Author Platforms 201 – Part Two – Consistency

Starting last Tuesday and continuing today and next week I will be exploring the issue of author platforms and how to get one.  At the conclusion of this series of blog posts, The Steve Laube Agency will offer a downloadable document that will include the three posts plus additional information and resources.

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Last week, I talked a little about the need to develop a “message platform”, which must be in place before you get a website, Facebook page or start any social media effort.

Today I am still not going to talk at all about how to use Twitter or Instagram or any specific social media. Media is the vehicle to communicate. Maybe at one time “the media is the message”, but in the 21st century, with ubiquitous media, “the message is the message” and that is where it belongs.

Today we will continue to explore how to determine what your message platform is and what you need to begin implementing it.

Most people have heard the term “branding” or “brand management” as it relates to consumer products like breakfast cereal and cars. Simply defined (so even I can understand it), effective branding limits creative expression within certain boundaries. If you are a label designer for Campbell’s Soup, there is a template you use to maintain the Campbell’s brand so anyone can recognize a product at a glance.  An artist who desires to express herself creatively would view that job as a start, but probably not last long in that highly controlled environment.

Authors are brands as well. When anyone, from an agent to a reader looks at an author some immediate thoughts will come to mind, whether positive, negative, clear or confusing. Of course, you desire to project a positive and clear image, but often times, the way we operate is contrary to that.

I am not talking hypocrisy or sinful behaviors or walking the talk. I am referring to having a consistent message, delivered creatively, one that attracts readers and followers and meets the expectations they have for you.

Toe-stepping alert#1: Many less-than-interesting messages from authors have been posted in various media because “I need to post something today, but I can’t think of anything right now.” Until you become truly a rock star and people really want to know what kind of shampoo you use, don’t lose focus and talk about things that lack connection to your message. (Unless your message platform is about hair care, then shampoo is fine)

Whether you recognize it or not, you have a theme to what you write.

  • A novelist might have an approach that shows how characters can learn from mistakes.
  • A non-fiction author might use extensive research to undergird whatever they write and is known for attention to detail.
  • Another novelist shows how people go about their lives unaware of the spiritual world in the background.
  • A writer of Bible reference works desires to make the Bible understandable to everyone.
  • A writer of children’s books might want parents and children to interact about important things.

None of the above are necessarily the topic of a book…they are an author’s approach to their writing. That is their message platform, which is the first step for developing the author platform we hear so much about.

Toe-stepping alert #2: Most authors have no idea what their message platform is until someone else tells them.  If you try to figure it out yourself, you are engaging in a form of self-deception. We never see ourselves as others see us. Ask someone who will be honest. Don’t ask close friends or family. They will be nice and usually agree with whatever you say.  “Of course, you are smartest person in the world”. Thanks mom.

Bloggers, columnists, talk-show hosts, comedians, teachers, pastors and others who are responsible to deliver regular presentations make it a habit to always be on the lookout for illustrations and content. In many cases, they carry a small notebook with them everywhere they go, ready to capture a thought. Of course, these days, a number of people use a notes app or voice memo function on a smart phone. Use whatever you want, but do it.

Eyes and ears open, antennae up.

Look for stories to support your message platform everywhere. Let’s say your message platform is to highlight the good things people do for one another every day. That’s an easy one. You look for people doing things for one another.

Toe-stepping alert #3: If you don’t write or record the idea immediately, you will forget it. I don’t care how smart you are or how much you can memorize, the first time your phone rings you’ll forget what you were thinking about and the thought will be gone like a coin dropped on the couch.

Suppose your core message is harder to define. This is where asking multiple people is extremely important. Tell people to be straight with you. Anything else will not be helpful or at best, will send you off on a rabbit trail.

Finally, the framework for all message platforms is a commonly used item. A calendar. There are dates that mean something, like MLK Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, your grandmother’s 100th birthday, the anniversary of the day you got your driver’s license, etc.

By mapping out your message framework with a calendar, you will have a much easier time acquiring a specific message than if you try to figure out something without it. An idea from this afternoon might be great for next Spring or two years from now.

Toe-stepping alert#4: If you do not consistently plan your platform messages, then you will have regular moments of brain-freeze and you will shelve your carefully crafted platform for something less-than-important. The more you waste the time of your devoted followers who expect something from your core message platform, the less devoted they will become. (Unless you are super-famous, then we want to know what flavor of hummus you like best)

Next week, I’ll close this series of blog posts with a specific approach you can view the way you conduct your author marketing.

But if I forget what to write, anyone want to know how I feel about buying food from vending machines at rest stops along interstate highways?

Author Platforms – Part One

29 Responses to Author Platforms 201 – Part Two – Consistency

  1. Jackie Layton February 10, 2015 at 3:54 am #

    Dan,

    This is a terrific series. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Beverly Brooks February 10, 2015 at 5:29 am #

    I agree – this is awesome! Toe-stepping alert #3 is definitely my stumbling block so this reminder was great. I am most intrigued by the idea of the calendar framework and the constant checking that my messages are consistent.

    I appreciate the clearly worded explanations because this concept has been a bit elusive to me.

  3. Judith Robl February 10, 2015 at 6:28 am #

    Dan, thank you for this second dance. Your message is right on and something I needed to hear – desperately needed to hear.

    Thank you, also, for putting it in terms and steps that anyone – even I – can follow. If I don’t get platform right, it won’t be your fault.

    waiting with bated breath for the third installment and the download to follow.

  4. Judith Robl February 10, 2015 at 6:29 am #

    Aarrggh!

    Waiting with bated breath…

  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 10, 2015 at 7:20 am #

    Great post!

    Working on my own blog, I try to keep consistency divided into four parts –

    1) Consistency of subject – the topic always has to hook into marriage and relationships.

    2) Consistency of voice – not jumping from serious and academic to jocular and colloquial, except in clearly-defined instances (like Five Minute Friday, in which the whole post has to be completed, based on a keyword, in five minutes…that has to be more informal).

    3) Consistency of tone – not chirpy one day, heavy the next. I’ve noticed that some writing blogs (not this one) do a bit of that…putting up depressing posts about the unlikely odds of a debut author EVER getting published, and following it with a post on how to handle a multi-book contract.

    4) Consistency of schedule – I keep an inventory of ready-to-go posts that can be slotted in if I feel uninspired, or I’m too ill to write. But these are clearly “in case of emergency only” – NOT a convenience for when I’m tired or would rather watch Downton Abbey.

    I wonder if anyone else reading this applies a similar checklist?

    • Sandy Faye Mauck February 10, 2015 at 11:01 am #

      Andrew, thanks that was a really helpful. Boy, this must be your month!

  6. Jeanne Takenaka February 10, 2015 at 8:12 am #

    Dan, I so appreciate this post.

    I love the idea of asking those who don’t know you well to tell you what they’re seeing as your message platform. As you mentioned, I THINK I know what mine is, but I’m not sure that’s what is being conveyed through my writing. You’ve got me thinking.

    And this: “None of the above are necessarily the topic of a book…they are an author’s approach to their writing.” Eye opening. Thank you! I’m learning so much from this series!

  7. Afton Rorvik February 10, 2015 at 8:12 am #

    Helpful as always. Thanks!
    One question: Can talking about shampoo and vending machines now and then make an author seem more approachable? Readers do seem to be curious about the real person behind the message.

    • Dan Balow February 10, 2015 at 8:44 am #

      Absolutely, but personal is woven into an on-topic message. Similarly, everyone does not need to write their memoir. They can, however reveal themselves over a period of time in various things they write.

  8. Kerry Flowers February 10, 2015 at 8:16 am #

    Dan – could you just come to my house and download your experience & wisdom one day? Great stuff. And, you could blog about what food you had at truck stops on the way down to sunny Alabama!

    • Dan Balow February 10, 2015 at 8:45 am #

      Truck stops are different! I love them! Vending machines at rest stops are scary.

  9. Heather FitzGerald February 10, 2015 at 9:39 am #

    As I’ve approached the release of my first YA Fantasy novel over the past two years, I’ve done a lot of research on what you are discussing. I completely see the point but find it MUCH more difficult to have a platform as a fiction writer.

    If I’m an expert on something like child abuse, I can write indefinitely about different angles of such a horrifying subject. Even writing historical fiction would lend itself to being an expert on a time period that could have many facets of blog topics etc.

    But as a fantasy author I find two problems . . . 1) I can only talk about fantasy/my book for so long without sounding like I’m either tooting my own horn or trying to come up with a clever way to rehash another blog on dragons. 2) My target audience is not prone to follow blogs. They are much more engaged in quick-fix social media like Instagram (which I also do, as well as FB, Pintrest).

    Any thoughts on this? I don’t feel like I’m imagining it. I’ve looked at a lot of blogs from people in my genre and they’re lacking singular, dynamic content as well. All of the advice I find about platform is much more applicable to non-fiction, in my opinion.

    Thanks for any insight you may have!

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 10, 2015 at 9:53 am #

      I’m no expert, but two thoughts come to mind –

      1 – talk about other books in your genre, and the personalities of the dragons (and other beasts) therein. You won’t cost yourself sales by promoting other works, and you’ll expand the base of understanding in your genre.

      2 – Use Pinterest to promote your blog, by uploading Powerpoint slides that give a ‘capsule’ of a specific post’s content, and giving a link to that post. it’s worked quite well for me, in generating more blog traffic. It does take time, and I have not had the full resources to exploit it recently.

      • Heather FitzGerald February 17, 2015 at 6:31 pm #

        Thanks, Andrew. Those are helpful ideas. If you are able to put a link to your Pintrest idea here, I’d like to see what exactly your doing with Power Point. Thanks again!

    • Dan Balow February 10, 2015 at 10:21 am #

      Good comment from Andrew.

      You could also blog about creativity, how to encourage it in children, how not to stifle it, putting boundaries on what is appropriate and not appropriate, etc.

      Give a regular creative “project” to readers or their children. Encourage writing.

      My point is that no matter want kind of books you write, there is an “approach” that you use. Your approach could be encouraging imagination in readers.

      • Heather FitzGerald February 17, 2015 at 6:35 pm #

        Thank you, Dan.
        To some extent I do write on creativity, and inspiration, and how it connects us to life and our Lord. I’ve done some book reviews, blog hops, short stories etc. I am saving character posts for when we are near launch time for the book. Are all of these things, lumped together, my “platform”? Or am I not specializing enough? I consider it variety, LOL.

        • Dan Balow February 17, 2015 at 8:23 pm #

          Variety is fine. For you, make sure there is a consistent voice to what you are posting. Maybe build a certain rhythm to each type…like a short story on a certain day, a book review regularly on another day, etc.

          Consistency is the key. Boundaries make for good creative because it has a point.

  10. Sandy Faye Mauck February 10, 2015 at 10:59 am #

    Ah, the lingo—platform, branding, message…just needed a good translator!
    Dan, this has been a big help to me. I am getting it. This was a keeper post for sure.

    What you wrote was was very helpful. Some things really clicked in my brain this time.

    In TSA #2 I think I may be one who can figure out the message but maybe that comes with age. (<; And the calendar idea—I have been doing for years and didn't know it. I look at an idea, write it in an idea book. I know it's not a 'now' idea because it is only a spark and not a fire.

    But I need to get the other things you said into practice. Need to refocus my blog.

    Don't you think it would be helpful for people to understand their own message better, if they studied the general message of their favorite authors?

    • Dan Balow February 10, 2015 at 11:36 am #

      Good idea to study other authors. But here’s a dark secret for you…most authors write first and then over time discover their approach after the fact. They don’t start out with a clear purpose.

      Really creative people will often be surprised with what they just wrote. Especially in fiction,, they are surprised as anyone when something happens.

      Even in non-fiction, many authors discover their “approach” after the fact, because it happens naturally.

      You have to be writing to determine your consistent approach, so whether you are published already or not yet, you have your own approach to characters, plots, conflict, etc.

      This is not easy, but when you uncover your unique approach, it will be liberating.

      • Sandy Faye Mauck February 10, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

        That is so true, Dan. I just wrote. When I came to my umpteenth edit, I was ridiculously surprised at the things I had unknowingly done right (we won’t talk about the things I had done wrong) and the hidden meanings I had NO idea I had injected. My husband and I laughed over some of it.

        Several edits ago, I would have never understood what you just said.

        I look forward to platform clarifiers as I keep writing.

        That clears it up with that one word in non-fiction— “approach”.
        Your reply to me ought to be in the blog. It is so good. Thanks.

  11. Sandy Faye Mauck February 10, 2015 at 1:40 pm #

    One more question, Dan—
    Does knowing your platform help you write the next books?

    • Dan Balow February 10, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

      For fiction…not necessarily. But with non-fiction, yes. Non-fiction usually has a much more specific purpose and target than fiction, so a NF author will have an audience in mind, which will direct your topic.

      • Sandy Faye Mauck February 10, 2015 at 2:24 pm #

        Okay, thanks Dan.

        • Kerry Flowers February 10, 2015 at 4:43 pm #

          Sandy – I wholeheartedly agree with Dan on the NF platform helping with next books. Quick experience: When I started my own consulting business, I self-published my first NF book on how to create and maintain a healthy company culture. My second NF book also targeted developing the right culture, but this time it was meant for churches. The more I write on developing culture, the more I see what doesn’t belong with my message which in turn helps with consistency. Even though I am narrowing my scope, I am finding that it opens up my creative thought for meeting the needs of my audience…I just hope I can say something that helps!

          • Sandy Faye Mauck February 10, 2015 at 6:37 pm #

            Thanks for sharing, Kerry. This has been a great learning and thought provoking day for me. I came up with a whole lot of ideas after bouncing my thoughts off the wall and my unsuspecting hubby…a very encouraging and focusing day!

  12. Carol McClain February 12, 2015 at 6:48 am #

    Wow. I read the title of this blog post and expected something entirely different. This one REALLY helped me. I may not be as lost and confused as I thought I was.

    And, I had just read a funny comment from a friend. Told her it would end up in a story–and of course, didn’t write it down. After reading your post, I got my notebook. And know what? I had to think a moment to remember the details I was certain I would never forget.

    Thanks, Dan.

  13. Terry Linhart February 13, 2015 at 4:30 am #

    Thanks Dan, I’ve benefited from these reminders and I’ve passed these along to others. The advice is clear and helpful and I appreciate the time you’ve taken to craft this series. Looking forward to meeting you at the Chicago Writing Workshop May 16. I’m bringing two hopeful authors with me for the day. Looks to be a great day.

    TL

  14. Lisa February 20, 2015 at 9:58 am #

    Great info, Dan, thanks. I have just launched my blog in January, and am working through some of this. It is more difficult as a fiction writer to focus in on your “message”. Not sure I have a handle on that very well. My novel is a historical fantasy based in Dark Ages Britain, so I’ve been covering topics such as locations in my book, a review of a non-fiction book about science and the Middle Ages, concepts explored in my book that were important to the people of the day, movie review of The Hobbit, etc. So I try to keep my topics related to the novel in some way, for the most part. But I’ve also started a year-long series on reading the works of C.S. Lewis, because he’s one of my favourite authors, and his work has had a great deal of influence on me. So, I dunno. I must say, though, that although I was basically dreading adding “writing a blog” to my list of things “to do” I am enjoying it more than I thought I would. I just post once a week, on Fridays, though. More than that would be too much, for me.

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