Forget Platform—Build a Bridge
May 26, 2020 § 33 Comments
Myth #1: platform = social media followers
You may have seen writers on Twitter with statistics like “20.1K followers, 20K following.” Some writers build these numbers with “#writerlift” posts (everyone follows everyone else), or use apps to mass-follow hundreds of accounts, hoping they’ll follow back.
That’s not a platform. They have racked up numbers with people they can’t actually engage with. They are followed by people who clicked as reciprocation, not genuine interest.
Even truly impressive social media followings seldom translate to actual book sales. Social media numbers reflect, rather than cause, popularity.
Myth #2: platform = going viral
Only sometimes! If you’re writing memoir or nonfiction, writing a “hot essay” can get you a book deal. For literary fiction, a powerful short story in a great literary magazine can get you an agent.
Or it may not. You can’t control what’s going to go viral. Fortunately, the ingredients of “going viral” (tap into a subject people care passionately about, write a unique take and write it well, gradually build your publication credits until you get into more prestigious and prominent outlets) are the exact same ingredients of “pursue a serious writing career.” Going viral is the icing on your cake of dedication and time.
Myth #3: platform = being famous
Famous people get book deals all the time, very often for a ghostwritten book. But famous people are not your competitors. Readers buying A Famous Person I Like Wrote This are not the same people seeking a book that will entertain them, move them, or solve their problem.
Publishers know that. The pool of time and money available for famous person books is not the same pool for not-famous authors.
The vast majority of books are written by people who were not famous before publishing, and most of them still aren’t.
So what IS platform?
Platform is how you’re going to reach the readers who need your book.
- You’ve become a known expert
- Your work ties into (or better yet, sparks) a cultural trend
- Your topic, work or personality draws people to pay to find out more
For nonfiction and memoir, platform is building trust, not numbers.
Think about your ideal readers. What do they need to know? Where are they currently seeking that information? Writing articles, public speaking (when health allows) and email newsletters are all more valuable than social media. Instead of a quick scroll, you have a meaningful chance to build bonds with the people who will trust YOU to solve their problem, whether that problem is, “I need to understand beekeeping,” or “Nobody around me knows how it feels when your kid dies.”
If you’re writing narrative nonfiction, work to establish your expertise in your subject, with a wonderful essay in a good literary magazine, articles for mass media, or speaking to special-interest groups fascinated by your topic.
For the writer creating a beautiful and passionate memoir, zero followers is plenty. That writer’s platform is the excellence of her writing, her fascinating emotional journey, and (hopefully) publishing short pieces that build her readership and reputation. Having followers and fans who will advocate for your book definitely helps you appeal to publishers, but writing a great book is more valuable still.
Here’s the main problem with “building platform”: a “platform” is something you get up on and yell at people.
Instead, build a bridge.
Your bridge is all the ways people who need your book can reach you. You are making a pathway for your readers, and it’s a two-way street. You listen to them, they listen to you.
I use several bridges: In Facebook groups (not my own pages), I connect with writers by offering information, promoting their books, and supporting their writing journeys. It’s not about racking up followers, but establishing myself as someone who is useful, helpful and kind—without a specific transaction. On Instagram, I focus on mini-essays: “get to know me,” “hey I write things that make you think,” and “here’s a writing tip.” Twitter is to amplify other people’s voices, practice being funny in writing, and entertain myself. I write a mostly-monthly newsletter, with the goal of “feel better today, reader! Also, here’s what I’m writing right now.” I stay connected to family and friends, because one Aunt Tillie who makes her whole church buy your book is more valuable than 10K followers on Twitter.
Building bridges isn’t quick and easy. I usually tell writers, it’s going to take fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, for two years. Fortunately, you only need to start with fifteen minutes.
Make some lists: Who are your readers? What are they reading now? What bridges do they already use to get entertainment and information? What websites do they visit, what groups are they part of? Start brainstorming ways you can be on the other side of that bridge.
- Can you write an essay that shows off your voice?
- Can you write an Op-Ed on a subject you’re passionate about?
- Can you think of a topic for public speaking?
- Can you start a newsletter that entertains or informs your readers?
- How can you promote or support another writer today? How can you share valuable information with people who need it?
If you’re consistently entertaining, kind, and helpful in your world, some of your connections will become advocates for your book. You’ll also know more, be a better writer, and understand your readers. Just give it 15 minutes—I’ll see you on the other side of the bridge.
Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Her new comedy, The Next Horseman, is a playscript for video chat. Let her know (in comments or DM on Twitter/Insta) if you’d like to review a copy or send one to your local drama teacher or theater group.