Friday, December 04, 2009
Hard Truths About Soft Platforms
My pal James Scott Bell has just seen a new book release: The Art of War for Writers. In the introduction Jim says:
The publishing business is a messy affair ... What I want to do with this collection is offer you some helpful observations based on more than twenty years in the fiction writing game. This is not a comprehensive "how to" on fiction. I've written two other books in that form. Rather, I seek to fill in some "cracks" in what is normally taught in writing books and classes.
The book is broken into three sections:
1. Reconnaissance: the mental game of writing
2. Tactics: The craft of writing
3. Strategy: Advice on the publishing biz
In celebration of the release of The Art of War for Writers I asked Jim to stop by Forensics and Faith today to talk to us about what's on his mind.
It's a pleasure to be guest blogging for my buddy Brandilyn on this, the launch tour of my new book: The Art of War for Writers. It's available in all the usual places. You can even download a free sample just by going here. I'll just say that it's a "field manual" for those fighting the battle to get – and stay – published.
So since I'm here blogging about it, it seems an apt time to bring up a certain buzzword, one you're all probably familiar with: platform.
What is a platform? It comes from the world of public speaking. It's something you stand on so you can yak at people. A lot of people.
Metaphorically, if you have a lot of people listening to you, you have a platform. And publishers like that because it means many of those people may buy your book.
Sounds simple. But platforms for fiction writers may have a trap door. We'd best talk about it so you don't fall through.
We have to distinguish between non-fiction and fiction. Non-fiction writers who specialize in a subject, or are known for something they’ve done, have a natural platform, namely all the people who are into the subject matter or celebrity thing.
So Suzie Orman, a recognized financial expert, can sell books because of her expertise. She can speak, and people who want financial advice will come and listen. At the back of the room her staff can sell books and DVDs. It's a money making operation.
Not so the fiction writer. We write stories intended to reach a diverse readership, which translates into: people who are hard to find.
The Internet seemed to be the way to handle that challenge. After all, a billion people use the Internet. All we have to do is set up a blog about our books, and we have a billion potential hits! Wow! Get just one percent to buy your novel (and they will, because of that snazzy book trailer!) and you've sold ten million books!
Of course, that was fifteen years ago in a dream. The reality is that in the flurry of Internet fog it's hard to get any attention at all. And even if you do (here it comes, the takeaway): That does not guarantee a fiction writing career for you.
As writer Simon Wood recently put it:
"There's a massive pinball effect with a writer’s work. Someone reads a story and likes it, so they check out something else I’ve written. That only works if what is out there is good. If it’s bad, it has the converse effect and they're unlikely to seek out other works."
Writers have simply got to understand it's not pervasive marketing that sells, but the stories themselves. You can market yourself to an introduction, but the readers will base future purchases on how much they like what they read, not on how many titles you have available on the Internet in digital form, or how many Twitter followers you have.
Unpublished fiction writers need to quit obsessing over platform, quit re-designing fancy websites, quit posting first chapters on Facebook, quit trying to jump start careers via Twitter. What they need to be concentrating on is writing a book readers can't put down--can't put down because the writer has spent years bleeding desire and passion and is unashamedly putting that on the page, using all the tools of the craft learned bit by painful bit by writing every day.
When you write books readers love, platform takes care of itself, because word-of-mouth and repeat readership are the only two planks that count.
Am I saying don't do any of this Internet or social networking stuff? Of course not. I do some of it. It's out there and you have choices. What I am saying is this:
Do what you can in the marketing/promotion matrix without:
1. Harming the quality of your writing;
2. Harming the quality of your family and personal relationships; and
3. Going into debt.
Follow those guidelines and write your best stuff. Doing so will drain all the anxiety out of the word platform.
Visit Jim's web site
Check out The Art of War for Writers on Amazon
What do you think? Do Jim's ideas of building a platform decrease your stress over the issue?