Today I am going to stick up for the poor, downtrodden multibillion dollar global public corporations behind social media.
Blamed for everything from the breakdown of the family to the dissolution of meaningful personal relationships, they are supposedly the reason society is on a virtual brink of collapse.
But for authors of books, social media is the simplest and quickest way to create an author platform. This is why traditional publishers want it and self-publishing success demands it.
If every last social media company or system disappeared overnight, authors would still need to have a platform in order to be considered seriously by traditional publishers or succeed at self-publishing.
So, please give the big multinational corporations a break. They are very sensitive to criticism. (Actually, they aren’t, but work with me here, so harmony, understanding, sympathy and trust abound…peace, man)
Prior to social media, an author platform was relatively out of the author’s control. Authors built their platforms slowly by appearing in various print or electronic media, needing first to convince the media they had a worthwhile message and give them an opportunity to communicate to an audience. Authors needed to convince others to allow them to speak in public at various events, like churches for Christian authors.
It was the era of media gatekeepers and the reason decades ago the most successful authors tended to be newspaper or magazine columnists. They had a ready-made audience for their work.
When the internet took off in the mid-90’s, it provided another channel to reach people, but the incredible growth of the medium made it very difficult to get attention. Any communication method available for everyone to use, quickly becomes crowded and “noisy.”
After a decade or so the social media companies started popping up and today we find ourselves virtually swimming in customized communication.
The reason social media has become such a marketing focal-point is it is the simplest and cheapest way to develop a readership or audience in a comparatively short time. If social media didn’t exist, the foundational requirement of an effective author platform would still need to be in place.
What would authors do?
–They would still need to have the credentials to write, a way to reach an audience with a message and an ongoing plan to grow and communicate to their readership.
–They would need to travel more in order to network with people and organizations.
–Publishers and authors would need to spend more time and money convincing media “gatekeepers” to allow them access to their audience through interviews or content placement, with no guarantee of success. Media gatekeepers can say “no.”
–Christian authors would need to spend far more time and money connecting with churches and church leaders, convincing them to allow access to their flocks.
Author platform is not some made-up requirement by traditional publishers. You will struggle more as a self-published author without a good platform as your book is entirely on its own. At least a traditional publisher could take a chance on a non-platform author and still get some retail exposure for the book.
While attending a writer’s conference a while ago, I sat on a panel made up of a variety of publishing and media people. If you have been to a writer’s conference, you can envision this type of eclectic group in your mind.
Questions from attendees covered a wide range of topics, but inevitably circled around to the issue of an author’s platform.
One of the panelists was part of a major online media company and when they mentioned authors needed to focus on writing and not on developing a platform, they were almost carried off on the shoulders of excited conference attendees.
Of course, I needed to be the buzz-kill in the room (it’s one of my gifts) countering with, “I disagree. From your perspective you are correct, but only because you are a platform. You already have an audience and can decide who gets access to it.”
I sensed the attendees about to break out the tar and feathers.
Most aspiring authors do not have a readymade audience waiting for their writing. They need to assemble their own follower-readers, one way or another.
Social media is the easiest way to accomplish it.
I love this post. Now, when are you teaching the step-by-step method of building a platform via social media? Just let me know. I’ll be first in line.
I’m active on FB only (it’s the one I can properly manage). I’ve tried Twitter, but simply don’t have time for the learning curve and can’t seem to master “connection” with it. Instagram and Pintrest are mysteries to me. Without a smart phone, photos are not my thing.
You aren’t the only one Judith.
I think the first step is realizing all social media is simply a communications tool. You create a message and send it out via social media.
The confusing part is what to communicate. This is why I encourage people to focus on their “message platform.” You will struggle with all the logistics and demands of social media if you don’t first have something to say.
Determine your core message and plan an editorial calendar around it, like any periodical would do.
–“Anything which comes to mind” is not a message platform.
–“Everyone” is not an audience
–“When I feel like it” is not a communications strategy
Thanks for this great article. You are exactly right from my experience. Social media is the great equalizer and how authors can reach their audience. To my amazement, the more I use social media, the larger my audience and the more people read it. To me that means tweeting a dozen times a day is much better than only once or twice. Thankfully there are many easy to use tools for writers like Hootsuite so it does not have to consume our days and we can still write and do other necessary actions as writers.
Straight Talk From the Editor
Rebekah Love Dorris
“It was the era of media gatekeepers.” Okay, you convinced me.
I still remember watching Dan Rather try to push Al Gore through the night of the infamous election debacle. “And, we’re going to go ahead and call Florida…” How I prayed for the media to fall flat on its smug face. You just reminded me how God has answered this prayer, and the broader prayer that media gatekeepers would lose such world-controlling power. Social media is an answer to prayer.
Who would have guessed twenty years ago that today we could get customized news that wouldn’t raise our blood pressure through its blatant biased reporting! At least now if we do, it’s our own fault.
Who could have guessed we could publish our work and grow an audience for free?! One of my biggest questions is knowing when to give something to my audience for free because I love them and want it to benefit them, and when to pitch it to a broader audience who doesn’t know me. That may be a silly question, but it’s really a struggle.
Thanks for encouraging us to be thankful this morning! Maybe now I’ll feel a little less guilty when I do give social media a few of my precious minutes. God bless! 🙂
Oh the dreaded social media and that platform. A necessary evil I suppose. Why evil? Because I can’t seem to ‘get it’. I agree with Judith, when is the step-by-step class? I’ll be right behind her.
I’ve tried Twitter – I don’t seem to connect with anyone, or see any good conversations – it’s just a bunch of pithy words. Hopefully pithy.
Instagram is fun, but how many pictures of ‘the next page’ is someone else interested in?
I also manage FB – I get to see pictures of my grandkids. :/
I have a blog – but I can never think of what to write about. Sigh – for a creative person I sure am boring.
Katelyn S. Bolds
This is a great post Dan! It’s exactly what I encourage authors to believe. Social media is working FOR authors, not the other way around. Learning to harness technology to work for you is what will make or break you in this industry.
I was talking about this the other day and we both agreed there is no excuse. We live in a time where amazing resources are a click away. Is everybody doing it? Pretty much. Is it easy to get lost in the crowd? Depends on your height (kidding). But it’s always been that way. Now we push and shove for attention behind our keyboard while lounging in our pj’s. Stop complaining. We live in an amazing time.
Excellent Dan. Thank you.
I really appreciate the reminders of all of the blessings of social media. Thanks, Dan!
Thank you for the continued confirmation that I’m not wasting my time staying active on social media. Learning to balance my time between social media, writing, and life is an art form that requires focus. I haven’t mastered it yet, but I’m pressing forward.
Good point, Dan. Is there anything worth doing that doesn’t have some parts we don’t want to do? But if we can approach the repellent parts with a positive attitude that lets us look for what might prove fun, the whole task becomes less burdensome.
I‘m trying to think of social media that way. I just need to find the form of it that can build platform without being a total pain. I have a popular history website, but haven’t been using SM very effectively since I do Facebook too sporadically and I don’t want to make videos. The thought of doing Twitter every day makes me gag. But I can see me having lots of fun with Pinterest, and I’m about to start there.
Tim Z Ogle
Your article makes perfect sense. How about a follow up article on the best ways to establish a social media platform.
The best way to establish a social media platform begins with certain basics, but then needs to be customized for each author. After the basic principles of deciding what to say and how to say it, any number of paths could be taken.
If you don’t know how to do this yourself, you need to read about it, teach yourself, attend seminars on social media engagement or hire a consultant until you set a course.
While social media is essentially free to set up an account, preparing a good platform will cost both money and time.
This was a very interesting article and I definitely agree that social media is a tool to be used, whether for good or bad. But as someone who is querying to find and agent, how do I gain an audience of followers when my writing isn’t a published work yet?
I love the shout-out to the Age of Aquarius. Yes, I am that old.
Let the sun shine in….
Please, the clip art must die…
But I digress…
I attended a writers’ conference one time and was asked a question by one editor of a major publisher. Her question doomed my perspective of what Christian publishing has become. She asked how many subscribers I had, how many followers on Twitter, and who, those Twitter followers were influencers.
It was clearly a gatekeeper test. The secret passcode takes a writer beyond the gate. Your name, your goals, your calling, and God’s purpose in using you for His message is secondary, I learned. Numbers to the industry matter (put that on a T-shirt). Behind every number is a person. Performance, in great numbers, earns your place in the industry.
I’m glad Jesus sees beyond that!
It’s not quite as cold-blooded as that, Erendira. It’s not so much gate-keeping as trying to make sure anything a publisher puts out will sell enough copies to earn enough money to keep them from going bankrupt. Even Christian businesses have to run in the black, or they die.
There’s no perfect way to know what the response to a book will be (and God can and sometimes does gloriously bless the work of authors with small platforms starting out), but business people need something to guide where they will risk their limited resources. Social media numbers are one measure of whether there are enough people who might be willing to buy your book to keep a publisher from going bankrupt and putting all their people out of work.
I don’t envy them that job, and I am SO thankful I’m not having to make the decisions that might take a company down if I guess wrong!
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Dan, thanks for the thoughtful posting. So, you are a Fifth Dimension fan, as well?
I loved your blog post regarding the importance of social media. I have a better grasp on it now, but when I started, I got the attitude from many writers that indicated, “Oh, you’ll figure it out” and then left me twisting in the wind with no idea of where to start. For someone who works full time AND writes, trying then to learn social media on my own was an almost impossible task. I’ve also met several aspiring writers who are thrashing aimlessly about trying to figure out the best way to build a social platform. If I can provide guidance, I will, but it’s definitely something that (a) is necessary, and (b) can be a mystery with the kind of reaction I’ve historically received. Thank you for the encouragement to persevere because of it’s necessity.
Thank you for making this dose of reality easier to swallow.