Platform – it’s a word that most writers I know detest. It makes us think of unachievable numbers on social media that will keep us from writing itself. Guh!
The Groups to Which We are Connected
But at our writers’ retreat here a few weeks ago, literary agent Ruth Samsel reminded us that platform isn’t just online. Platform is also all the people you know in real life, all the organizations of which you’re a part, all the places you might go to speak. As Ruth spoke, I could see the faces around the room relax and then begin to shimmer as we thought of our churches, our volunteer work, our children’s schools. Suddenly, we had a whole community of people to whom we could connect without the need of status updates or tweets. It was liberating.
As I’ve been pondering Ruth’s wisdom, I’ve been thinking about all the embodied places I know people, the genealogical and historical societies of which I’m a part because of the work I do on the history and legacy of enslavement, the local businesses and organizations where I spend my time, the parenting groups that I’m just beginning to know. Now, I’m beginning to see how the work I already do because I love it or need it can also benefit me as a writer – be that benefit in book sales or maybe, someday, even finding an agent.
The People We Meet
It’s not just groups where I’m seeking that connection either. Today, I’m having lunch with a descendant of the people who owned the plantation where I grew up, the one I wrote about in The Slaves Have Names. She’s read my book – and wants to buy a signed copy – and she wants to talk about it. I don’t know many writers who don’t want to talk about their work. I especially love to talk about that work with people who are tied to it by family. It’s a special kind of conversation, this one.
But in terms of marketing, this is also a win because, hopefully, this woman will also tell people about the book. Maybe her niece will write about it for school, as the daughter of one friend did. Maybe she’ll invite me to a family reunion to talk about the book and the history of her family. There are a lot of maybes, all exciting and all brought about potential because of a person I’ve met face-to-face.*
Accepting the Platform Reality and Loving the Freedom
The truth is that platform is something you need to think about if you’re going to be a writer who hopes to make a living at this work. If you’re like me, you need to find clients for your editing services, want to sell books, and hope to – maybe, someday – find an agent. Or maybe you’re starting out and would like to find some paying gigs for writing but need to prove you can bring readers by showing visitor numbers for your blog. Or maybe you have an agent and a manuscript on the market and need to get those numbers on social media up to secure that publishing contract. If you’re writing for a living, platform matters.
But there’s a lot of freedom in how you construct that platform. You can do a lot of it online, which is great for an introvert like me who is now even more isolated because of a newborn. But you can also do a lot of it in person by thinking widely and deeply about the groups and people you already know who might be interested in your book or who might be able to tell people who are interested.
In the business world, we call this kind of connection creation networking, but I hate that word more than I hate the word platform. So let’s call it what it really is, community. In a community, we support one another. We ask each other for help, and we enjoy giving it. In a community, we realize that none of us can do this alone.
So really, it’s not about the numbers, at least not for the writer. Really, it’s about the connection, the thread that ties us together, the tapestry of lives woven tighter by our words. When I think of it that way, platform actually sounds kind of beautiful.
*An important note. I love the internet. I love social media. I love the people I’ve met there, and I consider many of them true, deep friends. So I’m not, in any way, disparaging online connections. I love them.