Build your platform for visibility and writing success

[Posters covering a building near Lynchburg to advertise a Downie Bros. circus] (LOC)

(Part of a blog series: How to catch the eye of a literary agent)

Literary agent Kimiko Nakamura of Dee Mura Literary offers this advice in a recent Writer’s Digest¹ article:

Think of your social media platform as your virtual business card. People aren’t looking for you in an office building anymore; they’re looking for you online.

Online is the new “location, location, location” when you start to think about a headquarters for your writing. Nakamura’s statement is an important one for you to embrace, if your goal is to be a published writer.

What’s a Platform?

After reading through many articles on platform, I’ve come up with a simple summary of my own: A writer’s platform communicates the who, what, how, and why of her writing life.

And, in her article, Nakamura describes the writer’s platform as only an agent can: A foundation you’re building for success.

Why should anyone in the publishing industry be interested in you as a writer? Your platform should answer that clearly. According to Nakamura, here is what agents are looking for:

  • Writing and speaking qualifications
  • Popularity with potential book-buying readers
  • Ongoing relationships with publications
  • Involvement in associations
  • Classes taught and speaking engagements
  • Social media presence

That’s a strong and lively list, one that agents dream about having in a client.

Build It with Social Media

How does a writer get started with building a platform? By using those wonderfully free social media tools.

The use of social media in the writing life has been feared and criticized by writers of all backgrounds. Some think it’s a sell-out. Others feel it’s a waste of time.

Yet, most articles I read that are written by people in the book publishing business — the entity that takes your work and brings it to readers — place social media presence high on the necessity list. Nakamura says, “Publishing houses think authors with success in social media are a good financial investment because they can see that these writers have a ready-made audience.”

The modern writer is online and using social media tools to build a platform. Nakamura tells us that agents are looking for presence via these routes:

  • Website. There is no need to wait until you get a book contract to create a website. Both published and unpublished writers should get a website set up as soon as possible. It is your hub, the place where readers can find you, get to know you, and connect with you all across the web. Agents expect you to have a website these days. They’re looking for contact information, your photo, your projects, writing credits, and social media links.
  • Facebook. As she does with a website, Nakamura classifies a Facebook page as essential for writers who want to gain an audience and attract an agent. Your page should share information that helps visitors get to know you and your work. Agents love to see Facebook pages with thousands of “likes” — 3,000 is the number Nakamura gives in her article. But don’t let that number keep you from starting a page. You’ll have time to think about the numbers later. Now is the time to learn. Read my Facebook basics here.
  • Twitter. One of the top social media tools, Twitter is another way for writers to keep their followers informed and entertained. You will also hone your skills as you attempt to do this using 140 characters or less. Many writers “tweet” multiple times a day, while others tweet less often. Whatever the frequency, agents want to see you active on Twitter as part of your platform. Read my Twitter basics here.
  • Blog. Nakamura stresses that writers not only blog regularly to help cultivate readership, but also that they focus on something that relates to the book’s topic. “Unless you’re looking to score a cookbook deal, we’re not curious about what you had for breakfast.” For those of us who don’t have a finished book to promote, a blog can be the place where we share about our writing process, the characters in our stories, experiences that led to our writings, and other bits of information that can attract potential readers. Afternoon Tea is where I share my writing with the hope that visitors will look forward to my work and become faithful readers. Read about my favorite blogging tool here.

It Takes Time to Build

Like anything else that is done well, your platform will take time to build into one that is effective and leads to success.

It takes time to:

    • Learn how to sort through and use the many tools available
    • Establish yourself as an expert in your topic
    • Develop a good relationship with your readers
    • Get beyond the friends and family who support you now and reach a broader audience.

Does this all sound like too much for you? It sure did for me until I decided to just take it slowly.

Start building your platform one brick at a time. Carve out 15 minutes a day and use it to learn a new social tool or take inventory of what you offer as a writer. Seek out ways to showcase your writing. Pin down your qualifications. Search this blog and others for tips on how to use social media or create a blog. Follow agents in your genre and learn from what they say.

Are you serious about getting published? Then get to work on your platform today. I’ll cheer you on just as you’ve been cheering for me.

Next in the series: Your Query — the first and most important page of your manuscript.

(Part of a blog series: How to catch the eye of a literary agent)

¹Your Future Agent’s Wish List: How to Be On It, Writer’s Digest, October 2013 issue.


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9 thoughts on “Build your platform for visibility and writing success

    1. Thanks, Cindy. It’s all so interesting. We need to listen to the professionals, just like we would for any other industry. It doesn’t have to be all-consuming, especially for those of us who are unpublished or are just starting to get recognition. Twitter is more of a resource for me at this point, but I’ve also had good conversations with other writers. I also follow people who have nothing to do with writing, knowing that everything that goes in my mind is useful to my writing life. In other words, don’t give up on a Twitter! Just use it, and don’t let it use you.

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  1. The one tool that doesn’t make a lot of sense for unpublished authors is the website. If we have a blog, I think that’s enough. A website can’t do anything more than showcase our hope to be published one day. A blog can fill that bill, plus so much more.

    Aside from the website, I do get use from everything else you mention. Although I could do better with FB and Twitter. There is something about the lack of continuity that prevents me from staying with threads. Whereas on my blog, nothing is interrupting a conversation on a post, and I don’t have to search for the comments like I do with FB and Twitter.

    I also want to argue Nakamura’s assertion that thousands of likes on FB indicates anything of value. People troll for likes more often than not; they’re not all genuine. There is no guarantee that because an aspiring novelist has 3,000 likes on FB means all of those people will buy her book.

    I know that agents are simply looking for a highly marketable author, but I still think that most of the follow-backs and likes and thumbs-ups we see on author sites are a result of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” In the end, it’s about whether or not we can write a book that people enjoy reading.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kate. There is, of course, much more involved than what I’ve summarized here, but this series is focused on the business end of our craft. I imagine that a wise and professional agent is going to sift through the trolls and back scratching. However, I’m not going to argue with what a current agent says about what she’s looking for in numbers for her business. The point is that social media is important to agents. This one just happens to be looking for writers with a lot of likes! As for websites, I think they are a great idea for unpublished writers. A blog can be one part of it. I have high hopes for my writing and, though I’m unpublished as a fiction writer, I want to have a place to send someone if an opportunity ever comes up. In fact, I finally purchased darlamcdavid.com and I’m working on a website that will be my hub and encompass all my online activity (which I plan to expand). Now, if only I didn’t have a day job and could work at this full time. Maybe I’d have those 3,000 likes! 🙂 Write often, write well, and be prepared!

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  2. You’ve convinced me, Darla. Drat it! But for now I don’t want to take on a new blog and new Face Book, not while I already have both set up with connections for writing about my mother’s life, now, while she’s still alive. The theme of “Things I Want To Tell My Mother” doesn’t fit with any of my writing projects, but I will keep your advice in mind. You made some excellent points here!

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    1. It all depends on what we want to do with our writing. Your blog about Mary is blessing me and so many others. That’s your focus for now. Who knows? An agent might find your blog and not care a thing about platform because he just has a good feeling about you!

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