Starting out as a writer can be overwhelming; you have one hundred things to do, advice coming from all angles and suddenly you need to have opinions on things. Where do you stand on first-person vs third? Do you think that “show don’t tell” is a rule or an option? Is grammar relevant in your first-draft manuscript? All this and more comes in at head-height whilst you’re still trying to figure out which way up your keyboard’s USB cable plugs in.
But, in amongst all that noise you’ll hear a word. See it written. And it will seem like something which everyone “knows” about. Like you should have knowledge of what it is as soon as you think about writing your first work. And the word is “platform”.
A Writer’s Platform is a concept which is used to cover a huge number of different things but, in brief it is everything you do to interact with the world and raise awareness of you and your work. Done well, your platform will generate interest which will generate results. Now, I say results there as you may not be after direct revenue. You may write for fun, as a hobby or to generate authority in what you do to make money; but, whatever the reason you’re on this journey, your platform is the way in which you connect with the wider world and those who may be interested in what you’re doing.
As I say, the term is used to cover a multitude of different things, but I’ll be giving you a brief introduction to the things I do, some hints and some things to consider before you start to build your platform. Plus, some of the benefits which you may not even be aware of yet. But to start, some golden rules for you, ready?
1. Create your platform early
The first thing you need to be clear on is the importance of your platform; this is one of the first things you need to think about when you start in your chosen field. The sooner you start letting people know what you’re up to and who you are, the more people will be there when you have something to share with them. You’ll also find that there are a load of other people doing exactly what you are. Some will be at the start. Some will be finding their first breaths of success. Others will be established and successful. This is a good thing. I can’t say that enough. Your peers will become your fellow adventurers, guides, purveyors of wisdom and so much more. They’ll cheer you on as you succeed, kick your butt when you’re lazy and provide hugs when it all gets a bit much. From these folks you can learn. It will help you miss common mistakes. You can jump ahead faster by learning from those around you. And, in time, you’ll find people asking you for help and guidance. Just remember to repay the kindness when the request for help comes!
2. Only do what you have time for
The second thing you need to be very careful of is retaining perspective. Your platform is there to help you and promote you. It’s not there to define you. Don’t make everything that you do, every day, all about your platform. Whatever you choose to do should be manageable with your life, your core work and other commitments. So, if you have your writing life AND a day job, accept that you won’t be able to do every single type of social media. You just won’t, and you run the risk of exhausting yourself if you do. So, be realistic with yourself about the time you have and ensure that your platform won’t demand more time than you have to give to it.
3. Enjoy the process
There are a wealth of different ways that you can build and run your platform. So many different ideas, systems and methods. But, whichever you choose to use, make sure you enjoy it! You may notice, for example, that I don’t have an Instagram account when many other writers do. So, why not me? Well, I am no photographer. I am useless with a camera and hate photos of myself, so Instagram was, instantly, something I wouldn’t get on with. Likewise, the process of Pinterest is not of interest to me, it just doesn’t work with how my brain works. Consequently, if I were to include these two in my platform, they would be hard work, a chore, so there’s a likelihood that they would be neglected and ignored in time. So why waste my time and energy on something I will probably end up abandoning? Doesn’t make sense.
4. Only spend money if you’re sure
This might seem obvious but, as with everything in life, there are plenty of ways to spend money on making your platform. People who will do it for you. Website builders. Marketing specialists. A wealth of e-books and online courses. In the first few months of starting your writing adventure try to resist the limited-time-offer, essential tools and shiny lights. Even if “everyone” else is doing it. Even if people who followed this five-simple-rules-to-success are now earning $5 million a week! Resist. First, find your bearings. Try things for yourself. Once you have a feel for what you need, not just what you want, then consider investing but only if it still seems like a good idea.
That’s enough of the preaching, now on with my own experience…
When I came to choose my platform, there was one obvious choice; Facebook. I use it a lot already, so adding it into my day wasn’t a big change, I am already on the site so easy enough to keep up that page as well. I’ve made an author page on there which, for now, is mostly centered around promoting things I am doing here. That may change, but for now, that’s what I want to do with it.
With Facebook, there is a lot of discussion about how well the site is enabling the posts for smaller pages to be seen on the time lines of people who follow those pages. Facebook appears to be restricting how often smaller pages appear, so there is a big question mark around how useful it is for people just starting out at this point. I’ll be keeping my page there, but I don’t think it will be my focus for the time being.
Next up, I decided I needed a website with a blog; I’ve been a web designer for some time and I have been writing copy and blogs for other people for a long time as well. Again, this wasn’t a big move away from things I already do, so it was an easy choice to add it in to my platform. This site provides a hub where I can list my work and, in time, showcase some of my short stories (coming soon!) alongside my blogs and musings.
You may have noticed, I am currently using a free WordPress site, hosted by WordPress themselves. I took the free route to see how I actually got on with blogging for myself. When I write for someone else, there’s an idea or general direction so deciding what to write is easy. What if, when writing for myself, I had nothing to say? What if I spent hundreds on a site, hours on making it and then… nothing. I had nothing to say worth reading? Using the free service from WordPress let me get setup quickly and make sure that this would be a worthwhile investment.
As it stands? All looks good. I am blogging semi regularly, get some good view rates, responses and am enjoying it. Does this mean I am rushing out to upgrade the site? No. If I am still bugging you all with posts on here come the summer, then yes, this will get an upgrade, but for now? This is working just fine for me, and I don’t need to increase my workload by adding in a new site design, migrating the data and all things around that to my week!
Finally, I added in Twitter as the final string to my platform bow. The “micro-blogging” site is such a double-edged sword I think, to be successful you need to tweet every day really. That’s right folks, you need to think of something relevant, fun, funny or interesting to say to your followers every single day. Multiple times per day. Oh, and you need to interact with other people who are tweeting too. It’s a fairly intense experience.
But why use it? Simply, the writing community on there is amazing. I’ve “met” some amazing people, learned from them, had them support me when I was struggling, supported them in turn and just had fun. Being a writer can be very isolating. It’s you, your keyboard and the screen. Alone. No-one else. Twitter will connect you with others in the same place and, you know what? It helps. It really does. Inspiration and support are there, all you have to do is ask!
Twitter also gives you access to a wealth of resources from blogs with writing advice to editor and agents. All will be useful to you at some point!
Finally, of course, Twitter lets you interact with your (potential) fans, the people you want to read your work. Here you can build up a group of folks who know and are likely to grab you book when it drops. Now, isn’t that helpful?
As I am getting in a flow with my platform, I’ll be expanding in the coming months to add in creating a mailing list for email shots to the mix. Some say this is very important, and I see there point, but I think it’s worth ensuring you have something to include in email shots before you start them.
So that’s how, for now, I am running my platform. It takes time to see results and to figure out what works for you, so see your planning to try things in months, not days.
With all these things intros, guides, how-to’s and must have, your mileage will vary, so I encourage you to use my notes and ideas above as a starting point, not a golden rule. The most important thing you can do right now is DO. Start your platform, experiment, test and adjust. Get your name out there and find out what works for you and your audience. It’s an awesome experience, I can tell you that, and the longer you delay, the more you’re missing out on!
As ever, any thoughts and comments welcome. If you’ve made your platform already, what do you use and why? Also, what rules for first timers would you add into my list? Let me know below.