? Your adoring, book-purchasing, word-of-mouth-generating students across the country? That’s platform.

Platform is getting your name out there, yes, but it’s also about genuinely connecting with other people. Social media helps build supportive writing communities. There’s YA Twitter and #5AMWritersClub Twitter and Black Twitter. Places we can hear our idols speak for free, even ask them questions about their work. Places we can meet future readers, people who enjoy interacting with us and will later evangelize for our books. Places we can share our ideas and be challenged, and find out who else is interested in what we have to say.

Social media can waste our writing time, sure. But we can also use it to practice and improve. Write image-inspired micro-essays on Instagram. Editorials on Facebook–Anne Lamott’s doing pretty well there. Rock Tumblr like Roxane Gay. Use Twitter to make every word count, pack endless meaning into a single sentence, and take that craft back to our essays and stories and poems.

My brilliant and beloved platform-hating teachers already have books out in the world, published before Twitter existed. Before agents counted followers before offering representation. My teachers’ publishers are already invested in them, so it’s easy to tell a room of baby writers, “Publicity is the publisher’s job! Not the writer’s!”

Not any more.

I’m in a memoirists’ group on Facebook. More than 100 of the members have traditionally published books in the last five years. They’re doing just as much self-promotion, book-tour-arranging, press-release-writing and word-of-mouth-creating as the self-publishers. They have to, so their sales will justify book #2.

Would I like to be purely writing, unsullied by social media? Sure. It would save a bunch of time. I genuinely enjoy Instagram and blogging here, but yeah, there’s a sense of duty in some of my “platform-building.” But the chances of my being taken on by an agent who is blinded by the beauty of my creative nonfiction and cares not at all for the clickbait of this world is somewhere between being struck by lightning and winning a scratch-off for more than $50.

So please, dear famous teachers: Stop bashing platform. The way we build it is different than the way you did. Not easier, not harder–just different. And we are expected to do it in order to begin to approach the success you’ve already earned, the success that means you don’t have to be on Twitter.

If you want to walk me into your agent’s office, I’m up for it. I’m writing the best book I can write and practicing my craft and protecting my time and I am ready when you are. But until then, pass the hammer, because I’ve got platform to build.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!

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§ 28 Responses to In Defense of Platform

  • D.S. Lucas says:

    I needed this today. I’m a newbie author and building a platform. I must say I don’t love this part of being a writer, but if I don’t try, I stay invisible. Thank you for your advice and examples. Now to get back to using that hammer 🙂

    • Allison K Williams says:

      And I think the key is to find what feels genuine for you, and supportive of your style and subject matter 🙂

  • Nowata Press says:

    Reblogged this on Nowata Press and commented:
    A frank description of what a writer’s “platform” really is these days. Definitely opened our eyes here at Nowata Press.

  • Sharon Silver says:

    You got me. I realize I’ve been waiting for Yoda or the Oracle or some fairy godmother to sidle up beside me and whisper: You’re the one. It’s a shame that’s not going to happen. Still, I suppose using the tools out there to advance myself is more reliable, if more work. Thanks for the wake-up call.

  • Entitled, lucky, and otherwise “successful” people always want to believe their position is achieved through superior talent, virtue, and skill. We may not like it, but there it is.

    • I mean, they want to argue that platform is unnecessary because they want to believe it was unnecessary for their success. More often than not, they developed their supporting structure and enjoyed connections and considerable luck.

  • Jan Wilberg says:

    I think social media is another form of writing practice. Since I’m already a fan of brevity (lower case b), crafting little pieces for Facebook that are interesting stories is good practice. The snooty “I’m too good for social media” folks are missing something.

  • Spot on. I preach platform so much, but never from this perspective. If platform is getting a bad name because of trickling down to students from people who don’t believe in it/understand it, we need this message to get out! Thank you for telling some people to stop bashing platform, while also encouraging writers to build their communities in an authentic way! A needed piece!

  • Preach it, Allison! I had listened to the podcast you referenced and have heard numerous other accomplished, awarded, adored authors denounce platform. I don’t recall ever hearing such bashing from debut novelists/memoirists/essayists. I have heard them describe their work as more like those barn raisings of the past, when the whole community pitched in on the floor and walls, just the way writing communities and readers raise the roof for authors today. And those of us blessed with such support return the favors over and over again, because that’s part of the discipline – and joy – of writing today. Thanks to you and the commenters for suggestions of how to use platform building to practice and hone important writing skills.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      I love the metaphor of the barn-raising! And you make a good point about the shift in the way publishing happens, too.

  • Reader Runner Writer says:

    Yaaaas. So this. While I am fully dedicated to writing the best book ever, platform can’t hurt. So yes, engage engage engage. I think as long as you are listening and reading others’ work and taking the critiques as well (not just a one sided relationship) – it has so many benefits. If an agent has two manuscripts on the table, both similar in nature, both newbie’s, one has some following…who do you think they would choose to represent?

  • Lou says:

    Some very good advice here, but I have never heard anyone pooh-pooh platform. In fact, I hear so much about it, I’m seriously wondering if I have wasted my whole life writing (before and after invention of social media) in the hope of being a published novelist one day.
    I am on Facebook, but only because I have some writing groups that share tips and contacts. I have only 30 Friends, but only about half ever check the site. Forget about Twitter. I won’t jeopardize my already-fragmenting attention span by joining. If that makes me a snob, so be it. I really don’t see how trading bon mots several times a day will do my career any good. What guarantee do I have that anyone will want to read what I think? Posting means having to read other tweets – time and energy.
    Whatever platform I have as I plan to start contacting agents in January or so (assuming rewrite of novel goes well) is from hard work writing actual essays, articles, etc. for publication in decent magazines and newspapers. If that and the quality of my novel aren’t enough, then I throw up my hands.
    I’ll leave the game to the ones willing to play. Maybe my family will find my ms. when I’m dead and it’ll be worth something in the future. Kind of like a literary Van Gogh – without the genius, of course. 🙂

  • James says:

    The applause was going strong as Allison made her way to the platform. She weaved her way past the standing room only crowd towards the dais. Had it been a political convention, the poster Allison was waving decrying injustice would have brought cheers from those around her. Instead, security personnel surrounded, subdued and eventually carted her away to a dark room behind the stage.

    Young lady, began the Sargent, “You can’t carry signs like that, it’s not allowed.”

    “These handcuffs hurt, can you loosen them a little”, Allison asks?

    “Who are you calling?”, Sarge asks for the second time.

    “I’m not calling anyone”, Allison says, “I’m Tweeting”.

    “So, now you’re a bird”, Officer #2 says.

    “You wouldn’t understand”, says Allison, “Just leave me alone.” Allison struggles against the handcuffs.

    “We can’t leave you alone miss, you might hurt yourself”, Officer #3 says.

    “Oh, I’ll hurt you if you don’t let me go”, Allison screams! “I’ll #Instagram you to a foot patrol in Alaska.”

    “Maybe we could loosen those cuffs a bit Sarge, she’s starting to bleed,” Officer #3 pleads.

    As her battery dies Allison types in one last plea for assistance … “Help, I’m being ….”

    “Just let her go”, The Sargent says. “Symposium is over, what’s she gonna do, blog us to death?”

  • Libby says:

    As in a memoir or other personal writing, the self one builds a platform around is a “version.” So what should that version be? Self as writer? Self as memoir narrator? Self as person knowledgeable about what one chiefly writes about? Self as person posting about what one actually WANTS to post about, even when incoherent?

    • Sharon Silver says:

      Yikes, I needed a roadmap for that one. Which I think was your point. Nice distraction from fire and fury.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      I think some of that depends on the subject matter and the venue. I try to be my most genuine self–posting what I WANT 🙂 but also not ranting or picking fights. I try to share information I found valuable: Writing craft and opportunities to this blog, links I liked and reactions to current events on Twitter. I get creative on Instagram. Facebook I’m personal me, but connecting with other writers as well as friends and family. I’m interested in the people I’m connected to, and I try to share stuff they’ll enjoy knowing or reading. It’s less about “let me create the self that sells THIS book” and more “let me show as truthful a self as I’m comfortable putting out publicly, so that you’re interested in what I have to say in all the words I write.”

      Does that make sense?

  • Great post, as are many of the comments. I especially appreciated the comments about the way publishing itself had changed in recent years.
    I happen to have a non-fiction book through a publisher and two novels through self-publishing (a third on the way). The amount of promoting I need to do for either form of publishing indeed seems about the same. There are benefits to having a traditional publisher, but less so in the marketing area. We still need to do the legwork. It is just how it is. People don’t buy books they don’t know about, and they rarely just ‘bump into’ a book without that book being selected for a store shelf, suggested by an online retailer, or promoted by colleagues and others who know one’s work … Preferably all of the above.
    Whatever publishing route one takes (or has available), it seems both, indeed, need platform.
    The non-fiction publisher found me because of expertise in my professional field, but they also read a chapter I’d contributed to another book they published. They liked it. They had me write a book proposal, and liked it, too. I was fortunate, but expertise alone wouldn’t have gotten me a contract. I’m not famous in the ordinary sense. I know some stuff, and I tried to impart it in a way that others would want to know it, too.
    To get noticed, you need an and/and.
    Today’s writing happens in many different venues that may have been less accessible in the past. I’m not as fluent in social media as many may be, but I’m more fluent than I used to be, and am trying to keep up. It takes a lot of time, yes. It is also necessary … and thankfully, it is fun. The succinct format of Twitter is good practice. Blogging is good practice. Writing reviews for others is good practice (and good manners, me think). Building a platform, as it were, is in of itself a form of writing, and as such, good practice. So I try. I’m getting a little better at hammering every day. If nothing else, it helps my salt-shaker muscles … 😉
    My five pennies worth of not-really-famous-but-platforming writer.

  • juliaeditrix says:

    Thank you for this. I agree — sick of hearing people (who already have platform) that platform doesn’t matter. It’s another form of privilege, TBH.

  • […] через In Defense of Platform — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • Having spent years in the Public Relations field, I absolutely do know how important platform is for just about any product, and certainly now, for authors,with the drastic cuts in marketing budgets in the publishing world. But I also happen to love social media. Facebook in particular helps me get my writing day going, aside from the fact I have made tons of friends, both virtual and in real life.(Plus, the learning and the links to essays and great reading is essential there.) And Twitter, I am now realizing is a terrific connector as well. I have just signed up for a wordpress site and am excited to move to more serious writing online. On the days I need a break from the book but still feel the need to write, these and all wonderful alternatives–busman’s holidays if you will–with an end to the means. I have never thought of social media as an evil necessity; just a fun alternative to my craft.

  • […] Source: In Defense of Platform […]

  • Barb Knowles says:

    I am stoked for the HippoCamp 2017 Conference! #hippocamp #memoir #helpme #saneteachers

  • Brilliant. Ignoring the tools that exist today as if this were yesterday isn’t just ignorant, it could be fatal (to your potential career). Connecting to an audience! +1

  • […] “In Defense of Platform”—strong post by Allison K. Williams. […]

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