This month’s ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING guest blogger is author, librarian, and children’s writing community friend, Heather Ayris Burnell. Thank you, Heather, for sharing your story with us.
The Push and Pull of Platform
by Heather Ayris Burnell
“You need a platform.” Those words can make a writer freeze. If they make you even a bit nervous, relax and take a deep breath. Honestly, what you need first is a good manuscript. Excellent even. But, when the time comes that you’re ready to start sending your work out on submission, having some sort of platform is a good idea.
It’s Okay to Start Small – You may feel pushed to have a huge platform but the truth is, it’s best to start with something manageable. You’ll be learning and growing along the way. Way back when I first started considering submitting manuscripts, the thought of anyone even knowing that I was a writer terrified me. With the nudging of my critique partners I managed to get myself online. Despite my natural instinct to pull back, I created a blog under the guise that it would help the writers in my critique group get to know me better. And guess what? It worked. Having some support at the beginning really pushed me to give platform a try. There are so many great writer’s communities you’re sure to find support if you need it. Having a blog not only gave me practice in putting myself “out there”, it gave me a place to be found if someone was interested in finding out about me. It made me Google-able!
Push Yourself Out of Your Comfort Zone. You don’t have to create your platform all at once. Little by little is just fine. After I got the hang of blogging, and didn’t feel like I was going to die of embarrassment every time I put something online, I decided to push myself. If I could do a blog I could do Facebook, right? The truth that I’ve found is that although things may feel uncomfortable, scary, and confusing at first, the more you do something the more comfortable you get with it. I now have two blogs, blab away on Twitter way too often, and moderate a group of over 1,000 people on Facebook. The thing I never would have guessed back when I was pushing myself just to start a blog? I love doing it.
Pull back if you need to. Don’t make yourself do things you don’t enjoy. Of course, feeling things out and giving different platform tools a try might take you out of your comfort zone but that’s the only real way you’re going to learn what you like doing. If you give something an honest try and really don’t like it, it’s okay to give it up. There are plenty of other platforms.
Give Yourself a Good Chance. Consider how you like to interact with others. What might you enjoy talking about or showing your readers? Maybe you simply want to have the chance to take part in conversations. These factors can help you choose the platform pieces that may work best for you. There are many different avenues you can try:
Social Media – Picking one or two you like and being good at them is better than trying to be on them all and doing a spotty job. Me? I use Twitter and Facebook a lot. I’ve tried Pinterest and Instagram but they just don’t seem to be my thing.
Forums – Chat boards where you can share information give you an opportunity to interact with a multitude of different writers. The SCBWI Blueboards and Absolute Write are two popular writer’s forums. There are many Facebook groups as well that are basically used as forums such as Alayne’s Sub Six, Kidlit411, and Sub It Club.
Newsletters and Online Newspapers – These might work well for you if you enjoy the gathering and sharing of information. Just do your best to define your angle. Sure it may evolve over time but having a good idea will make it easier for you to figure out what information to share and help you define and build an audience.
Video – Formats like YouTube make it possible for everyone to share themselves via video. It can be a fun way to get yourself out there.
Offline Life – Are you a librarian? (I am!) A teacher? Work at a bookstore? Knowing people in any part of the book business is a big plus. If you enjoy doing presentations, teaching, doing readings, and interacting with others who love books; participate in the plethora of ways there are to share literature and build the community of book lovers you know.
What Should You Choose? You don’t want to have yourself pulled in too many directions!
A website or blog will give you a place to be found. It’s a good idea to have a page where an agent or editor can look you up and learn basic information about you if they are interested. Every writer sending their work out on submission should at the very least have a static bio page that includes contact information. I have a bio page on my blog.
You can interact on many platforms. Twitter is an especially helpful place for writers to be. So many agents, editors, and writers tweet. If you hop on Twitter and tweet as well, it’s a good way for you to get to know others and for others to get to know you.
If you choose to do something such as a newsletter, online newspaper or video, using social media channels such as Twitter can be an effective way to let others know about what you have. Some social media can be supplemental to your main platform. Just be sure to not be all promo all the time.
If you are more comfortable participating in a forum, that’s great too. Many forums offer the opportunity to put your information in your signature. Be sure to take advantage of this and link it to your online bio page. You have one of those, right?
Make it real. Creating and maintaining a platform takes time and energy. You want the time you spend on it to be enjoyable. You want your platform to be something you like. You want it to fit you!
After I started my personal blog to push myself into the online world, I was able to push myself even more and talk about things I really like to talk about. I now give picture book writing advice and curate the Monster List of Picture Book Agents to pull readers in.
Because I pushed myself, I learned that I love to talk to writers and was dying to talk to others about submissions. So, I went on to start Sub It Club as a place for writers and illustrators to talk about submitting their work. Of course, managing Sub It Club’s forums and pages, blog, and Twitter feed in addition to my personal social media and offline work does take time. It’s a good thing I love doing it. And voila! I have a platform that has grown organically over time, one that I am comfortable with and enjoy immensely. If I didn’t love talking about submissions and picture books I think that might be a different story.
There are lots of ways to build a platform. There is no one size fits all formula. There will be push and pull but as long as you stick with it, you’ll figure out what works for you. Be brave. Be unique. Be you. And have fun!
Heather Ayris Burnell loves writing query letters and she loves helping others with them, that’s why she created Sub It Club where they talk about all things subbing and share cover and query letter critiques in their private Facebook group. She also does query and picture book critiques, as well as private consulting with writers to help them figure out the ins and outs of publishing, submitting in particular. She is the author of BEDTIME MONSTER published by Raven Tree Press and is represented by Sean McCarthy Literary Agency.