Okay, this post is not actually about RSS. Well, it is, but only kind of. This post is about author sites and how writers promote themselves on the web.
I heard a new term just the other day. Completely new (to me) industry buzz word that I’ve never come across before. I gather that’s because Australian publishers and agents are not using it. Or if they are, they’re not talking about it with their authors. You ready? Here it is…
Author platform, to be precise. I read about it over at Joe Wikert’s blog. And then followed the host of links he provided on the topic. And then read some articles. And then Googled it. And then got very concerned that I’d never heard this term, and doubly concerned that the 2,300 QWC members probably hadn’t either.
Now, first things first… Joe’s blog entry is now more than 18 months old and it may not be worth getting too hung up on an industry term that, by the time Aussies catch up with it, is already passe. But the principles underlying the concept of author platform are just common sense, and applied by any author to their own writing and reader base, will benefit them immensely in promoting themselves.
What is your platform? Your platform is who you are in relation to your topic. How much of an expert are you? If you’re offering your readers a solution to a problem (or giving them a treatise on your topic of choice), your platform is what makes you a reliable source. Do you have training in the field or industry? Are you an “expert”? Do you have experience other than just “I did it and want to help others do it, too”? Do you have a following? Do you speak? Do you blog? Do you have a website? Do you have readers for a newsletter, or hits on a web site, or great quotes from names who say “this person is terrific! Read what they have to say!” Your platform is your base of credentials. It’s your credibility on a topic. It’s your position in the industry, your company, your topic. It’s any related certifications, degrees, speaking experience, work, or involvement. What difference does it make to the success of your book? All in the world.
This seems to have a natural relationship to non-fiction but I think it’s also applicable to fiction writers as well. I circulate in the Australian speculative fiction community and can think of several new authors who have excellent platform. Jason Nahrung comes to mind. He has invested considerable time and attention (not to mentioned good old fashioned sincerity and nice manners) in his relationships with other individuals in the community, not just other writers but also fans. He attends the National SF Convention regularly. He reviews SF for The Courier Mail. He maintains an active blog and MySpace page. He puts zombie smackdown on other chump’s zombies on Facebook. He is generally well-known and very well liked. Jason writes horror and dark fantasy and through his passions and activities he has become indelibly associated with these genres. He is known as a bit of an old goth, a fan of all things dark and mysterious. He has Australia’s most comprehenive collection of vampire movies. He is fond of wearing black (and yes, I’m being a little facetious now). But for a horror writer, Jason has great platform.
This platform served him incredibly well last year at the launch of his first novel, The Darkness Within (Hachette Livre Australia), at which there were over 200 people (it was booked out, you literally couldn’t get tickets to this thing) There were plenty of booksellers and media in the crowd. There were Jason fans and friends from very conceivable interest group Jason is involved in (and there are many). Jason sold a lot of books.
So what about the RSS? Well, it occurs to me that many of the authors I talk to at QWC don’t realise they can develop for themselves a very powerful web tool with freely available blogging software. They can update their readers with RSS and email. They can even update them on the mobile phones or by podcast. They can put up info about reviews. The can post images and video. They can receive comments. They can have a conversation. In other words, they can build platform.
And they could probably create all this in a day, with little or no expertise, and for $0, with freely available tools like WordPress or Blogger. Too many author sites I see are still brochure-ware, circa 1998. The communication only goes one way, and more often than not the authors don’t even know that people have stopped listening to them.
So to my members I will be saying blog, feed, podcast, converse. Build platform. Because when the Australian publishing industry does catch up with the terminology (and I’m sure they already have) they’ll be looking around to see who has it, and who doesn’t.