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A Definition of an Author Platform by Jane Friedman

This post originally appeared on Jane Friedman’s blog.

(picture: www.atlei.com)

Platform is one of the most difficult concepts to explain, partly because everyone defines it a little differently.

So let’s break down this thing called platform a little further.

  • Visibility. Who knows you? Who is aware of your work? Where does your work regularly appear? How many people see it? How does it spread? Where does it spread? What communities are you a part of? Who do you influence? Where do you make waves?
  • Authority. What’s your credibility? What are your credentials? (This is particularly important for nonfiction writers; it is less important for fiction writers, though it can play a role. Just take a look at any graduate of the Iowa MFA program).
  • Proven reach. It’s not enough to SAY you have visibility. You have to show where you make an impact and give proof of engagement. This could be quantitative evidence (e.g. size of your e-mail newsletter list, website traffic, blog comments), or qualitative evidence (high-profile reviews, testimonials from A-listers in your genre).
  • Target audience. You should be visible to the most receptive or appropriate audience for the work you’re trying to sell. For instance, if you have visibility, authority, and proven reach to orthodontists, that probably won’t be helpful if you’re marketing vampire fiction (unless perhaps you’re writing about a vampire orthodonist who repairs crooked vampire fangs!).

What platform is NOT

  • It is not about self-promotion.
  • It is not about hard selling.
  • It is not about annoying people.
  • It is not about being an extrovert.
  • It is not about your qualifications, authority, or experience—although these are tools for growing or nurturing a platform.
  • It is not something you create overnight.
  • It is not something you can buy.
  • It is not a one-time event.
  • It is not more important than your story or message (but hopefully it grows out of that).

Platform is not about bringing attention to yourself, or by screaming to everyone you can find online or offline, “Look at me! Look at me!” Platform isn’t about who yells the loudest or who markets the best.

Platform is more about putting in consistent, focused effort over the course of a career, and making incremental improvements in extending your network. It’s about making waves that attract other people you—not about begging others to pay attention.

What activities build platform?

This is not an exhaustive list, but helps give you an idea of how platform can grow.

  • Publishing or distributing quality work in outlets you want to be identified with and that your target audience uses.
  • Producing a body of work on your own platform—e.g. blog, e-mail newsletter, social network, podcast, video, digital downloads, etc.—that gathers quality followers. This is usually a long-term process.
  • Speaking at and/or attending events where you meet new people and extend your network of contacts.
  • Finding meaningful ways to engage with and develop your target audience, whether through content, events, online marketing/promotion, etc.
  • Partnering with peers or influencers to tackle a new project and/or extend your visibility.

Side note: Some people have an easier time building platform than others. If you hold a highly recognized position (powerful network and influence), if you know key influencers (friends in high places), if you are associated with powerful communities, if you have prestigious degrees or posts, or if you otherwise have public-facing work—yes, you play the field at an advantage. This is why it’s so easy for celebrities to get book deals. They have “built-in” platform.

Platform building is not one size fits all

Platform building is an organic process and will be different for every single author. There is no checklist I can give you to develop a platform, because it depends on:

  • your unique story/message.
  • your unique strengths and qualities.
  • your target readership.

Your platform should be as much of a creative exercise and project as the work you produce. While platform gives you power to market effectively, it’s not something you develop by posting “Follow me!” on Twitter or “Like me!” on Facebook a few times a week. Use your imagination, and take meaningful steps. It’ll be a long journey.

If you enjoyed this piece, head on over to Jane Friedman’s blog for more of her thoughts on authorship and publishing.

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5 Responses to A Definition of an Author Platform by Jane Friedman

  1. Dan Holloway June 18, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

    Apologies if this appears twice – I think a comment got eaten.
    Jane, great post, those last three points are essential.
    Two questions – first, with putting material on one’s platform, would you worry about cross-linking everything/keeping everything together, or should people simply use what’s suitable to specific material – take say blogger and YouTube – should people worry about cross-linking or just accept that th enetworks they build will converge as they take deeper root, or should they be worried rather that they mustn’t miss someone who wants to know more falling through th enet because of the lack of a single click to everthing they do? And if the latter, any tips?
    Second, when you say we need to be able to prove the reach of or platform, I realise that we need not to go on a wild goose chase for our own benefit, but to whom would we need to prove them if we’re self-publishing?
    And thank you for your support two years ago when I was setting up eight cuts gallery press – our very first crop of books reached the radar of the mainstream literary prizes, with a special mention from the Guardian First Book Award judges, and we’re still going strong, now primarily as a touring spoken word show as well as everything we do online.

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