Platform First, Book Second
James H Duncan
Whether you’re a poet, a short story writer, or a budding novelist, creating an effective platform is a vital aspect of turning your passion into something that might someday blossom into a career. You may think you’re the next J.D. Salinger or Charles Bukowski—holed away somewhere working on your masterwork—but the truth is that even Buk had to do readings, had to “blog” via free underground newspapers, had to network with other writers, publishers, and editors via the social network of the time—the post office. His volumes of published letters prove as much. So you may be a tough guy poet from the streets, but if you want your work to be read and, if luck is with you, purchased by readers and fans, you cannot afford to be so romantically hermetic in your habits.
And the key to building a platform is to do so before you release your chapbook or novel, not the same month you do, and most certainly not after. If you are on Facebook or another social medium, look at your page and ask, What would potential readers think of the way I present myself? If you want to share your writing with the world but maintain total privacy, you might be better off creating a specific “page” for your writing, although I do not suggest creating a page for a specific book. Some writers do that and it’s a classic example of PR overkill. People want to communicate with YOU, not just one aspect of your artistic arsenal.
Once you have a page or a profile at your favorite social media site, post often, at least a few times a week, even a couple of times a day, but not incessantly or you will annoy your friends and fans. Make sure your comments are diverse—literary news, your book’s progress, important life changes, and give shout-outs to other writers you enjoy and follow. It’s all about being part of a community.
It is also vital that you create a presence for yourself outside of social networking sites. Have a website and make sure it is easy to update from wherever you are. Have a blog aspect on the site so you can write about your writing. This should be your main means of communication with readers, and use Facebook to drive traffic to your page, not vice versa.
If you cannot afford a professional website, there are many slick-looking free blog websites out there that are designed to look just like regular websites, and many are easily customizable. Wordpress and Blogger are two, and these sites have become common amongst writers, poets, agents, small-press publishers, magazine editors, critics, etc. Everyone is blogging these days, and you should too. Again, keep your posts diverse. Offer updates about your book, share techniques and tips that work for you, maybe add a few book reviews you’ve written, anything to keep a fan interested in who you are and what you have to say.
You should begin creating your platform months and even years before you think about releasing a book, or else you will have no base audience for when your book hits the shelves. Other steps you may want to take include starting a Twitter account, regularly attending local readings and open mics, offering to do free chapbook reviews for online ‘zines that you like (with a bio/link to your website), or even starting an online radio show—all of these depend on how much you want to interact with readers. But remember to strike a balance. You don’t want to dedicate too much time to this, because after all, there is a novel or a collection of poems that needs your attention, right?
James H Duncan is a poet, writer, and the founding editor of Hobo Camp Review. He currently resides in New York City and is an editor at Writers Digest Books. His latest book, Dealing With the Devil in the Middle of the Road: New & Selected Poems, is now available at Amazon.com and his website, http://jameshduncan.blogspot.com.