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  • Donald J. Bingle, Writer on Demand

Building a Better ... Platform

Did you ever notice that some buskers (street performers) bring a box or milk crate to stand on while they perform? They do that so that more people can see them. Some people may choose to pass by without watching. Heck, some people may turn away after the performance has started because they don't think the performance is worth their time. But if passersby never see the performer, there's almost no chance that they'll stop and watch and maybe drop a few coins or a bill in the hat or tell their friends about the show or upload a video that will open up opportunities for the performer. If you're an indie author, you are a performer and, like those street performers, you need a platform. A platform means that your book will be seen. Sure, buyers might still look away. The crowd surrounding your platform may still move on to better shows if yours is not good, but if you don't have a platform, the chances are that no one will made a decision to buy your book, because they won't even know that it's there. Do you think that Snooki is the world's greatest writer? Probably not, but she sold plenty of books, because she has a platform. Senator Barbara Boxer has written (or at least vaguely outlined for others to write) a series of political thrillers about a plucky Senator taking on bad guys. By most accounts, they are terrible and terribly written, but she got them published, because she has a platform. Of course, it's always possible that you will write such an extraordinary book or story that an agent or a traditional publisher will take a fancy to it and move heaven and earth to build a platform for you with advertising and large initial print runs and buying endcap space in bookstores. And it's possible that every person who reads your book will like it so much that they hound their friends to read it, too, and they tell their friends, and so on and so on. But you can't depend on that. You have to think about your platform. When I wrote my first novel, I naively thought that I had a platform. I had been the world's top-ranked player of classic role-playing game tournaments for fifteen years. Table-top rpg players knew who I was. I even experienced a few incidents of gunslinger syndrome, where players who I had never met walked up to me and said "I know who you are, but watch out because some day I'm going to beat you." In addition to my gaming contacts, I'd already written some short stories in traditionally published anthologies from DAW and tie-in fiction (Dragonlance) which were well received. And, to top it off, I was a lawyer who knew bunches of people from various legal deals and business projects. Surely that provided more of a platform than just depending on my close friends and relatives to spread the word, right? Turns out not so much. Sure, I sold a number of copies to people in my core platform, but not so many as I had expected. Maybe it was the quality of the book or the pricing, but I suspect that my platform was both smaller than I egotically thought it was and less well matched to my book than it should have been. My first novel, Forced Conversion, is near future military science fiction, which has some overlap with the gaming crowd, but less than a fantasy novel or far future science fiction novel would have. The novel connected not at all to any of the various short stories I had had published, not that many people keep track of the authors for themed short story anthologies they read. And my legal cohorts would have been more interested in a legal thriller, a business expose', or a humorous telling of non-fiction business anecdotes than a book about factions fighting each other over government-mandated conversion to virtual reality. I didn't add on to my meager platform with a sequel or at least a new novel in the same niche space. Instead I went forward by writing subsequent books unrelated to the subject matter or characters of my earlier works. I moved on to a dark comedy about global warming and eco-terrorism, then a spy novel. Sure, you could call them all thrillers and a few reviewers have noted that my stories and novels veer toward my "signature dark humor," but each book failed to build upon the limited platform of the first. I am now compounding this mistake by writing a mystery--which just goes to prove you should listen to what I say in these blogs ... and not pay attention sometimes to what I actually do. So, what do you do if you don't have a natural or already constructed platform? Well, you can do your best to build one. You can blog and become known for your witty content, insightful observations, and quotable rants. You can become a great literary citizen by helping other authors and causes and volunteering for work with writing groups like the SFWA, HWA, ITW, RWA, IAMTW, and the like. You can ramp up your social network contacts, just as long as you don't bog them down with too many "buy my stuff" posts (yes, I've made that mistake, too). You can review other books and stories so that people come to trust your judgment and are willing to take a chance on your work when you put something out. You can become the internet expert on some subject matter RELATED TO YOUR BOOKS so that you become the go-to person when people have a question or want to read a blog about that subject. I'm sure there are plenty of other ways to build platforms, too, that I'm not thinking of because--duh--I've not done a good job of this. Please feel free to mention them in your comments to this post (unless they involve untoward acts like becoming a serial killer or political candidate). The point is that you should think about your platform, make sure that it matches up with what you are writing, and make sure you don't undercut it or dismantle it by doing anything that would alienate your core audience. Most importantly, you should be doing all of this as soon as possible, even well in advance of finishing your first novel, because it is easier to sell a first novel with a platform and easier to market copies of that novel with a platform, than it is to create a platform after the fact when nobody but your mom buys your first book. That's today's writing rant. One other thing. My sixtieth birthday is coming up in April and I am, of course, looking forward to birthday greetings from my friends, both in person and online. I've already been asked what I want for my birthday, too, but I'm fortunate enough not to have any unmet material needs and I don't think the internet is going to wipe out pain and misery worldwide just for my birthday. I am an indie author, however, and I do know that what every indie author craves (yes, sometimes even more than sales) is to have people read and review his or her books or stories. So, here's my challenge to my Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter friends and followers out there. Can you possibly post sixty new reviews of indie books in April for my sixtieth birthday and link them to the comments of this or follow-up posts? Not looking for automatic five-star attaboys here, but honest, thoughtful reviews that say what you liked or didn't like about a book or story. No need to buy anything. If you've already read one of my books/stories or those of another indie author, just post a review for that. Please share, tweet, like, and post to encourage reviews for you favorite indie authors everywhere and don't forget to post a comment with a link to your review so everyone can see the awesome power of social networking and good friends who like to read. Aloha, Don

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