[For this post, I’m pleased to welcome the writer David B. Coe as my first guest blogger. David is among my favorite colleagues at the Antioch University Midwest Individualized MA program, where he works with graduate creative writing students. He’s a wonderful guide; I always learn something when I witness his interactions with our students. As part of his blog tour for the forthcoming A Plunder of Souls, he graciously agreed to write a post about something that new (and maybe most) writers feel pressure to do: build a platform. Here, David reflects on the oft-heard edict “Thou shalt build a platform!” from his perspective. —Rebecca Kuder]
David B. Coe:
This post grows out of an online conversation I’ve had with a student I’m mentoring. She is earnest, hard-working, and talented, a combination that bodes well for her ultimate success as a professional writer. I fully expect that she will be published before long.
She has spent part of this summer revising short fiction that we worked on last semester, and building what is commonly referred to as “a platform” for her future promotional efforts. She has been setting up accounts on Twitter, on Facebook, on Pinterest, on Google Plus, and also maintaining a blog. I’ve tried to be encouraging as she develops her social media identity and online presence, but I have also wanted to temper her ambitions in this regard with a bit of reality based in my own experiences.
As an academic exercise, I believe that maintaining a blog and experimenting with online accounts and social media is a worthy endeavor. In the long run, I’m hopeful that her efforts will pay dividends. She’ll be published someday, and then she’ll need that platform. In the short run, writing her blog, generating content on a weekly or even daily basis is great training for a writing career. Writers need to be creative on demand; it’s part of the job. Committing to a blog can be terrific preparation for the future to which she aspires.
But she is also reading a couple of books that I fear might be misleading her somewhat. The authors in question claim that aspiring writers should set up their social media/blogging platform so that it can be a foundation for future writing success. I believe they have this backwards. The fact is that for most writers, building any sort of audience with social media and blogging is next to impossible until they have work that has been published. Yes, there are examples of people who have built audiences for themselves with their blogs and THEN published. A couple of the more prominent authors who have done this happen to work in speculative fiction, as I do. But these authors were able to establish themselves as unique voices in what we used to call the blogosphere. They found niches for themselves and took full advantage of doing so, parlaying their fame into successful careers as authors of fiction. Put another way, they were exceptions to the rule.
I would never say that she cannot follow a similar path to success. For all I know, she will be the next exception. But I do feel obligated to say—if for no other reason than to be a corrective to the books she’s been reading—that the odds against such a path leading her to the career she envisions are steep indeed. She (and other aspiring writers) should not be discouraged if she doesn’t gain much traction with her fledgling blog, at least at first. I have never found much of a following for my own blog, and I had several novels and stories already published when I launched it.
There is a tremendous amount of content being generated each day on the web. Blog posts, Facebook posts, Tweets, etc. All of it matters to someone, but taken together it is all so much noise. Making oneself heard above that din is difficult for the best known author. For a writer who is just starting out, who has no name recognition, it’s next to impossible. If there was a secret formula to finding the perfect blogging voice that would enable a writer to stand out from the crowd, I would surely NOT tell any of you about it. I’d be using it myself! But alas, no such beast exists.
So what is an aspiring writer to do?
Write, of course. I have encouraged my student to continue her online work for now, to use the summer to set up her platform. But I’ve also warned her not to expect too much from it. And more to the point, I’ve advised her not to let blogging and social media keep her from more important things. If it comes to a choice between writing fiction and writing her blog, she should choose the former. Every time. I have seen too many authors become so obsessed with writing blog entries, so determined, beyond all reason, to post X number of times per week, that they completely lose sight of their fiction — you know, the stuff that might actually pay bills someday, the stuff that we care about so much it keeps us up nights wrestling with plotting ideas, the stuff that, more than likely, got us to start blogging in the first place.
I know what the books my student is reading are telling her (or at least I can imagine). But those authors are offering their advice with an ulterior motive: doing so enables them to sell their own books. For any aspiring writer, her fiction, her family, her health and sleep, are all WAY more important than building a platform. Trust me on this. Once an author has completed that first sale and can start to publicize something specific, she will have plenty of time to build a platform. That’s how I have approached the construction of my own platform, the end results of which you are welcome to view using the links below. (And yes, I’m aware of the irony . . .) But she should be in no rush; in case you didn’t know, the publishing industry takes its sweet time getting books out.
To repeat: As an exercise, for the purposes of familiarizing oneself with blogging and social media, doing this kind of work for a time makes all kinds of sense. But then get back to the stuff that matters: your fiction. And don’t sweat the rest of it too much. It’s just not worth it at this stage of the game.
D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first two books as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasies, Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry, volumes I and II of the Thieftaker Chronicles, are both available from Tor Books in hardcover and paperback. The third volume, A Plunder of Souls, will be released in hardcover on July 8. The fourth Thieftaker novel, Dead Man’s Reach, is in production and will be out in the summer of 2015. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.