Author platform. The words strike fear and trembling into the hearts of many a writer. Because, what is an author platform, anyway? Is it all about how many social media likes you can gather? What all should it include? And how important is your author platform in the world of publishing?
This past weekend I attended a panel on the subject at AWP, the humongous writing conference that was held in Portland, my hometown. I got some interesting perspectives on the topic that I’ll share with you here.
The panel was made up of two literary agents, an editor, and an author. The tips I gleaned here are from the two agents: Amanda Annis, from Trident Media Group, and Erin Harris, from Folio Lit (which happens to be my agency, though Erin is not my agent).
The panel debunked a couple of my ideas about platform, most notably that the only good platform is the one that has incredibly high social media numbers. Publishers, it seems, have discovered that having several hundred thousand followers on Twitter does not sell books. Another false idea I had was that platform is comprised only of your social media presence. But that’s not true — it is also made up of the stories, essays, and articles you publish, and also the writing communities you are a part of and the other writers you know (who might be able to give you a blurb, for instance, or ones you’ve studied with).
Most heartening to me was Erin’s statement to quit thinking of platform as evil and reframe it. Think of it as the narrative you are writing of your life. It is the story you are writing about yourself and sharing with the world. Craft your narrative. Think about how you want people to see you and share that. Think of your platform as the way you want to connect with your audience.
The other thing I heard several times was to work in the platforms that excite you. Love to blog? Go for it. Hate Twitter? Stay off it. Enjoy snapping photos? Instagram is the place for you. But don’t force yourself onto sites that don’t resonate with you.
It’s important to look at platform through two lenses: the viewpoint of the editor and the viewpoint of the agent. When evaluating submissions, both will look into an author’s platform. They want to know if an author knows how to sell, if they are in this for the long haul, if they think of themself as a professional.
For this reason, your platform should be nearly fully realized when you begin to submit — this will make the case that people are interested in what you have to say. Not having a platform in place is almost tantamount to not having a finished manuscript.
The above may be more true for non-fiction — because there is a difference between a non-fiction author’s platform and a fiction writer’s platform. With fiction, the work is the most important thing, period. It doesn’t matter so much who you are. Non-fiction is the opposite.
Those are the big themes I noted. Here are some other takeaways:
— People do take note if you have an MFA, but it won’t get you a book deal.
— Memoir is more similar to fiction that non-fiction when it comes to platform.
— Have a sense of who your reader is and what media she is consuming. Then go where they are. This is being in service to your readers.
— It is vital to have an author website that shows who you are as a professional writer.
— With social media, know your genre. YA Twitter is different than literary Twitter, for instance.
— Experiment and be fearless. See what works for your peeps. See what people respond to. Give people content. There are no gatekeepers on social media!
I hope these tips demystify the author’s platform for you as they did for me. Good luck with it.