Yesterday, my talented friend Kirsten Oliphant shared this link, and I’ve been letting it tumble around in my mind for the past day. I’ve had LOTS of conversations about platform with people – conversations with people who give precise numbers and systems for building a stage for ourselves and conversations where people literally break into tears at the thought of sharing so much of themselves online. And as usual, I come down on this topic with a complex answer.
Do you, writer in the world, need a platform? My answer is maybe.
Who Needs a Platform?
If you want to write for yourself, enter contests for major literary prizes, and/or are quite happy with the people you now reading what you write, then I don’t think you need a platform. And it’s quite alright to say that, quite alright to be content with a small audience that you connect with face-to-face. Absolutely alright. (Also, you don’t need to read the rest of this post because you’re all set. . . write, enjoy it, share it with friends. I’m kind of envious, to be honest.)
If you want to make money from your writing, get onto bestsellers’ lists, and build a financially-viable career as an author, then yeah, you need a platform. Absolutely. No question.
Before you groan and feel distraught over HOW much work building a platform is and dismiss me outright, let me say this. I KNOW. I so know!! I want to simply write and have my work found. I get tired of finding things to share and writing things to share . . . and all this sharing. I get it. I totally do.
But it is possible to build a platform, still have time to write, keep your integrity, and even have joy in the process. I know that from experience.
Finding Joy in Platform-Building
Here are five things I do to help me find pleasure in platform building.
- As my friend Kelly said, I remember that this is about connecting with people, engaging with them, making friends even. Recently, I’ve begun to get several emails a day from people asking questions about writing, inquiring about the advice I give, and just writing to say Thank You. I am honored by each and every one of those messages because it means I’m trusted, and seriously, having the trust of anyone – let alone people I have never met in the flesh – well, that’s pretty special.
- I use tools. I schedule my social media posts and emails and spend most of the day off-line or just checking in briefly. My tools of choice are the Edgar scheduling tool and MailChimp. They allow me to do my work in batches and have things go out more regularly than my schedule would permit most days. They also give me the chance to be away from social media for long stretches of a time without having to worry that my platform will suffer. . . that’s not a minor thing.
- I do what works for me. I have accounts, following the advice of Jane Friedman, on most forms of social media, but I don’t post on all of them most of the time. Some of them I don’t even check regularly. (Sorry to all of you who I know through LinkedIn.) But I have a presence there so I can be found. Then, I give my time to the platforms I find most fitting for who I am in the world. For me, that’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The rest I use very sparingly or strategically, and then I’m learning to let it go. I can’t be everywhere well, so I choose to be some places with as much as I can give.
- I focus on the most important thing – my email list. The consensus among folks out there doing this work is that the email list is the key, so I put my best efforts there. I write what I hope are thoughtful blog posts. I send out content-rich newsletters. I spend my FB ads dollars on building my list (until I get to 10,000 folks is my plan). And I measure that growth. Because I “own” this content and because I can take more time with it, this list is the lifeblood of my business, and so if I miss a day on FB, I don’t panic. The list is here.
- I set boundaries around how I use and what I share on social media. I use social media to promote my own work and the work of people whose work I admire. I also use it to share information about issues and struggles I feel are crucial. (If you’ve been on my personal FB page lately, you’ll know I am deeply passionate about racial justice and saving the lives of our black and brown brothers and sisters.) I’m also careful to now accidentally post chicken-care advice on my Andilit page, and I keep the writer talk off my farm page, and I keep the politics off all my business pages. I also don’t share personal things about my family and friends anywhere. Finally, I am learning to set time boundaries – so I get offline by 8pm most nights, and I don’t check in until I’ve read, prayed, worked in the garden, and fed the animals. These boundaries help me stay on the rails and not get overwhelmed.
A Final Thought
If the only reasons you build a platform are to sell things and to stroke your own ego about your numbers, I caution you mightily. The online world is savvy to ego and self-interest, and they will not trust you if that’s what you’re seeking. But if you’re vulnerable and honest, if you try to be helpful and use the tools available to send your help out as broadly as you can, the rewards of service and connection are rich and profound. So so rich.
What about you? Do you need a platform? If you do, what tools, strategies, and boundaries will you use to help it be a tool of service, not just self-interest?