Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Platforms Are Made To Stand On

Anyone can write.  The purpose of this post is to presume that you’d like to make way into monetizing your work.  The percentage of authors who make a consistent living from their writing alone is quite slim.  It’s good to have that goal but very helpful to have other things to offer such as speaking skills, professional services and expertise that is of interest in the industry.  This is where platform building is best done, but it’s a daunting task so let’s try to make some sense of it and how to create a plan that will work for you.

Building Blocks of a Platform

  • A website and/or blog with a large readership
  • An e-newsletter and/or mailing list with a large number of subscribers/recipients
  • Article/column writing for the media—preferably for larger outlets within the writer’s specialty
  • Guest contributions to successful websites, blogs, and periodicals
  • A track record of strong book sales
  • Individuals of influence that you know—personal contacts (organizational, media, celebrity, relatives) who can help you market through blurbs, promotion, or other means
  • Public speaking appearances—the bigger, the better
  • An impressive social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, and the like)
  • Membership in organizations that support the successes of their own
  • Recurring media appearances and interviews—in print, on the radio, on TV, or online
Statistics of an author platform:
  • Expertise – 25%
  • Contacts – 10%
  • Social media – 10%
  • Previous media – 10%
  • Previous books – 10%
  • Personality – 10%
  • Existing readership – 10%
  • Ability to execute – 15%
o   Statistics provided by Brooke Warner, She Writes Press
What editors and agents typically mean by platform
They’re looking for someone with visibility and authority who has proven reach to a target audience.  Let’s break this down further.
§  Visibility. Who knows you?  Who is aware of your work and where does it appear?  How does it spread?  What communities are you a part of?  Who do you influence?
§  Authority. What’s your credibility and credentials?   (This is particularly important for nonfiction writers; it is less important for fiction writers, though it can play a role)
§  Proven reach. It’s not enough to SAY you have visibility. You have to show where you make an impact and give proof of engagement. This could be quantitative evidence (e.g., size of your e-mail newsletter list, website traffic, blog comments) or qualitative evidence (high-profile reviews, testimonials from A-listers in your genre).
§  Target audience. You should be visible to the most receptive or appropriate audience for the work you’re trying to sell. For instance: If you have proven reach to orthodontists, that probably won’t be helpful if you’re marketing vampire fiction.
What a platform is not:
  • Self promotion
  • hard selling.
  • It is not about annoying people.
  • being an extrovert.
  • being active on social media.
  •  It is not something you create overnight.
  • It is not something you can buy.
  •  It is not a one-time event.
  • It is not about your qualifications, authority, or experience, although these are tools for growing or nurturing a platform.
  • It is not more important than your story or message (but hopefully it grows out of that).
Platform is not about bringing attention to yourself, or by screaming to everyone you can find on or offline, “Look at me! Look at me!” Platform isn’t about who yells the loudest or who markets the best.  It is more about putting in consistent effort over the course of a career, and making incremental improvements in extending your network.
o   Source: Jane Friedman

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Guest: Alon Shalev - Authors Are Funny People

Book Signing Games of BerkeleyAuthors are funny people. Really. Some are socially awkward. We take that for granted given that they sit alone behind a keyboard for long hours and live in alternative realities. Still…

I recently participated in an authors’ fair and, to be clear, most presenters were lovely, social people. I think I just happened to be sandwiched between the um…more interesting ones. I could just see the sympathetic looks I received from other authors around the room safely ensconced behind their tables.

Here is a list: What Not To Do at an Authors’ Fair.
  • Don’t hog the microphone. Seven minutes of Open Mic might be 10, but they sure ain’t 20.
  • Don’t walk up to someone’s table and lecture them how they really must read your book, especially if it is not connected to their genre. Actually, just don’t do it.
  • Either compliment their book covers or don’t say anything. This is a book fair, not an art show.
  • If you say you accept credit cards, make sure you can. Have the app open and ready (and don’t ask the author at the next table to swipe on their phone for you).
  • Do not ask an author to put your promotional material on their table even if you write in the same genre.
  • If you get a phone call when another author is presenting, take it outside. Better yet, if you need someone to tell you that, don’t come back!
  • We understand why you need to eat during a long event, but go wash your sticky fingers before you fondle our book covers.
  • “I’ll swap with you.” Don’t offer to swap books with an author who is making a living from this, especially when there is no genre connection. Go to a Swapmeet.
  • Don’t spend your time telling us how really successful authors in your genre don’t know what they are doing. Sell a few million books first. Then we’ll listen … maybe.
I remember reading a collected work of the musings of Sir Terry Pratchett, who passed away last year. I have to admit never experiencing what he did. During a Book Show, he went to the bathroom and someone passed a copy of his book under the cubical door and asked him to sign!

Guess I have nothing to complain about, eh Terry?

Alon Shalev is the author of magical realism, fantasy and social issue themed fiction.  Click here to explore his work and here for Shalev's popular blog.  He can be found on Twitter at @elfwriter 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Chances Are...

An amazing thing happened last night on my way to another ho-hum day.  

I attended another lecture in another city, and truthfully I didn't even know what the lecture was going to be about or who the speaker was, only that I'd committed to being there.  It has been a blistering long week of meetings and administrative work and other boring things that writers never really talk about in the light of day.  On my drive over, I realized I hadn't stocked up on business cards nor had I brought along my bag of books.  Upon arrival, I frantically searched my car for any back ups, and found one copy of each book buried in my back seat under a pile of half-drunk Diet Dr Peppers, emergency snacks and a box of Kleenex. 

I was tired and overworked and the glow of compliments from my own presentation last month was beginning to fade.  As I settled in to my seat and listened to the introduction of Mr. Sterling Anderson, an Emmy and NAACP award recipient among his awards for screenwriting and other works, I thought crap, I should have been better prepared!  Because I always work better on my spurs, I immediately went to work using my favorite tool (my always-in-hand-phone) to research Mr. Anderson as he told his glory stories, explained what makes a standout scene and echoed my own instructional philosophies on various other elements such as the purpose of dialogue (a way for a character to be seen/heard and expressing what they want which propels the story forward).  In just a few minutes, I knew that his work was being featured in an upcoming new television series, his nickname was Yoda, that his novel was one I wanted to read, his social media presence could use a little work, and that his Hollywood stories had merit.  When the time came for Q&A, I pointed my questions in that direction and therefore put myself in direct line with the speaker before me.  I was able to connect on a more personal level.  The expression on Sterling's face was its own reward when I read aloud a passage from his novel and asked what had inspired it. 

Sometimes we need to take chances.

One of my best pitches ever to a potential client was at another lecture and announced his project in progress to the audience and said he'd be looking for help, namely an editor.  I promptly got on my tablet, looked up his website and jotted down a page of notes on what worked and what needed improvement.  When I approached him later that evening, I lobbed a soft pitch for my services, asked how open was he to constructive criticism and at his invitation I handed over my notes.  It's now a pending contract.

As I stood in line last night to have Sterling sign the books I'd purchased (yes, including his novel), I kept cursing myself for not having business cards on hand.  Before I could say anything to the man, he looked me in the eye and said "Thank you for those great questions!"  I again said how much I appreciate the theme to his book of using our time wisely and curving with life's road, that it's something I write about a lot.  "That's great, are your books available somewhere?" 

Um, what?

In my best think-fast voice, I said "Yes, they are.  I also happen to have copies with me.  Because, you know, every self-respecting author keeps their books in the trunk of their car." 

And that's how I put my books in the hands of an Emmy award winning professional screenwriter.  Now, nothing more may ever come of it, but after having a lively conversation with him and his family as he asked me to sign both books, I felt an enormous sense of pride in myself.  I'd taken a chance, struck up a conversation, found inspiration, made a connection, and now had something to show for it. 

If anything, this amazing story.

Paying the bridge toll for the stranger behind me on my way to the lecture sure did pay me back in fortune.  I am rich in the opportunities that have come my way through this writer's life.  They might not be on a grand scale of things, but that's okay.  It is a legacy that I'm proud to own.

Quote from Five Seconds To Go by Sterling Anderson