This month’s ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING guest blogger is award-winning author, writing teacher, and the sweetest person ever, Susanna Leonard Hill. Thank you Susanna for sharing your story with us.
IF YOU BUILD IT, WILL THEY COME?
AND WHO WILL THEY BE?
by Susanna Leonard Hill
Once upon a time, there was a writer (that was me) who wrote stories for children. Although she dreamed from girlhood of picture books with her name on the cover (and not because she wrote it there with a crayon), she was pretty sure she wasn’t good enough to get published. (Due to word count limitations we’re going to skip a bit…) Blah, blah, blah, some other stuff happened and one day in 2002 her dream came true and life was good.
“Now then,” said the Powers-That-Be, “go forth and build a platform!”
“Uh…,” I said. “Have you seen me with tools? This is not a good idea.”
Apparently they weren’t talking about that kind of platform.
“Uh…,” I said. “Have you seen me with technology? This is not a good idea.”
Apparently they did not care.
BUILD was the directive, so by golly I had to try.
Let’s just be clear on one thing: I had NO idea what I was doing or how to do it!
To save you from landing in the same predicament, I will share with you Susanna’s Rules for Practically Painless Platform Building.
Rule #1: Eat Something Chocolate
Really. It’s good for you :) Construction is hard work. You must be properly fueled :)
Rule #2: Know what platform is.
It is helpful before you begin construction to have some idea of what it is you are hoping to build. Otherwise your go-cart might turn out to be a lawn mower… or in our case, your platform might turn out to be a mineshaft. :)
So what is platform, anyway?
Basically, it’s your visibility as an author:
Who you are –
Well, that’s obvious. You’re you! :) Whether you’re a stay-at-home dad of 7 who loves to bake Lebkuchen and play the tambourine, or a NASA engineer who is consumed by competitive crochet in your down time, it’s you as an individual that people want to know.
Your personal and professional connections –
Friends and family, coworkers, critique partners, your dentist, your son’s trombone teacher, etc. You might also include people you know through the Internet, but that overlaps into the third category a bit.
Finally, the part people tend to think of more as “platform” – the work you do specifically related to being an author, and your online presence –
Any form of media where your writing is available or where readers can get to know you, including bookstores, newspaper articles, radio interviews, school/library visits, book signings, online booksellers, and anywhere you are active in social media – your website, blog, newsletter, FB, Twitter, etc…
Do not feel that #3 is the only part that matters. All three of these elements are equally important, and #1 is arguably most important because it colors everything else. But you likely feel pretty comfortable with #1 and #2, whereas #3 might be the place you feel a little out of your depth. So that’s the focus of the other rules.
Rule #3: Find Your Comfort Zone
Some love to travel. Some love to stay home. Some love to dress to the nines. Some love to loaf in pajamas. Some like it hot… well, you get the idea.
You’ve got to be comfortable with what you’re building, and not all social media options are created equal. Scout around. Sample the choices. Hold it up and see how it looks before you nail it in place :) Do you love the brevity and variety of Twitter? Or would you prefer the option to discourse at greater length on a blog? Or do you like the happy medium of Face Book? Do you see the world through a camera lens? Then how about Instagram? Pinterest? YouTube?
There are lots of options out there. Don’t make yourself miserable forcing yourself to participate in something that doesn’t suit your personality and style.
Rule #4: Don’t Wear Yourself Out!
We are all busy. We have spouses, and kids, jobs and homes and cars and pets and aging parents and yoga/running/swimming/watching basketball on TV – you know, exercise :), and some of us have to bake Lebkuchen and practice the tambourine… There are only so many hours in the day!
Choose 2 or 3 at most of the social media options and limit time spent on them each day. That way you can give your best to the options you choose, avoid burnout, and still have time to write, which is, after all, the whole point of all of this!
Rule #5: Figure Out What You Have To Offer (and yes! you have something to offer!) Preferably Before You Start Blogging :)
Okay. So now we get down to the nitty-gritty. What’s going to be the focus of your tweets, your FB posts, your blog? What are you going to put out there for the world?
I tried everything. I think literally actually everything.
Trial and Error, thy alias is Susanna!
Try to avoid that :)
Platform, platform, platform… We’re supposed to reach our audience of readers. Well, obviously that’s impossible in the case of picture book writers – our readers are pre-reading listeners. They tend not to frequent FB, twitter, or blogs of any kind :) The actual readers of our books – the mouthpiece through which our audience hears our stories – are parents, teachers, grandparents, librarians etc. Those are also the people who buy our books, since most 3-8 year olds are hampered in the cash flow and transportation departments :) So really, our platform efforts should be directed toward these adults.
I tried writing posts on dogs, gift-wrapping, song-writing, Mondays, book drives, how useless I’d be as a pioneer… all topics that should appeal to parents, teachers and librarians, don’t you think?
Alas, they apparently appealed to no one! Just go back and look at my early posts… and how there are no comments on almost all of them!
So I stumbled along, trying this and that, until one day I hit on the idea of Would You Read It Wednesday (primarily for writers, but with hopes of attracting teacher and librarian feedback), and then Perfect Picture Book Friday (intended as a resource for parents, teachers and homeschoolers…but which seems to appeal to writers seeking mentor texts), then contests for writers (an opportunity for writers (of all ages) to write stories for kids that could be read by parents, kids, teachers, etc.), Short & Sweets (for writers but hopefully also for teachers and kids), Oh, Susanna! (intended for writers, teachers and parents… but writers were the only ones who ever seemed to have questions), with a few author and illustrator interviews and a mini-series on self-publishing thrown in for good measure.
And yeah… if you noticed that the platform I intended to build for parents, teachers, librarians and such turned out to be a platform for writers, well, maybe that’s because I am a writer and that’s the way I think.
I choose to believe that many of the writers who make my blog and FB page and twitter…area…whatever you call it :) … such a great place to hang out are also parents, teachers and librarians.
As Gilda Radnor said on Saturday Night Live, it’s a dessert topping AND a floor wax :)
Happy Platform Building! :)
Thank you so much for having me, Alayne.
Note from Alayne: Pardon my intrusion. Because I am interrupting, I want to say make sure you scroll to the bottom of this post for Susanna’s bio and links to her website, blog and more. Now for my reason for the intrusion. . . .
I had no idea what Lebkuchen is, so I looked it up. For those of you who also don’t know, Lebkuchen is a centuries-old German gingerbread specialty that is traditionally baked during the winter holiday season.
Also for those of you who don’t know Susanna and all the wonderful things she does for the writing community, I want to give a basic description of some of the things she mentioned in this post.
Oh Susanna is the children’s literature world’s version of Dear Abby, except not about relationships (well, not yours – character relationships would be OK). It is an advice column/question forum for those of us in the children’s book world, as it were :) People can ask Susanna questions about writing, reading, teaching writing and so on.
Short & Sweets was started as a way for writers to keep their writing oars in during the happy, busy, outdoor fun summer months. Susanna offered fun exercises that writers could do together.
Perfect Picture Book Friday Is a group effort. Using a set format, bloggers share picture books they want to recommend to others. Susanna then shares that link on her blog in her extensive list of picture books, categorized by theme.
Would You Read It Wednesday? This is a weekly feature that offers a chance for writers to try out pitches for their Picture Books, Early Readers, Middle Grade, or Young Adult Works-In-Progress.
Contests and Picture Book Writing Course Susanna also has Holiday writing contests with excellent prizes. And then there is her Making Picture Book Magic writing course, which, as a graduate of the course, I can personally recommend. You can find more information on all of the above on her website – links follow Susanna’s bio.
Susanna is the award winning author of nearly a dozen books for children, including Punxsutawney Phyllis (A Book List Children’s Pick and Amelia Bloomer Project choice), No Sword Fighting In The House (a Junior Library Guild selection), Can’t Sleep Without Sheep (a Children’s Book of The Month), and Not Yet, Rose (a Gold Mom’s Choice Award Winner.) Her books have been translated into French, Dutch, German, and Japanese, with one hopefully forthcoming in Korean. Her newest book, Alphabedtime!, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Books, in Summer 2016. She lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband, children, and two rescue dogs.
Face Book Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/SusannaLeonardHill
Making Picture Book Magic (online picture book writing course): http://www.susannahill.com/MAKING_PICTURE_BOOK_MAGIC.html