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How to Build an Online Platform That Will Last

Around cyberland writers are busy building their platforms. They’re working at gaining name recognition, support, followers, and ultimately readers. I personally think writers who are taking the time to build a web presence are wise. Sure, we can look at examples of successful authors who don’t mingle online, but most of them became popular in the days before the social media revolution. 

No matter our publishing choice (traditional or self e-book), there are millions of books and authors clamoring for attention. If we want to give our books an advantage, a growing web presence can help.

Kristen Lamb had a recent post in which she emphasized the importance of writers working together to help each other build their brands. Her post was titled, T.E.A.M.—Together Everyone Achieves More. She said: “Everyone does a little for everyone else and then everyone sees success . . . When we plug in with a team, we multiply efforts exponentially. . . If we focus on serving our teammates, they will do the same. Together everyone achieves more.”

Whether we call our online community our tribe, team, friends, or whatever, the fact is, when we’re networking with other writers online, we have the opportunity to help each other build our platforms. The efforts through facebook and twitter really do multiply exponentially. There is a snowball effect that’s hard to measure.

But . . . we can labor to build an online platform and then just as easily lose it. I’ve seen plenty of authors work hard at gaining followers, start hype over a new release, and generate a lot of support from fellow writers. Then, in the end, they fizzle out of cyberland.

Jill Domschott mentioned this phenomenon in a recent comment: “I watched an intriguing experiment unfold not too long ago. I saw a very young female blogger boost her blog and twitter followers by hitting on and following every blog she found. After she worked at this for months, had a few thousand followers, she self-published her novel, and many of her blog followers helped her market the book by reviewing it, etc. etc. But her book was amateurish, and so the hype soon died down. The numbers said she was successful, until the truth bore itself out. She was not offering a quality product.”

We can do ALL we possibly can to build an online platform, but the efforts won’t do us much good unless we’re building on a solid foundation to begin with. And what is that foundation?

Of course, we all know the answer. We MUST have a book that resonates with readers. Plain and simple.

As Jill said, the truth will bear itself out. We pour out incredible amounts of time and energy into networking and building our online presence. But it will be a big waste of time if we don’t spend as much, if not more time, honing our writing skills, writing book after book, and taking our craft to a continually higher level.

The best way to build an online platform that will last is to become a better writer. Deliver the goods. Give our supporters something they can truly be proud to review and promote. Provide our team with a book they can genuinely get behind and be excited to share with their followers.

Ultimately, a lasting brand is built upon a solidly crafted, well-told story. That’s the kind of platform that will survive the test of time and continue to grow.

What do you think? Have you seen authors work hard at enlarging a platform but fail to deliver on their books? Are you building your online presence on a solid foundation? Are you spending enough time working on your writing so that you'll have a platform that will last?

42 comments:

  1. So true, it's a question of balance as always. Social networking is all very well, but too distracting for some.

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  2. I think I hold a bigger microscope up when I read books of big bloggers. I don't know why. My expectations are higher. Or when agent writes a book. But, usually I can tell from the blog what the writing would be like. There's usually a reflection there.

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  3. I've been spending a lot of time and energy worrying about just this thing. Am I spending too much time blogging and not enough writing? Am I commenting and joining in enough online conversations? At the same time, I want to join in conversations because I have something worthwhile to contribute, not just to say "Great post!" and hope people follow the link to my blog.

    It's a really tricky balancing act. I have to admit, when I first started writing, I had no idea there was so much non-writing work to being a writer.

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  4. Very true. We must be mindful of the learning the craft.

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  5. This is a great testimonty to the fact that platform doesn't mean much if in the end you don't have a good product to sell.

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  6. That's a great example of how word of mouth will break us or make us.

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  7. You are so right on that these two go hand in hand.

    That foundation is essential!

    Tweeting this now.
    ~ Wendy

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  8. Right now I am focusing on my writing and just maintaining my social networking presence, not trying to actively build it. Like you said, what's the point in making the effort to build a platform and network if you aren't producing quality writing?

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  9. Oh, definitely. And I can only speak for myself, but I've always been able to write an interesting blog post--however, that doesn't mean I can write a great book. Blogging and writing novels are two very different animals. :)

    I spend a much higher percentage of my day writing fiction than networking. It's the only way my writing will grow.

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  10. I've taken a couple of steps back from being online. I publish posts 3 days a week now, instead of every day. I've applied and been accepted into a seminary program. This is going to build my platform on the ground and help me create much better books -- for the long haul.

    Additionally, I plan on expanding my freelance work on articles. This gives me valuable experience with editors and deadlines and publishing in general.

    Temporarily, this means I will post and tweet less, even visit other blogs less. But in the long run, it's worth the effort. I'll keep my online presence going (although frequency will be reduced) during the interim.

    I think social networking works best in combination with other types of training, networking, and accountability. The mistake many authors make is that they try to make their blog posts and tweets the lone work-horse of their marketing strategy.

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  11. Great post, Jody! Delivering the goods is definitely the most important thing. If you miss the mark on your first book and disappoint the following you've built, you probably won't get a second chance.

    I read Kristen's post (and her one today about successful blogging is very good as well), and I've been stuck on the issue of building my brand. I'm not quite sure how to do that. The only thing I know to do is to be myself, talk about things that I'm interested in, and communicate via Twitter, etc. Is there a special trick involved?

    Thanks!

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  12. Good thoughts to remember. Hopefully that writer will get another chance to improver her writing and get back out there again.

    Love the new book cover BTW! :O)

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  13. Very true. The writing must come first, but the social media marketing is almost as important. It's hard to do both well, but there's got to be a good balance somewhere. Still trying to find it.

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  14. I'm just starting the Twitter and building followers, so I do feel I'm spending time and effort that takes away from my current project. Even though I know it's necessary, I also know I have to work hard to make my book the best it can be. Timewise, it's definitely a balancing act.

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  15. Thanks for this timely post. I have to admit I've neglected my writing while catching up my technological learning curve, learning to use Twitter and building a blog. Then I got cold feet, thinking 'What do I have to add to the conversation?' I am a very new writer, not an 'expert' in anything, and there are so many doing an awesome job offering their expertise (#1 on my list is you, Jody!). But a good friend gave me some advice, 'YOU are your platform, so just be yourself. Talk about what interests you, and people will connect with that.' So that's what I attempt to do, instead of stressing over how I can be like somebody else or fit into the social media platform mold. Now that I'm over that hurdle, it's back to crafting a quality product.

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  16. Thanks for posting my comment, Jody! I was reading along and my name popped out at me. Now I gotta go work on some plot overhauls. But maybe I'll give twitter a chance today.

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  17. Great post as usual. It can be hard finding the blance between the two. BTW, you've been tagged... http://writinginwonderland.blogspot.com/2011/06/ive-been-tagged_08.html

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  18. I love the TEAM acronym--perfect! I hope with all my heart that I am creating a lasting product, that I will find an agent and then a publisher who can love it like I do, and that I can promote it without fearing it's worth. Great post, Jody!

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  19. It's hard work...but it gets better and better as I get better at it.

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  20. I agree...lesson learned early for myself thankfully. It's about value first and foremost. The crowd will grow if it's worthwhile.

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  21. I've made oodles of wonderful online friends through my social networking sites and Yahoo! loops. I just hope that when my book comes out the story doesn't disappoint the very people who've shown me such tremendous support. That's why I push myself hard to produce the best stories I possibly can.

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  22. A modern platform is not social media. It is not writing either. Nor is it who you are or your community of friends. It's ALL of these together.
    It's all about being transparent and creating a solid community that you support and supports you. Your community can help you become a better writer but only if you use what they can teach you.

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  23. Excellent post, Jody. You can market your product for all it's worth, but if it's not quality, then the bottom is going to fall out eventually.

    As far as having an online presence with a solid foundation... well, I'm working on that. But I'm very sensitive to having enough time to write so I'll be sticking with only once a week posts for a while I think. Balance is key, and I don't think I've found it yet, but I'm working towards it.

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  24. * applauds * Well said, Jody! And, thank you Kristen!

    Totally agree with you both.

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  25. *gulp* Are you spying on me today, Jody? :) I've got a crazy-busy week ahead, and what am I doing with my limited writing time? Cruising the blogosphere instead of cranking out word count. *burrowing myself in my wip now* :)

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  26. An excellent point, Jody. Thank you for your words, so well said. And, I love the thought of the author community online. Fabulous. Along with working on the craft.

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  27. Stacy asked: The only thing I know to do is to be myself, talk about things that I'm interested in, and communicate via Twitter, etc. Is there a special trick involved?

    My Response: Hi Stacy! I think you're right on track. We need to let our uniquenesses shine through. But I also think we should write with the reader in mind. How can we help encourage, inspire, and uplift those who come to our blogs? How can we help meet our readers' needs? What kinds of things will keep them wanting to come back?

    At the same time, we should be applying those principles to our books! How can we please our readers through our books? What will make them want to keep on picking up our books and coming back to them?

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  28. I say this over and over and over again--only TWO things sell books. Good book and word of mouth. In the past, writers only had control over writing a good book...and they had a 93% failure rate to show for it. Why? Because there was little to nothing they could do to affect word of mouth.

    Social media has fixed this...but we still need to have a good book.

    Social media isn't a substitute for a quality product, BUT a quality product alone is no longer enough...well, it was never enough.

    We now control both components of a successful writing future, but there are no shortcuts. Thanks for the shout-out and for another AWESOME post!

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  29. The balance between building my platform and being a writer--that's the biggest challenge I face every day! I want to network with other writers. The all-wise "They"--people in the know--say I need to network, utilize social media. But every minute on Twitter or FB or someone else's blog is a minute spent away from my WIP. And the fruit of my social media labor is slow-growing.
    So, I hope I'm doing it right. Building my platform and growing as a writer so my readers love the finished product!

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  30. This post reads so perfectly. Not a word out of line. Thank you. I've just published my novel, The Proper Order of Things. I spent ten years working on it. Now, I need to build a TEAM.

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  31. I just started using a pen name I've been debating on for quite a while. SO, now I'm actively trying to build her brand up like I did for my real name.

    A balance is important. I recently set myself a schedule so I wouldn't get sucked into the depths of the interwebz. It's been working out pretty well. I allow myself two hours of blog reading and commenting in the morning. Then when I sit down to write, I'll do the #wordmongering thing, where you write for thirty minutes and then do other things for thirty minutes. For my ADD mind, it works out really well. I keep my focus and I get the writing done and sometimes, I even get my laundry done too.

    I do agree that if you don't have a fantastic product, all the marketing and branding in the world won't mean a thing. That's why I set the schedule, because my blog reading has improved not only MY blogging but also my writing when I pick up tips from other people.

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  32. Jody
    Thanks for the response and encouragement. I never thought of asking myself those questions, but I completely see your point. I'm still figuring out the answers:)

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  33. This is actually good news for authors, because it proves that no matter how much of a presence you have online, no matter how many followers, what matters the most is still your writing, your stories. This makes me feel good.

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  34. There are only so many hours in a day. I would rather spend mine writing and improving my craft. The social networking is interesting, but a necessary evil. I don't believe blog posts, even useful ones, have much to do with the quality of your writing. I can pick up good tips and links from some blog posts, but getting too involved the general day to day chatter detracts from my goal: write well and get publish! Ultimately, good writing speaks for itself.

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  35. Rolling snowballs is fun, but you wouldn't want to do it all day. You're so right about balance.

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  36. Excellent! I look at my writing as a ministry and at the internet as a humongous mission field. I want anything I write to be done with excellence and touch others. So I'm working on building my relationship with Him and relationships with others while I learn and write. Trusting Him with the growth. I don't want to have a social media presence just for the purpose of selling books. But if it happens to happen, I'm okay with that. ;)

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  37. Hi Jody,
    Thanks for your great and consistent posts about writing quality. I've been struggling with plunking down $800 for a platform class. After reading your posts, I think that can wait.
    I'll continue blogging with website in the near future, platform in the distant future. Thanks for helping me decide to keep the writing first!
    Deb.

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  38. Hi Deb!
    $800 does seem like quite a bit for a class. Wow. If you're writing fiction, I'd encourage you to check out Kristen Lamb's blog and books. She does a fantastic job teaching about social media for writers. With non-fiction, however, I think platform is becoming even more paramount. It's not impossible to get a book deal without a platform in non-fiction, but it can increase your chances.

    Wishing you all the best! Thanks for stopping by!

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