Platform 101 For Busy Writers: 3 Simple Steps

Back Wheel by Stephanie Megan
Back Wheel by Stephanie Megan

“The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.”
Seth Godin

In an era of immediate gratification and information overload, patience is something few people have time for. They want “it” right now, whether “it” is an email response, a well-paying career, or the proverbial house with a white picket fence. For writers, the social web whispers promises of instant success and overnight fame if only they had a big enough following on Twitter, but the reality is, as Godin notes, very different.

I’ve realized over the past several months that there’s a tendency to oversimplify things, to assume everyone has a certain level of web and marketing savvy (not to mention free time), starting discussions about writers’ platforms, curating communities and “free vs. freemium” way too far ahead of the curve. For a lot of writers. something as seemingly simple as setting up a blog can become a huge, time-consuming effort for which the long-term value isn’t always quite clear or worthwhile.

It most certainly is worthwhile, though, so what follows is a simple 3-step model for building the foundation of your writer’s platform, no matter where you are on Godin’s theoretical timeline:

Platform 101: The Foundation

1) Get around. It is often said that writing is a solitary art, but it doesn’t have to be. Depending on what type of writer you are, there’s at least one relevant community of people like you (writers and non-writers), online or in your hometown. Use Google, Meetup, your favorite online and local publications, bookstores and cafés to find them.

2) Get connected. Online forums and social networks are a great place to make connections, as are the comments sections of relevant websites and blogs; start with your favorite writers and publications related to things you’re most passionate about and participate in the conversations. Use Meetup to find real-life gatherings and attend a few that look interesting. Go to writing conferences, or check out local readings and open mics to share your own work while listening to others. If you’re really ambitious, start a Meetup or reading series of your own!

3) Get online. Establish a simple online platform for yourself, starting with a blog, Twitter, Google Reader and FriendFeed:

Blog: This is your home base. WordPress, Blogger,LiveJournal or Tumblr? Depending on your specific community, you’ll notice one of them is more dominant than the others — go with that one. Keep it simple; choose a clean template that allows you to add your own links and don’t get too caught up in SEO, widgets, or any other confusing terms. Write about whatever you find interesting on at least a weekly basis. (2-3 times/week is solid for the average writer.) Don’t overthink things and don’t compare yourself to others; be yourself and follow your own passions.

Twitter: Follow relevant people of interest and don’t worry about how many followers you or anyone else has; it’s quality, not quantity that counts. Don’t just promote yourself and your blog; share information and links of interest to you from other sources, too, and interact with other people. Remember, it’s about connecting with people.

Google Reader: Monitor your favorite blogs and websites, and track search terms on topics relevant to you, including your own name. Use the “Share with note” option to comment on interesting posts, and also share the best ones via Twitter.

FriendFeed: It’s the new shiny and of questionable value at this point, but it’s a great tool to aggregate all of your online activities in one place. Add all of the above to it and let it ride for the time being.

Get around, get connected, get online.

These are the three fundamental steps to building yourself an author platform, no matter what kind of writing you’re doing, and precede any discussions of SEO, Freemiums, URLs, etc. Once these are in place, you can move on to Platform 201: 1,000 True Fans, which I’ll cover next week.

NOTE: I purposefully left Facebook out of this first step because I think its value beyond your personal network is limited in the early stages of a three-year timeline, but if you’re already using it personally, I’d recommend using the Networked Blogs app to feed your blog into your profile to keep your family and friends in the loop, too. I would NOT recommend pushing your Twitter feed to Facebook, though; it’s like crossing the streams in Ghostbusters and could potentially do more harm than good to your most personal connections!

How are you developing your platform, and which of the above steps do you think has the most value?

14 thoughts on “Platform 101 For Busy Writers: 3 Simple Steps

  1. My Flickr and YouTube accounts have been key to connecting with more writers and directing more traffic to my blog–my personal social media home base.

    Both accounts stay focused on my overriding passion, archiving live literary events, bringing attention to diverse authors. Read: I'm not just posting pics and vids of me and my three best poet friends.

    One word of warning. Believe it or not, not every author wants their picture and/or video on a public website. A couple of writers have requested I take down their images for personal reasons and I was quick to honor their request and respect their privacy.

  2. One of the things you mention is a favorite of mine for maintaining an online presence: using a feed to include blog posts on other social media sites. Not only does it multi-task and save the author some work, it keeps fresh content active on as many sites as the author chooses. I love it.

    Personally, I was never into facebook, but since I know so many who use it effectively, I recently set up an account to use only for writing related info. I use the blog feed there so my main blog posts are shared, but other than that I basically just read what others are doing and comment on their pages, which in turn generates traffic back to me. What I like is that my content seems current, but it takes so little effort, I can’t go wrong.

    Twitter and blogging are my biggies, but I do circulate amongst a number of other social sites to keep up with who’s doing what, hear about new releases, etc. I find if managed well, the time doesn’t have to be draining.

    Excellent post. I found it via twitter, by the way. I’m @loriamay and heard via @WritersDigest and consequently retweeted. See, twitter works!

    Next week on my blog I’m posting some tips on maximizing twitter usage, so I’ll definitely have to link to this post, Guy, as you make some really great points.


    Lori A. May

  3. The one danger of “feeding” multiple sites is spreading yourself too thin, especially if engagement is part of your strategy. HarperStudio is an oft-used example of a traditional publisher successfully embracing social media, but their Twitter feed isn't engaging at all, just an RSS push of their site content.

    Brad Rourke had an interesting post recently on “Blob Marketing” that's relevant to this topic:

    Looking forward to your post next week. Thanks!

  4. Could you elaborate on your reasons for not pushing your Twitter feed to Facebook? I started doing that recently and it seems like a huge time-saver, and helps with the problem of spreading yourself too thin …

  5. It's a personal preference; totally depends on how you're using Facebook vs. Twitter. I use the former primarily for family and friends, while the latter is for more “professional” contacts and content, so the relevant overlap is pretty minimal for me. There is an application that allows you to selectively push tweets to your Facebook status, using the #FB tag, but I'm not sure what it's called.

  6. It's called (drum roll) “Selective Twitter Status”. It resides in Facebook. –Brad

  7. That first one, Guy, is the one that's killing me. You're absolutely correct that it's a vital part of the recipe — it's like the proverbial third place, almost — but it's the one I have the most trouble with. I work alone, at home, and I miss a lot of the inspiration and motivation I get from coming into contact with other people in the actual meaty real world. It is definitely affecting my writing, and it makes me sometimes a little… too eager to talk when I get out to conventions and the like.

    The hangup I have locally is that I'm wary of writers groups and workshops that are going to ask more of me than I have to give, or more than I get back. (The last workshop I joined, online of course, required me to spend too much time doing for others' work what I needed to be doing on my own.) There's a bit of snobbery in this attitude, I know. Not proud of it, but there it is.

    What I wouldn't give for a nice night-a-week-or-so Inklings-style group, or a great poetry venue. My best venue for sharing work and finding new gigs is the Internet, but it sure isn't putting much air in my lungs, you know?

  8. I'm generally not a fan of workshops unless they're organic; there has to be a certain level of familiarity and mutual respect between the participants that allows for legitimate critique, or else it becomes a circle-jerk, or worse, a pissing contest. The Internet is a decent substitute, but you're right about its one major flaw: virtual oxygen is not as fulfilling as the real thing.

    You've got a gaming group, though, right? I'd imagine that has to be creatively fulfilling on some level, no? (I always liked creating characters and adventures more than playing the game itself!)

  9. Great entry. I subscribe to numerous podcasts mostly via iTunes and some have leveraged their periodic fiction works, read as podcasts into proper publishing deals as an after-effect.

  10. Thanks for this post, Guy. I was glad to hear you confirm that Facebook is less useful in terms of platform building than some of the other SM tools. Like you, I use Facebook mostly for family and friends, and for my creative writing workshops. I set up “groups” for my classes, which makes keeping in touch with old students a snap.

  11. I like the idea of serializing your work via a podcast, especially for genre fiction and poetry. It's a great way to build an audience for a non-fiction writer, too, focusing on their particular specialty.

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