Friday, October 21, 2011

Back on the Platform Again

A few years back, I had the following conversation with a friend of mine, who was considering selling his house in order to get a larger one for his expanding family.

Him: “They’re [real estate agents] telling me my house is worth $400,000. You’ve been in my house, Jeffo. You know it’s not worth $400,000!”
Me: “Rob, if they’re telling you it’s worth $400,000, it’s worth $400,000!”

The way I saw it, the real estate agent case is the professional. She can look at the house and assess the kind of condition it’s in. She knows what similar houses in the area are selling for. She knows the sales trends in the neighborhood. In short, she knows her business, and if she thinks she can get interest in the house at that price, then my friend was best-off deferring to her. The real estate agent is hired for her expertise; let her use it.

I’m thinking of this story as I continue to sort out this whole platform thing. Rachelle Gardner stepped into an even deeper pile (but you knew this, right? Because you already follow her, right?), when she published this piece earlier in the week The venom in some of the comments spurred her on to write this one the next day, and also note, in the comments section, that it’s enough to make her consider giving up blogging. Let’s hope she doesn’t; her blog is an excellent resource for writers.

Anyway, my new conclusion on this whole platform thing is this: If the agent believes that platform is important, then platform is important. Rachelle has her finger on the pulse of publishing. She’s an industry insider. It’s her business to know the trends in publishing. Her livelihood depends on knowing the business, inside and out. She’s in contact with editors and the like every day. Note what she says: “what publishers want to see”. This is the information she’s getting back from the people who are deciding whether or not to print YOUR book. Like it or not, it’s part of the face of publishing in this era. Two years down the road, something else may matter more, but for now, platform is important.

So, what do we do? Let’s go back to the one that got this whole thing going in the first place, 10 Tidbits About Author Platform, specifically, tidbit #3:
“For first-time novelists, publishers still make their decisions based on the book itself, but they’ll expect you to have a head start on some kind of online platform, and they’ll expect you to step it up once you have a contract.”

This tidbit keeps getting lost in the shuffle. I think a lot of people (ahem, maybe myself included) latched onto the rest of the things in her posts and interpreted the worst-case scenario, which is something along the lines of, “They want us to get 15000 unique page views a month! Not only am I supposed to write the book, now I’m going to be the only one marketing it! GAAAAH!”

Most of you who are regular readers of this blog are like me: somewhere on the long road to getting your first novel published. Some have already jumped the hurdle of getting an agent and have one or more books out on sub; some of us haven’t even gotten our first queries out the door yet. Should we be dropping everything we do in order to re-craft our blogs into something so spectacular that we can point to several thousand followers when we shop for an agent? Or, worse yet, should we pay someone to artificially-inflate our numbers and hope that no one realizes it?

In my opinion, the answer to both is an emphatic NO. To address the second part first, dishonesty is no way to begin a relationship with a publisher. I won’t go any further than that, other than to say it’s cheating, plain and simple, and if you are found out, you might find yourself pretty much frozen out of the publishing game.

It’s the first part that’s more intriguing. From what I gather from looking at the profiles and blogs of my 17 followers (woot! Up 1 from last week!), most of us are in pretty much the same, overcrowded lifeboat. We are all somewhere between writing a first novel and getting published. Some are a little further along, and have multiple books written; some of us already have agents and actually have their works in circulation; at least one of you has self-published a book. What I think appeals to you about this blog is pretty much the same thing that attracts me to yours: Commonality of experience. We can relate to each other. Let’s face it, most of the people we are involved with in our 'Real Lives' don’t really understand how this whole writing thing works, or what we put ourselves through day-after-day, in search of the right words, and the right story, and the right audience, but YOU, my fellow bloggers, YOU do. And so I can come in here twice a week and spout off about this problem or that insecurity, and YOU get it, you know exactly what’s eating me, and you offer sympathy and encouragement, tips and tricks about how to get over it. For me, that’s the real benefit of this blog, and if I changed it in an effort to build up an army of potential book-buyers, I would lose what is most valuable to me at this moment.

I think the best course of action--for ME, right now--is to spend most of my time working on my books, in the hope that the books themselves become the platform. Maybe I’m being na├»ve, but that really seems like the best approach right now. In the meantime, I’ll continue posting here, reading and commenting on your blogs, and working on being a better participant in the bloggy sort of things that go on in the blog world around me, but I’m not going to let the tail wag the dog. Platform is important, yes, but the book must come first. I hope that makes sense.

Have a great weekend, all.

8 comments:

  1. Wow. This Friday only (kinda) blogging decision has really left me out of the loop. I love Rachelle's blog. *hurries over*

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  2. Quite a post, Jeff!

    Funny, I didn't take Rachelle's post the way a lot of others did. It did hit me when I read the 15k figure (as a number of monthly hits to aim for). 500 hits a day! If I blogged just for the numbers, I would probably pack it in with that figure as a goal.

    I blog for the same reasons you do, Jeff. It is good to have allies in the trenches of writing. Plus, I'm a writer. I love to write.

    I do read about platforming and increasing traffic, but I try to make it a gradual learning about marketing. I don't want to get bogged down in social networking and platform building and never have a completed novel to offer!

    SO the priorities go:
    WRITE the novels
    Blog with my writing buddies
    Slowly build a platform as I go

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  3. AMEN to all of this! ALL OF IT!!!! I could not agree more. You're so write, I mean right, about regular old non-writer people in our lives not really getting all we go through as writers in various stages of the process. (Some people in my life actually think the publishing industry is somehow "scamming" me because everything takes so long for a response). Other writers' blogs help me get through the day! Also yes, I couldn't agree more that the book should come first. Without the book or some work, what is the point? Can you blog as a writer if you don't write anything? I think we're on the write, I mean right track.

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  4. Yes, yes, yes! You really hit the nail on the head with this one. I couldn't agree more. :)

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  5. Thanks for the comments, as always.

    Jennifer, I think a lot of the response is not just the notion of 'wow, 500 hits a day?!' (I know, I know, Interrobang is bad, but there's a time and a place for it, at least on the internet), it's that a lot of people think they have to have those 500 hits/day RIGHT NOW. It's fine to establish that as a goal; the tricky part is developing the plan that will get you there without costing you from the important work.

    Lisa--'can you blog as writer if you don't write anything?' I suspect the answer is 'yes', that there are people who can make a living off of writing blogs without writing books, articles, etc. (I remember coming across a few, I'll have to see if I can find them again). However, I suspect these cases are still relatively rare, and they probably HAD written in the past, i.e., they already had their platform when they started blogging.

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  6. I had not seen the blog posts from Rachelle, but I just checked it out, and it was FASCINATING! I couldn't believe how much people freaked out in the comments. I felt really bad for Rachelle!

    Yes, I think everyone needs to decide for themselves where their time is going to be best spent, and spend it there.

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  7. I've really enjoyed reading these posts on platform, Jeff. This whole concept of marketing myself has been a little daunting to me for the last few months, but I think in my case building a platform without a published book to 'market' seems fruitless. Networking with other writers, on the other hand, is good for my motivation, for brainstorming ideas, and, like you said, for finding other people going through the same experience of writing. Great post.

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  8. Robin, I think that is really the best value of blogging at this point in time for me. As I progress further in this journey, things will likely change as I grow. Whether that means the blog itself changes, or a new one ends up in its place remains to be seen. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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