These Platform Shoes Couldn’t Get Any Taller

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.Β  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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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)
  3. 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.
  4. TwitterΒ 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,Β  “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?

19 thoughts on “These Platform Shoes Couldn’t Get Any Taller

  1. I am glad I am not the only person to click ‘unfollow’ as soon as a blog no longer entertains or informs/intrigues me.. I always feel a little bad when I do click that unfollow button though haha

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    1. Yes, there is certainly that bit of guilt, haha. But really, there’s only so many blogs I can keep up with at once, and if you’re going to get all spammy on me, I’m going to go look for substance elsewhere. :/

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  2. Excellent and timely post, Alex! I’m new to blogging, and I’ve already seen many of the issues you discuss here. I’m going to reblog this. It makes many wonderful points that bloggers would do well to heed.

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    1. Thanks so much Miranda! I’m glad it felt timely to you. It’s actually been sitting in my drafts folder for about a month, haha. I had to figure out where I was going with it all.

      Thank you so much for the reblog! I am really enjoying your series on the Appalachian Mountains.

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      1. I think it should be required reading for everyone interested in building a platform, be it via blogging, twitter, facebook, etc. And I’m glad you like my ramblings about Appalachia!

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  3. Reblogged this on Author Miranda Stone and commented:
    Excellent post by Alex Hurst. There’s a fine line between building a platform and being obnoxious. May we all tread carefully in our sky-high platform shoes.

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  4. Well, I wish I had the time to adequately respond to this, but, just so you know what kind of day it’s been, I’ve had this post open for the last 8 hours and only just now finished reading it. I’m not even sure I have real thoughts in my head at this moment.

    Of course, I’ve been writing about this stuff, too, so I don’t know if there’s even anything I need to say.

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    1. Yikes! Sounds like a crazy day. Hopefully things are settling down now for you. Yes, I noticed you were writing about the same. πŸ™‚ I think this was mostly born of trying to make a decision about how I was going to proceed, as I was spending so much time ‘networking’ that I had no time to write. Thanks for expending the effort to read it despite the bustle of your day! ^_^

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  5. Yup, I agree! It takes me almost 2 and a half hours every morning to get through all the blogs, twitter feeds and facebook wall posts that have piled up over night and by that time I have an hour to clean before I have to go to work. Where’s all that time I should be saving for writing? For me, it doesn’t make sense to promote a person before a product. Arguably, no one cares about an author until their work can speak for them. The energy is better spent making the best product one can, rather than pimping the same thing on every platform.

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  6. Very entertaining post & full of truth. I am on one of the sites-that-will-not-be-mentioned & even though a thread was started independently about my book I’ve ‘bumped’ it 3 times and feel like a complete Autho whore. I want to wash myself thoroughly 😦 If your book is in the 1% that is good enough to be taken on by an agent ‘that’ site will probably have nothing to do with it. If it’s good. It’s good. πŸ™‚

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    1. Hi Volequeen! Sorry it took so long to reply. For whatever reason, WP decided you should end up in Askimet’s spam box. :/

      Don’t feel like an Autho-whore for such a small offense. I’ve seen way worse, and in the independent market, I do understand we all have to do what we feel is necessary. Very glad you liked the post! I’ve followed your blog! πŸ™‚

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      1. Dawww. Thanks very much. It’s not getting much attention at the moment because I’m just finishing of my book to send to a reader. Exciting times πŸ™‚ Really love your blog. Clever women rock! πŸ™‚

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  7. This is a very well-written post, and it’s a topic that I think needs to be considered in many areas of life. I certainly agree with the idea that a person could spend way too much time “networking” and not nearly enough time living. The goal of a post every day – why? Wait until there is something worthwhile to say or see (photos) and then give it some thought. Quality vs. quantity.
    Many people have told me that I need to be on Facebook, and I consistently say that I don’t. I also just have a “dumbphone!”
    I loved your analogy with the platform shoes!

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    1. Thanks so much Marilyn! I’m glad you were able to get something out of it too. I try not to make such narrow topics as posts, but they come upon me regardless. I agree though, about taking the time to live! And yes, absolutely, quality over quantity. I couldn’t agree more. πŸ™‚

      Glad you liked the analogy! πŸ˜€ I almost trashed this post for fear of sounding preachy, but I didn’t want to get rid of the image, haha.

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  8. This is a great post. As a young writer whose publishing ambitions lie several years in the future, my main goal is building up a base of (genuine) followers around my WordPress blog, and using Facebook to let people I’m actually acquainted with in person know that I have a blog where I publish writing-basically I’m expanding my readership by degrees. I would rather have 300 genuinely interested followers who will comment on a post every once in a while than 3,000 followers who decided to follow me and like a couple of my posts solely in the hopes that I would do the same.

    It’s also one of my pet peeves when writers saturate their blogs with promotions for their upcoming book.

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    1. It’s one of mine, too. I think the bigger turn-off though is a writer’s blog or platform that is used purely as a depot for other authors’ virtual book tours.

      May many good things come to you in your upcoming career. What sort of writing do you do? We should keep in touch. πŸ™‚

      Also, thanks for the comment!

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      1. Thank you for taking interest, Alex. I write a lot of creative non-fiction and poetry, most often inspired by nature. When i say I”m young, I mean it-I’m an undergraduate college student not quite out of his teens. At this point, I only vaguely have an idea of what I want to publish, but am getting started with publishing in undergraduate literary journals.

        I found your blog through Miranda Stone’s blog-Miranda and I are mutual followers. When i get a chance, I will try to read some of your work. A fantasy writer in Kyoto is certainly intriguing. πŸ™‚

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        1. That’s great to hear! I love Miranda’s blog, and I have a healthy appreciation for anyone who can manage poetry (I’ve just never understood it). What do you mean my creative nonfiction? Is it personal nonfiction, or historical? Sounds interesting. πŸ™‚

          Thank you so much for the recent comments and reads. I appreciate it muchly. I’ll be adding your blog to my RSS feeder, to ensure I don’t miss any upcoming posts. πŸ™‚

          All the best.

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          1. My nonfiction is definitely personal nonfiction, and could easily be categorized as nature writing-I have a whole ‘nonfiction’ category on my blog, if you want to check it out. If you’ve ever happened across anything written by Annie Dillard, Emerson, Thoreau, or John Muir, my writing is a bit similar.

            And thank you for adding me to your reader πŸ™‚

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