The Crazy Journey of the Author Platform

Hey everybody!

I hope this post will give you something to think about as you go about your week. Maybe it will strike a chord or help somehow, because I know this topic is something that all writers think about, even worry about—maybe actually stress about.

I certainly do.

We’ve been told by other writers, agents, and editors that authors need to build a platform—a stage so to speak on which you will put your best face forward. But why? Why does the world need to see us? Isn’t our manuscript enough? Can’t we just stay hidden in the shadows, in our own comfortable world where our book is the main focus?

Well, no. Your manuscript isn’t enough. Sure, it is the most important thing. It’s definitely the most important thing. However, no one will know you have a book to share if you don’t have an author’s platform. Many will argue that you don’t need a platform until after you have a book deal, until your book is contracted to be published. It’s more important to focus your energy on your writing. I’m not a publishing professional so I won’t even attempt to tell you what the right answer is.

I will tell you though, what my experience has been in trying to build my own author’s platform…my own crazy experience. And I have to say it’s been a roller coaster of sorts with it’s ups and downs, twist and turns. Sometimes my decisions have been carefully calculated. Sometimes they’ve been totally impulsive and probably stupid at times. But over the last three years, I’ve worked to create something that resembles an author’s platform, even though I haven’t had a reason to have one. Not yet anyway.

Three years ago, when I was in the process of revising my manuscript (the one currently out on submission) I formulated a plan for creating a website/ blog. I had read everywhere about the mysterious author platform and I knew that I wanted to get started. I was a little naïve back then and thought the whole getting published thing would be a quick sure thing.

As if!

I wondered what I could include on my site that would be of any value and more so what in the world I would ever blog about. It was a really terrifying thought actually. Who would care what I had to say? What did I actually have to say anyway that hadn’t been said so many times before by more experienced writers than myself?

Back then I followed many writing blogs religiously. One of my all time favorites was (and still is) misssnarksfirstvictim.com. I loved the critique rounds for writers. They were supremely helpful to me as I honed my writing craft, but I never planned to create a website for my writing peers. Again, there were plenty of those out there. I did have the idea to create a writing site for young writers though. Having a background in education, I thought it would be awesome if kids who love to write had a resource like adults do.

That became the beginning of my author’s platform. I figured if I could draw the attention of kids, not only could I help them in their quest to write stories, I would also have a landing spot in which to showcase my books someday. I spent months developing the content for the original version of swirl and spark and it was honestly so much fun! I added tabs like Critique Corner, the Book Nook, and Scribble Tips right away. The website/ blog went live the following August and I was excited when I saw any traffic at all. I realized pretty quick though that the curious people (family and friends) will stop by to see what you’ve created, but then they will forget you even have a website and/ or blog within a few weeks!

Hence the roller coaster!

I ran the first Critique Corner for kids the next month and even a few more after that. It was amazing to interact with the kids and to read the great stories they had come up with. The only trouble is, I found it extremely difficult to attract more kids to the site. Why did I not think this would be hard?? The kids who often stopped by or sent their stories in were mostly kids I knew. Friends of my own kids, younger siblings of my kids’ friends, my nieces and nephews…you get the idea.

I was beginning to think the idea for swirl and spark was a bad one. How do I help young writers when they don’t even know about the site? Most kids don’t check out websites or blogs—even the ones who are often online playing games or perusing Instagram.  But just when I was beginning to get discouraged, I met other writers through the site. Other writers apparently enjoyed reading my posts and clicking around the site! Who knew?

The next year, swirl and spark (the site for kids who love to write) evolved into the site for kids and kids at heart who liked to write. Critique Corner became a critique round for beginning writers of any age and each round was successful. In fact, the busiest months (traffic wise) always happened during one of these rounds. I even added a YA Book Nook to appeal to all the writers that stopped by. But what about my author platform? Did it still make sense, now that mostly non-kid writers were hanging out at the site? I had no idea! But I figured as long as people were interested in the content here, it didn’t matter to me. I was learning so much about the writing community and making great friends at the same time so how could that be a bad thing? Besides, it was fun to have a place to talk about writing and books on a weekly basis!

As the year went on, I learned more and more about the point of having an author platform. I learned that the point is not only to bring you exposure, but exposure to your potential readers. Hmm. Well I tried that, and my readers (kids ages 8-12) don’t read blogs. So I thought long and hard about that. Maybe kids don’t read blogs, but their parents and teachers and librarians might. This was an important distinction because in almost all case, kids in the middle grade age group don’t buy their own books. Their parents and teachers and librarians do—or at least guide them in the right direction.

Hmm. That’s when swirl and spark evolved again. I began catering the Critique Corner rounds to writers of middle grade books. I eliminated the YA Book Nook and focused only on middle grade. I even added Spotlight: Tweens and some tools for tweens over at For Tweens Only. Why? Because I realized if I could attract parents and teachers and kids now, maybe they will be interested in buying my book someday when it’s published.

But a funny thing has happened as I’ve been waiting for that elusive book contract—the one that would be the reason to have an author platform in the first place. I realized how much love running this website. Now that it has a real focus (on the tween age group and people who have an interest in tweens), I feel like I’m reaching more people. In fact, now that I’ve started creating hands on activities for tweens, I can’t stop! I have four new activities almost ready to go up on the site. Almost. Stay tuned!

Now the blog is a different story. Blogs are for writing and I’m a writer. I think its important to write about whatever topic you want to write about and that’s what I’ll continue to do. The writers who stop by are my lifeline, the thing that keeps me connected and happy and sane! We all know how crazy this stuff can be. It’s great to connect with other people who can relate!

So here’s the thing. An author’s platform is important. Agents, editors, and publishers want to know that you’re serious about getting the word out about your book. Parents and librarians may want to read about your book and know where they can buy it. So for that reason it is important to have some sort of on-line presence.

But what about Twitter or Facebook? Well, the same is true for those. They can help feed into your platform too. If you develop a strong following there, it can eventually lead people to your website or blog as well.

I’ve learned a few valuable lessons in the two and a half years since swirl and spark was born. First, content is important. Readers will come back if they like what they read. That’s especially important with blogging. If what you say resonates with even one person, then it’s worth it. If you try to sound important, like you know all there is to know on a subject in an attempt to reach a million people, then readers will be turned off…because know one knows all there is to know, especially about writing and publishing!

Second, I’ve learned that if the content you’re putting up on your site doesn’t interest you, you’ll get sick of talking about it real quick. I love talking about tweens. I love talking about great middle grade books. I also like talking about imagination and how it can encourage kids to create and problem solve. I guess the educator in me comes out sometimes. That’s why it’s important for me to keep updating this site with anything I can dream up that will encourage tweens to be the best versions of themselves. And I’m just getting started where that’s concerned.

So is this an author platform that works? Who knows? I’ll let you know when I actually become a published author. But if there’s one thing I can tell you, it’s this. Most of building a strong platform of any kind is trial and error. If you have an idea, try it. If it doesn’t work out, try something else. Do any of you remember Manuscript Mondays? That lasted for almost 30 weeks. In addition to my regular posts, I blogged on Mondays about the status of my new manuscript. The result…well, lets just say that it bored me to tears to write every Monday about the previous week’s drafting progress and from the number of views on the site during that time, I think most readers were bored too! So that was one idea that didn’t work out. I impulsively started blogging one Monday and soon it became a thing. However, sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and try something new.

I hope this information helps at least one of you to understand the rationale behind developing your own author’s platform and also what it really is like to get one started and what it’s like to keep it going. It’s crazy and confusing and amazing! But if you create it with the idea that it can be a fun way to connect with other people, you’re way ahead of the game. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. There’s only your way, and that’s the way that counts!

Have a great week, everyone. I hope to chat with you again soon!

Jackie

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