The term ‘writer’s platform’ has been floating about for years. Every writer needs one, we are told. You’ll never get published otherwise. And even if you have been published, it’s critical to future success. No matter how good a writer you are, you’re dead in the water without a solid platform.
Yes and no. But more about that later.
There’s no doubt that agents and publishers are attracted to someone with a strong writer’s platform, but first, what is the meaning of the phrase? There are numerous definitions. In mathematical terms (did I mention I have a chemistry background?), here’s my own:
Writer’s platform = W (your writing) + V (your visibility as a writer) + N (the personal and professional networks you cultivate)
A writer’s platform represents your viability, your worth on the writer’s stock market if you will. When purchasing a commodity (the writing you produce), agents and publishers (business people, essentially) assess the value of your current work and pit the quality of your writing against potential net returns it offers in the future. Proving that you have the ability to reach your target audience and that you have visible, vibrant connections to those who will purchase what you write makes you – and your product if it is excellent and timely – attractive to agents and publishers who might front your project.
Creating a solid writer’s platform takes energy and time. There is no one size fits all, no one right approach, and no quick and easy method. For illustration purposes and because I can’t speak for anyone but myself, I’ll use my own situation as an example of how these components work together.
W – Writing
Your current piece of writing – the one you are marketing – is the most important element here. If it is shabby, ill-conceived, or heaven forbid in the case of non-fiction, inaccurate, then the rest of your platform matters little. But also important in the W department is the legacy you carry. Because I frequently write non-fiction for kids – much of it from a pool of science, history and true adventure – it helps that I have a science degree, was once a teacher who worked with youngsters the same age as my target audience, and have a list of credible titles under my belt. While these details might not be important for say poets or romance writers, they add authority to my non-fiction, making the W part of the equation more attractive.
V – Visibility
What is your impact as a writer? Can you give proof of your engagement? For my V, it helps that I belong to several professional writer’s associations and groups, and that a number of these are specific to my youth genre. Also a plus, I’ve maintained contacts in schools and libraries, participated in book tour circuits, presented at conferences, festivals and in schools, judged writing contests and so on. These are V components – visibility factors. Again, these will be different for writers of other genres.
N – Networking
I have a personal website. I write this blog, too. These are evidence of a wider reach – the N or networking component of my writer’s platform. Some of the elements in my V list could also count here – participating in writer’s groups, for example. I’m slowly incorporating other N elements that many say are important to a writer’s platform – Facebook, Linked In, Goodreads, Pinterest – the list is long and getting longer.
Based on my own experience, it’s easy to get sidetracked in the N department. When I find time slipping through my fingers as I peruse Facebook, tone up my Goodreads bio, or pin images to my boards, I try to remind myself of their place in the scheme of things. No amount of networking (or even visibility) matters if the writing I do falls flat.
According to Jane Friedman, a prominent blogger and the CEO and Co-founder of Open Road Integrated Media, building a solid writer’s platform is a career-long endeavor. In her opinion, much of the emphasis to jump start the process early is overblown:
If you’re a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, memoir, poetry, or any type of narrative-driven work, forget you ever heard the word platform. I think it’s causing more damage than good. It’s causing writers to do things that they dislike (even hate), and that are unnatural for them at an early stage of their careers. They’re confused, for good reason, and platform building grows into a raging distraction from the work at hand—the writing! (2013 post, Writer Unboxed)