When Should We Start Building A Platform?

Platform didn't help me get a book contract. The story and writing clinched the deal.

However, we will need a platform at some point--it's inevitable in today's market. So, when is the best time to start building one?

If we're just starting the journey, then we ought to focus the large majority of our time improving our writing. We can use blogging and other social media to help us grow. But we shouldn't worry about attracting large crowds to our blogs and racking up followers. If we don't have a saleable story, then we'll just waste precious writing time.

Yet, for many of us, publication is looming closer. We've spent many years taking our writing to the next level. We're actively querying, getting requests for partials or fulls, and we're starting to get positive feedback from agents and editors.

Tina Russo of Seekerville asked an excellent question in the comments of my last post: What about platform for getting your manuscript an invitation to be read? As in out of the slush pile?

In other words, if our writing is good enough (remember not perfect!), and we're attempting to get the attention of agents and editors, will platform help us?

I'm no expert, but I'd have to answer: Absolutely! An agent might be more likely to pick up a manuscript from an author they "know" through social networking versus a complete stranger. In that case, platform could definitely give us an advantage. But in the end, only the book itself can land an agent or book contract.

All that to say, if we've started seriously pursing publication, I think it's wise pull out our hammer and nails and add them to our writer's tool box. I know some fiction authors wait until they're published before they start any marketing efforts. However, I personally think that into today's tough market, once we're nearing publication, we should begin building that platform little by little.

An article by the Washington Post from Sept. 2009, titled On Web, A Most Novel Approach, discusses the brutal realities of modern marketing:

"Publishers actively market and promote big names, but for thousands of writers it's a figure-it-out yourself world of creating book trailers, Web sites and blogs, social networking. . . Being an author has become much more of an ongoing relationship with your audience through the Web rather than just writing a book and disappearing while you write the next one. . . You have to be out there in the online world, talking and participating."

Maybe we won't get far with the platform before publication, but we can at least lay a foundation. In the Washington Post article, 60% of respondents in surveys say the decisive factor in purchasing a book is that they are already fans of the author.

Obviously the statistic applies to published authors. But I think it's applicable to unpubbed too. It's never too early to begin to build genuine connections. I'd be much more likely buy the book of someone who is already my friend than from someone who befriends me in order to sell their book. How about you?

Today, I'd love to hear where you're at. Do you need to pull back from cyberland and focus more on your writing? Or do you need to pull out the hammer and nails and start building? And what do you think: Can having even a small platform work to an unpublished author's advantage in the agent/editor hunt?

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