So You Have a Platform; Now What?

Abandoned Train Station in San Juan Province, Argentina by redteam

And now blogging is — and very shortly became — something people do do because they are ambitious.

Lizzie Skurnick

When all is said and done, one of my personal highlights from 2010 will undoubtedly be the “Why Keep Blogging?” panel I participated on at SXSW, partly because it was a great session that was very well received, and partly because it introduced me to Lizzie Skurnick, of whom I am now a complete and total fanboy.

The quote above is from a post that represents almost everything I love about the whipsmart and outspoken Skurnick distilled into one wonderfully compelling rant, and it’s a must-read, if only peripherally related to the rest of this post, which is mainly about social media, “platforms” and an article I wrote for the September 2010 issue of Writer’s Digest on 10 questions writers should be asking themselves about the future of publishing.

One of those questions is, “What else am I going to do with MY platform?”

You’re blogging; you’ve amassed a decent number of fans and followers on Facebook/Twitter; you even have a book deal (or for my DIY friends, a formatted book and/or eBook).

Now what?

[Apologies in advance, but this post rambles!]

It’s been a while since I ranted about social media gurus and the “Blogs! Facebook! Twitter! GET ON IT!” mentality that most of publishing is still annoyingly mired in. It’s partly because I’m bored by the topic, and partly because I think the backlash finally started to set in late last year and not as many people are blindly drinking the Kool-Aid any more.

Or maybe they are and I’ve moved on? (Sadly, I know many still are.)

One thing’s clear, though: writers are being encouraged expected to be their own marketing and PR departments nowadays, building an audience BEFORE even thinking about a traditional publishing deal, and arguably needing one in order to have any real hope of DIY success. Sure, anyone can sell eBooks via Kindle just by uploading them with a decent cover and compelling description, but like blogs, the competition for attention is only going to increase, and the early adopter edge is fading fast.

I am not saying that it is a bad or dishonest thing to try to sell your work. It is not. What I am saying is that I am tired of the rush to commodify everything, to turn everything into products, including people. I don’t want a brand, because a brand limits me. A brand says I will churn out the same thing over and over. Which I won’t, because I am weird.

Maureen Johnson

I’m not sure I have a “brand” these days, but I’m guessing depending on when, where and how you know me, your opinion might differ. eg: This site’s URL has been for ages, but in a lot of ways, I haven’t been that guy in a long time; loud, perhaps, but poet? Meh.

And my “Chief Executive Optimist” moniker is as much aspirational as it is a burden some days, because there are times where I want to do nothing more than yell, “YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!!!” louder than the least informed of the Twitterati.

When Johnson’s “Manifesto” made the rounds on Twitter last week, I noted it and wholeheartedly agreed with her, but there was a “duh” factor that left me completely frustrated. It was amplified today upon reading an article about The Awl being notable for focusing on good writing over “SEO tricks”.

What kind of Bizarro World do we live in that what should be the norm — “Don’t be a dick!” and “Good writing attracts good readers.” — is the notable exception?

I’m not trying to provide a house for everyone. I’m not running a department store. I’m running a boutique. And yes, I’m a snob. On the internet.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

I love Coates’ take (on almost everything, actually), and despite the fact that he’s blogging for The Atlantic, he and Skurnick are pretty much on the same page, coming from a passionate point-of-view more than an “ambitious” one. They blog to connect with others, not to strategically engage readers in order to upsell them on their latest book.

For the record, I’m a terrible blogger, at least in the context of what blogging is generally understood to be today — an SEO-driven, page view-churning, advertising magnet, either of one’s own products and services or someone else’s. I can’t get down with that approach, personally or professionally, and can’t encourage authors to go that route, either, unless they’re angling for a “Me, too!” social media book deal and 15 minutes of fame on the Twitter conference circuit.

Good luck unseating Godin and Brogan there, though, both of whom it seems have already sensed the shifting winds and have tweaked their own approaches accordingly.

For everyone else facing the “platform” conundrum, my advice hasn’t wavered a bit from last summer’s take on 1,000 True Fans: “Don’t be a narcissist; follow your passions and always add value; be patient.”

When it stops being fun, take a break and go do something else. Your readers know when you’re going through the motions even before you do.

What do you think?

(No, seriously. That last question wasn’t meant to be snarky. Not this time, at least.)

4 thoughts on “So You Have a Platform; Now What?

  1. Thanks, Guy. As usual, after reading your work, I feel refreshed and redeemed. I’ve been preaching to writers, “You are not a brand” for years now and I am positively gleeful to have such articulate and intelligent company. 🙂

    For me, the reason writers are not brands is because the second your limit your creative energy, you kill it. The second you say, “I am this but not that,” your creative mojo bolts for the door, giving you the cold shoulder until you remember that you are a creative, not a corporation.

    However, I do feel like creative mojo can and should be focused on a project to project basis. Because that’s not killing mojo, that’s providing context for your creative energy.

    And I believe that context is way more important than mere content. And there is a fine line between this and “commodifying.”

    I do believe that creatives can become known for their own names, as deserved. Seth Godin is a prime example of this, for me.

    I love two lines in this post:

    #1: What I am saying is that I am tired of the rush to commodify everything, to turn everything into products, including people. ~Maureen Johnson

    #2: “Don’t be a narcissist; follow your passions and always add value; be patient.” ~you

    To which I would humbly add that it’s okay to sell your hard-wrought work. Especially when you have sweated blood to make it the best it can be. And it’s okay to use blogs, Twitter and Facebook to do so…so long as you do it with integrity and authenticity. And don’t piss everybody off in the process.

    Rock on!

  2. Guy,
    Thanks for this post. I clicked every link. And while your blog may not be SEO-driven and page-view churning, it is always a great read, with lots of juicy things to think about.

  3. Thanks for the insight. I’ve been out of “query world” for a while. I received some interesting feedback from an agent — he was impressed with my talent, but wanted to know why I hadn’t built a platform. With two babies, a full time job, a household to manage, and sleep….when I get two minutes, I’m writing the novel….not blogging about writing the novel. I’m not sure I’m up to sacrificing sleep to create a platform….if that’s really where publishing is headed.

    Great food for thought.

  4. Got my platform. It’s probably unstable. Someone else can stand on it first. I’ll just wait over here. If it collapses my YouTube video of the event can go viral.

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