The New Year always brings renewed commitments. For writers, that usually means something along the lines of “I promise to commit more time to my writing,” or “I will complete my novel (memoir, short story collection, poetry chapbook) this year,” or perhaps “I’m going to do more this year to market my work.” If that last one resonates with you, read on for some tips on building your platform this year.
I recommend you do one every month, and I will be writing in detail on each at the beginning of the month from now on. By the end of the year, you’ll be better positioned to sell your work, or at least answer the question, “What is your platform?” when an agent asks.
- If you haven’t already, start a blog. Yes, I know. Everyone and his dog has a blog. But it’s one of the fastest ways to build a following. (See Why Should Writers Blog?, Jan. 13.)
- Engage social media. It doesn't have to be Facebook, though Facebook is the social network with the most users. There are a number of sites for writers that offer ways to promote your work. Check out redroom.com, shewrites.com, fictionaut.com, and the new Writers Agents and Editors Network site founded by super-agent Jeff Herman and his wife, Deborah. Even goodreads.com – which is focused more on readers – offers promotional pages for authors.
- Speak out. Become an expert in your field and go out and talk about it. If you’re a nonfiction writer, offer to speak to groups who are interested in the topics you write about. Give a free lecture at your local library. If you write fiction, offer to do a virtual chat with book clubs. The more you speak, the more you’ll be seen as having expertise in writing. And if you’re not comfortable speaking, sign up for a local Toastmaster’s course. I guarantee it will bring returns in spades.
- Teach a class. Do you have a community college in your community? Admittedly, education dollars are more limited than in previous years, but teaching a local adult ed class is a great way to become better known in your community (and to sell books!).
- Volunteer. With a school, a writing program for kids, anyplace where you can offer insight and information to young writers. This is so important! We are responsible for bringing up future literati. Take it seriously.
- Review others’ books. On your own blog or on reader sites like Goodreads or Amazon. This is another opportunity to give a little and gain a lot later.
- Self-publish an e-book. It is becoming simpler by the day. If you have a novel or nonfiction book that’s complete, well-edited and ready for prime time, pay a little bit of money to have a great cover designed, format it so it reads well, then make a .pdf file and upload it to Amazon’s self-publishing service. You can’t lose.
- Send out a monthly e-newsletter. This is one way to keep you and your book in front of people who don't do social media. There are several really good services and they are not expensive (I’ve used both ConstantContact.com and Ratepoint.com). The advantages are worth the investment of time in learning their platforms and designing a pleasing template.
- Join a writers organization. I recommend national organizations, like PEN Center USA, the Authors Guild, the Writers Guild of America, West, and others. Each has different criteria for membership, but if you qualify, belonging is well worth the nominal yearly membership fee. I belong to both the Authors Guild and PEN Center USA. The free legal and contract advice alone is worth it.
- Launch a virtual book tour. There are two kinds: You can do a phone or Skype meeting with a book club or a media personality. Easy peasy. Or you can set up a virtual book tour where an interviewer asks you questions in a closed teleseminar. There’s a great explanation of both here.
- Add value. It's not just about you. If you’re using social media, pass on some information other writers can use. A link to a particularly good article on self-publishing or how to write a query letter. What to ask an agent if you are offered representation. Ways to structure a novel. Whatever you can offer in the way of added value, do it. And refrain from the obvious sales job. People don’t like to be pitched on social media.
- Pay it forward. (With thanks and a nod of the head to my friend Catherine Ryan Hyde, who wrote the book Pay It Forward.) Listen, if you want people to help you, you have to help others. If you’re in the position to help a new writer, do it. A little friendly coaching, taking time to offer some sage advice over coffee, whatever it is, it’s time well-invested. You never know when that person may be in a position to help you and your career. Believe me, people remember. Pay it forward.