Oh my, the debate about writers and platform expectations is still raging. Over the past couple of days I’ve spent hours knee-deep in blog posts and reader comments, my little introvert heart pounding with apprehension. (Hours not writing, I might add…)
Rachelle Gardner’s post on Wednesday talked about the need to quantify the size of your platform when dealing with publishers. And even though, as she goes on to explain in the comments section, she’s merely talking about how to describe platform and not how to attract a publisher (although the two are linked), I’ll confess that some of the numbers Ms Gardner has thrown about recently (such as 15,000 unique blog visits per month) have given me heart palpitations.
But it seems I am not alone in this. In addition to the posts by Anne R Allen and Roni Loren I mentioned last week, and numerous comments to the aforementioned post by RG, Jami Gold has written a response to RG’s post that questions how much can all these numbers (Klout ratings, number of unique blog hits, number of Twitter followers) actually mean? Ms Gold (and many of her readers who commented) wonders how much impact social media metrics (which are not necessarily a true indication of how many people one is actually engaging with, and can moreover be quite easily rigged) have in actually selling books.
I think deep down everyone knows that the numbers are meaningless if the book isn’t wonderful. No-one is disputing that. But this increasing emphasis on establishing an impressive platform is certainly getting a lot of writers depressed, as it seems like yet another hurdle to be surmounted in the quest for publication. Not to mention an enormous drain on time and energy. Just how much time should we devote to blogging and tweeting — not to mention reading blogs and following tweets (i.e. actually engaging and connecting)?
In terms of effectiveness, I certainly don’t think a strong platform can hurt — for example, I recently purchased one of Anne R Allen’s recently re-published novels, simply because I follow her blog and thus feel some kind of connection to her as an author. I can only presume many of her blog audience will do likewise, so there are probably several hundred (more?) sales.
But my instinct is that the great majority of readers out there don’t actually read author blogs or follow authors on twitter. Roni Loren posed the question on her ‘author’ blog this week, asking what readers wanted out of an author web site… and all the comments I could see were from other writers (who, yes, are readers too, but…).
Most non-writing readers I know follow blogs on knitting or food or cats or parenting or natural remedies… They might follow the blog of a select favourite author(s), but I suspect even that would describe a minority.
Am I wrong?
The case may be a little different on facebook. It’s very easy to ‘like’ or subscribe to an author and henceforth receive their updates, whether details on appearances and book launches, or everyday observations in the mode of FB updates. Perhaps this is a better means of reaching a spread of readers than a blog (which could of course feed into the author fan page). I would argue that one would need the readers first, however.
And then of course there’s the question of those readers who don’t engage with social media at all. Right now, there are plenty of people out there who eschew facebook and/or twitter and/or never read blogs. Not that this is likely to be a permanent state of affairs. I think it’s fair to say that social media will continue to grow in importance as a means of achieving the all-important word-of-mouth promotion of books, which everyone knows is the key.
I think buzz about a great book will be spread via twitter etc, particularly as the percentage of the population engaged increases. I just don’t know how great a part the author-originated blog or twitter stream will play in all this.
Nevertheless, marketing of a book must start somewhere, and the powers-that-be have decreed that a significant load lies with the author via social (as well as more traditional forms of) media. So platform remains essential whether we like it or not. Assuming for a moment that the numbers do mean something, the question then becomes how to make them impressive — particularly when you’re a not-yet published author?
How do you reach 15,000 unique hits per months on your blog, without having publication credentials to back you up? (Tongue-firmly-in-cheek.)
Some of the blogs I’ve started reading (with or without publication credentials) are approaching this figure by offering advice and information about writing and related topics on which their authors have specific knowledge or interest. It usually comes down to content, although sometimes it’s just sheer force of personality. (And I reckon the audience is still mostly other writers.) But not everyone is endowed with masses of virtual charisma or pools of wisdom.
According to social media writer guru Kristen Lamb (in another post discussing platform metrics), the key is connecting with readers beyond writers. I still don’t know how this is supposed to be possible when one doesn’t yet have anything published for would-be readers to, you know, read (and as I’ve discussed I’m not convinced non-writing readers actually read author blogs anyway), but — what the hey — I’ve signed up for her online workshop to find out.
I figure I might as well discover how to better leverage this blog, one way or another. I know this is a turn-around from last week’s post, but something Ms Lamb wrote resonated with me: Why spend all this time blogging for a small bunch of readers? If I’m going to spend the time then I might as well try to make it count! My instinct is still to fly under the radar, to not put myself forward, but if I have to engage in the social media space, then I might as well do so efficiently and effectively.