Author Platforms Are Toxic

Have you built your author platform on shaky ground?

I’ve noticed some worrying traps aspiring authors are falling into – and I know because I’m an aspiring author who has fallen into these traps myself.

Key Points:

Let’s Start With A Necessary Disclaimer.

I’m not here to stir some AuthorTube tea or to #Cancel the #WritingCommunity or whatever. Frankly, I’m a lurker in both communities and I don’t know enough about either to articulate a meaningful post on what is and what isn’t wrong with them. Even if I did, I’m so unknown that nobody would care. Likewise, this isn’t meant to be a criticism aimed at specific authors. I’m not naming names. A lot of what I’ll allude to is pretty old drama, so there’s no point. If you’ve been in writing circles on the internet, you’ll know the details. If you don’t, it’s pretty easy to find out. I’m months, and in some cases, years late to this discussion.

The point isn’t to rehash old news, the point is to be honest with you – my followers – and with myself, and with how I’ll be running this blog going forward.

After a disclaimer like that, you might be wondering what the crack is.

Well, here it is.

Author platforms are toxic.

Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels

What is an Author’s Platform?

To be a successful author, your book needs to be seen by people. To do that, you need to market not only your book but yourself – this goes double for anyone self-publishing, and for anyone who writes non-fiction.

How, exactly, does one build a platform?

Good question. If you have any idea, let me know in the comments because I’m dying to know.

Seriously, building a platform isn’t easy. The way I, and most writers, approach this is by creating content. Good content attracts followers and the more followers, the larger an online presence grows. Discussions begin, friendships are made, communities are formed, and so on. Hopefully this will create a following large enough that when a writer is ready to publish their novel, it’ll be noticed.

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The Trap Aspiring Authors Fall Into When Building Their Platforms

The aspiring author faces a conundrum: What content should they create that would attract potential readers for their future novel?

Obviously, they want to attract people who read, duh!

You’ll have noticed a problem with that statement. It lacks specificity.

Marketing gurus say we need to figure out who our target market is. The target market is the potential customer, a person or a group of people with something in common, that something being an interest in the product we’re selling.

For example, I’m writing a dark fantasy novel for adults, meaning my target market is people aged roughly 18+ who like fantasy.

How many of those people are reading my blog or following me on Twitter? I haven’t a clue. Maybe I should do a poll like this:

If I were to write exactly to my market, I should really be blogging about… I don’t know, fairies helping me get onto the property ladder. I wrote a post about the Irish Puca, does that count? That’s if I ever finish this WIP and I don’t find a new idea and finish that one first.

Not to mention, book categories are kind of pointless. Unless it’s a story for very young children or an erotica novel, pretty much anyone and everyone will potentially pick up a book if the story interests them. This is why Disney films are popular despite being ‘family friendly’, and being about just about every genre under the sun. People don’t really care about categorizing their interests.

Which comes back to the issue of marketing that which does not yet exist.

When writers start out, we don’t know what kind of book we’re going to write. Most of us bounce from idea to idea until we find something that works. Writing is a creative process, and rarely do we know exactly what the end product will be. Should we wait until our novel is finished before we build a platform? Maybe. Marketing a book means shouting from the rooftops about said book – which isn’t possible if it doesn’t exist.

Except writers are told that we can and should start building our platform as soon as possible.

We often just associate marketing with selling our book. But we can’t just appear out of nowhere online and expect people to automatically buy our book. We have to introduce ourselves and lead people to know, like, and trust us and what we have to say. 

How Authors Can Grow an Audience Before the Book Is Written  by Jenn Hanson-dePaula

Book blogging is a popular option. Other writers might try AuthorTube – a community of authors and writers on Youtube who make videos about writing. Then there’s BookTube, which is essentially book blogging but on camera. There’s also Twitter’s Writing Community, where writers and authors have flocked to find like-minded people, and tweet about, again, writing and other bookish things.

Building a platform isn’t just about building a following, it’s about building credibility. Reading takes time, and readers want to know that authors know what they’re doing. Reviewing existing fiction gives one the reputation of being an intellectual, someone who understands the quote-unquote fundamentals of storytelling. Same goes if a writer chooses to blog about writing advice.

This is a mistake.

Giving writing advice… when you can’t write

I have never given writing advice that I don’t follow myself – but that in itself can lead to problems. As my experience and knowledge of the craft grows, I see the faults with my practices and writing habits so I’ve grown out of those habits.

There are a lot of aspiring authors who have built their platforms (some very successfully) out of giving writing advice.

But because books are upheld in our culture, the pressure is on to write a fantastic debut – and that pressure is tripled, nay quadrupled, if a writer chooses to build their platform around being super amazing at writing. If that debut is even a little bit flawed, and it will be, the majority of that author’s following will be disappointed.

And if the book is, dare I say it, bad… If it doesn’t follow the advice the author themselves is giving… what does that mean for that author’s reputation? What happens to their brand?

Certainly, they’ll gain a new reputation for being a raging hypocrite. They might even be made a mockery of.

Ouch.

We are so unforgiving towards writers.

Common Problems With Being A Reviewer

Because writers are such passionate storytellers, we have a lot of opinions on, you guessed it, the art of storytelling. This is one of the reasons aspiring authors might choose to write reviews or blog about books.

In a way, book blogging or posting literary essays to YouTube leads to the same issue as giving writing advice – the risk of building a reputation for knowing what you’re talking about without the experience of having written a book.

Another problem I’ve seen is that it’s hard to get people to watch or read a review unless it’s about taking something to task. Believe me, I love a good rant-review as much as the next person but they’re also super emotionally draining to make. Time and time again I’ve seen book reviewers get engagement for reading books they don’t even like, all for the sake of a delicious drama-filled rant. It sucks the joy out of what’s supposed to be a passionate place for discussing stories.

But it gets clicks. It gets engagement. It builds a platform.

Speaking of clicks…

Begging For Followers

Twitter is full of writers begging for followers. Believe me, I understand the want to have eyes on you so that you can broadcast your book to people.

But, by God, it’s terrible.

Firstly, there’s this bizarre expectation that if someone follows your socials you are obligated to follow them back.

Twitter’s Writing Community is flooded with the hashtag ‘Writer’s Lift’ were the OP builds a thread of thousands of people dropping their links and socials and asking to be followed. These threads generate a lot of attention, being re-tweeted hundreds of times to thousands, sometimes millions of eyes. Some accounts only tweet writer’s lifts.

It can be so overwhelming that many writers, myself included, have muted the WriterLift hashtag.

Even if it wasn’t annoying, what’s really achieved here?

I see a lot of grumbling on Twitter about people who don’t ‘follow back’ – as if we’re owed attention just because we give it. I’m sorry, but I thought we follow people we’re interested in!

This might just be a problem on Twitter. Never in my life have I heard a YouTuber say “Like and subscribe and I’ll subscribe back.”

Why?

Well, the temptation to rick-roll is too strong, for one thing.

Take it from someone who has a high follower count on Twitter and literally no engagement, having numbers means nothing if people aren’t genuinely interested in what you have to say. I’m much happier over here on WordPress with the three people who consistently like my blog posts (Love you!)

Another problem with Twitter’s numbers game is that you’re building a following of fellow writers, not readers. Sure writers can read and encourage each other – that’s the point of having a community – and I’m all for that…

But…

And I’m sorry if this sounds blatantly obvious.

  1. Writers aren’t the only people who read.
  2. Strangers on the internet don’t owe each other anything.
  3. We’ve created a space where there is no room for honest critique.
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What’s The Alternative?

So if writing advice is off the table and book blogging is out what is an aspiring author like me supposed to do to build a platform?

Well… write overly long rants, apparently.

Seriously though, I’m still figuring that out.

I mentioned in this post that I’m trying to lean away from writing advice and that’s still true, though I will post about writing on occasion. I’m aiming to be a bit more general when it comes to talking about writing, such as What I Love About Storytelling. I’ve also posted teasers and snippets of research for my WIP.

I’ll still post the occasional writing tip because despite what I said earlier, I do believe that aspiring authors have the right to talk about their process and what works for them – I just think it should be done moderately. Carefully.

A lot of the time, I can’t really explain how I write. I’m not experienced enough to break down the process in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m just parroting someone else’s advice. Sometimes there are no words for it. Sometimes writing just works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

And, sometimes, trying to break that process down for the sake of building my own credibility in the eyes of others is a massive chore.

Hell, the whole marketing thing is a chore.

There was a post recently over on A Writer’s Path on this very issue called How Some Writing Advice Can Actually Hurt You. In it, the author expressed frustration with the common advice of ‘getting your name out there.’ Well worth a read. Like them, I don’t really like using social media to promote myself. My ideal writing future would be me being a hermit, publishing books in secret. Sadly, that’s not really a thing these days.

So I’ll keep going. My blog has changed and will likely continue to change. Thank you for sticking with me.

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