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?


  1. Ah...the question that is so hard to answer! When to know when you're ready to start building and when to know if it's time to step back. I think when you get an agent, and then for sure when you get a contract, it's time to start building. I think for me, as an agentless, contractless author, it's wiser for me to step back and continue honing my craft until I write that book that will propel me through that door! Great post today, Jody!

  2. Great posts this week, Jody! I've really been thinking about this subject for a while, and your posts have been encouraging, yet honest about the realities of what we should focus most on.

    Where am I? Wow, it hurts to say this, but I really should be pulling back a little (or a lot) while I focus my attention on getting my book ready for the querying stage. It's definitely a balance I'll be thinking and praying about this coming weekend. Sometimes, hard decisions must be made in order to reach success in life.

    As always, thanks for sharing your experiences with us, which are filled with wonderfully useful advice.

  3. I just wrote a long response to this and then the stupid comment box cut out on me.

    Long story short. I agree with everything you said. It is advantagous to build that platform, but building the craft is even more important.

    What is this retweet thing I keep seeing around blogland? How do we use it, what does it do, and how does one install it?

  4. I've been asking myself the same question often lately. I feel like my writing has completely taken a back seat to the twitter and facebook and blogging world.

    But at the same time I'm worried if I take a break I'll lose all my followers and readers.

    It's really a tough call.

  5. Patrice KavanaughNovember 04, 2009 8:10 AM

    I share the angst of your other commenters. For now, I'm about 80/20...80% on my writing and 20% following blogs (like yours!) and other writers and leaving comments. I just joined Facebook, but have yet to post a picture, an update, even written a little bit about myself. Honestly, it's a bit scary to put myself out there in the big wide internet world. So, for now, I'm dipping my toes in and seeing where it takes me. Thanks for sharing all your insights. Patrice

  6. Eileen (and everyone),

    The twitter button is a way to share a post on Twitter. If the post is especially inspiring or helpful, then you can hit the tweet button and it will post a retweet on Twitter. Of course you have to already have a twitter account to use it! And if you would like the link on setting it up on your blog, just let me know!

  7. Hard question! I love blogging so much, but I realize that the focus must be on growing my writing.

    Blogging helps me connect and not feel so alone in my quest. So many questions have been answered through reading and sharing posts.

    You've shed a light on some important points for me, thank you.

  8. For me, I need to find a balance between online marketing (building a platform) and writing, and that has been hard. It's so easy to get pulled into bloggydom world and connect with others. Then I don't have much energy left for writing.
    I'm working on switching it around, but here I am first thing in the morning, doing my bloggy thing.

  9. It is SO easy to get caught up in internet networking when I should be writing! I've got all the platform I need right now, so I'm just trying to maintain what I have and get the focus back on the fiction.

  10. I started my platform a few months ago . . . even though my MS is not out to query yet. There've been quite a few posts in the blogsphere about Platforms, and all of thems seem to indicate that a platform is necessary. I figured I'd get an early start on it.

    Basically, every now and then, on my blog, I put in a platform post about the book I'm getting ready to query. I give glimpses of the book, the characters, the research I did, and all sorts of things. At some point, all these interspersed posts will take a fantastic leap into a blog of their own. That, is a very scary thought.

    Great post. Thanks.


  11. I do need to buckle down and get writing. I am waiting for editing corrections on my MS and then bust a plan for what is next. :O)

  12. I can answer by saying what I know about when it's not time to whip out the hammer. When boundaries are slipping, when blogging and social networking has become more of a chore or pressure, when you find yourself competitive to the point of unhealthy jealousy...otherwise, I say pound away. WIP needs to be the first thing you build, the foundation. Then, feel free to slap on a social networking roof. My two cents.
    ~ Wendy

  13. I'm like Wendy--it's a day by day thing. Some days I balance it all well. Other days I need to cut back on platform. It just depends.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  14. I definitely spend more time blogging than I should, in comparison to how much I write. Right now I'm just trying to find a balance that works for me. I'm hoping what I've built now will help me out in the future as I query.

  15. Great food for thought, like always. I am so torn on this issue. Having learned so much from you and others in the blogosphere in only two months, I can't imagine doing without it. I know I would be constantly thinking, "What am I missing , today?"
    My current remedy is to not worry about building a platform at this stage. I think once an author is published, the word spreads and others naturally gravitate to a blog or website to learn more. The platform tends to take care of itself, IF we tend to our writing first.

  16. The more I blog the less I care about platform and the less important I think it is in the 'getting agented' portion.

    I'm not saying it isn't important to be available to our readers and to have an online presence, but I used to think it would make or break me and now I see it differently. More like a little sprinkle of sugar on the package.

    good discussion and thoughts...

  17. great questions, jody. and everyone's response will be specific to them. i've had to cut out on blogging and responding to blogs almost exclusively during this time. i've got a job in california waiting on me to get there in less than 2 another cross-country move BACK to where we came from. i'll fly without my family and be without my daughter for almost 3 weeks and my husband for almost 5. blogging just can't compete with this type of stress! so i do my best to crank out my character therapy posts ahead of schedule...but that's about all i can commit to (and really only do that b/c i have such a long queue of people wanting assessments). so...i'm not blogging, but it's not so i can have time to write. it's so i can have time for life. and that's the right decision for me at this time. :)

    The Character Therapist

  18. I don't think building up a bit of a platform beforehand is a bad thing, as long as like you said, you've spent time working on craft first. And I'm with you, I'm more likely to buy a book when I already "know" the person a little.

    For instance, even if a book isn't my typical genre, if one of my bloggy friends gets published, I'm going to buy their book as a show of support because I already feel invested in their journey.

    By the way, you have a little gift over at my blog. :)

  19. I'd like to demonstrate to prospective agents that I have the ability to create and sustain a platform. Having a social presence creates a dynamic with you and the agent plus it gives her a feel of what you are like. And hopefully, she likes what she sees. ;)

  20. Great post, Jody! I definitely need to spend more time just writing. It is so easy to get caught up in the marketing/blogging side of things that writing gets the short end of the deal. Ultimately, I would like to include several of my blog posts in a monthly/or quarterly devotional. I covet any words of wisdom you can offer!!

    Roni & I must be thinking alike today, because I've posted an award for you @ my site as well! Stop by @ your earliest convenience! God bless you, Jody!

  21. Great thoughts you've expressed here. For me, I know that I should be building, but the time it takes to build is time away from my writing. With a business to run, family to care for and books to write, squeezing in time to build a platform doesn't come easy.

    Ah, the life of a writer! :)

  22. The main advantages I see in early networking are not ones that I often hear being discussed:

    1. Experimenting with building a platform can help us identify what is effective, what is damaging, what is natural for us. Everyone has a natural platform that works best for them. Starting early gives us time to make mistakes and find our way, before there are too many people watching.

    2. One of the most effective tools for networking is the humble blog. But there are still better reasons to do it. Blogging gives us a set of regular deadlines and urges us to meet them,thus ensuring that we are writing nearly every day. Blogging helps us develop as writers, because we get immediate feedback from our readers, something we don't have while writing a book. We can gain a sense of whether what we write is authentic. We can develop the writer's voice. Many posts I wrote six months ago don't seem quite "right" now. Some of them even make me groan. That means I have grown. Doing this before we start a big project can mean that our first project will be much, much better.

    3. In blogging, we can and should write for a specific audience. This is a good habit. The immediacy of our audience in blogging can carry over to our books. We've built an important habit: we write for someone in particular.

    4. In networking, we build important relationships with other writers and individuals in the publishing world. Invaluable advice and encouragement are there even if one doesn't blog, but participation through networking turns this into an extended conversation and a membership in the publishing culture. Other writers are the ones who will likely read our future books, encourage us, instruct us, and spread the word.

    One caveat: it's important to remember that relationships should be reciprocal. If we are just networking for selfish reasons and not contributing, sharing, and giving, then others will see right through our activities. They won't be inspired to support us in significant ways. We need to find ways to give, to help, to encourage. That's what the best networking is really all about.

  23. If blogging/social networking were taking time away from my writing, then I could see the need for reevaluation. The fact is though, if I weren't blogging/networking, I wouldn't be writing during that time either. I'd find other things to procrastinate with, and I do much of my networking while at my "day job" - not good writing time anyway. The social networking I do is largely with other writers, which motivates me to write more...something that wouldn't happen if I were to pull back.

    The energy and momentum of socializing online keeps my writing going at a faster clip than it would otherwise, even though I only spend a couple hours a day writing.

    So yeah, I suppose I'm building a platform while I'm at it, but for me, all the social stuff is just fuel for my writing fire. So the fact that I'm not ready for publication yet doesn't concern me - I'd be blogging/twittering if if I wasn't going to submit my work anywhere. It's something I enjoy, and need for personal well-being. :-)

  24. I think its all about balance.

  25. Yes, authors should start building a platform ASAP! However, we need to be committed. Sloppy, infrequent blog posts won't impress anyone.

    Thanks for another great post!

  26. I have built a platform of friends. They support me and encourage me, some nag me to finish my wip.
    I have never met them, but they email me asking how I am doing, they leave wonderful comments on my blog.
    I have spent the last few days visiting the blogs and websites of other writers. I have Twittered away and popped in to say hi at other places I like to visit.I am now 'known' by others and I consider this helps.
    I have a lovely collection of books that I have ordered from some of those I visit. New styles of books in some cases, I love that I am reading something a 'friend' wrote. In turn they are asking to let them know when my work is published.
    I think, yes platform building is a good thing.

    Now I must work on my Wip :)

  27. Great post. I've been thinking about this recently. I think it's important to blog and network but more important to write. I've cut my blogging days down to Mon/Wed/Fri, and if I don't have a post for those days I skip it. It really is a fine balance.

    What is the link (retweet) to set it up on my blog? Thanks.

  28. Networking, platform building, branding, getting known...

    Unless you do something spectacular that makes national headlines, all platform building takes time.

    And not everything works for every person.

    As Patti said, it's about balance.

  29. It's possible I spend a bit too much time in cyberland right now, but it's actually been motivating me. I have several regular blog readers that are constantly asking when I'm going to get my novel finished!

  30. I think it's a balancing of craft and platform. I have learned so much from authors online about the craft. I think aspiring authors need to realize that networking with authors isn't necessarily building their platform, although many authors are also readers. It's important to explore other ways to do this and the internet is an excellent way to do this. So while I'm learning the craft, developing my platform I must ask myself, "How much writing am I actually doing?"

  31. Each day I find that I have to flex both my writer and platform building muscles a bit to keep them strong. A balanced approach works best for me. Would I like to hole up with my coffeemaker and laptop and just write?--Yes. But that's just not possible, so I don't even fantasize about it anymore.

    The good news is that building platform inevitably leads to meeting people--which takes the isolation out of writing.

    It's all about balance.

  32. I'm at a point of being ready to write the next book, so I'm doing a lot of thinking things through, organizing my thoughts, etc. I can blog through all of this, sneaking it into the nooks and crannies of my day. But I wonder if, when I am deep into the writing of my next work, I'll need to cut back on my online writing. It's something I've considered and am prepared to do when the time is right. For now, blogging and other online activity (in moderation) is simply keeping the writing channel flowing, and for now, that's a good thing, I think. The need to keep the platform strong can wax and wane, depending on our other obligations. Hopefully our readers will understand when we cut back, but cutting out completely won't do in today's publishing world. But Jody, when you mentioned on your blog that you wouldn't be commenting on blogs as much during editing, I really respected that and it was helpful to know that your presence would be more minimal. So, perhaps communication is the key. :) It's respectful -- to both you and the readers you've garnered.

  33. I enjoy getting a chance to interact through the blogging world. For me, it's not all about building a platform. If/when the times comes to build that platform, I'm hoping I will have built a few friendships.

  34. When i first began blogging, I intended to post everyday. But I'm finding that it has become somewhat of a distraction for me. So I decided to pull away a little and focus more on my writing. Building that platform is essential, but my writing comes first. All in due time.
    Great post Jody!

  35. Great post Jody. Balance is the key hey. I started my blog to connect with other writers and to practice my writing. The critique buddies that I have found through blogging have been invaluable. Platform building is a bonus as I see it (for right now anyway :)

  36. I believe you have to have a plan. I mentioned this Tuesday in Seekerville. Without a plan you are certain to fail. A plan, a back up plan, a business plan a mission statement.

    Social networking can be time wasters so you have to approach them strategically too. Jody did an excellent post a while back on reciprocating blog messages and links and following. This is an easy way to strategically social network.

    Jody obviously built a platform before she sold and yes, I am absolutely going to buy her book because of it.

  37. Great question! I think I've laid the foundation with my blog but am now sitting back, taking care of what I have but not moving forward until my writing moves forward.
    I kind of think marketing is exciting. :-)

  38. Two years ago I resigned from my job and put all my energy into writing the best books I could. And, I did some agent research.

    Two months ago I accepted an offer of representation. Shortly after that I started my blog, Northwriter, which I am thoroughly enjoying.

    My YA novel will be out on submission soon. Next, I'll work on creating a website.

  39. I was encouraged to start a blog to build a platform and I love my blog. I think it's helping me write better too HOWEVER I am behind on editing. NOT GOOD.

    Still looking for balance, looking every day.

    Helpful to read about others feeling the same way.

    You really know how to stir interest and start conversation.

  40. I think I do need to work on finding a balance, but wow. DOn't we all?? Even those who do NO online stuff and ONLY write need to balance too...

    I think any effort is better than nothing. We're all "building" our audience and our plat form... we're just at different levels. So yeah, I hope anyway that my willingness to blog and do the website thing will show an agent/editor that I'm in it for the long haul.

  41. It has to be about balance. I need to pull back from blogging sometimes, and so I do. Still it is important in the long run. So, I continue to do it.

  42. I need to be writing...good bye!

  43. I agree with the balance. I know I will read your book because I know you and then pass the information along by word of mouth.Used to sell lots of books that way in our store:)

  44. I agree 100% with Cassandra Frear's comments! Couldn't say it any better myself so I won't try. ;)


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