MY PLATFORM AND HOW I GOT IT
I received a message from a fellow author wanting to know how I, as a successful person (and assumed, successful author) built my platform. She loved what I was doing and asked for advice on what to do to gather her own tribe and have her message resonate with potential readers. She mentioned a bunch of stuff she was doing, in addition to writing her book and sharing it widely. What else should she be doing?
I thought to myself, I can answer this in two ways: Give her the truth, or make up a bunch of **** and sell it as a seminar.
Truth or consequences? I may end up doing both, but I’ll start by telling the truth. Here’s the basic question, authors: If you aren’t already making a living with your writing, do you need to for some reason? Some people make big bucks as authors. That’s cool. But if you are struggling to make a living with your writing, thinking any day will be the big break through––I would suggest that you change professions. That’s even if you did take a course on following your dream and living your passion. Writing is just a dismal, hard way to earn a buck. I wrote a blog article somewhere about the tens of thousands of Bureau of Labor Statistics job categories that will earn you more than writing. Pick one of those and do your scribbling in your spare time.
If you already make tons of money with your writing, cool. If you don’t currently rake in the dough and don’t need to make a living with your writing, you won the jackpot. You can have lots of fun without spending too much, and maybe make some money, if you pay attention to what I say below. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll end up crazy, just like authors trying to make living at the dismal occupation. (The unofficial name for economics is “the dismal science.” It’s not as dismal as writing.)
I used to be an economist. It was easy: just earn straight As for at least a BS and an MS, and a PhD if you can. (Though I only did a year of the PhD.) While in school, wow your professors with your erudite and insightful grasp of the subject, so that they enthusiastically recommend you to their friends, who are in a position to hire you. (Remember the days when a person got out of school and there were jobs?) After getting a job, I found success was a simple matter of analyzing the **** out of whatever my bosses pointed me at. And presenting it at professional meetings and to local governments. I did that, and my bosses loved me and so did their bosses, and even people like the economists and analysts at the RAND Corporation and National Science Foundation. Easy peasy.
Not so with writing as a career. The woman who asked me “What do you do to build your platform?” does not want to know what I did to succeed or for how many years I did it. I did everything any writing pundit, no matter how obscure, said, for years and years. Enough so that when the IRS audited our literary adventure and I told them what I had done to be a commercially successful author, they fell to their knees, sobbing, “Oh, you poor baby.” No, the IRS does not do that. But we won. Anyway, I did everything that the major books about what you should do to succeed as a writer say.
After years of study and doing everything, I have formed the following basic principles about succeeding as an author that I’d like to share with you. Buckle your seat belts, compadres: my maxims pack a wallop. (I wrote this yesterday when I was in a feisty, facetious, and, indeed, flippant mood. Perhaps too flippant. I’m going over this today to make sure I said what I really meant and to clarify where needed. This “turn all the rules on their heads” model is new to me. I’ve tried it in previous years, often for days at a time But I always fell back into the crazed maw of obsession with sales that is the publishing world. Well, the worm-ette has turned. I’m going for what feeds me. And that’s below:)
1. FORGET YOUR MARKET. ALSO FORGET YOUR TRIBE. THINK ABOUT YOURSELF.
All the marketing/authoring pundits say the opposite. Great. They aren’t you and they don’t live in your skin. If you feel lousy because you’re hanging your well-being on your Klout score, your writing will stink. I need to amplify that.
Of course you want your work to succeed and you want profession friends and buddies. Of course you want to show up effectively in whatever genre you write. But at what cost? Your individuality? Your soul? Do you want to sound like everyone else–”Grow your tribe.” “Establish your platform.” Do you want to lose yourself running from one pub-guru to another? This is funny, because I’ve been self-pubbing since 2006. Most of the dudes giving the classes and seminars had not heard of independent authors or presses then. There’s a scene in my book Stepping off the Edge where I’m in Mark Victor Hansen’s huge MEGA Selling University. The MEGA University is reduced to a set of CDs now, but it was a big deal when I took it. In that scene, an editor from a Major Publisher speaks, and the floor tilts toward her as thousands of publication-lust-maddened wannabe authors stampede toward her … The scene captures the world in which independent and traditionally published authors find themselves as well as I could capture it.
I am going to be extremely snobby and judgmental for a bit. I write visionary fiction (Amazon calls it Metaphysical Science Fiction and Fantasy. Amazon will call it whatever wants. That’s the thing about a monopoly.) To me, visionary fiction is fiction–made up stories–with a moral core. That means that right and wrong, good and evil, exist and the book is about the struggle for right over might. Doesn’t mean good will win. In addition to having a moral core, my kind of visionary fiction features at least a few characters who reach a higher level of human development. I don’t go so far as some writers in positing that the species elevates to the woo-woo sphere, because I see no empirical evidence that our species is on anything but a dive into the nasty. But to be my kind of visionary fiction, some people in the book grow in spirit and consciousness.
This type of writing is more demanding of the writer than, say chick-lit (Most likely. I’ve never written chick-lit, nor have I written romance or other addiction-based genres. Yes, that’s judgmental.). My soul writes my books and does everything else for me. For this to work, my soul must be cleaned up so that it coughs up verbal sparkles of enlightenment, rather than dirt clods. Chiefly, this means taming my major addictions and being whole spiritually. What does this mean in concrete terms?
This is what I feel like if I’m in good shape spiritually: I feel the outlines of my body, a solid core. I feel my heart beating. It radiates, light, love and good will. That’s what hearts do. It’s state pulsates outward. I feel my chakras, those pesky energy centers that no one can see but are there anyway, lined up from my tail-bone to the crown of my head. My energy is pulsating and I can feel all of it.
Nothing disturbs my equanimity, my peace. I’m not reaching out trying to grab for something, living in a state of lust. I’m not attached to getting anything, nor am running in terror or any kind of aversion from anything in my world. I am free and blissful.
“Detached from aversion and attraction, the yogi lives in peace with a silent mind.” (The Bhagavad Gita says something like this. Google wouldn’t find it for me.)
You can write some killer visionary fiction from that state. Any kind of fiction or nonfiction, too. My Stepping off the Edge, a cross-genre nonfiction memoir/self help for writers and everyone else, was written in that state and higher. (Meditative states have an infinite up side.) I expect that regular writers do their best work from that sailing “wheeeee” that accompanies the state I just described.
Say I read a book or go to a seminar and someone tells me that I have to find my tribe and grow it and have a brand and follow the hottest, sure-fire marketing plan? How about I start charting my daily sales figures and looking at my website stats all the time? What if I read all the writers’ blogs and FB threads about everything I have to do to be a writer? What happens?
I lost my tribe, before I found them. And my sales . . .
My chakras deflate in an instant. If I’m hanging on people, numbers, friends, or likes, I cripple myself as a writer of spiritual fiction or any kind of work that requires “soul clarity and truthfulness.” I might be able to cough up a salable book or two, but they won’t be of a caliber that will satisfy any spiritually developed person. Spirit sings. Also spreads its bliss.
Think about yourself. This upside-down thinking is new to me. I used to play “She with the most FB Friends wins.” “Every five-star review is a step closer to heaven.” I used to get really upset if my books didn’t sell the way I thought they should. In other words, I used to think marketing, platform, selling first, and Sandy second, or maybe fifth. What I did with that was run that racket hard enough to make myself sick.
Not too long ago, I was a mess. My hands hurt. Thumbs most, but a good writing session on the computer will cause everything, including my pinkies, to howl. My hands are well on their way to being wrecked from spending so much time on my iMac. Not too long ago, my brain was fried. I was crabby, and exhausted. Snapping at everyone, mostly my dear husband. I thought obsessively of going to Venice, the one in Italy, not the one near Los Angeles. I wanted to escape.
About a week ago, I made the inner flip that resulted in what you’re reading here. I’m changing my behavior so that how my body feels and the joy I feel with my profession is the barometer to success. I want those chakras flaming! Spinning! Frolicking! And I want to write and sell a lot, too.
How does my brave new world work, relative to the opposite? I have no clue, other than to say that I had just made the transition to putting my soul and my physical well-being first when that stranger-to-me author contacted me about my great platform. Just a coincidence?
WHY YOU SHOULD BE INTERESTED IN SPIRIT I started making these Maxim cards when putting out the second edition of Stepping off the Edge. The book bristles with these pithy bits. I may make a picture book out of them, ir some on-line, subscription presentation. Who knows. Was this the result of building on my book's platform? Was it part of my marketing program? No. The idea just came to me. It's a good one. If people can't/don't get my book with words, they'll get it with pictures.
2. LEARN TO WRITE
Looks like this will be a series of articles. This particular article is I’m already at 2,900 words, but I can’t quit without adding this crucial bit about writing books that get read. I have more than 700 books on my Kindle. Most of them I got through BookBub, ENT, Blurb-a-minute, or Read-Me-or-I’ll-Die–the emailed, juried lists of new, cheap, or free books that fill our in-boxes every day. Those arbiters of mass taste and harbingers of our success as authors are hard to get on. You may have to beg, as my friend Consuelo illustrates here, but it’s worth it for what they can do to your sales, often for a week or more.
So, as a self-pubbed author, you devise the perfect book cover and two sentence blurb, hustle up fifty great reviews (this requires magic, black or white–whatever works) and you are accepted by one of the big book advertising sites. By some trick of fate, I see the ad and your efforts snag my attention for the approximate ten seconds needed to download your tome. I get it. And forget it. I’ve already downloaded 700 books. But say I open your book for some reason.
I read two pages. Blecch. Delete. Bad writing shows up that fast. A book has to hook me in a page or it’s off my Kindle.
Writing fiction is not the same as professional or academic writing. I did LOTS of both. Here’s an example from a study I participated in with the RAND Corporation. (My previous married name was Tapella.) Here’s an amazing example of academic writing from my MS thesis in economics:
“The determination of the cost of sprawl is based on the differing responses of service providers to increased demand for services from contiguous and noncontinuous new urbanization.”
That was an easy sentence compared to some in that thesis. If you’re going to have anyone read your stuff, it can’t sound like that. (However, that sentence and many more like it got a master’s degree that got me a job that earned me more than 90% of the population of female workers, including writers. So, go figure.)
Though I’m pleased with the way my work reads now (and so are my reviewers), it took me nineteen years to attain that proficiency. In 1995, I had the big YOWSER spiritual experience that I write about in my Author’s Notes that started me writing full time. From there, it was work, work, work. I was in one writing group run by a local poet for nine years. It petered out and I joined a group of traditionally-published professional writers led by a professor of literature for two years. (In the following article, when we discuss controlling your PTSD in writing groups, I’ll go into this more.)
After eleven years in writing groups–let that sink in: eleven years–I had a giant breakthrough and met my current editor. She is reputed to be a niece of Freya, the Norse Goddess of War, and does her edits with a golden machete. I love her. She’s tougher than the lit professor was and does not let an extra word slip by. It’s all: action, action, one word of dialogue, then climactic action. That’s the modern novel. She delivers the manuscripts she has dissected in such a kind way that I seldom sob for more than an hour after receiving an edit back. I’ve been working with her for eight years. I don’t claim to be the best writer in the world, but what I’ve become, I owe to her. I’ve internalized her voice, so that when I begin to write words like “price elasticity of demand,” my fingers refuse to type.
So, if you spend nineteen years working on your writing and learn to throw out everything but verbs, you may develop a writing style that guarantees success.
In future articles I will divulge my other secrets.
All the best! Don’t forget: put yourself first! If you feel lousy, your work will stink.
Sandy Nathan: Remember, You Come First
Sandy’s Other Website, the Interactive One
Sandy’s Amazon Author Page
Sandy’s Facebook Page
Sandy’s Pinterest Page-I’m having fun with this!
Sandy’s Vimeo Page–even more fun. Check out the Chessadors!
Sandy on Twitter
WHERE’S MY TRIBE? THE SERIES YOU WISH YOU’D READ FIRST.
This lil’ article kicked up a fire storm for me. Here are a few topics for later posts:
- TO RESONATE WITH YOUR POTENTIAL READERS, JUST RESONATE. They’ll find you.
- FORGET FOCUS GROUPS AND BETA READERS AND MOST PARTICIPATION ON LINE. Don’t forget editors, copy editors, and proofreaders.
- DON’T BE AN IDIOT. If it seems too good to be true, it is. This is a predatory industry. Lots of people want to take your money to help you with your book. They’ll promise anything to get it.
- IF YOU HATED SENDING IT OUT, OTHER PEOPLE HATE RECEIVING IT.
- GIVE UP YOUR MESSAGE. Whatever your message is–save the planet, get everyone enlightened, treat the breweries right, kill the immigrants, or a least their parents (these are real messages I’ve seen on FB)–it is wrecking your writing. Stop it. Or write your message out it full, put it in a drawer, and write something else. If you have a real message, it will come through your words without effort or thought on your part. I have a great example here using my Earth’s End sci-fi trilogy. When I dropped my message, the writing sizzled.
- DON’T PARTICIPATE IN SOCIAL MEDIA TO “FIND YOUR TRIBE.” Finding your tribe is a good concept: connect with people similar to you who like the same stuff. Maybe you can help each other, or, if not, have a good time. How many people are currently selling seminars, running FB groups, or trying to teach you to “find your tribe”? The tribal concept is overdone, like vampires. Time has come and gone for tribes and bloodsuckers.
- DON’T PRETEND YOU’RE INTERACTING WITH PEOPLE ON-LINE BECAUSE YOU WANT TO BE FRIENDS AND YOU CARE ABOUT THEM. YOU WANT THEM TO BUY YOUR BOOK: THE FRIENDS BUSINESS IS A PLOY. ONCE YOU’RE HONEST ABOUT THAT, THE POSSIBILITY THAT THEY MIGHT REALLY BECOME FRIENDS OPENS UP. MAYBE THEY’LL EVEN BUY SOMETHING OF YOURS. Pretending to be friends to get someone to buy your book is phoney and rude.
- HOW TO HAVE A GIGANTIC TWITTER PRESENCE EASILY. I have about 6,700 Twitter followers. A famous author found out about that and wrote to me, ecstatic. “Oh, you have such an amazing Twitter presence.” She still didn’t give a blurb for my book.
- THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT: MAKE IT BEAUTIFUL! THAT’S MY PLATFORM. BEAUTIFUL WORK, BEAUTIFULLY PRESENTED AND ILLUSTRATED. WITH BEAUTIFUL VIDEOS, COVERS, BOOKMARKS, NAPKINS AND MATCHING TOOTHPICKS. Whatever is associated with the book should be beautiful. Beauty attracts.