Do Fiction Writers Need a Platform?

do fiction writers need platforms literary agent blog

But first, the stories worth reading this week:

Hachette Again Reaches Deal with Perseus Books (Alexandra Alter, The New York Times): So, that happened. Again. What does this mean for authors working with either publisher? Nothing at all right now. It seems that PBG will continue to operate as a separate publishing division within Hachette, and as the Times points out, “Adding heft will probably help Hachette in a cutthroat media landscape where publishers are increasingly being squeezed by major retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.”

Making Time for Writing? 7 Simple but Powerful Productivity Tips (Ali Luke for The Write Life): “Do you ever sit down to write for a couple of hours, only to find yourself with only a paragraph or two to show for it? It’s really easy to get distracted, especially if your work involves online research. One link leads to another and another and … oh look, a cute cat video!”

The Martian Started as a Self-Published Book (All Things Considered, NPR): “Self-published authors often dream of snagging a big contract with a major publishing house. But after Andy Weir’s self-published ‘The Martian’ online, its next stop was not print. Instead, it got picked up by a small Canadian audiobook company. Of course, it was eventually made into a movie and nominated for multiple Oscars.”

A Warning About Writing Novels That Ride the News Cycle (Todd Moss on “My first book contract was a fluke of good timing. Al-Qaeda, Muammar Gaddafi, and French Special Forces are all, in part, responsible for my writing career. But I’ve since discovered that it’s risky, and probably unwise, for a novelist to chase current events too closely.”

The Revenant Author Michael Punke Has a Day Job (Alexandra Alter, The New York Times): “In addition to being an international trade policy wonk, Mr. Punke is the author of ‘The Revenant,’ a 2002 novel about a 19th-century American fur trapper’s epic struggle for survival in the wilderness, and the inspiration for Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s film. The movie is up for 12 Oscars, including best picture, and has catapulted the novel onto the best-seller lists.”

Do Fiction Writers Need a Platform?

Here it is. The long-awaited post on one of the big questions out there: do fiction writers need platforms?

It’s no secret what I think of this (ha, ha, says the girl who writes a whole nerdy blog on it), so I thought it would be much, much more interesting to hear from a fiction writer herself. Kristen is a fantasy writer and creative writing coach, and she runs the popular site She’s Novel, while also working on edits to Dreamworld and The Dark Between, her fantasy debuts.

She has such an interesting take on what it’s like to be building her platform before her first book is even out, and I think our conversation touches upon many of the concerns I most hear from writers:

  • Do I even need a platform?
  • Is it really worth my time?
  • But don’t agents and editors not care if a fiction writer has a platform?

So before we jump into the conversation with Kristen, let’s clear the air. There are so many conflicting opinions about this out there, and even industry professionals disagree with each other. But here’s what we do agree on:

You don’t need a platform to get a book deal.

You do need a platform and marketing savvy to have long-term success as an author.

Why? Well here are 4 reasons why it’s important to build a platform as a fiction writer:

1. You can’t avoid it.

That’s a pretty compelling reason to do anything, ha! The fact is: you can’t avoid learning how to market your work forever. There is simply no way around it. One day, you will have a finished book in your hands, and you will be tasked with telling people about it. That’s what marketing is all about—finding the people who will enjoy your work and letting them know (authentically, and not annoyingly) that it exists. I wrote a whole post for fellow Literary Agent Carly Watter’s blog on this, but here’s what it comes down to:

“…coming into the publishing process with those skills and networks in place can make you extremely appealing as an author. I’ve sat in many strategy meetings where an author’s editor, publicist, marketing manager, and agent put all their expertise together to formulate a strong marketing and publicity campaign. Yet the author’s lack of familiarity with the online landscape, and most often, their discomfort with putting themselves out there, crippled their ability to execute the campaign. The worst part is that this makes for a miserable, lie-awake-at-night book launch, because the author is forced to battle the fears and anxieties of platform-building at a time when they can’t afford to stumble.”

2. You will sell more books.

And what writer doesn’t want to sell more books? Most writers will also tell you that writing the book is the easy part (hard to believe, I know!), and getting people to read your book is the hard part. But if you already have a strong, genuine network of fellow writers, readers, and fans before you publish your book, you’ll be guaranteed their support and sales after you publish your book. And then you don’t have to be that cringe-inducing author who cold-emails people asking them to buy their book. (Really, you don’t have to do this! That’s not smart marketing!)

3. You will become a better writer.

Showing up the write consistently is half the battle. (And we have this Anne Lamott print to remind us of that!) Platform-building requires you to regularly show up to write something new, whether it’s a blog post, tweet, podcast, video, or email. You will want to squirm your way out of it. You will want to procrastinate. But you will become better at looking fear head on, and you will build the creative discipline needed to succeed as a writer.

4. You will have a lot more fun.

The most important reason of all! Everyone knows that writing groups and workshops can be that jolt of connection and learning that every writer needs, but you can also get many of the same benefits in the online world. At its heart, marketing is just that: making friends with the people who get you and like the same things you do.

So that’s my take! Now let’s hear the on-the-ground perspective from Kristen:

Tell us your story of deciding to become a writer then a blogger.

Fresh out of high school, I realized two things: 1) I wanted to be a professional novelist and 2) becoming a professional novelist takes a whole lot of time and dedication.

At that point in my life, I was working as a barista in an upscale coffee shop, and to say the job was physically and mentally exhausting was an understatement. I knew I needed to get out, and so I decided to plunge head first into building my own creative lifestyle as an online infopreneur. In other words, I began monetizing my writing skills and knowledge via an online platform:

Building up my business was–and still is–tough, but running She’s Novel has provided me with the opportunity to dedicate time to writing, building my author platform, improving my craft, and networking with industry professionals. Hey, Maria!

What would you consider to be the pros of building a platform as a fiction writer? The cons?

By far, my favorite thing about building my author platform has been connecting with fellow readers and writers.

Many authors believe platform building to be all about increasing sales, but in actuality, the best thing you can do with your platform is show people that you’re human. Make yourself trustworthy by creating a dialogue. My initial goal was to do just that by engaging with my followers, but along the way I also built incredible friendships with dozens of readers and writers worldwide.

The biggest con to building an author platform is that it can suck away all of your time and energy if you aren’t careful. I have definitely been guilty of allowing my platform to push writing to the backburner, but in time I’ve learned that writing and marketing are a balance act. You have to give them both ample attention if you ever want to succeed as a novelist.

What strategies do you think work best for connecting with fiction readers?

The best thing you can do to make a strong connection with your readers is to simply treat them like friends, not numbers. Answer their questions, take time to personally thank them for sharing your work, and always mention them by name.

I also find it helpful to share your work organically, rather than utilizing straightforward ads and blatant self-promotion in an attempt to sell books. If you can give readers an inside look at your process and your stories, you will build genuine interest that naturally turns into sales.

And finally, don’t be afraid to be your quirky self. Trying to please everyone will only end up hurting your efforts to grow and engage with your readership. If you stay true to your own interests and personality, you will make such a strong connection with those who truly adore you.

What has been your biggest struggle or fear with putting your work online?

Self-doubt is always a constant companion of mine. I’m in my very early twenties, so for a long time I had this constant fear of being called out as a fraud. I didn’t have a writing degree or a job in the industry. I was simply a determined writer fighting to improve her work, to share what she learned with others, and to maybe make a few bucks along the way.

I’ve only recently come to recognize my age and general inexperience as an asset, rather than a flaw. Though I have had my fair share of internet hate, the number of sweet notes I’ve received from writers who were able to connect with my unique voice and teaching style to improve their work has been overwhelming. Those messages truly mean the world to me!

How do you balance your writing time and platform time? Any helpful hints for other writers?

As much as some might hate to hear it, balancing your time is all about the scheduling. Every day, I set aside specific times to work on my writing and to engage on social media. In most cases, I write for one or two hours in the evening, but spend about 15 minutes on social media three times a day. Setting aside this 45 minutes daily helps me stay on top of the internet chaos.

I also recommend limiting your social media platforms. You don’t have to be everywhere. If you know the two or three specific places where your readers hang out, throw all of your allotted platform time into engaging on those sites. To do anything more is simply a waste of time and energy.

What’s your current #WIP (work in progress)?

I’m currently working on two fantasy novels, Dreamworld and The Dark Between. I’m excited to explore both traditional and self-publishing in the years to come and to share what I learn from those experience with my She’s Novel readers. As such, my plan of action is publish Dreamworld and query for The Dark Between. With any luck, both novels will make their debuts in 2017.

If you’d like to learn more about Dreamworld and The Dark Between, click here to check out my author website.

Cue the applause for Kristen!

I know it can be particularly intimidating for fiction writers to jump into the world of platform-building, so next week I’m going to share a free workbook that will help you put all these thoughts into action. If you feel ready to tackle platform-building head on, but you haven’t a clue where to start, this will definitely be for you!

The workbook is designed to walk you through a brainstorming process to help you get clear on:

  • who your readers are and where you can find them.
  • how you can help them, even if you don’t think you have practical advice to offer.
  • how you can balance writing time and platform time so you don’t lose your mind.
  • how to get started without getting overwhelmed.

Sign up below if you want a copy of the workbook—it’s going to be a fun one!

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6 thoughts on “Do Fiction Writers Need a Platform?

  1. I’ve been looking forward to this post, so I was a little thrilled to see it this morning. I actually read it before my email. I’ve become a real fan of yours over the past few posts. You present your advice and ideas so clearly and logically, and I never fail to learn something useful. Thank you for that.
    I’ve been a follower of Kristen’s for a while too. I had no idea she was in her twenties! Why anyone would send her nasty emails boggles the mind. We’re all just trying to do our best, aren’t we? It’s a shame there are so many small, cruel minds out there.
    I’m off now to spread the word about this great post. I look forward to seeing the workbook, too!

    1. I’m so glad the post lived up to what you were hoping for, Carolyn! And isn’t Kristen great? I think she’s such an asset to the writing community. And I know I’ve been a bit delayed, but that workbook went out today. I would love to hear your thoughts on it and if you found it a helpful exercise!

  2. Connecting with fellow writers and industry leaders is one of the best parts of platform building for sure. And I agree with Kristen. Sometimes platform starts draining more time and energy away from the actual writing.

    I’m going to continue to put serious work into my platform so that, when my books are ready for launch, the readers who’d enjoy them will be ready to receive ’em. Looking forward to the workbook!

    1. It really is one of the best parts! And I think it’s invaluable for any writer to learn their way around the online landscape and master digital marketing. Ten years ago, writers couldn’t easily communicate with readers no matter how much they wanted to. Now we get to be in conversation with our audiences. So go get ’em, Jamae! 🙂

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