I’ve written about the importance of platforms numerous times over the years—from both the writer’s and publisher’s perspective—but I’ve never explicitly dug into my own personal and professional experiences with them. The two I’ve referenced the most are my history in the slam poetry scene and how I helped launch the original Digital Book World, but they’ve usually been anecdotes for context, not the primary focus.
I recently stumbled across what I believe was my first discovery of platforms as an explicit concept in the book publishing world—in 2007 at my first Writer’s Digest Conference—back when it was a one-day event attached to Book Expo America and I had only recently joined Writer’s Digest Magazine as its advertising sales rep.
The stronger the platform a writer has, the better shot they have at being published in the traditional manner. Simply put, a platform is a built-in audience of some sort, via anything from a widely read (or downloaded) column, blog or podcast; a couple of cross-country reading tours (with many books or CDs sold along the way); a specialization in a particular field or topic; hell, even a reading series of some repute in a major metropolitan area! Anything that can offer a potential publisher a solid foundation to work from when deciding on whether or not to publish your work qualifies as a platform and puts you a step ahead of the competition.
Two of my primary reference points in 2007 were personal experiences in slam poetry—both as a lightly touring, traditionally and self-published poet, and founder of a weekly reading series—while the other was rooted in my professional experiences in the magazine world which was being transformed by the internet, particularly blogs. That moment in 2007 was less of a revelation than the codification of something I’d already done a couple of times and was on the verge of doing again.
While I’ve written about building and maintaining platforms myriad times, I’ve never purposefully looked back on the platforms I’ve built and examined how and why they deteriorated over time. Over the next few weeks I’m going to organize my thoughts and write about three of the most important ones—partly to properly document them, and partly to offer any relevant takeaways I might have.
In the meantime, here’s a little preview to ensure I actually write the posts; I’ll add the links here as they’re published, or scroll down to the footer and sign up to get an email notification when they go live.
#1: Digital Book World
I used my own modest platform to build a following for DBW’s Twitter account and early content. Rather than blow a limited marketing budget on traditional channels and standard registration promotions, I built our email list by producing three free webinars ahead of the first conference, and promoting them via paid emails to used Publishers Weekly’s email list. I also launched a weekly “webcast” called DBW Roundtable where a panel of industry colleagues discussed the topic of the week, not only steadily building our audience and email list, but also serving as a test lab for potential conference programming and speakers. My content strategy wasn’t to make DBW another traditional media outlet, but a trusted platform for informed opinions and industry expertise that offered the kind of actionable insights we promised at the annual conference—on a year-round basis. In doing so, it would not only ensure the continued relevance of the annual conference, it would also become a steady source of new ideas, content, and voices while also developing additional revenue streams.
#2: a little bit louder
What started as a bit of a lark back in March 1998—when myself, Lynne Procope, and Roger Bonair-Agard took over the space at Bar 13 on Monday nights and started our own reading series—not only survived 16+ years in the deteriorating cultural landscape of New York City (and the fickle tastes of bar owners always looking for the next new shiny), but thrived, throughout myriad trials and turmoils—some external, some self-inflicted—as a weekly oasis of poetry that occasionally bent but never broke.
From Blogspot to WordPress with several offshoots along the way (Comic Book Commentary, Pop Culture Shock, Spindle) and an appearance at SXSW, this little blog started in 2003 but was birthed in online forums and a history of self-publishing going back to my High School Fantasy Football League in 1986.