You’re a beginning to intermediate writer. You’ve just getting to the point of submitting. Do you need a website, do you need to build a platform?
A platform just means that you have a following for some reason, a group of people that you can easily tap into to jump start sales. Keep that in mind: the purpose of a platform is to jump start sales–from a publisher’s point of view.
Yet, when you work to develop a platform, you can’t think that way. Instead, you need to consider your strengths and interests.
Do you have a passion for the environment? See AuthorsforEarthDay.com
Are you a former astronaut? See Marianne Dyson’s site where she reviews children’s science books, but especially space/astronomy books.
Here’s your first task: list five passions. Rank them. Which one(s) would you like to talk about a lot? And I mean–a lot.
Types of Content
Consider what sorts of content you like to produce: photos, videos, short commentaries or essays.
Does this match up with your passions? Can you consistently create content in one format or another that relates to your passions?
Content Delivery Platform
- Photos: Flickr.com (or similar sites), a photoblog and Pinterest
- Video: YouTube, Facebook and blog
- Text: Blog, then pull it into other platforms
- The latest gossip: Hey, you’re on Twitter.
- Instagram, Pinterest—other social platforms all have a typical type of content, too, but with a twist. Study each platform for what it requires.
Everyone Needs a Brochure and a Mailing List
Finally, everyone needs two things.
Brochure Website: This is a website that rarely changes and acts merely as a brochure for you and your work. It mentions your work as a writer and something about your passions.
Email Newsletters: Everyone needs to be collecting email addresses of people interested in your work and your passion. Use an easy program such as MailChimp.com or AWeber.com and set up a sign-up form. The list may grow slowly, that’s fine. The point is that it will grow.
Examples of Online Platforms
Puppeteer. For example, I recently talked with a puppeteer who loves working with kids and getting them excited about plays, voices for puppets, making puppets, creating sets, performing with puppets. What she can consistently produce is videos of puppet performances. She doesn’t want to do long how-to blog posts, so a blog doesn’t make sense. Facebook doesn’t make sense, either, because she doesn’t post multiple times a week which is needed to build an audience on FB. Instead, she can only post once a month. Our puppeteer needs a YouTube channel, where she posts monthly (important to be consistent, even if it’s just monthly) videos of performances. From her Brochure Website, she needs an email newsletter signup, so she can send out monthly info on how that video was produced, where it was produced, who was in it, etc. Or at least a simple notice that the new video is up.
Poet. You love poetry, especially poetry for kids. But you don’t want to post lots of your own poetry because you want to collect it in a book. You need a blog and you need to start something fun like Laura Purdie Salas’ 15 Words.
She posts a picture on Thursday morning and encourages people to write a 15 word poem, which she comments on sometime on Friday.
This works because it’s a short time commitment, it’s creative and fun, it creates a community around poetry with minimal effort. And, it brands Laura as a poet.
The frequency of your blog posts can vary widely, as long as we can consistently count on you posting something on Thursday—it’s a once-a-week commitment. Be sure to look around first and see what’s there and imagine what you would like: then create that. How can you add to the conversatino?
Trend-setter. You like to keep up with the latest news, love contemporary culture and love to be trendy, on the edge. Cynthia Leitich Smith’s extensive blog, Cynsations, is a news hub for the children’s literature world. If you have a book coming out, you’re on her blog; and she’s generous about letting you guest post on her blog. She has tons of up-to-date tidbits in her round-ups of news and it’s the place to be seen. Likewise, she loves Twitter because it’s the right platform for finding instant news.
What are you already doing?
In your local offline community, what are you already doing that might transfer to the online writing and reading communities?
- Do you give everyone advice on what books to read? Start a review blog.
- Are you the treasurer of your local carpentry club? Keep track of the children’s book business and interpret trends for the rest of us.
- Do you take pictures at every church picnic, print out extras and mail them to people for their scrapbooks? (I love my friend that does this!) Start a photo-blog; attend industry events such as conferences and give it to us in photos.
- Do you love taking videos of your kids’ soccer games? Try doing a weekly video commentary about writing and reading.
Target an Audience for Your Platform
Notice that I didn’t mention Audience. Because it begins with you first: who are you, what are you passions and what kinds of content do you like to create.
But you should consider audience. Too often writers create a platform that consists solely of other writers: it’s a big writing conference online. It’s what we know and are passionate about. I do this because I also teach writing retreats and speak about writing at conferences. (Hey, invite me to come and speak!)
But you should think about what you want to write and how you might reach that audience. For example, April Pulley Sayre reaches out to educators with an extensive list of teacher resources. She does lots of school visits.
Who would you most like to reach? Parents, educators, teens? You won’t reach the under 13 crowd because they aren’t online enough, or are off-limits.
For example, if you write non-fiction history+biography+science like Carla McClafferty, your site is geared toward educators.
I am Lost Online
I hear you. Many of you are saying, well, I don’t know what passions to focus on, I don’t know what audience I want to reach, I don’t know what type of content I want to create.
Too often, we writers are generalists: we are the gifted-and-talented kids of high school, who are so well rounded that it’s hard to focus on just one passion. Fine. Take your time to find your stride. Just don’t stand flat-footed.
Start with a Brochure Website. That’s the basics. When you submit your manuscripts, you’ll list your website and editors can look up your brochure.
Experiment. Then, branch out and try a couple of the online platforms. Read tutorials, don’t assume you understand the ins-and-outs of Facebook, for example. I’ve read many tutorials lately and I’ll tell you—people are wasting time or doing it wrong. At first, though, just try out a platform and see if you LIKE working on it; can you do it consistently; do you like the type person your content draws in? Don’t like this one, then move on to a different content deliver platform, there are lots of options.
Start somewhere. Anywhere. Why? Because creating an online community, gathering friends and colleagues around you and your work takes time. You have a novel coming out in a year? That’s barely enough time, not really enough time. In spite of the instantaneous nature of the online world, it takes time to be discovered, for people to get to know you, to start to anticipate your next photo, video or blog post–or book.
The goal of creating an online platform is to create a community of people who like you and are already interested in your work. I said at first, that it’s a way to jump-start sales. But it’s much more: along the way, you find friends. Real friends, who like you for who you are, not for what you produce; who are passionate about what you are passionate about. Online, you find the peer group you are unlikely to find locally. That’s the real benefit of the web—extending your reach beyond your local community.