In her blog, one writer urges other aspiring writers not to worry about establishing an online presence or building an author platform until they actually have a book to sell.
Jane Friedman, who is the “community director” for the Writer’s Digest brand (the online community, the magazine, the books), thought it was so important to contradict this advice that she dedicated an entire blog post to it.
Jane doesn’t use the term ‘author platform’ — and this is refreshing — but ‘audience development’. I’m not sure this term is entirely accurate, since ‘audience’ implies a passive group of people who do nothing but receive what you give them. Social media has forever changed this, since readers now have the ability, and the expectation, to connect with writers online, give feedback, comment on their blog posts, etc. Instead of being passive, readers interact, contribute, and participate.
So you’re not just developing an audience; you’re developing a community that grows up around your work — and you.
In their new website, publishing giant Simon & Schuster dedicates an entire section to teaching writers about social media, blogs and blogging, videos and podcasts. Their message is clear: we expect you to do this. we need you to do this. you need to do this.
Because we’re living in the age of the long tail.
Which means that a very small number of books will explode into massive, mega-selling entities….and the rest will appeal to niche audiences. To survive, you need to dominate your niche…or, even better, invent your own. Even if you do want to ‘write for the market’, the safer idea is to invent your own market. You can do this through differentiating yourself with a distinct style and point of view, becoming such a remarkable writer that they can’t ignore you and developing your audience through a series of consistent actions over time.
But do you have to do it before you get published?
In the aforementioned blog post, the aspiring writer says:
After you sell a book it generally takes a year for it to be published. For the sake of argument let’s say your book only takes six months to get sold and published. That’s still plenty of time to attend conferences, start a blog, and hit Twitter and Facebook every day if that’s what you want to do.
Oh, no. No no no. It takes way longer than that (remember, you’re not just bouncing around, you’re growing a community). Accomplished speaker and bestselling author Seth Godin says the best time to start promoting a book is three years before it comes out. When you submit a manuscript to an agent or an editor, they want to know that the process is in progress. They want to hear: “I have a blog that has x number of subscribers and gets x number of unique visits a day; between my blog, Twitter, Facebook and Friendfeed, I reach so many thousands of people per day, and that number keeps growing.”
You also need to give yourself time to climb the learning curve. It’s not enough to learn how to get on Facebook or Twitter, or how to set up a blog; you need to learn how to make your chosen forms of social media work for you, and how to leverage them off each other. This involves figuring out your own special cocktail of social media sites that play to your strengths (blogging and tweeting? engaging with people in various forums? podcasting? making videos?) and fit your personality.
You need to play around and experiment. You need to make some mistakes and have a few failures.
You need to figure out how to incorporate social media into your daily life in a way that you can live with. In a way that complements and helps to develop your creative life.
If you resent the time you have to spend online, it will show. You’ll put in a half-assed effort, or you’ll move around with an obvious agenda, and this will turn people off. In social media, passion, consistency and authenticity rule the day. Without passion, you won’t be able to update your blog as often as you need to; without authenticity, people won’t trust you; without trust, you won’t have influence…and influence is the cold hard cash of the Web.
Here’s the thing. An online author platform is about creating cool content and connecting with people. Does that really sound so horrible? Does that sound like a waste of time?
A blog can be the ultimate teaching tool — not just for your readers, but for you. Blog not just what you know about, but what you want to know about. Blogging about a particular topic forces you to read and research it, not just to keep up with the conversation but to add to it…and maybe lead it (at least sometimes).
Remember, you’re not bombarding the masses; you’re seeking to connect with people who are like you, who care about the things you care about, who want to read about the things you write about. Conversing with them, building a community with them — discovering your tribe members and calling them to you — can be stimulating, thought-provoking, and deeply rewarding in and of itself. It can be an invaluable source of support and encouragement. It can be a process of self-discovery.
Who knows — you might start out to sell a few books and end up building your own digital empire and/or leading a social movement.
The middlemen, the gatekeepers, are disappearing. The channels of distribution are blown wide open. You are in direct contact with your audience. Give them love, and they’ll love you back. And more.
What are the elements of social media that appeal to you? How can you use them not just to develop your audience, but deepen your abilities as an artist? How can you use social media to actually help you with the project you’re developing right now?