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Thread: Do you really need a platform?

  1. #1
    tiny hedgehog JetFueledCar's Avatar
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    Do you really need a platform?

    I read an article on a website I use to find paying specfic markets. I don't normally read the articles (I tend to get most of my advice on publishing from, well, AW), but this caught my eye. It was about the author bio, and it included quotes from a couple editors. One of the editors said that they want people who submit to have a website, a blog, social media, something. They want authors with "platforms." Authors who can connect with their readers. Now, I take this editor's input with a giant block of salt, because they pay a flat rate of $10 for submission calls that are so specific you'd have to write just for this market and they played the "Do you dream of seeing your book in print" card on a writing contest they hosted. But I'm still concerned that other editors might be having these thoughts.

    So my question is... do I need to have a platform? Really? To submit a short story? There are reasons I'm not active on social media. It took me long enough to get comfortable posting on AW, which is strictly moderated for trolls and people being rude. I have a Twitter and a Tumblr, but I don't use them, because the possibility of something getting grabbed by hateful people who will just try to chase me off the internet scares me to death. I can see why it might be helpful, especially in an e-zine that can link directly to that website/social media/blog. But do you actually need it? Will I really lose out on publication because I don't post?

    ETA: My remarks about the market's payment are not meant to suggest that token-paying markets are invalid, only that this particular market seems to ask for a great deal while offering fairly little, which makes me question whether what they're asking is fair and reasonable--or in this case, even necessary. They also offered a book contract and "free edit of novel up to 50,000 words" as the grand prize for their contest, which... I'll let that speak for itself, actually. The point is, I would question submitting to this market based on what they ask for, so in turn I question them asking for more.
    Last edited by JetFueledCar; 09-07-2017 at 06:23 AM.
    "Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days, nothing else matters." - Neil Gaiman

    In the Batman movies in the 60s, the Batmobile was designed to run on jet fuel. It looked cool and went fast but it could only run for about 7 seconds at a time. So now you know why a hyperactive project-hopping writer is called JetFueledCar.

    It's not a political Twitter, but I'm a political person, so it amounts to the same thing.

  2. #2
    reading all the things Anna Iguana's Avatar
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    I don't think there's a general answer to this. My understanding is that platform usually or always matters for nonfiction books, and platform usually is not decisive for selling fiction to one of the Big Five.

    For short stories, poetry, and essays/creative nonfiction, and for publishing novels with small publishers, platform matters sometimes. Generally, the smaller or less-established the publisher, the more platform matters. A number of magazines and presses explicitly list it as a factor in their decision.

    There's a huge middle range of publishers, where it's hard to know--but anecdotally, prior publications and perhaps other aspects of platform matter. However, the time of day that your work is read also matters, because that affects mood. It also matters--a lot--which reader your work lands with, because a lot of choosing is a matter of taste. In other words, I wouldn't tie myself in knots over this one factor, platform, because there are several factors beyond our control.

    That said, there are also publishers who read blind, and there are publishers who explicitly seek to publish debut and emerging writers. For these publishers, platform probably matters litle or not at all.

  3. #3
    tiny hedgehog JetFueledCar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anna Iguana View Post
    I don't think there's a general answer to this. My understanding is that platform usually or always matters for nonfiction books, and platform usually is not decisive for selling fiction to one of the Big Five.

    For short stories, poetry, and essays/creative nonfiction, and for publishing novels with small publishers, platform matters sometimes. Generally, the smaller or less-established the publisher, the more platform matters. A number of magazines and presses explicitly list it as a factor in their decision.

    There's a huge middle range of publishers, where it's hard to know--but anecdotally, prior publications and perhaps other aspects of platform matter. However, the time of day that your work is read also matters, because that affects mood. It also matters--a lot--which reader your work lands with, because a lot of choosing is a matter of taste. In other words, I wouldn't tie myself in knots over this one factor, platform, because there are several factors beyond our control.

    That said, there are also publishers who read blind, and there are publishers who explicitly seek to publish debut and emerging writers. For these publishers, platform probably matters litle or not at all.
    My list of places to submit is mostly populated with people who read blind or people who are looking to publish historically ostracized demographics (many say they're seeking nonbinary authors, which makes me a happy kitten), so that at least is a relief. My real concern is this implication that just not having an active blog/Twitter/Tumblr is going to keep me from getting published by markets that I might otherwise be a fit for.
    "Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days, nothing else matters." - Neil Gaiman

    In the Batman movies in the 60s, the Batmobile was designed to run on jet fuel. It looked cool and went fast but it could only run for about 7 seconds at a time. So now you know why a hyperactive project-hopping writer is called JetFueledCar.

    It's not a political Twitter, but I'm a political person, so it amounts to the same thing.

  4. #4
    reading all the things Anna Iguana's Avatar
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    Right, I got that. The answer is, yes, at some places, lacking a platform might keep you from being published. On the other hand, if building a platform interferes with your life in a way that hinders your writing, your decreased writing quality or quantity would probably affect the amount you publish, too.
    Last edited by Anna Iguana; 09-07-2017 at 06:36 AM.

  5. #5
    tiny hedgehog JetFueledCar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anna Iguana View Post
    Right, I got that. The answer is, yes, at some places, lacking a platform might keep you from being published. On the other hand, if building a platform interferes with your life in a way that hinders your writing, your decreased writing quality or quantity would probably affect the amount you publish, too.
    Sorry, I read your original answer weirdly. Thank you for clarifying. But the latter half of your reply is the crux of the matter: I do not have the time, energy, or spoons to be active in areas where trolls run amok. It is time, energy, and spoons I should be using to write. I suppose if I can find a few hours to figure out WordPress or blogger or something, I might be able to swing one of those. At least there I can delete trolls before they start feeding. And then I can satisfy people who want to be sure my readers can reach me (it's sweet of them when you put it that way, I'm just anxious as all get out).

    ...Criminy, I'm a defective millennial.

  6. #6
    paying my dues RaggedEdge's Avatar
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    Jet - I can't speak specifically to small presses/short stories, but I've been reading some things about this topic by Jane Friedman, who's business is keeping up with trends in publishing. On her website, she has some articles about platform - what it is and when you need it. You might check them out here (scroll down a ways to the subheading "Platform Building."

    Also, she makes the case in her book, Publishing 101, that platform is not the same thing as social media. I'd suggest looking for what she has to say on that. You can probably find it in one of the articles on her site, since the book is a compilation of years of articles and blog posts.

    A lot of us writers are anxious on the internet. I'm taking baby steps myself, getting used to Wordpress among them. Good luck.
    Last edited by RaggedEdge; 09-07-2017 at 07:54 AM.
    MS2: YA Contemporary - editing for the agent
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  7. #7
    Such a nasty woman SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RaggedEdge View Post
    Jet - I can't speak specifically to small presses/short stories, but I've been reading some things about this topic by Jane Friedman, who's business is keeping up with trends in publishing.
    She has some odd ideas, but is good at getting them heard. I disagree with a lot of what she tells people. Just be careful with what you take to heart.

    Also, she makes the case in her book, Publishing 101, that platform is not the same thing as social media.
    She's right there.

    ***

    Platform is an odd thing. It can make some authors, while others who have fabulous platforms don't succeed, and others who have none at all do brilliantly well. (Think of writers who died before their books were published. What platform do they have?) It's probably more required in non-fic than in fiction, but even in non-fic a great book can succeed without its author having a platform of any sort.

    Write your books. Engage with interesting people online if you like it. See what happens. But don't try to force yourself to run a blog or have a Facebook presence if you can't bear it. It won't help. You have to have fun for it to be helpful.

  8. #8
    tiny hedgehog JetFueledCar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RaggedEdge View Post
    Jet - I can't speak specifically to small presses/short stories, but I've been reading some things about this topic by Jane Friedman, who's business is keeping up with trends in publishing. On her website, she has some articles about platform - what it is and when you need it. You might check them out here (scroll down a ways to the subheading "Platform Building."

    Also, she makes the case in her book, Publishing 101, that platform is not the same thing as social media. I'd suggest looking for what she has to say on that. You can probably find it in one of the articles on her site, since the book is a compilation of years of articles and blog posts.

    A lot of us writers are anxious on the internet. I'm taking baby steps myself, getting used to Wordpress among them. Good luck.
    Thank you for the link! I'll be going through the archives during downtime at work.

    Quote Originally Posted by Old Hack View Post
    She has some odd ideas, but is good at getting them heard. I disagree with a lot of what she tells people. Just be careful with what you take to heart.
    I am sometimes TOO careful, thanks to this site, with what I take to heart. Anything that doesn't jive with what I've seen mods and sages say, I squint at and get a second opinion on. Thus the thread.

    She's right there.
    The thing I originally was thinking about talked about both as though they were pieces of each other, so I figured social media must be included in a platform. That's my bad.

    Platform is an odd thing. It can make some authors, while others who have fabulous platforms don't succeed, and others who have none at all do brilliantly well. (Think of writers who died before their books were published. What platform do they have?) It's probably more required in non-fic than in fiction, but even in non-fic a great book can succeed without its author having a platform of any sort.

    Write your books. Engage with interesting people online if you like it. See what happens. But don't try to force yourself to run a blog or have a Facebook presence if you can't bear it. It won't help. You have to have fun for it to be helpful.
    The bold is tremendously helpful. When I have certain things more under control--my time, for one; my anxiety, for another--I might make an effort to start a blog or be active on Twitter. But for now, I'd rather spend my tiny amounts of time writing. My social interaction, what of it I do online, I'd much rather do here.

    Thank you all much!
    "Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days, nothing else matters." - Neil Gaiman

    In the Batman movies in the 60s, the Batmobile was designed to run on jet fuel. It looked cool and went fast but it could only run for about 7 seconds at a time. So now you know why a hyperactive project-hopping writer is called JetFueledCar.

    It's not a political Twitter, but I'm a political person, so it amounts to the same thing.

  9. #9
    @PeteMC666 PeteMC's Avatar
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    No, you don't IMO - platform seems to be vital for non-fiction, but I don't think it is for fiction. I mean yeah, I'm sure it *helps*, but it's not vital. I had nothing except a "family & friends" Facebook account when I sold my first novel. I think once you're published you probably do need a website with your press pack stuff on it and details of you books, but everything else is gravy really. Even now I don't blog, it just doesn't interest me.
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  10. #10
    Swan in Process Siri Kirpal's Avatar
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    Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

    I've had agents reject a memoir for lack of platform, but only because the sub-genre is a hard sell. It's usually not a big issue for fiction.

    Blessings,

    Siri Kirpal
    "The only freedom any of us ever has is the freedom to choose how we will not be free."

  11. #11
    volitare nequeo AW Moderator veinglory's Avatar
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    Even for non-fic you only need a platform when you... need a platform. If you want to write a book of medical advice you need the platform of being a relevant kind of medical professional, but if you want to write a book of dragon-related jokes and puzzles probably not so much. I mean, having a popular dragon blog or a PhD in dragonology won't hurt, but its not a deal killer.
    Emily Veinglory

  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW
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    I have a deck on the back of my house that keeps my feet off the cold ground and keeps the moose and bears away from my back door. Does that count?

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  13. #13
    Friendly Neighborhood Mustelidae The Otter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JetFueledCar View Post
    So my question is... do I need to have a platform? Really? To submit a short story? There are reasons I'm not active on social media. It took me long enough to get comfortable posting on AW, which is strictly moderated for trolls and people being rude. I have a Twitter and a Tumblr, but I don't use them, because the possibility of something getting grabbed by hateful people who will just try to chase me off the internet scares me to death. I can see why it might be helpful, especially in an e-zine that can link directly to that website/social media/blog. But do you actually need it?
    It's very common these days, but as to whether you need it...I don't know. I think it's a red flag when a publisher lists it as a requirement; it tells me that there's not much they can do for you marketing-wise, so they expect you to do your own advertising.

    But I do worry about this, too. In the YA market especially (which I write in), it seems like nearly all authors--or at least all the ones people have heard of--have a social media presence, usually a Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr. (I think blogs are considered kind of obsolete these days, which makes me feel old, heh.) It's pretty tough to find a newish author with a significant readership who doesn't have some kind of online presence. I have the impression that readers these days just kind of expect it.

    And I'm not a social media person, in general; I feel like it's a game that I'm terrible at playing. In addition to worries about anonymity and harassment, I find that the type of viral outrage and fear so pervasive on Twitter and whatnot is really bad for my mental health...but also if you try to avoid all that stuff and only post stuff about writing, it's much harder to get any kind of following.
    Available in February 2018, my YA novel: WHEN MY HEART JOINS THE THOUSAND

  14. #14
    Becoming a laptop-human hybrid Fuchsia Groan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Otter View Post
    It's very common these days, but as to whether you need it...I don't know. I think it's a red flag when a publisher lists it as a requirement; it tells me that there's not much they can do for you marketing-wise, so they expect you to do your own advertising.

    But I do worry about this, too. In the YA market especially (which I write in), it seems like nearly all authors--or at least all the ones people have heard of--have a social media presence, usually a Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr. (I think blogs are considered kind of obsolete these days, which makes me feel old, heh.) It's pretty tough to find a newish author with a significant readership who doesn't have some kind of online presence. I have the impression that readers these days just kind of expect it.

    And I'm not a social media person, in general; I feel like it's a game that I'm terrible at playing. In addition to worries about anonymity and harassment, I find that the type of viral outrage and fear so pervasive on Twitter and whatnot is really bad for my mental health...but also if you try to avoid all that stuff and only post stuff about writing, it's much harder to get any kind of following.
    I've found most of this to be true as a YA writer. I was never told I had to have a platform, beyond a few social media accounts to announce my news. I've seen people who have pre-existing platforms (like a popular Tumblr) be helped quite a bit by that, but I don't think it's something you can force.

    My favorite platform right now is Instagram, because I can share pics of my book and see pics other people have taken, and there's a lot of book talk in a low-key setting. (I applaud writers who are political online, but as a journalist, I have to be careful about it.) I also Instagram books I'm reading, pets, cool things I see — it's like a shorter, simpler blog. It's fun, but I have not unlocked the secret to getting lots of followers.

    I have absolutely no evidence that a low-follower Insta or Twitter account finds my book any new readers. But it does help me connect with readers who found the book in their library or whatever. If I weren't on Twitter/Instagram, I would never have known about a wonderful review of my book on a Mexican blog, or seen comments from people who've read the book in Spanish. And that kind of stuff means a lot to a writer.
    YA thriller The K1ller in M3, out now from D1sn3y-Hyper1on

    "Taut storytelling and believable characters make this a standout mystery" Publishers Weekly (starred review)

    Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram

  15. #15
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    I'm new around here...but I think maybe I can encourage you, Jet. I have a little experience in this area. I've been helping authors build their platforms for over 20 years.

    First: you're not alone with being uncomfortable.
    Second: you don't have to put up with trolls.
    Third: build the platform that you WANT to have.

    Here's the thing: your platform is a measure of how many people already want to buy your book when it comes out. (I know people may disagree with me on that one...but I find it a common enough definition to work.) Everyone starts out with our Mom and maybe a few friends. That's where we start. I have heard agents and publishers say that they WILL take size of a platform into consideration as they progress with the decision process. Why? Because if an author has a provable platform then they know they can sell well.

    A platform helps. But a platform isn't the number of your Twitter followers or your Facebook Friends (and that should NOT be on a personal Facebook page, but rather an author page!) A platform is the number of people who actively interact with you. An email subscriber list is a really great measure of your success in this area. (Tim Grahl has some FABULOUS free material on email list and platform building.)

    But I'm not suggesting that you go out and sign up for every social media network and throw yourself out there to the wolves.

    I have worked with authors who write fiction that generates hate. And they do NOT have to put up with trolls!

    Yes, create yourself a WordPress blog! If possible, treat yourself to a self-hosted platform like SiteGround where they'll even install the basic WordPress for you. Then add on Wordfence (security) and CleanTalk ($8/year to get rid of spam). Write about things you love. Write about things that you're passionate about. Write about things that matter to you. Make it easy for people to share that material on social media -- and then let the people who share it spread your words around.

    The best article I've ever read on blogging is OLD. 10 Tips on Writing for the Living Web Bernstein may even make you think about the occasional troll in a different light. As a publicist said to me just the other day, there's no such thing as bad publicity...

    If at all possible, learn to read your statistics. (Read as a trend, not a specific number.) Those statistics may be the thing that cheer you when you find yourself in a funk. I had a friend who thought no one was reading. (Her posts don't inspire a lot of comments...they get shared, though.) She looked at her statistics and was surprised to find that her readership had been steadily increasing over the years. That helped her feel motivated to not give up, and to write another book.

    I have a client who recently got accepted for representation by an agent. Sure enough, the agent wanted to know the size of her platform. We'd been working together for years and she'd resisted letting me set her up with an email list. She came to me so sad, wishing she had those email addresses. We were able to dig up stats to show the agent.

    I've worked with small publishers, and believe me, they may not ASK an author about their presence, but that doesn't mean they don't LOOK. I also have talked privately with publishers who say that they definitely look. When they see an author with a blog and comments, they know that author has at least a basic platform.

    Think of it from a publisher's POV. I have 2 good books that I can choose to invest money into. Writer A has a proven platform. Writer B has no platform. Which one is the best investment? A few years back, I read a really terrible traditionally published book that I will NOT name. The agent was cited in the book with a big thank you. Now that agent is known for pushing authors to develop good plots. This book had no plot. (Not just being snarky...it REALLY had no plot.) How did it land big-name-agent and get a big-name-publisher? The author had a proven platform. Everyone knew that book would sell well...even if it wasn't well written.

    You can do this. Don't set yourself up for failure by thinking that a blog has to be something you write on every day or even every week. Be gentle with yourself. Can you write something once a month? Or how about just when you have something to say? My own blog is TERRIBLE. I rarely update it. I post cool pictures to it most of the time just to keep it from going dark. And yet I have people reading it...and waiting for me to get around to releasing the series I'm working on.

    Can you land a publisher without a platform? Of course you can. But I can tell you that pretty soon after you get signed, they'll will likely direct you to get one! I've had writers sent to me by agents and publishers over the years. Might as well start gently now while you don't have someone telling you that you HAVE to.

    Besides. If you do it gently, you may even find that you have fun with it!

  16. #16
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Just noticed some folks saying a blog is obsolete.

    Can be. I think of a series of articles more than a "blog." Here's the thing: new people can discover you through search engines. If you don't have words on your website, what are she search engines going to promote? Blogs aren't obsolete, they're just changing. Newer authors need words on their website. More established authors don't need much more than a presence where people can connect with them.

    I've heard people say that you can do this on Facebook or other networks, but I claim that you need to own your presence. Own your name. That way when networks change the rules (Facebook) or go under (MySpace) you're still secure. Other platforms are great ways to funnel people to your website...but the website should be the heart.

    Just my 2 cents from years of doing websites and teaching authors about platforms.

    Blogs aren't obsolete. They're just changing. Rambling about your toenails (I swear I read a NYT Bestselling Author do that one!) -- now THAT is obsolete. Writing about things that matter to you? That's very in.

    We're writers! We have words!

    People in other industries are so jealous of writers and their ability to generate words for their websites!

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