Writing Q & A: Should You Build A Platform First?

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Got a pretty detailed question on the blog yesterday, so I figured I’d answer with a full post rather than a comment. Here it is:

I have a question: When you wrote your first book did you write it and then search for an agent or publisher, or did you already have these things ready before your first novel was complete?

I ask because I’m writing my first novel after many years of independent study of the craft and I believe I have the bare minimum skill set to make a debut. My plan is to write the story then find an agent or publisher. 

There’s a lot writers, mostly women, on social media who preach preach preach the value of building a platform, e.g., blogs, before one attempts to introduce his work to the public. No doubt, an existing audience is advantageous, but, personally, I’m just not into it. 

I want to focus my energy on writing stories, not necessarily a blog, especially for the reason of building an audience for the singular purpose of selling my books. I want my works to live on their own merits. 

Another question: Do you have some advice you can spare? You’ve been where I’m at right now, at least in some sense as an aspiring author. I’d greatly appreciate it if you could give me some insight and share your experience if you’re so inclined to do so. 

Thank you.

I wrote my first novel, which was The Stars Entwined (at the time I had it titled Starcrossed — which I thought was too generic for searches when I did my rewrite last year),  and did start querying agents and the like. I didn’t have much success at the time, mostly because the writing was very bad in that version. I did have an offer from a small publisher at the time to publish it — they said they liked it as it was, but I declined because I knew it wasn’t in good enough shape. I ended up rewriting this book many times to get it to where it is. I wasn’t quite sure what my strategy was since declining meant I wasn’t ready, but I think I was just feeling out how the market worked.

On the platform, this blog existed, but I didn’t post every day. I was focused on my webcomic Flying Sparks at the time — as that was getting me a couple thousand readers per week, which was how I was hoping my platform would establish. There was absolutely no plan, however. That got me hired to do the Doomtown Reloaded card game lore–which kept me occupied for a couple of years, which is when I first drafted my 2nd novel, For Steam And Country (which I also rewrote last year), and is now my most popular work.  From Doomtown Reloaded, I was in the gaming side of things, which is how I got hired for Star Realms: Rescue Run, my third novel, though first released.

Rescue Run did pretty well in sales, and that’s when I decided just to go small press and release my material as fast as I was able, to capitalize on the audience that was already there. I made a few mistakes just from a branding perspective there (Game Mil SF > Steampunk > Slow Release Of My Book, Back To Mil SF After That Taking 9 Months — causes some brand confusion) but my audience has stuck with me across the two sub genres of Mil SF / Steampunk based on the Stars Entwined’s release so far. Which… might have a lot to do with my platform.

I think what platform does is get your readers invested in you more than a particular work. If they’re invested with you, they’re more likely to stick with you. That’s what I hope at least. It’s very possible to release books without a platform and become a success, I know some folks who have done it, but I think it’s harder. I don’t know as I obviously didn’t go that route so can’t speak from experience. But I’m big into platform.

When Rescue Run hit, I made a commitment to blog daily. After For Steam And Country, I upped that commitment also to Periscope broadcast daily. My blog reaches 10k readers every week, my periscope gets about a thousand views every week. They’ve been growing slowly and steadily, as has my mailing list which has about 4,000 subscribers (you get a free novella for signing up. It’s up above and you should do so!). Then I started Patreon in November to release my short story content and behind the scenes work. That’s been growing steadily as well and is a nice supplemental income. Platform certainly worked in my instance, but it’s doing something every day, and at least releasing a new story every month with Patreon. It’s a lot of work at the professional level, but keeping it going is the best bet. The “I have one book that magically became a megabestseller success” days are mostly over — you’ll get those occasionally, but it’s like winning the lottery.

The content game whether it’s complete focus on stories or blog/periscope/personality or a mixture, is all about releasing new stuff all the time. That’s how the internet goes. So if you’re going to avoid blogging and all that, I do recommend not just having a book to put out — but having 3 or 4 to put out in rapid succession, month after month, so that you’ve always got something new, always got something relevant. You might find after a few books out, you have a platform and can do it the opposite way. Several authors I know have done just that.

I’d advise finding a way to give daily content, whatever that is. People make habits based on daily (that’s why the vitamin industry is focused on daily — and boy do they sell!). It takes someone about 21 days to form a habit, and at that point it’s hard to break. That’s the benefit of the blog. The drawback is… well, you have to find something to write every day and it’s time consuming.

On the book front, I already mentioned having a few done, people are moving more into binge habits is the reasoning. Which also means don’t have unrelated books. A single series would be best but sticking in the same genre is crucial (this is where I’ve got a slight problem right now until I can get my series all going — I just have too many book 1s already done). That will get you jumpstarted because of the way Amazon cross promotes. Also, if you’re self-pubbing, do not skimp on editor or cover costs. You want your work to be professional and look professional. Competition is fierce out there. It’s worth it to pay to make your product the best.

Definitely form a plan before just spending years writing random stuff. Readers like consistency and if you have a game plan, you’ll be ahead of most authors.

Hope that helps!

If you like my marketing advice, you’ll probably enjoy The Stars Entwined. It’s got a complex plot, is tightly edited, and is already getting great reviews from genre readers. Check it out here.

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10 thoughts on “Writing Q & A: Should You Build A Platform First?

  1. Thanks for the reply/post/sharing your experience!!

    I’m starting to see the difference between the reality of publishing verses my romanticization of publishing. I’ve given almost no thought to the business side of authorship because it seems so colorless to me. I know I have to reconcile my relationship with it, but “how” is my dilemma. Blogs? I don’t feel like I have anything interesting to say in the format, nor the motivation to commit to the thing.

    I’m going to have to be flexible in whatever route I take. I don’t care if I make 20k a year or 20mil a year from my work. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take what I can get, but my goal is to write stories well told, and through my craftsmanship earn the freedom of my days so I can write full-time.

    The book I’m writing now is science fiction, but the next story I have planned is decidedly not and can probably be categorized at literary fiction if I can pull it off. I love science fiction stories and I love drama. I have a small notebook with my story ideas and they’re roughly split down the middle between the two genres. Perhaps I should get both stories out of me first then try to find an agent or publisher.

    I’ve already rearranged my life around writing, to the degree people think I’m stupid. Even if my first two books fail, I’ll have two real losses, which means I’m in the game and not in the bleachers, and just the accomplishment of getting the first book completed is an achievement I’ll value more than my college degree.

    Blogs and branding and marketing, oh my! I better get started on that game plan!

    Thank you again and I’ll give your new work a read!

    • Glad it was helpful. Yeah it just depends on goals all the way around. The “what the artist wants” and “where the money is” are often two very different paths. I’m trying to straddle the line between the two as best I can.

      • Isn’t that the rub? Write only for the money and have 2 or 3 full time jobs for a while, only to burn out when writing is your day job, or write for love of story and have 1 full time job and one very time consuming hobby.

        Thanks for your advice!

        • Not necessarily.

          I’m a college educated man who drives a forklift for a living three days a week, by choice.

          I found the forklift job by chance. I had a plan of delivering pizzas part time at night.

          I live paycheck to paycheck, by choice. I have a place to sleep, food to eat, a gym to exercise, and, most importantly, a computer to write.

          I put myself in this position because I have no other choice, if you receive my meaning.

          The opportunity costs are not insignificant: financially, socially, or romantically.

          How bad do you want it and what are you willing to risk to achieve it?

          • I know what you mean. I’m almost 48 and I have no wife, no kids, no house, and no “real job” – just a low paying day job. All because of the writing. I’ve written something like 16 books worth of material and still can’t make a living at it – YET!

            I wanted to get married and have kids – but could never afford to.

            But I am an optimist and the ability to self-pub is great! I’m going to try the platform building that Jon and others are doing and see what happens. And I am going to keep writing because that’s my job.

          • Rob,

            I recommend “Story” by Robert McKee and “On Writing” by Sol Stein.

            These books have taught me a lot about the craft. If you haven’t read them go ahead check them out.

  2. This article is a Keeper / for reference, and thanks for writing it!

    I’ve been considering creating a website and a FB page (not sure of the latter, but there is also MeWe, which apparently is attracting a lot of writers.) Building an audience seems to be a good way to go- one person I watch on Deviantart just published his first ‘book’ (apparently the book version of a webcomic) and his FB page sported 15,000 followers.

    Going to read over this several times and take notes *g*

  3. ah so glad i found this, quite the interesting take, i think i might rather just post my writings on a blog style then, i love science-fantasy settings and i am currently finishing up my first short story on which i have procrastinated for the last 6 years, i do writing as a hobby apart from playing video games as i cannot draw to save my life.
    Thanks for the advice you have given here

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