by Bentley Clark
I first heard the term “writer’s platform” in 2009 at the annual From Start to Sales Writers Conference at UNM Continuing Education in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As I am given to daydreaming, I imagined a café at a London train station populated with authors feverishly writing in poetically tattered Moleskines.
The term “writer’s platform” is now ubiquitous in writing publications and at writer’s conferences. In an effort to educate myself on the matter, I have recently read innumerable articles defining the writer’s platform and attempting to clarify its purpose.
The most concise definition I found comes from Christina Katz:
“Your platform communicates your expertise to others.”
And the purpose of this platform? Well, to get you published, of course. Rumor has it that an effective writer’s platform can market you, your craft and your expertise even whilst you sleep. Almost better than that, it can create a built-in audience for your future publications—an audience that will buy your work without the publisher having to do anything more than typeset your words and print them on paper.
By my count, then, there are really only two elements to an effective writer’s platform: communication and expertise. And while I know that neither of these is a terribly complicated concept, when you throw technology and the information super-highway into the mix, I become bewildered, confused and, quite frankly, creatively constipated.
Now, communication I get: I can send e-mail and I can operate a cell phone (so long as it isn’t “smart”). Only, that’s not really what any of the articles mean by communication. They are, in fact, referring to this very small, entirely approachable and not the least bit intimidating list:
- Guest posts
- YouTube-style videos
- Speaking engagements
- Published articles
- Media interviews
- Social networking
- Free e-books
- Spin-off products
- Teaching classes
Look, that’s a lot of work. And, honestly, I am lucky to keep my full-time job, cook an occasional meal, and keep my pets fed while simultaneously publishing one article a month and penning a couple of really bad, really short stories. Of the items on this list, I have: 1) this column; 2) a Twitter account that I don’t use; and 3) a Facebook page that is frequented primarily by family members and high school friends. That’s about 21% of the communication I’m supposed to be putting out there in order to build my platform. That’s failure on anyone’s grade scale.
And what exactly am I supposed to be communicating? My expertise, apparently. The thing that sets me apart from other writers. The thing that has landed me my (theoretical) built-in audience: my loyal blog subscribers, Facebook fans, Twitter followers and enlightened students.
Only… I’m not sure I have any expertise. No. Really. I have been racking my brain over this for several weeks. What am I an expert in? I have mastered filling a hot water bottle with boiling water without burning myself. I know a thing or two about baking really delightful popovers. And I can fold a fitted sheet like a pro. But are any of these the expertise that I can build a platform on? I think not. Perhaps I am meant for a platformless life.
For reassurance and guidance, I turn again to Christina Katz:
“In my opinion, it’s a platform connected to a person’s inner reality rather than some clever juxtaposition of external ideas or a volcanic explosion of personality that [is] the most compelling and lasting….”
Well, now, that’s something I can work with. I definitely have an inner reality. It is filled with frilly pillows, empire-waist dresses, china teacups, and string quartets. And goodness knows I wouldn’t begin to know how to cleverly juxtapose external ideas, and I would never want my personality to volcanically explode under any circumstances.
So, in short: I am failing to effectively communicate my indiscernible expertise. But I can be reticent and unfocused and still be successful, right?
One last return to Christina Katz for a much-needed pep talk:
“If you don’t have a mission or a purpose or a raison d’etre, then guess what? No one is going to listen to you. And why should they? There is an awful lot of noise out there and people have personal lives and they can’t spend the entire day staring into their computers waiting for you to say something or inspire them to action or entertain them or whatever it is that your writing sets out to accomplish.”
Argh! I’m doomed! Doomed, I tell you!
Bentley Clark isn’t sure whether the phrase is “racking my brain” or “wracking my brain.” You can assist her with the distinction by leaving a comment below.
This article was originally published in the March 2012 issue of SouthWest Sage, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.
Image “Out Of One\’s Head, Relax The Brain” courtesy of thaikrit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net