Friday, 4 November 2011

Platforms Are For Trains, Not Writers

There's been lots of discussion about platforms recently on the forums that I follow. 'You MUST have a platform', many blogs announce. 'You MUST use Twitter, Facebook, MUST MUST have a website.'

I've read people saying that publishers check out how many followers an unpublished author has before they'll consider representation and therefore unpublished authors MUST have a media presence or they won't get published.

Hmm. Well, all I can say is Piffle.

There's no MUST about it. Yes, if you like doing these things, by all means go ahead and do them. I know of at least one person who credits getting her agent to her media platform (and that led to a publishing deal). I suspect the quality of her writing was more important.

Put simply, writing a good book is how you get published. No one is going to spend money on a rubbish book however many followers someone has. Having said that, if you have thousands of followers you must be able to write well and have interesting stuff to say, so it may look as though:
thousands of followers = the publishing deal,
but I think the equation actually looks like:
good writer and interesting ideas=thousands of followers=publishing deal.
And I think you can also write it:
good writer and interesting ideas=publishing deal.

Social media is a powerful tool to reach people, but many authors are unconvinced that it actually sells books, especially if you're conventionally published. I was told by my publisher about two years ago that I MUST go on Twitter, Facebook and start blogging. This blog, and my Twitter account (@sarahduncan1) were the result. Personally, I like Twitter, so I do that, and I like blogging (most of the time!) so do that too. Facebook I can't get the hang of (not helped by them changing the format often), and LinkedIn is just a step too far...

I think it's made a difference in the sense that I've been asked to give more talks and write more articles over the past two years than I had before, and it's probably sold a few more books. But what I know has sold most books has been getting shortlisted for prizes, getting good reviews, and getting selected for retailer special offers. All those come from the quality of the book (tho it has to be said that the cover plays a huge part in being selected for the special offers).

If you don't want to get involved in social media, don't. Every day people who haven't got media platforms or any followers sign publishing deals. Yes, it may make you more attractive to a publisher - especially an e-publisher - because publishers like authors who are good at marketing themselves. But at heart it's about the book. Always.

So, if your choice is writing a great book or building a media platform, then writing a great book wins every time.


Crafty Green Poet said...

I agree totally and if you don't want to do Twitter or Facebook then better put your energy into your writing rather than keep tweeting just because you think you should. I've never seen the point of LinkedIn either....

I'm actually a great fan of Twitter and i know it has directly lead to sales of my poetry collection, but I was published with a very small publisher

Clare Dudman said...

I agree too! Excellent points. I write my blog because I enjoy it - the only good reason to write one IMHO. I'm on twitter too, but I'm careful to ration my visits...having said that I came across your post through a tweet from the SoA...proof that it can be useful!

Giles Diggle said...

I agree, but still I blog, I tweet, I have a website. Because I can and I enjoyed the challenge of finding out about them all. I blog as a discipline, like going to the gym - which I don't!

But writing the book is always the thing. The rest is just a lot of e-babble (here's some more!) that no one pays much attention to. If you follow 300+ people on Twitter, how can you read them all or give them even a thought?

A good story will always out...eventually... I hope...

Sally Zigmond said...

Why is it, Sarah, that every time I read your blog I find myself jumping up and down and shouting "yesssss!"?

I, too, blog because I enjoy it, I have fun with Twitter (in small doses), don't understand Facebook and think Linkedin is pointless.

But I would rather be writing. If I can't make that good enough to attract interest then I'm really not that bothered.

Lucy V Morgan said...

It's hard. I've seen agents state that they prefer at least a current blog when they consider a client; I've seen people with big networks get deals because their stats nudged the publisher in the right direction. My own publisher, a reasonably-sized e-pub, states that all authors must at least maintain an up-to-date website. In my own publishing experience (as an intern), social media--where epublishers/boutique presses are concerned--definitely influences sales and builds "hype" around authors. And it's not just blogs, Facebook and Twitter--it's Goodreads, Librarything, Amazon reviews and then the kitchen sink.

It's frustrating though. Some weeks, I have zero to blog or Tweet about. And I've just ventured into the YA genre after writing erotica, so I'll probably be asked to "re-brand." This means another site/Twitter to manage. Time consuming is not the word.

Lizzie Lamb said...

A great blog today Sarah as it puts the whole social networking issue into context. I have a Twitter and Facebook account and for the moment that's enough for me. A Blog will be the next logical step linked to both of the above - but until I've got an agent and am published I don't want to waste time being just another blogger who nobody reads. I sometime wonder if publishers have the SLIGHTEST idea how much time all this social networking can take: updating blogs, keeping websites fresh, answering tweets and Facebook posts - not to mention the whole #ff business every Friday. There is also the issue of the author(s) who endlessly using social media for self promotion and who NEVER responds to tweets, emails or Facebook msgs. Most of my favourite authors just get on with it and write well crafted books - which is what the reader wants. Having said all that, I've posted a link to your blog today on Twitter and a friend has re-tweeted it. Keep up the good work.

rodgriff said...

It may be true that all you have to do is write a good book, but how good is good? On the other hand, if you are a celebrity of some sort and have a 'platform' it surely helps. For example, I think that if I had written any of Stella Rimmington's books, they would not have been published, but she is who she is, so it matters less whether she can write well. That's simply how the world is, so let's not kid ourselves. I write because I like to write, and I blog because I like to blog, not so I can establish a platform. I don't twitter much because it feels vaguely silly. I,m not likely to get a great publishing deal because I'm 66 and may not live long enough to make other people loads of money.
None of that is going to stop me writing

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

Well said. Blogging takes a huge amount of time and effort to do consistently. Twitter is easier because you can do it on the hoof as ideas pop into your mind.

I think candidate manuscripts are subject to fashion and other forces, so good writing is probably not enough and I do believe luck has a great deal to do with it, as rodgriff says.

I agree with the general opinion expressed in the posts here, that social media does not necessarily bring publication any nearer, but is enjoyable for its own sake and other reasons. I've made some great friends on line.

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

I agree - the book is the THING!!!

Anita Chapman said...

Hi Sarah, this post is so current. I plan to send my MS to an agent this month. I heard it would help to have an internet presence before I did this. I started a blog and set up a Twitter account in October. When we write we have to cut ourselves off from the world at times and it's great being able to connect with other writers on Twitter. Most of the people I'm following and my followers are writers; some published, some trying to be published, some starting out and some poets. Many writers I've met on Twitter are supportive of each other, reading and commenting on each other's blogs, giving advice and tweeting useful information. I've spent hours blogging and tweeting in October. Next week I need to switch off the internet and finish polishing my MS so I can post my submission to an agent. Hopefully having an internet presence will move my MS up the slush pile but who knows? Ps, I read your blog daily as it's great and it's on my blog list.

Sarah Duncan said...

Hooray! I'm so pleased that most of you agree.

I think so long as you enjoy it, social media is great. I take Rodgriff's point about celebrities, who publishers sign up because they have massive platforms, but I think most of us aren't in that position. But it's always been like that for celebs and journalists - Twitter etc have just added another dimension to the coverage they were getting on TV, radio and in the press. Most of us don't have that sort of exposure on tap.

I think Lucy's point about epublishing shows how different it is marketing-wise to traditional publishing. I suspect that, as with most things e, we'll see changes there.

Giles' point had me nodding - I follow about 120 people and find that quite hard to sort out & maintain the contact.

And as Crafty Green Poet, Clare, and Lizzie said, they knew about this post because of Twitter. I personally think social media is great, and like all the stuff I do - it's the MUST I don't like, because you really don't.

Overall, I think it's hard to build a platform as a new writer - as Lizzie said, what do you blog about? And I don't think publishers recognise how much time it all takes. What with blogging, Twitter, answering fan mail/queries I spend at least 2 hours a day on the computer. I don't begrudge it, but it does leave less time for writing.

womagwriter said...

And of course, there are blogs and there are blogs. My own has a decent number of followers, but it's nothing to do with the genre I'm now writing in. Sure I might sell a few copies of a novel to blog buddies but my current blog is not what publishers would call a platform, given I now write historical fiction. Or is it?