The great thing about Independent Publishing (or self publishing, if you prefer) is that we can do things our way. That means we can spend hours and hours researching tips, tricks, and ideas, and then we can toss our heads figuratively, and completely ignore it. Come on, we’re being honest here, and we’ve all ignored some big chunk of, generally, very sage advice and later been left going, “Oh. Well. Hmmm.”
One such piece of advice that gets ignored is the Author Platform. Ruth Ann recently did a couple of excellent posts on this, and if you missed them I recommend backtracking. They give suggestions for building your platform, and tell you about all of the benefits of having one. But, being a person who loves both sides of the coin, and who happens to have experience at this, I felt the need to tell you what happens when you don’t have one.
I can best explain an Author Platform by saying it’s the top “things” that come to mind when someone thinks of your body of work. For instance, when I think of Steven King I come up with: 1.Horror or Paranormal. 2. Realistically detailed (aka all those bathroom scenes and such) and 3. Long. That could be considered Steven King’s Author Platform. If you’re familiar with this and you pick up one of his books, you know it’s going to be either Horror or Paranormal, you know that injuries, bodily functions and meandering thoughts will be painstakingly described, and you know it will be long. None of these things come as a surprise.
Of course, platforms extend to every body of work in existence. For example if you go to see a Tim Burton movie you know it will be 1.Weird/creepy. 2. Have people with black rings around their eyes and 3.Be just a little skewed. If you buy an album from HIM you know there will be 1.Synthesizers. 2. The word “grave” and 3. A lot of songs about love.
Aside from just “telling you what to expect”, a platform also helps fans find, and enjoy things they like. If someone bought a King novel, or a HIM album, or a Tim Burton movie and it didn’t have these things, they’d likely be disappointed and turned off because, chances are, that’s what they wanted.
A common misconception is that so long as you’re blogging and putting out books, it’s impossible not to have some sort of author platform, even without trying. Technically, that’s correct, but your platform might then be something like 1. Has good descriptions 2. Writes in coherent sentences and 3. Knows how to sprinkle some humor in. If you’re looking for a certain kind of book, an author with that kind of platform probably isn’t going to draw your attention, is it? Not that these are bad things, but with a platform like that, the author might be writing anything from vampires to sci-fi to stories about infidelity or crushed butterflies. Their stories might have happy endings, or sad endings. There might be romance, there might not. It’s like a giant pot luck dinner of surprises. That means you’re probably not reading the author for what they write, but how they write. And that means you’re wading through stuff that doesn’t interest you, or skipping it all together, which is great so long as it’s all free, but as soon as it starts to cost money, well, people have a habit of not taking a chance on a surprise when they have to pay for it. Not to mention, it makes it hard to recommend an author like that to your friends. “Hey, you should really read so and so! She writes some excellent… well, stuff.”
There’s another side to this lack of platform; the author’s side. Wouldn’t it be nice when someone from your blog circles messages you with the words “I’m starting your book!”, to be reasonably sure they’re going to like it, because you know it’s the kind of thing they’d enjoy? I bet it would be. I bet it’s a lot better than the horrifying, nail biting moments when I answer, “Oh, yeah. I hope you like it.” All the while thinking “Yep, they’re going to hate it.” Not because it’s a bad book, but because the material presented on my blog, the material that they’ve come to like me for, isn’t at all what’s stashed between the covers of the book. Sure it’s all got 1.good description 2.coherent sentences and 3.some humor sprinkled throughout, but so do Douglas Adams, J.R.R Tolkien and JK Rowling, and whereas I enjoy all three, there’s a chance that most people aren’t going to. Not to mention, the books I have out there aren’t even close to any of those authors.
Of course, there are a very small collection of people in the world who enjoy not knowing what to expect, but their numbers are much smaller than the number of people who want the same kind of thing every time. I know. My blog on MySpace has been an experiment in the department and, though I chug along with a steady, loyal stream few readers, I’m never going to be one of the top bloggers, simply because I refuse to pick a single topic and stick to it.
At this point I’m sure you’re thinking, “If you know all this, then why don’t you just create an author platform?” Yes, that would be the sensible thing to do, but I created a problem for myself because, quite frankly, I can’t think of a single topic, or even genre, that I’m willing to devote 90% of my time to. I don’t want to write just vampires all the time. Heck, my vampire books can’t even decide if they’re romance novels or thrillers (I get an equal mix of male and female readers, who have differing opinions). Besides, if I switched my blog to nothing but vampires or paranormal, I’d lose most of my readership (again, a sign of a weak author platform!).
My advice to someone else in this position would be to make a new blog somewhere else and devote it, heart and soul, to your platform, even though this would mean heavy advertising and promotion to get readers to flock to the new blog. Your success should be worth investing the time in and I know, and you know, that it’s the logical thing to do. But, in all honesty, at this point I’m probably not going to do that. Will my “success” suffer? Yes, I’m sure it will. Do I recommend other people flaunt the platform idea? No, I don’t, it created myriads of hassles and only hurts you in the end. But, being an independent author, I have the right to toss my head figuratively and ignore the very sage advice, even if it’s my own.
(Joleene Naylor’s random blogs can be viewed on MySpace or Blogspot, if you want to see what she’s talking about.)