Do Fiction Writers Need Platform?

This interesting question comes from Diana:

Platforms continue to elude me. How to build one without pigeon-holing yourself, how to assess the best methods, how to find the time (snort). Is the scope of your platform important to an agent? Are publishers looking for genre-specific platforms or more generalized author-focused approaches? Am I worrying too much about this?

First and foremost, when a writer asks, “Am I worrying too much about this?” the answer is almost always “yes!” Not to make light of Diana’s plight, but writers do have a reputation for getting hung up on things and then swirling in their own heads until panic arises. I get it, too. It’s the curse of hte intellectual/creative type.

Now, “platform” is one of those buzzwords that you hear on blogs and message boards and at conferences. First and foremost, it’s much more important for non-fiction writers. That is a fact. When you put together a non-fiction book proposal, the publisher really wants to know how many people you can reach and sell books to. That’s a crucial concern for them at acquisitions. Professionals with big networks, popular bloggers, experts with connections, people who have caught the media spotlight…those are the types of people who can impress editors with the promise of big NF sales.

Fiction writers are different. They’re not selling themselves (an essential part of every non-fiction book is either that the author or the idea are noteworthy and attention-grabbing), they’re selling a story. In most cases in fiction, it really is all about the book and not about the personality behind it. Some fiction authors don’t even do promotion for their work.So the average fiction writer’s platform is, “I like to write fiction,” and that’s okay.

Let me repeat: Fiction lives and dies by the manuscript itself, unless you’re famous. And you would know if you were famous (hint: you wouldn’t be reading this blog because you’d already have five different types of agents).

A lot of my (unpopular) thoughts on developing platform for fiction writers can be found addressed in this previous post. I stick by what I said. Just like a query letter does not have the power to make or break you as a fiction writer (query letter writing and manuscript writing are two different things), a fiction writer’s huge platform does not have the power to land you a book deal if your book is horrible, nor does a lacking  platform get in the way of an acquisition if the book is brilliant. (Unless, again, you’re Snooki.)

All that said, however, it’s important for writers in today’s market to think about platform at some point. You should start getting familiar with the idea of self-promotion, the venues for developing your marketing strategy (blogs, social media), etc. However, platform shouldn’t be the thing you need to focus on before you write your manuscript.  Once you get a book deal, you’ll need to shift into two modes, a) marketing Debut Novel, and b) writing Follow-up Novel. But that’s after. Building a platform now, before you have a book, before you have anything to leverage it with, is a bit like putting the cart before the horse.

People love their blogging and their Tweeting and the communities of unpublished writers that they’ve created online. I’m not trying to take that away from you. But realize that a platform without something to sell is not something you really need to be worried about at this point. I’m all about writers getting themselves out there and starting to participate in the world, build buzz, etc., but that’s not what I’m selling when I sell your fiction. If platform is stressing you out, go back to focusing on the writing.

14 Replies to “Do Fiction Writers Need Platform?”

  1. Thanks for this post. I’ve heard so much different advice on platforms, and some (not all, but some) of it just boils down to, “You need to build your platform now! Don’t wait! By the time you have a book deal, it’s too late!”

    I think I’ll go back to putting my thoughts into that next manuscript. ^_^

  2. In a word – whew. Thanks for this cut-to-the-chase advice. Back to creating those stories, characters and plot lines that will capture the attention of agents/publishers (cause, hey, that’s a hard enough job as it is.) 😉

    1. Just exactly how I felt when I read this after a series of Googles I just did with *you should build an author’s platform that will not take overnight but a year or even more* & seems I became hopeless. Anyway, thanks a lot for this article. I’m so relieved.

  3. I blog not because I feel like I have to, but because I genuinely enjoy it. I like connecting with other writers and trying to give them helpful information about agents and the query process.

    And in that way, I think my platform, quote-unquote, has helped me in my agent hunt. My blog has given me a great way to network with agents, since I’m always contacting them about doing interviews and judging contests and such. My writing still has to stand on its own two feet, but maybe those agents I’ve worked with see my name in their inboxes and pay a little more attention to my query. I have noticed that my request rate is higher among the agents I’ve interviewed (although that may simply be because I tend to interview the agents I think might be interested in my writing down the line:) ).

    Thanks for this post, Mary. It’s a good reminder.

  4. Dear Agent X,

    As an Ant Expert, I have a huge following in the Ant-Collector World. I literally know thousands of people who are potty about our tiny, super-strong little friends; ANTS. Or perhaps just a few people who have thousands of ants.

    Either way, I feel confident this will be an excellent platform for my YA Romance (ms attached). As long as you can get the publisher to guarantee an Ant in the Cover Design.

    Many Thanks,

    Antthea

  5. I shut down my blog in September after 10 years, because I realized I didn’t love it anymore, and so it was sucking away my energy for writing and the online things I do still love (which, ok, is just Twitter). I was upfront with my agent and editor, and after I told them, my agent’s immediate response was “Are you ok?” and my editor was so glad that I was doing what I needed to do to write the next book. And my lack of blog stress is giving me the time to focus on developing electronic content that I’m excited by, and look down new online paths.

    Nobody freaked out. There have been no harsh consequences, I still sell books, and I even have a shiny new deal.

    It was scary, because of all the voices saying you must must must have this platform. And I’m not saying I haven’t benefited from my blog/online presence – I found my crit partners and a lot of amazing friends and readers online. But we all still love each other now that my blog is gone. The story is king. Which is good news! 😀

  6. I believe that if you enjoy social media (blogging, tweeting), you should go for it, as long as it doesn’t interfere much with your writing–you should define what “balance” means to you.
    Besides, you get to meet a bunch of interesting people : )
    Tessa, loved your post!

  7. When I see an unpublished writer with a really prominent web presence, I do often wonder when they do their actual writing. I think a lot of people do it in order to procrastinate because it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking it’s a really vital part of the process.

    I write fiction. I don’t want to spend time writing about writing fiction haha.

  8. Dear, sweet Jesus, thank you. Honey, you can put away the defibrillator. Wait…does memoir count as fiction or nonfiction? I mean, it reads like fiction, but just happens to be true! Ahharkk, my heart!

  9. I’m an unpubbed writer on my way to finishing up my first draft (about 60% through) of what I plan on being a YA trilogy (possibly series). Unlike those who say “I hate writing but love ‘having written'” I personally love the journey that I myself am taking as I move through the checkpoints of this story. I love the characters; I love the atmosphere/world-building, and I love the story in and of itself. And I’m convinced readers will, once it’s all polished and done, love all of it too.

    But I’m more comfortable “hanging out” with the characters of my story than with actual people, online or off. And I’m not easy to be around either. Which is why all this social-media stuff terrifies me: not only is it time-consuming and utterly confusing, but as a textbook introvert, it’s exhausting and fearsome simply because it is “social” in its own way.

    Glad to know I don’t have to worry about getting so much as an email address until I’m completely done with the work! Better to cross that bridge (read: field of landmines) when I come to it rather than worry about “building an audience” now. By that point, who knows, maybe platforms will once more go out with the old 8-track machines they used to be associated with long, long ago at a discotheque far, far away… 😉

  10. Mary,

    I have been reading about “platforms” for the past 2 months…wracking my brains, pulling time away from my actual writing and in less than 3 minutes you have told me everything that my heart was telling me, but my head wouldn’t let me believe.

    THANK YOU and so glad I found this site!

    Chris

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *