What is an author platform and, if you’re not publishing books, do you still need one? YES! And it’s as simple as slicing a pie.
Reach and platform are two incredibly abstract concepts that are specific to professional writing. Many new writers hear these words or see them mentioned in writing 101 books but don’t completely understand what they are or how valuable they can be for a writing career.
That’s why we’re going to make sure you take full advantage of these career-building intangibles because now, more than ever, your reach and platform can ‘make’ your writing career.
What Are Writer Reach And Platform?
Though these terms have evolved alongside modern publishing, to fully understand ‘reach’ and ‘platform’ you’ll have to imagine their original functions. Before digital media and publishing as we know it, there was print publishing. Period. And editors and agents were the gatekeepers to print.
When considering a new writer or manuscript, editors and agents referred to the author’s ability to sell books as their platform, with this whole being made up of a number of different elements. Having these components in your corner indicated to the gatekeepers that you were a good publishing bet. An impressive platform meant that you had promising audience interest, were a motivated author, were marketable, and came with some guaranteed sales.
Writers who were tired of being rejected by the gatekeepers had another option: the vanity press. These companies would print and bind your work so you could sell it yourself, though this costed thousands of dollars. The other pitfall of the vanity press was that for years, these books were stereotyped as amateurish and of poor quality, but they were only one side of the self-publishing coin.
For all the failures and ego-trips, there were also a great number of successful books that began as vanity print runs. Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Edgar Allan Poe, and even James Joyce self-published their own work at some point.
Sometimes the author would choose to keep on self-publishing once sales started rolling, but many were picked up by big publishing companies, complete with a book contract, an advance, and continuing royalties.
Guess what the difference was between the failed vanity books and the successful ones?
Ding ding! You got it; author platform.
So how has the author platform changed to accommodate indie and digital publishing? And what makes up a successful modern platform? Glad you asked.
The Modern Author Platform
If you thought having a platform was important to vanity authors and writers trying to land a print book deal, it’s even more so in the modern publishing age. Writing nowadays is, let’s call it 40 percent writing and 60 percent marketing, give or take, especially if you’re digitally publishing your own material. And while your platform isn’t all marketing, the two do overlap.
But it’s not just indie. Publishers still look at platform when deciding who to publish and even modern authors with a publisher are expected to contribute a good portion of time and effort to marketing. If you’re working strictly as a freelancer, with no plans for a blog or an ebook, potential clients will still look at your professional platform. (A strong platform can increase your income too, which we’ll talk about next time.)
See? It’s an occupational hazard. Unless your writing is for your eyes only, you’ll need to build something that will elevate you above the publishing din to be successful. Help you get your voice heard. Something to stand on, like a tall, sturdy platform.
Baking A Platform Pie
I want you to think of your writer platform as a pie; pizza, apple, doesn’t matter. What matters is how you divvy up the slices. You certainly don’t need to incorporate all of these possibilities but pieces of your platform might include:
- A large or niche-specific email list of subscribers
- A wide-reaching and active social media presence
- Expert Authority
- Speaking engagements and workshops
- Useful connections with well-known people
- A high-traffic blog or website
- A column or contributor position
- Guest contributions online and in print
- Media appearances, live video collaborations, and interviews
As you can see, there are a number of ways to slice your pie. A few of these elements, executed successfully, can be more than enough to support a thriving writing career. But while these are the slices a writer sees, editors have more of a big-picture pie.
To give you an idea of what I mean, I’d like to share a chart with you from The Write Life. It was designed by Brooke Warner, to show what she looks for as an editor in a potential author’s platform.
As you may have noticed, only 50 percent of this pie represents marketing. The other half (personality, expertise, and ability to execute) is made up of specific characteristics of the actual author, yet these are just as important to writing career success. Don’t underestimate the power of you.
Are Author Reach And Platform The Same Thing?
Reach is only one facet of your writing platform, albeit an important one. It refers to the audience available to you through a number of different channels and you’re likely to have more than one.
There’s your ‘full’ reach, which would include everything: your social media, subscribers, blog traffic, any mailing lists, etc. But reach can also refer to each of these ‘platforms’ as stand-alone sections. Some clients may want to know the size of your Twitter following while others may only care about your Instagram.
Reach can also be extended by any influential people you may know who are willing to share or support your work. The same thing can be said of avid fans.
Your subscriber ‘list’ is a powerful piece of your platform/reach pie because there is no third party middleman. It’s yours; carefully curated and incredibly targeted because this audience is especially interested in what you have to say. Not to mention, you’re not likely to lose this following due to an account suspension or a downswing in the social media platform’s popularity. This is why it’s widely recommended that writers build their own lists of subscribers, to avoid these pitfalls.
What Can Your Platform Do For Your Writing Career?
We talked about book deals earlier but I bet you’re wondering what other benefits there are to building a strong author platform. And of course, we will, next time. In this case the good news is also the bad news: there are too many benefits to go into here. Instead, I’ll be working on an entire post dedicated to this subject alone so keep an eye out for it!
This conversation is not over. 🙂
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