Platform Development 101
By Christina Katz
Think you’re exempt from building a nonfiction platform to support your writing career?
Then you are doing yourself and your career a huge disservice.
The word platform simply describes all the ways you are visible and appealing to your potential, future, or actual readership. Platform development is not only important for existing authors; it’s also crucial for wannabe authors or soon-to-be authors. And not only is platform development a refreshing switch from the daily grind, it can quickly become another satisfying and prosperous income stream for your writing career that enhances your bottom line. And what writer wouldn’t want that?
If you want to be successful in today’s literary marketplace, the smartest career strategy for your time and money is to begin to build, from scratch if necessary, the most productive platform you can. At this juncture, I’m talking about a simple Web site, blog or e-newsletter. That’s it. Nothing fancy or exotic. None of whatever is the latest technological breakthrough. Just the tried and true stalwarts. Because building a platform takes time and effort and, initially, you may build it and no one may come. But without a platform, you will have to work ten times harder to get your book (or future book) known. Perhaps a hundred times harder.
When I started developing my platform, I had no idea what I was doing. But I have loved the Internet since I fist logged on with a dial-up account in the dark ages, about seven years ago. I am also a writing instructor and I’ve been one since 2001. For me, as far as platform evolution, a relocation from Bellingham, Washington to Wilsonville, Oregon a couple of years ago caused me to have to leave behind three year’s of writing students and two classes I loved teaching at the local community college. I felt disappointed to be moving just when I’d discovered something (in my thirties, mind you) I loved to do and that seemed to be building, quite naturally, into a dual career I could love: writing for publication and teaching others how to write for publication.
And yet, the lure of the right job in Wilsonville for my husband was too strong to resist. In the final six months that we lived in Bellingham, I published, with the help of my students and the college, an anthology of their best writing. We gave a public reading and, shortly thereafter, my husband and I packed up a truck and moved with our two-year-old daughter to Oregon.
In August 2004, I was sitting in my new home office with my daughter, Samantha, playing at my feet. I had no babysitters, in fact, no personal connections in our new town whatsoever. I felt pressure to start over and do what I’d already done: go find another college, apply to teach, and start building a core of students all over again. But I couldn’t get over the feeling that letting go of the personal relationships I’d nurtured with hundreds of students and starting over was the right decision, even though those former students were hundreds of miles away.
My solution to this dilemma was to take my appreciation for the Internet and leverage it to stay connected with my students through an e-mail newsletter that I had already begun. I also made the decision to fly solo as a writing instructor, taking one of the classes I’d been developing and turning it into an e-mail class. Thanks to the Internet, I’ve been teaching Writing and Marketing Nonfiction Features for almost six years now. Becoming a distance teacher instead of a classroom teacher encouraged me to specialize initially, since I had to allow time to do my own administrative work. I think when you’re just starting out with anything, it’s a really good idea to specialize until you find your groove.
A simple Web site, an e-mail newsletter and one e-mail class comprised my platform when I received an e-mail from a producer at “Good Morning America” inviting me to be on the show for an interview with Diane Sawyer. So what really landed me on “Good Morning America”? A GOOGLE search.
A GMA production assistant pulled up my article, “The Art of Making Time for Yourself,” which had been published four years earlier on Bluesuitmom.com. It came up at the top of the search page. On GOOGLE, the URL at the top of the list is the most-often read on that specific search topic. The producer e-mailed. I thought his message was SPAM. He called. I was still skeptical. After a long conversation, he convinced me that he really was a GMA producer and I really was the right person to appear on the show. Eventually, he agreed to fly my daughter and me to New York to be on the show (though my daughter had a meltdown on the set and had to be carried off by her Aunt).
Good things can and will happen in your writing career if you work continually on your platform. This is why you need to determine what your platform is and start working on it right away. Building a platform is an act of optimism because, really, you have no idea what will result from it, nor can you control this. And why would you want or need to, when good things are so much more likely to happen in your writing career once you have a platform? Why not get to work right now stacking the odds in your favor?
To get started, check out these folks with platforms that will inspire you:
http://hellomynameisscott.com: Example of how a 26-year-old success story leverages his self-published books using his online platform.
http://sethgodin.com: A master of the online platform. Started a blog for each of his books and linked them to his Web site. Brilliant!
http://www.jkrowling.com: I wanted to include fiction writers, so let’s go.
Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007). She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at http://www.thewritermama.wordpress.com/. For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at http://www.thewritermama.com/.