I loved seeing the lively debate happening on last week’s post about the need for an author platform. Is it just nonfiction writers who need to be concerned about platform? Or will the platform-pressure rise for fiction writers as the industry changes?
My guess? I see platforms becoming increasingly important for even fiction writers over the next few years. Look at the new crop of mega stars like John Green and Maureen Johnson–they’ve mastered the art of authentically connecting with fans. And this idea of “authentically connecting with fans” is really what platform is about. It’s not about shameless self-promotion, building a sales page for your book, or really, about selling your book at all. It’s about caring about the people who read your work, wanting to get to know them, and relishing your conversations with them. The Economist captured the new authorpreneurship movement well last week:
Authors are becoming more like pop stars, who used to make most of their money selling albums but who now use their recordings as promotional tools, earning a living mainly from concerts. The trouble with many budding writers is that they are not cut out for this new world. They are often introverts, preferring solitude to salesmanship. Readers these days want to get to know the creators of the books they buy. Diffident authors may feel uncomfortable with getting so close to their fans. But only the likes of Ms Lee can afford to stay mysterious.
One of my all-time favorite blogs is Zen Habits by Leo Babauta. It’s amazing because it’s different–just look at the main page, and you’re instantly struck by how it looks nothing like anything else on the internet. No ads, no images, no lists of posts, very few links, and no social media icons. It’s just one post on a blank page, with a few links that lead you to years and years of archived posts. It’s quiet in a noisy world. As much as I always tell my authors about the importance of design, this is the perfect example that website design doesn’t have to be cookie cutter–it just has to be impactful.
Lucky for us, the writing on Zen Habits is just as impactful. Leo’s such a master of condensing so much knowledge and inspiration into just a few short sentences. Makes my long-winded self jealous! And I also think his approach to writing as a profession, particularly writing on the internet, is incredible. He went the traditional route for a while, running a blog with ads and writing a book with a traditional publisher, then decided the whole thing just wasn’t jibing with his minimalist values. So he uncopyrighted his blog posts (more on this here), pulled all his ads, and refocused on helping his readers in a more direct way. He moved his business model to one of building value with his readers, so that now they directly support his business by signing up for his great e-courses and buying his ebooks, instead of having third parties, like advertisers, support the business. It’s both a radical idea and a simple idea–not too different from a business model like that of NPR, where the emphasis is on serving the public, and then inspiring the public to support you back.
Now. Always, always now.
I was at a writer’s conference this weekend full of fabulous, motivated writers who were eager to crack the code of publishing. They had spent months, sometimes years, on their manuscripts, and they had worked extremely hard to polish those manuscripts and proposals to a perfect shine.
But, on occasion, I also heard a familiar refrain, one I hear often in the hundreds of query letters I receive a week: “My website is in the works…” “I plan to launch social media accounts …” “I will create a site to promote…”
The truth is, “I will…” has very little weight with publishers, agents, retailers, or any other gatekeeper. “I have…” is what we want to hear. “I have…” means you’re committed; you’re all in; you’re creating a community of customers now, before you even have a product.