It has occurred to me, over the last few months, that being an author these days is a lot like wearing platform shoes. The idea is to make yourself look sexy; to draw everyone’s eyes towards you. The more platforms you’re a part of, the more prominent you appear (or, arguably, are). The biggest and brightest platforms lend the ‘wearer’ a sense of accomplishment and esteem from peers. Passive readers might even assume that the person who stands tallest really is The Big Shot. And in the race to be wearing the raciest, tallest platforms, the system continues to inflate. A few years ago, a blog might have been enough; maybe a Twitter. Now, authors, emerging and long-standing, are rushing to create accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning, Absolute Write, My Space (yes, still), YouTube and about a dozen other websites in droves.
There is a question that has pressed itself upon my thoughts: is it too much? Writers, artists, musicians–we are told to immerse ourselves as deeply as we can into these massive social network, branding our face and name wherever it can land. I’ve spent a lot of time the last few weeks trying to build my own platform and engage in these author groups, yet I still feel I’ve only scratched the surface of what is available. Are they necessary? Are they even practical? Especially for authors seeking traditional publishing, the idea that I must build a platform before I even have a book to query seems a bit backwards.
I’ve been considering it for a while actually. The other day, I saw a blog post touting 10 Inspiring Social Networks for Writers… I’d only heard of one, and that was the honorable mention. Someone on one of the Facebook author groups I’m a part of talked about how it was, really, just a massive waste of time to try and promote yourself or build an audience on any author platform, and you know, I sort of have to agree. New authors spend countless hours promoting their blog or new eBook and trying to build up a network of other authors who are just as desperate to sell as they are. I could use a less savory analogy, but I’ll stick with this: Authors go to other authors, feigning interest in their peers’ works, just to get someone else, who is also feigning interest, to like, share or promote their book. There is no depth in this. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours has turned into an even shallower, You like my page, I’ll like yours.
It’s sort of like the behavior I see around WordPress at times… fifty nine likes on a post but no comments. Blogs with over a thousand followers but no discussion. Nominations for blog awards that require you to nominate fifteen more people with practically no selection process–modern chain mail. You follow me and I’ll follow you. There are a million author groups with authors trying to break out into the scene, doing it by bombarding other authors who want it just as badly with self-promotion (even though it’s forbidden in almost every group I’m a part of). Somehow, it all feels empty.
I wonder about the Social Network Bubble; this space on the internet that surely can not continue on as it is now, using our everyday, social natures to push and pimp any sort of thing that can be ‘shared.’ I sometimes wonder what advertising will replace it, once it completely over-saturates itself. But, I digress.
As ranty as this post is, I actually do think that some sort of platform is important to an author, new or old. But it should be something that you can maintain, and it should be centralized, interesting and not all about ‘sharing/liking/following/pinging/etc’. I know that at least in the blogosphere, I am quickest to unfollow blogs that cease to be entertaining, useful or informative. I also unfollow blogs that are spammy (posting more than twice a day, posting the same post everywhere, only talking about their current promotion/book, etc.) It’s just me, but I do this in order to keep up with the forty other blogs I follow that actually share content I want to read. Which brings me to the crux of the problem as it appears to me:
Your platform shouldn’t be about your product.
It should be about you. What do you care about? What inspires you? What makes your gears turn? I’ve already seen a million author blogs that are all about writing craft. Useful, but not really interesting enough to make me care about their writing. However, I probably will buy work from an author who writes passionately about what inspired them to write whatever story in the first place.
In my searches and observations of the internet, I have compiled a bit of a list of what platforms I do think are worth the time and energy, though I would welcome anyone else’s thoughts as well.
- WordPress/Blogger/YOUR.com– I think having a blog is one of the most important ways you can build a presence, a sort of community around your work, without being obtrusive. One of my favorite features is the easy way you can ‘follow’ your favorite people, though I have noticed I don’t follow .com’s as much, because they usually require a ‘follow by email,’ though I’ve also been introduced to a lovely blog reader app called Bloglovin, which allows me to follow blogs regardless of where they’re hosted. It’s pretty much become my new Google Reader, or feedly, except I check it way more.
- Absolute Write– This forum is pretty much the behemoth of writer forums. The community is pretty rigid at times, but there is a wealth of knowledge there that I haven’t seen anywhere else. It’s not the place to promote, but a place to hone your craft. They also have a huge section of their forum dedicated to the submissions and querying process, as well as a bewares section for authors needing honest reviews of publishing houses. (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/index.php)
- Facebook– You’re probably already on Facebook, so why not make the most of it? Author Pages on Facebook don’t really amount to much, but there are a ton of writers’ groups, promotion groups and so on to help build your base. I use Facebook to meet other writers though, not connect with potential readers. Again, your Facebook page will probably see way more action and interest if it’s about more than your book, or whatever promotion you’re trying to push.
- Twitter– You have 140 characters to engage your audience. A short link to Amazon isn’t going to do it. Retweeting your old blog posts again and again isn’t going to do it. As a member (Bill Ferris) over at Writers Unboxed said, “As a writer, you have one job and one job only: Write interesting things. Even on social media. If you write and share things that are interesting to other people, you’ll do just fine on Twitter. Don’t treat it like a free advertising platform where you only talk about your books. Follow people – not just authors – who you find interesting and do what they do. Don’t be afraid to talk about things other than writing and publishing.”
Other than that, I don’t really see the merit of any of the other platforms. All of the above platforms require a fair amount of involvement, and you still have to leave time at the end of the day to write. What are your feelings on the pressure of the author platform? What platforms do you use? Do they work?