Year of the Author Platform

So I’m teaching this year-long course on building and maintaining your author platform for work this year, and we’re kicking things off with the first class this Saturday. It’s one of the handful of courses we offer to QWC members only, and it’s a fairly hefty chunk of change besides, so I’m definitely feeling the pressure to make sure it’s worth it. The one thing I hate about doing any kind of writing workshop is getting to the end and thinking, well, I didn’t really need that.

There’s a guest-post up on the QWC blog that explains why we’re doing this as a long course over several months, rather than a one-day workshop on effective blogging or rocking the hell out of twitter. The short version, for the TL:DR crowd, is this: learning the tools is comparatively easy, figuring out how to deploy them over a span of years is hard.

I’ve seen plenty blogs go through the excited rush of posts – long and deadly silence – sorry I haven’t posted in so long cycle over the years. I’ve done it myself, from time to time. Advice about blogging has become one of those sources of writer-guilt, just as the constant repetition of you must write every day can start making you feel like an utter failure when you don’t.

Here’s a little secret about the ways we talk about author platform: it’s a complete fucking mess. It’s become like AE Houseman’s description of poetry, where he argued that he could no more define poetry than a terrier could define a rat, but he still had no problem identifying his quarry when he saw it. We talk about platform and techniques and point to great examples, but we’re absolutely terrible at explaining what it is.

In the last few years I’ve seen exactly one cogent discussion about how to quantify effective author platform, courtesy of Jane Friedman’s blog, and I recommend the post to anyone who has even a passing interest in engaging with the internet via social media.

It also means this blog post is a thoroughly terrible sales pitch, ’cause my default position for talking about platform is embrace the complexity and think about what you really need. 

There are many authors who have developed a broad, effective author platform by running blogs, twitter feeds, and more that update constantly. It’s become the default assumption: be there every day, make sure you’re engaging, become an integral part of the internet.

But posting every day doesn’t ensure you have a great platform. Trying to do so when it doesn’t play to your strengths will just make you crazy and potentially do more harm than good (in the words of my friend Laura Goodin, ask me how I know…). We do it ’cause all the examples of great author platform do it (I’m thinking here of folks like John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig).

There are fifty-two weeks in the year and a whole lot of years in your writing career. When it comes to building an audience  we’re all playing a long game. Figure out where you want to be, figure out how you can get there, and use that as a starting point. Start ignoring the conventional wisdom and start doing the things that make sense for you. If that’s posting every day, rock on. If you’ve only got an hour a week go get things done, we can work with that too.

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