Whether you’re interested in increasing blog readership or building a freelance writing business—and especially if you’re pursuing traditional publishing—you’ll want to connect with readers.
You’ll want to reach people who are interested in your stories and ideas and appreciate how you present those ideas as a writer, in your unique style, tone, and personality.
That’s the basic idea of platform. In fact, I define it like this: platform is all the ways you, as your author brand, reach and retain ideal readers.
Platform Size Affects Opportunities
Jane Friedman says in her book The Business of Being a Writer:
[T]he size of your platform will affect how easy it is for you to earn money or bring opportunities to your door. Editors, businesses, organizations, and other potential benefactors will be more likely to consider you if they’ve heard of you, seen evidence of your work in the market, or otherwise become familiar with you through online or offline interactions. 1
On a proposal, you list the number of Twitter and Instagram followers you have and the size of the audience at your last speaking engagement. You want those numbers to be substantial, even impressive. The bigger the platform, the better, in terms of being able to bring opportunities to your door.
But it’s more than numbers; in fact, numbers mean nothing if your readers aren’t feeling a sense of kinship with you as a writer or a sense of connection with your prose.
So, as you build a platform, remember each number you present to a publisher represents a human being. The metrics you present are people—people interested in what you have to say and how you say it.
Building a Far-Reaching Platform Through Social Media
Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, your social media presence is not in and of itself your platform. You have a range of options available to reach and retain readers.
And yet social media offers powerful publishing and distribution tools in the palms of our hands—available for free! It levels the playing field, allowing a homeschooling farmer’s wife who lives in the middle of nowhere to engage with readers in the same spaces as major book publishers and magazines.
With the click of a button, our words can reach the ends of the earth! Isn’t that amazing? We can leverage these apps to connect with readers and raise visibility as a writer worldwide, building a meaningful, substantial, far-reaching platform over time.
The Best Platform-Building Efforts Call for Real Human Interaction
Connecting with readers doesn’t require marketing savvy or publicity know-how (though that can help). Many of the most effective platform-building efforts simply call for honest, real human interaction: a pleasant email; an earnest comment responding to someone’s article; a card mailed to someone we meet at a conference; a retweet with an encouraging note.
Find simple ways to engage with readers, then expand and experiment over time, because, as Jane says:
If you’re committed to pursuing a career primarily focused on book publication, then you’ll be faced with the challenge of staying competitive, current, and discoverable in a shifting digital landscape; of having the right tools to be effective and in touch with your readers; and of developing strong partnerships to help you market and promote your work.2
There’s another opportunity to increase our reach as we build our platform, and that’s through online communities. Because so many of these groups and organizations are online, connecting with these readers overlaps with social media efforts.
These online communities can look different. Some are paid membership sites and others, loose collections of friends around a theme or activity. Whatever shape or format they take, the healthy outlets serve as an excellent way to connect with writers and readers. These communities offer mutual support and celebration for every new success.
They share genuine encouragement and enthusiasm—and many members practice tangible acts of literary citizenship, such as visiting links to articles that members have posted or purchasing and promoting books on release day when a member has finally been able to see her book available to the general public.
Find Your People, Find Your Party
I remember when online communities started to emerge. In the ones I encountered, I discovered peers…even friends. Alongside the blogging boom of the early and mid-2000s (would that be the mid-oughts?), communities like The High Calling and Tweetspeak began to fill the gap, for me.
“I think I found my people,” I remember telling my husband. “They’re online.”3
As I described in the book On Being a Writer, it felt like one big party, for writers.4 We shared each other’s work, supported each other, cheered each other on. When a writer among us found success and gained popularity, we celebrated his or her success. The new readers and followers who arrived because of that author merged into our conversation, broadening the relationships and expanding the community.
More of these writers published books, and being friends of the authors, we bought their books, read their books, talked up their books. It’s like we rose together.
A Community’s Rising Tide
The Internet evolved, as it does, and I’ve witnessed writing communities emerge in social media spaces like Twitter’s #writingcommunity and in Facebook groups like Kirsten Oliphant’s Create If Writing.
I’ve seen organizations like Redbud Writers Guild, hope*writers, Five-Minute Friday, and Tweetspeak Poetry encourage similar connections—they’re comprised of kindred spirits gathering online to learn from each other and support one another.
The phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” suggests that when the economy is strong, everyone benefits. But I feel that participating in these communities—choosing to be generous, active literary citizens—we contribute to a rising tide in the online writing world that lifts us all.
The Magic of Networks
In his book Real Artists Don’t Starve, Jeff Goins advises:
“Thriving Artists do not succeed in a vacuum. They put themselves in the right places and avail themselves of the opportunities there. They don’t try to create just anywhere—that would be foolish. After all, not all places are created equal, so Thriving Artists go where the magic is.”5
Jeff’s advice is to “join a scene.” This may mean moving to a city known for its creative effervescence, but at the very least it means “you have to build a network.”6
“Without a network,” Jeff writes, “creative work does not succeed. Exposure to the right networks can accelerate your success like few things can…Great work does not come about through a single stroke of genius, but by the continual effort of a community. When the right people advocate for your work, your success becomes more likely.”7
The magic, he’s saying, is in these networks—these communities—advocating for your work and accelerating your success.
And I would note that some of that community—and therefore some of the magic—is online.
To Be More Findable, Find Your People
Our communities can amplify our message as peers, colleagues, and friends read and respond to the latest release of a blog post, or a magazine article, or a poem that’s been published in a literary journal. It’s one way to get the word out about our work—through communities of writers celebrating one another.
Jeff quotes Austin Kleon: “In order to be found, you have to be findable.”8
Jeff continues, “You must put your work in front of the people who will react to it…before art can have an impact, it must first have an audience.”9
You yourself want to findable, you want to put your work in front of people and have an audience. That can happen at least in part through your network—your community.
Contribute to the Community
But first, how about you serve as someone else’s audience?
Find someone else and celebrate his or her work. Share it with others. Amplify that writer’s message with no expectations that the favor will be returned.
That’s what friends do for one another, and if you want a real community and a network that means more than a string of LinkedIn connections, it’s a small gift to someone else looking for the same kind of support you’re hoping to build.
Explore what’s available in the realm of virtual communities: what you can give and what you can gain.
We’re in This Together
After all, we’re in this together. When we support each other, we rise together.
Find your kindred spirits—your people—and you’ll automatically be more findable.
You’ll be on your way to reaching readers, and you’ll begin to build your platform while helping others build theirs.
- Redbud Writers Guild
- Five Minute Friday
- Kirsten Oliphant’s Create If Writing Facebook group
- Real Artists Don’t Starve, by Jeff Goins (affiliate link)
- The Business of Being a Writer, by Jane Friedman (affiliate link)
- On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts, by Charity Singleton Craig & Ann Kroeker (affiliate link)
- Your Writing Platform series
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- Friedman, Jane. The Business of Being a Writer. The University of Chicago Press, 2018. (p. 176)
- Ibid. (pp. 51-52)
- Kroeker, Anne, and Charity Singleton Craig. On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts. T.S. Poetry Press, 2014. (p. 103)
- Goins, Jeff. Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age. Thomas Nelson, 2018. (p. 93)
- Ibid. (pp. 93, 94)
- Ibid. (p. 124)
Building a platform sounds overwhelming, exhausting. Where do you even start?
Join us in Your Platform Matters!