5 Things You Should Be Doing to Build a Platform as a Writer

A “platform” as a writer refers to the channels you use to engage with your audience. The more channels you use and the more people you engage with regularly, the bigger your platform is. So as a writer, you want to create a platform that is as large as possible so you have a great reach to lots of readers. To build that platform, here’s what to do:

1. Create your author website/blog.

This gives you a place to drop pieces of your writing so you can direct people to a portfolio. It also offers the opportunity to interact with readers through comments, polls, giveaways, or other fun events. Just about every publisher, agent, or editor will want you to have a website if you start pitching, so you might as well get it established early so you can show good history and activity.

But one of the most important parts of having your site/blog is the ability to build an email list. Putting a simple subscribe button on the site and linking it to a reliable email subscriber service (e.g. AWeber) means that you can contact your readers or followers any time you have something to announce. You also can send convenient newsletters and include social media buttons so people can follow you on those accounts.

2. Interact on social media.

This isn’t just logging in and dropping links to your blog posts. It means going in and posting things that show readers who you are and what you are up to in a transparent and authentic way. Find some good writing groups to join and post on their pages. Share links that might be helpful, such as an upcoming book sale on an online site, a book-to-movie trailer or a great video about storytelling. Share fan art or ask what people think about different books, conferences, or techniques.

The basic rule here is that, although it is OK to throw in a little self-promotion, always do it in a way that makes the value to your reader clear. Don’t only self-promote, because nobody likes to be sold to all the time. Focus on creating a relationship with people and they will read you by default. Make sure that you choose your groups selectively, as well, because the reality is you are going to do better checking into a handful of pages consistently than signing up for a bunch you never have time to go to.

3. Talk to people.

This might mean going to a conference or attending a group at your library. But it also means reaching out to other writers and professionals in the industry to share resources and gratitude. Once you have a little bit of a connection going, then you can ask for mutual favors, such as referrals, beta reading, or an introduction.

4. Publish cross-platform.

Ever hear that old saying, work smarter, not harder? As a writer, that means repurposing content across different channels. For instance, sites like Medium typically allow you to repost your pieces on other sites after a certain period of time. You simply copy some or all of the content into the new platform and include a little blurb about where it first appeared, along with a link to the original version. The only caveat is that you need to do some minor tweaks, such as swapping out your headline, so that Google doesn’t see the new post as an exact copy and drop the page in search results. Don’t worry too much about the duplication, though, because a lot of your new readers will discover your content through the specific channel’s main pages, feeds, or search features. Others will already be following you and thus will have opted in to see when you post something new.

Remember, too, that cross-platform doesn’t mean only writing-based activity. Lots of writers, for example, now have podcasts where they read pieces verbatim or discuss their original content on the fly. The same is true for video sites like Youtube or doing livestreams. It is a terrific way to expose completely new audiences to the same ideas and concepts and bring them into your community, AND it can allow you to reach people who have specific difficulties such as visual impairment.

5. Be a guest speaker.

You don’t have to get up in front of hundreds of people here, although you certainly can if that invigorates you. Options like webinars, podcasts, or hosting a workshop at your local library all are good opportunities to show others your expertise as a writer. The key is that you have to let others know you are available! Don’t be afraid to ask if people can use you, and be confident in yourself enough to sell your strengths and experiences well.

Platform building takes real effort. There’s no beating around the bush about that. But if you create real strategies around the points above (e.g., scheduling 20 minutes a day to interact with the social media groups you sign up for, aiming to cold email one person or organization every day), then slowly but surely, the foundation solidifies. Be patient, show your grit, and never put down your tools.

Bored as a Writer? This Is Probably Why

Girl photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com

You know the feeling. You stare at your computer screen (or your pad of paper) and just think, “Meh.”

It’s “boredom” in all its ugly glory. But does this feeling really mean you’re not interested in putting words to the page anymore? Should you stop prioritizing your writing because of it and move on to something else?

The usefulness of boredom–and the trouble with writing

Boredom is a useful emotion that signals us that, for whatever reason, the task we’re doing isn’t worth our time. Put another way, it’s about perception and reward. Applied to writing, if we don’t feel like the writing is going to yield anything good, if we can’t see that there’s an achievable benefit, then we can feel like the job is ho-hum and lose motivation.

The issue is that, unlike some other jobs, reaching goals like finding an agent or landing a book contract can be ridiculously difficult. We can go days, weeks, or even months without a sale. Rejections can be so plentiful that we start taking the suggestion to use all the “no” letters as wallpaper seriously. Beta readers might have great insights you take to heart, but positive feedback doesn’t come as consistently as it might from coworkers or a boss.

It all starts to seem like there’s no point.

It’s normal to need some wins to stay motivated

If you step back a bit, you might realize that the feeling of boredom you have really is simply that you’re antsy to have something happen. You’re still in love with the craft. It’s just that people naturally want to do things that other people acknowledge. It gives us a sense of belonging and identity. We’re always looking for that. You just need some confirmation that, if you keep putting in the work, then people will admit that it’s part of you and actually useful.

2 tips for eliminating “meh” and getting excited about your writing again

I explored the need for you to have a support group in a previous post. The better your support group is, the less likely it is that you’ll probably get bored with your writing. If you don’t have a great support group yet, though, then it’s incredibly important to reward yourself for the writing you finish. Give yourself something to look forward to related to the page, even if it’s just a drive-thru coffee you normally wouldn’t splurge on, so you can make positive associations with the work.

It also can help to put your work away. Looking at the same drafts over and over again can start to seem monotonous really fast, which can contribute to boredom. Setting your work aside for a little while and then coming back to it can help you see it with fresh eyes and keep it feeling novel (pun intended).

You’re still meant to put words to the page, so do it

The bottom line is, don’t let a feeling of boredom convince you that writing isn’t what you’re meant to do. Instead, make sure that you’re getting rewarded for it, whether by others or on your own. Be able to rotate out what you’re working on so it doesn’t seem like you’re stuck in a rut so much. By building in variety and giving yourself positive confirmations of value, you’ll stay happy and motivated to write.

How Sunk Cost Keeps You Reading (and Writing) Bad Books

 

People photo created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com

For a lot of jobs, once you reach a certain point, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to stop. Whatever you’ve already invested demands that you keep going, or else you’ll probably end up taking some kind of loss.

This is known as sunk cost. And unfortunately, it doesn’t just apply to work. It applies to your reading list, too. It easily can keep bad books in your hands.

What basically happens is, you pick up a book, get a little way into it, and realize that it’s just not lighting any fireworks for you. But whatever the issue might be (e.g., poorly developed characters), you look at how many pages you’ve finished or the amount of time you’ve already committed, and you think that you’ll somehow be in the hole if you don’t keep going until the last page.

Or, let me rephrase–sunk cost just keeps you reading bad books.

Of course, sunk cost applies to writers as they create, too. You might feel so invested in a concept, for example, that you keep trying to finish it no matter how many truly unfixable flaws the book has. This issue can get worse over time, because the book can get wrapped up in your entire identity and self-concept as a writer–if you don’t finish, you think, then you’re not serious enough or have to let go of something meaningful for you.

3 horrible consequences of sunk cost in reading and writing

It’s bad enough that sunk cost related to reading robs you of your immediate joy. But an equally insufferable problem is that, because you commit your time to the bad book, you’re locked out of other good ones. And that’s an incredible disservice to the writers who really deserve to be discovered and enjoyed.

This issue has been around practically since books first became mainstream. But I think it’s gotten worse with the growth of self-publishing. Don’t misunderstand here–I think self-publishing can be a beautiful thing and put power back in the hands of writers where it belongs. But because it is so easy, there also are plenty of people putting out content that’s mediocre at best. So readers have more opportunities and options, but the noise is louder, and it can be harder to figure out which writers are worth a risk.

On the writer side, if you can’t let go of a bad concept that you’ve transferred onto your sense of skill or who you are, then you might never move forward to ideas that honestly are better and have more potential of bringing income and fame. You can deliver an inaccurate representation of what your best is, and as a result, struggle to be taken seriously.

How readers and writers both work against the problem

If you’re a reader, then combat sunk cost with three basic strategies:

  • Read reviews–lots of them. No matter what you’ve been hearing about the book through the grapevine overall, get a balance of the 5 and 1 star ratings. This will help you feel like it’s OK to go against the grain of the popular opinion if needed.
  • Scan the table of contents to make sure that the entire book truly covers what you need or are interested in, or scan a few pages or paragraphs from different spots within the text to get a basic sense of the writer’s voice and delivery.
  • Set a test boundary you can apply consistently to any text. For example, if you’re not sucked into the book in x pages or minutes, then you’ll put it back on the shelf.

And if you’re a writer, lean on these tips to improve your manuscripts:

  • Use beta readers through your entire writing process. There always will be outlier opinions, sure, but feedback can help eliminate most of the issues that disappoint readers long before your final copy is available, and you often can apply what you learn to your next book.
  • Advertise transparently. It’s tempting to try to pigeonhole your work into a neat box you know buyers respond to, but if you are absolutely clear what the book is for or about, readers are more likely to feel confident in the selection. Bait and switches don’t earn you any long-term loyalty or referrals.
  • Throw quantity out the window. This means that a book takes however long it takes to get right, and that you don’t try to quantify success by how many titles you’re cranking out. Being prolific is not necessarily synonymous with being a truly great storyteller.
  • Hone your elevator pitch. Regardless of whether you like to outline everything down to the paragraph or fly by the seat of your pants, if you can’t pinpoint the key message of your book in one to three sentences, then you’re just not ready to write it. Period. And remember, the pitch is a summary. It is NOT a wistful or idealistic expression of your intent for the text (e.g., “I want readers to feel”; “I want to create a book that…”).

As a reader, you have more books at your disposal than you ever could finish in a lifetime. But life is too short to spend it committed to bad ones. Don’t let sunk cost make the experience of reading suck. And if you’re a writer, work hard to make sure that readers are sticking with you because you’ve done something exceptional, not because they feel like it’s too late to turn back. The easier it is for you to toss ho-hum or unworkable ideas in the trash, the more you’ll create work that’s truly awe-inspiring.

Why Classifying Books According to Genre Needs to Die

Sale photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com

If you go to agent or publisher websites, a common call is for writers to create something entirely fresh, something that doesn’t fit the usual molds. But even with those statements, I’m not entirely convinced that the publishing world or general public has abandoned genre classifications as much as agencies and houses would have people believe.

For starters, bookstores, websites and libraries still label books based on traditional genres to make it easier for people to find what they are looking for. And if you query as an author through tools like QueryTracker or other online forms, the tool almost always require you to smoosh your book into a category. Agents and publishers also want to know what genre you’re working with and show that you understand how your book fits that target niche or compares to previously published works. They expect a summary for that in query letters and proposals, and most of them are very clear on the site which genres they do or do not work with.

I absolutely understand the need for a system of organization. But what if, for example, I have a mystery set in an earlier period, something a la Enola Holmes? Is that a mystery or a historical? What if I have a love story set in outer space? Is that science fiction or romance? Or what about books that challenge social conceptions or time? The recently released “Bridgerton” on Netflix, for example, is based on Julia Quinn’s novels, but since it is an intentionally contemporary spin on the 1800s era, is it too inaccurate to be a regency anymore?

Some books do fit very neatly into categories. But many do not. They are like sporks in a utensil drawer, simultaneously belonging and not belonging for their “oddity”. And as a writer, I see the current mode of labeling as being truly problematic. If my book does bend genres, it can be very difficult to present it according to the tools and expectations agents, publishers and book stores all have. It even can be hard to determine whether certain agents or houses would want to accept a query, which then can create additional work for authors who submit a preliminary inquiry before formally introducing the manuscript.

But perhaps even more concerning than presentation or organization is the conflicting message of creativity and adherence to group. Writers who are continually forced to slap labels on their work for the sake of the label might mentally limit themselves regarding what their books can be. They might start to think of themselves as this type of writer or that, when in fact a good writer isn’t a “type” of anything–they can write whatever they da-n well please.

We perhaps could solve the issue simply by creating tools that allow writers and others to select an “Uncategorized” or “Genre-Bending” classification. Explaining the mashup with references rather than a label, such as X Book + Y Book, could work in queries, store placement and promotional materials. But such a shift requires people to let go of the knee-jerk desire to mentally classify to a high degree. The freedom we could gain, however, could be truly transformative in terms of what ends up on the page.

Why I Hate Pay-to-Read Websites

Metal photo created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com

I bet you’ve done it. Click on a link to a site like The New York Times or Medium, only to have it tell you that you need to buy a subscription to keep reading, or that you’re out of free articles for the month.

Lamest. Move. Ever.

I’m not pretending that these organizations don’t need to make money. They do. They can’t pay their writers and other staff otherwise, and I believe heavily in fair pay for everything involved in bringing stories to readers.

The trouble is, whether these organizations like it or not, pay-to-read means that it becomes significantly harder for people who are in lower income groups to participate and understand what the publications are covering.

Libraries are a vital combatant in this fight for equality, providing access to patrons, but this situation still can create real difficulties for people of all ages who want reliable information necessary to make informed choices. Especially now considering COVID-19, traditional workarounds through library access might no longer be as accessible for those who can’t afford their own computer or mobile device.

And while a person might be able to afford $2 or $3 a month for a membership, they might not be able to cover the cost of the device and Internet access necessary to use that membership. Remember, too, even $2 or $3 over a dozen or so sites–which you’d want for more variety and objective research/learning–can make someone in poverty or who is living paycheck to paycheck look hard at their budget. It’s significant money to them.

Mobile workers who have to move through the day as part of their work also need a reliable way to access important news reports, journal articles and other information. This is especially true when some of those publications, such as Forbes, have such an industry reputation that they’re held up as examples of reliability for journalistic standards and acceptable referencing. In some instances, subscription requirements might mean that an individual has to use less desirable pieces in their source list or can’t quote an original source, which can make their work appear to be less thorough or accurate. And if you are trying to freelance or start your career, trustworthy sources is one of the only things that gets an editor to take you seriously.

One other consideration for writers and contributors is that, if a user encounters a paywall they don’t want or can’t deal with, that user isn’t going to see the writer’s content. They’re just going to click away. So it’s potentially harder to get their voice out there, build a reputation and gain a loyal following that presents new opportunities, especially when real growth happens when readers start backlinking to and sharing the existing work. It inevitably works against writers who are paid per view, as well.

So what are publications supposed to do? They can’t just expect everyone to work for free. A better balance might be found in donation-based operations, such as support organizations like National Public Radio. General donations could come from users, but also from independent non-profit organizations or investors in industries related to the publication. The publications simply would need to make their affiliations clear in public disclosure statements or tax forms. Publications also could look for support such as specific grants. Users also could cover the cost of someone else’s subscription as a randomized gift, with those in need applying to receive those gifts and matched based on wait list time or consideration of need in specific demographics/communities.

If publications don’t want to do donations, then they potentially could find some funding by getting more stringent about what they publish and how much. Investing in systems that could automate certain steps also could allow companies to trim costs and let workers focus more on the creative side of the content, no reduction in hours or pay required. Developing partnerships/syndications is yet another option.

Of course, all this fundraising takes time and resources, too. Organizations have to find ways to convince all users to do their part if they can, rather than to assume other users will pick up the slack. But publications that take this approach to get rid of paywalls stand to broaden their readership a significant degree. More importantly, having access to information–all information–is part of what helps people make meaningful contributions to their communities and the world. That’s worth finding creative means of support.

 

Is Technology Killing the Printed Book?

These days, it’s challenging to find someone who doesn’t get at least a little daily screen time in one way or another, what with Kindles, smartphones, laptops, iPads and the like so readily available. The convenience of these devices is unquestionable, considering the amount of information and number of applications consumers can get. This raises the question of whether technology is killing one of my favorite things–the hard copy book.

The first fact writers and readers have to accept is that an electronic version of a book doesn’t necessarily have to connect to a print copy–that is, a publisher can opt to publish something solely in electronic form. This means that publishers won’t release some writing in hard copy format, ever, and from that standpoint, technology can limit the number of printed books out there. On the other hand, the reduced cost of e-publishing means that publishers can entertain more authors, so while the number of printed books might not reach its full potential, the number of works available in general goes up. That’s not a bad thing in an age when literacy is a hot topic in education circles.

Even though publishers can save a lot of money by putting out electronic books, they have some strong reasons to keep the more expensive print presses rolling. Lots of people like traditional hard copies of books simply because of the emotional and aesthetic aspects of holding them, flipping pages and even taking in the aroma of the paper and ink. These are things a digital copy of a book simply can’t offer. Some people also prefer hard copies because they can so easily write their own notes in the margins or highlight text. Additionally, certain types of books do not lend themselves as well to electronic formatting. A book on art, for example, might be better appreciated if the pictures in the books are not reduced in size due to screen size constraints. These types of books often hog the resources of a viewing device and have slow load times, or they might require plugins or additional applications for viewing to occur properly. Another good example is children’s books, because kids can be hard on electronics and often benefit from hands-on activities.

woman reading to child
Ebooks might not be suitable for everyone and might eliminate some aesthetic positives associated with reading.

Lower income individuals also can be at a disadvantage with strictly e-publishing, because it costs significant amounts to purchase and replace the devices that read the electronic files. Before publishers can eliminate print publishing completely, they have to address the problem of class and financial divides–failure to do so might widen educational and literacy gaps. This is particularly relevant to academic publishers. Lastly, some individuals might not be comfortable with electronic documents or devices, such as the elderly or those with a disability requiring special formatting or printing.

All these things considered, technology certainly is changing the way people read, and it’s giving people more options about what to read. But because technology is never perfect, it likely will be a long time before the hard copy book gets completely phased out.