I’ve been reading a how-to book lately. Specifically, a book on how to “build your author platform”. This book hasn’t been particularly fantastic, although it’s not so much that it’s full of wrong ideas, it’s just that I’ve already heard all of these things before.
But, the book has made me think about something that keeps coming to me every time I read about this sort of topic, whether it’s a book for writers, or a blog post, or anything else. Every time I delve into the topic of “building your author platform”, I keep getting this slightly skeevy feeling, like we’re missing the point of the whole writing thing and simply turning ourselves into hucksters.
Now, let me back up a bit here and point out that I don’t disagree that an author must have a platform. We are entrepreneurs and we are producing a product that we hope to sell. This isn’t a hobby, it’s a business. That’s the truth of it, and I fully get that. More than that, I have embraced this philosophy. At its core, it comes down to discoverability and connecting with readers. It doesn’t matter how great your book is, if no one knows it exists they will never read it!
You’ve probably noticed that I have a blog, given that you’re reading a post on that blog. I’ve got a Facebook page and a Twitter account. I even have a Google+ page that I never use because almost no one uses Google+ (including myself) and a mailing list I haven’t used (yet) because almost no one subscribes to it. Of all of these, the blog is a great way to speak directly to those who follow my work, and a great place to showcase that work to new people. The Facebook page is fun as well, and Twitter is good for bite-size connections with “my people” and meeting new folks.
But, while I recognize the need for a platform, I think there is a point where you’ve got the bases covered and you need to let it be. A good example is Pinterest. I have a Pinterest account. I thought Pinterest was neat, and everyone says you have to have a Pinterest account as part of your platform. Okay, that’s great – except, what does that have to do with finding readers? Sure, I could advertise there, but does every website I encounter have to be a place where I flog my book?
Some would say yes. The standard template is that you never miss an opportunity to mention your book. I can see the point of this, but I’m not sure if I agree with it.
The truth is, that Pinterest account has gone cold. I could work it, massage it, try to make it a place where my platform becomes fly paper to grab people and pull them in, so that I could shove my writing in front of them. But, why? Is that going to get me more sales? Maybe a few. But, I don’t believe it will get me a lot of sales and I don’t think it’s going to be a good return on my investment of time.
Likewise, if I knew how to delete that Google+ account, I would probably just zap it and be done with it. There’s probably a way, but it’s not worth the trouble to find out how. That would mean wading through the morass of signing in, then signing out, remembering which email account it’s actually tied to, signing back in, digging through the completely inadequate help, maybe finding a way to kill the account, and then jumping through the numerous hoops to actually do it. Instead, I just let the account sit there. That’s probably a mistake, but for now so few people use Google+ it probably doesn’t matter.
In the end, the things that work for me are those things that I actually like. The things that let me connect with people. Twitter, for example, has been great for discovering new friends, sharing my musical tastes, and just keeping in touch with people. The Facebook page has been excellent for sharing fun things with my followers and friends, as well as a good way to update people on what I’m doing when a full-on blog post isn’t really warranted. Finally, this blog has been good for when I want to say something more substantial, like when I’m in the mood to rebel against every piece of advice on promoting my writing I’ve ever read, for example.
For me, it has to be about the writing. It just has to. I don’t disagree that promotion is important. I do it frequently. It’s why I host cover reveals and interviews for my writer friends here at my blog, and it’s why I ask them to do the same for me sometimes.
But, isn’t the writing what really matters? Isn’t it about the stories?
As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a full and busy life and it can be hard to make time for writing. A business to run, a house full of kids to homeschool, a part time job, and all the other things that make life fun and interesting in between. Writing is important to me, which is why I do it. But, that’s not the whole story. The heart of the matter is that I want to entertain. I want to give people something that lets them disappear into another world for a while and experience excitement and thrills and laugh and scream and cry.
In another blog post, I mentioned that there are things that I put in a story because they have to be there for the story to be true to itself. There are also things I don’t put in stories because they don’t belong there. If something goes in, it has to serve the story, or it’s just wasted words.
Well, why doesn’t that apply to the rest of what I do? Does having a Pinterest account serve my stories? Does it serve those stories to shove my books under the nose of every person I meet online? Does the tale of Jake and his friends, facing ancient evil and the walking, talking dead get better by having me blab about Frostwalker on every website I come across? I don’t think it does.
Sure, the “build your platform” advice always says to join online communities and then give meaningful content. For example, join a forum where your target audience hangs out, put your book in your forum signature, then join the conversation in a meaningful way. That’s not hammering them over the head with your book – that’s being a part of the community!
But, if I only joined the community to promote my book and don’t have a genuine interest in being there, for myself and my own enjoyment, then how is that any better? How does that serve the story?
In the end, I really think it comes down to the stories. Yes, I think it’s important to have a way to connect with readers. I think it’s important to have a platform. But, I think we’re trying too hard.
For me, I’d rather work on the next story. I want to create the best writing that I can, and then share it with the world. Will I promote it? Of course! But, I can’t be that guy who makes every website an advertisement. I can’t be the guy who spends hours every day massaging his social media presence and sculpting his “brand”. Ultimately, your brand is who you are. I’d rather let my readers figure that out on their own and let my writing stand for my brand.
Perhaps it will take me longer – even years longer – to build my audience. But, when those people come to me and say “Hey, I liked your book. Can’t wait for the next one!” I’ll know that they came for the stories.