Emmy Laybourne, bestselling YA author of books like Monument 14 and Sweet (this was one of my favorite books last year, you guys), hosts this wonderful event in NYC every other month or so, inviting authors to come share personal essays on stage.
It’s been a long time since I read a personal essay at a reading. The last time… oh goodness, was First Person Arts in Philadelphia, maybe? Valentine’s Day like two years ago? I’m not even sure. Point is, it doesn’t happen often, I’m just so thrilled to be invited.
A few weeks ago, I was right outside Nashville for the Tennessee Writing Workshop, meeting with authors, agents, and editors from all over the place.
I love these kind of events. It’s a great opportunity to talk to writers about the industry, meet people in the industry, and just have a lovely time talking about what everyone there absolutely loves. Making books happen.
It’s also a chance to hear wrong things being said.
A few authors asked me about getting their social media following up in order to improve their platform, and were surprised when I told them that wasn’t the answer. This is another way the concept of platform gets confused. People thinking that platform means social media.
It doesn’t. Though, it is a nice part of it.
I can absolutely see how this happens. You see people that have those visible online numbers, whether they are behind-the-scenes industry folks or authors with a big following, and it seems like maybe that’s the answer. Or, maybe you’re getting bad advice, from people who think platform is just social media, and likely have some kind of #social #media #influencer hashtag nonsense in their profile and follow an insane number of people.
“I’m a social media expert! Look at these 47,425 people I follow and #engage with! #influencer #brands!”
Get the hell out of here.
If that’s the case, please delete that from your brain and maybe those people from your timeline. If you hear platform and think, “okay, I need to tweet, get followers, and figure out how to get a blue checkmark” I’m here to help you stop doing that.
It’s super important to think about platform outside of just how many Twitter followers you potentially have, how big your Facebook fan page is, or what your Instagram engagement looks like. Especially as these free services quickly become more pay-for-play and frequently shift their algorithms.
“So wait, WTF is platform if it isn’t my social media following?!”
Platform is about how many people you can potentially get your work out in front of, not how many people can potentially read your tweets. It’s about how big your potential audience is and how easy it is for you to reach them, not how big your Twitter following might be.
I’m stressing potential because remember, there are no guarantees in this game. 100% of your audience is never going to buy your book. Let’s just get that out there now.
Platform is about building that little bio in your potential future book, in the jacketflap copy, that says stuff like “[Author Name] has written for [Publication], [Publication], [Publication], and regularly appears on [Media Outlet] and [Podcast].”
It’s about what you’re doing off of social media. For those of you who think platform takes away from your writing… you couldn’t be more wrong. Here are some ways to increase your platform, that have nothing to do with your social media following, and have everything to do with writing.
One of the many ways you can build your platform outside of using social media, is to focus on blogging and creating a home base for those blogs. I ramble a bit about that here, but to summarize? Create a website where you aren’t just showcasing your work, but discussing the work of others. Yes, you can dish out advice (I’m doing that now!) and talk about your writing process (many authors do!), but the way to build traffic and a following? Talk. About. Others.
Absolutely perfect examples of this can be seen viaDahlia Adler,Ava Jae, and Chuck Wendig, who frequently use their personal sites to uplift others, and not just talk about their own books. This helps you develop an audience, which in turn, helps you develop a platform. There’s a reason you’ll see cover reveals on Dahlia’s blog or guest posts on Wendig’s site. Because they’ve developed a platform and an audience for more than their own writing.
And when it is time to promote their books, that audience is there, happy to about what they’re working on.
2. Blogging For Others (But Also Yourself)
So you have your website going, it’s doing well, but you want to extend your reach. One misconception when it comes to platform, specifically when it comes to people assuming platform is social media, is that you have to own your platform.
You don’t. In fact, some of the best examples of platform are outlets that aren’t owned by the writer.
Think about it. Do actors and musicians own the stages they perform on? Okay sure, a few probably do. But not all of them. And hundreds of thousands of people pass through these places week after week. Think of yourself as the musician, and other media outlets as your potential stage. You don’t own the place, but your voice is welcome, and has the potential to reach a much larger audience.
Me? I write for Book Riot, Barnes & Noble’s YA blog, Paste Magazine, and hell, anywhere else that will have me. That there, is an example of platform building. These are outlets that could potentially cover what I’m writing outside my blogging life, with a staff of writers who might consider it. There’s obviously no guarantee there, but it’s a possibility. Remember, platform is about potential. 100% of your audience is never going to buy your book.
Some more examples:
Michele Filgate: One of my favorite book people on the Internet, Michele writes for dozens of places. LitHub, BuzzFeed, The Millions, Salon. Check out her list of places here. And let me tell you. I will be one of the very first in line at my local bookstore when she has a book on the shelves. I don’t even need to know what it’s about.
Morgan Jerkins: A fellow Book Riot contributor, Morgan can be found on Catapult (along with Michele), BuzzFeed, LitHub, The Guardian, Electric Literature… the list goes on. She has a book hitting with Harper next year, and I can’t wait.
Fran Wilde: Fantasy author extraordinaire, just had a huge piece in The Washington Post. You can catch her writing for GeekMom, Tor.com, i09, and tons of other places that are hugely on brand (frand?) for her, in addition to all her short stories (which would fall into the fourth thing I’ll mention below) that get published everywhere.
Michael Waters: I’m waiting for this kid to become a bestselling author in the next few years. You can catch Michael writing for B&N Teens, The Guardian, MTV, The Establishment… the list goes on. He’s 18. Future rockstar, keep an eye on him please.
You can also spot a few of my clients blogging in other places, like Mike Chen(The Mary Sue) and Diana Urban (BookBub).
Just don’t drop it after. Or maybe do. Depends how well it goes. Photo via LinkedIn.
3. Speaking Engagements
What are you an expert in? Are you writing non-fiction? Take every opportunity you can to get yourself in front of people. See if you can rope yourself into a TedX talk. Nerd Nites, Creative Mornings events… opportunities like these, which often come with a video of your talk, will elevate your platform. Because hey, maybe you can come back. Maybe they’ll dish out copies of your book at the next event.
“But that’s what I’m trying to do!” You scream at me from across the Internet. I’m not talking about your book. “But I’m already blogging!” Nope. Not talking about your blogging either. I’m talking about short stories, bits of non-fiction, projects like that.
I get to rep someone as unbelievably prolific asIlana Masad, and I’m extremely lucky. It feels like every other week, she’s got another piece published someplace, or she’s winning another honor from someone. I’m frankly intimidated by her, and it’s great. She’s published in an array of places. Split Lip Magazine, The Butter, Catapult, The New Yorker, Joyland, Marie Claire, Electric Literature, Broadly… from fiction to non-fiction. She works hard to be published often, and in outstanding places. Look at her bibliography here, which will likely update by the time I post this.
Having this fantastic roster of places you’ve built relationships is absolutely an example of platform.
By writing for outlets like this, getting published regularly, you have yet another place to potentially push your book when that time comes. Maybe they’ll cover your book when it gets released. Maybe they’ll give you an interview or a review. Potential, potential, potential. It’s there.
Robin Black: My former graduate school professor and mentor, before her two amazing books hit she had short stories published in The New York Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, The Southern Review, One Story, and other places. You can check out her list here.
Emily St. John Mandell: She wrote Station Eleven. Need I say more? You can see some of her amazing pieces in The New Republic and over on The Millions, where she’s a staff writer.
And there you go. I’ve prattled enough. I’ll probably add to the “examples” list, and if you’ve got a few, add them in the comments!
TL;DR? Build your platform off of social media, by building yourself a website, blogging for yourself (but focusing on others), and working on other writing projects. It’s about more than Twitter, you guys.
Recently, I had my friend Katherine Locke touch up some manuscripts by authors I’ve signed. She offers editorial services when she has the time, and I really wanted her thoughts on these particular books. I won’t say much about those books, but she was the perfect person to have working on them, rockstar that she is.
But wait. Why have someone else looking over the manuscripts by the authors I’ve been signing?
Well, here’s the thing, writerly types. I can still miss things that need work. Generally when I’m picking up an author, I’ll have read through their manuscript pretty quickly (if I’m in love with a manuscript, I read it like I read any book… by devouring it), and when it comes time for edits, I’ll read it again, slowly, making notes. Then usually another time. And then again.
By the time we’re ready for sub, I’ve likely read the book four, maybe five times. At that point, I’m probably missing stuff. If I didn’t catch it by the fourth or fifth read through, I’m not going to. This is when another set of eyes is SO key. This goes for my work process as an agent and as a writer, as well as any author working on a query letter or a rough manuscript. They’ll catch things you might have missed, and pick up on issues that are closer to them.
TL; DR: More eyes, means a better letter or a better book.
After getting such fantastic results from Katherine, I thought it might be a good idea to roundup other authors and editors that offer up freelance editorial work. Because who better to help you work on that query / manuscript, then someone who has been there before? Authors and editors know what solid queries and manuscripts should look like, having read and written so many.
So… here we go!
Last Updated: July 18th, 2016
Katherine Locke (@Bibliogato): As I mentioned above, Katherine Locke is the author of the District Ballet Company series, a digital exclusive New Adult series with Carina / Harlequin. She knows her genre well, and works on Young Adult, Romance, and middle grade books. She offers up help on query letters, full reads, and line edits of manuscripts. [Website]
Laura Lee Anderson (@LLAWrites): Laura, like me, is an author with Bloomsbury’s digital imprint Bloomsbury Spark. Her novel, Song of Summer… well, you’re going to have a lot of feelings after reading it. Have tissues ready. She looks at query letters and full manuscripts. [Website]
Helene Dunbar (@Helene_Dunbar): Helene is one of my favorite YA authors, and you’ll be able to read a short story of her’s in my adoption anthology in 2017. She writes heartbreaking reads, and is available to work on your manuscripts! Details can be found on her site. [Website]
Cait Spivey (@CaitSpivey): Cait’s also an editor, working with Reuts Publications, and specializes in YA and New Adult. Here’s a bit about her interests from her site. “I specialize in YA and NA speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, magical realism, paranormal, etc.). I LOVE projects with strong women, diverse characters (including LGBTQ, race, ethnicity, disability, etc), and surprising plots.” [Website]
Nicole Tone (@nicoleatone): An author / editor who works at Panda Moon Press and has a novel coming out with REUTS at the end of 2016, Nicole’s available for freelance editing. Contact her for more information regarding her services. [Website]
Kisa Whipkey (@KisaWhipkey): Kisa’s author editor over at REUTS available for freelance editorial work. She likes working on fantasy, sci-fi, contemporary, mystery, some horror, and short stories / novellas. [Website]
Amanda Foody (@AmandaFoody): A YA author repped by Folio Literary, Amanda does query critiques, for free! She specializes in YA and MG queries, so only send her those. Details on her blog. [Website]
Meredith Rich (@MeredithJHRich): Meredith is the superstar editor over at Bloomsbury Spark, and acquired my YA novel! If she made that readable, you better believe she can work on your book. She’s available occasionally, particularly for query edits and genres outside what she acquires. Contact her for availability. [Website]
Liz Furl (@LizLazzara): With words on The Huffington Post, Good Men Project, Bustle, and more, Liz has an impressive publication history. And she runs a lit journal! Contact her regarding availability for edits. [Website]
Jon McGoran (@jonmcgoran): An author with Tor, Jon’s DRIFT series is a favorite of mine. Drift, Dead Out… all killer thrillers, that you should be reading. He’s taught a number of writing courses and novel editing classes, and is available for select projects. Drop him a line, especially if you’re working on thrillers or mysteries. [Website]
Hanna M. Fogel (@hannamfogel): Fun Fact, Hanna used to be my intern back when I was at Quirk Books. She was a superstar, and has since taken the leap into the publishing world. She’s looking to freelance edit books in fantasy for any age, as well as MG and YA titles. You can check out her rates on her blog. [Website]
Caitlin R. O’Connell (@Caitlin_Renata): A freelance editor, Cait works on query letters and full manuscripts, and she’s got some super reasonable rates! Check out her site for more details. [Website]
Kat Howard (@KatWithSword): Kat’s an author with Saga and a published short story writer with over 30 shorts out there in the world. And she has a Ph.D in literature, you guys. Check her site out for more info regarding what she edits and her rates. [Website]
J.A. Weber (@jawlitagent): Julia’s not just an editor, but a rockstar literary agent. Who better to scope out your manuscript and give you notes? She does everything from full manuscript edits to working on query letters. Details on her site. [Website]
Anna Banks (@byannabanks): So Anna is one of my favorite YA authors. I adored her Of Poseidon trilogy, and her standalone, Joyride, is… well, a joy. She’s offering up critiques, from manuscripts to query letters. Check out her rates on her site. [Website]
Ilana Masad (@ilanaslightly): Ilana’s one of my authors! I represent her and her amazing stories, and guess what? She critiques and edits. She’s won scores of awards for her short stories, and you definitely want to work with her. Drop her a line regarding her rates via her website. [Website]
Lara Willard (@larathelark): Working on comics? Graphic novels? Picture books? Lara’s the gal for you, specializing in work with a visual angle, though she does other stuff too. You can learn more about her via her site. [Website]
Kate Heartfield (@kateheartfield): Kate and I are actually represented by the same agency! She’s a Red Sofa Client, and writes speculative fiction, and is available to work on non-fiction and fiction manuscripts. [Website]
Jocelyn Bailey (@thebookhooker): A former editor at Thomas Nelson and a freelance editor for places like Pegasus, Jocelyn’s a rockstar. You can see what she offers up on her website. [Website]
Lyla Lawless (@lylalawless): Lyla’s worked with P.S. Literary, Entangled, and a whole bunch of great folks doing edits. You should definitely check her out and her rates. [Website]
Have someone you’d like to add to the list? Are YOU that someone? Email me! ericsmithrocks at gmail dot com!
I head to NYCC every year with Quirk, and I’ve been going there anyway for… well, years. I went a few times with Tim for the ol’ Geekadelphia, and I’ve gone plenty of times just for kicks. But this New York Comic Con is extra special.
Because it’s my first New York Comic Con signing books and hosting a Q&A. Saturday is going to be incredible.
I’m really excited about this, particularly because Sam’s book is going to be incredible. We wrote together on Geekosystem for a while, before it was absorbed into The Mary Sue. She’s a talented gal, and I’m thrilled Quirk is publishing her. And we get to do a signing together!
And that’s my Saturday morning. I’ll likely be found sleeping in the Quirk booth right after the Q&A.
I’ll also be there the whole convention, Thursday through Sunday, doing my thing and talking to people at the Quirk booth. Come by to meet plenty of other awesome Quirk authors, including Ransom Riggs, on Friday.
I’ve never really used my Instagram for anything other than making my photos look pretty.
I’m super active on there, sure. I take a lot of pictures. As of this post, I’ve got about 1,700 pictures on that thing. And I follow a few good friends on there, but I seldom comment on stuff. I never use hashtags on my photos, and when I see my photographer friends going crazy with them, I’ll usually troll them by leaving comments like #hashtag” on their pictures. Sorry, Conrad.
I am an adult.
However, towards the end of the spring, I started to notice a shocking bump in my followers and people were starting to tag me in pictures. Suddenly I had 1,300 followers. Why? Were people really that into pictures of my overweight chinchilla or lazy rabbit? Pictures of squirrels eating Doritos? What was happening?
Readers and bloggers in Brazil were using my name (#ericsmith), the title of the book (#geeklove), and the original title (#thegeeksguidetodating and #geeksguidetodating) while sharing the review copies they received. I spent a lot of time flicking through numerous photos and then, started commenting on them. Saying thanks, telling them how I couldn’t wait to see blog posts, etc.
A lot of these bloggers subsequently found me on Twitter, mentioned me while tweeting their reviews, emailed me for bookplates and/or posters, started following me on Goodreads, liked my Facebook page, etc. I responded to everything, loving every minute of it.
Was this… was I accidentally marketing on Instagram? Was this photo sharing toy suddenly something more?
The interesting thing here, is that thanks to Instagram, a social networking tool that’s almost entirely visual, I was able to connect with readers (and still am connecting with them, I check the hashtags once a week) in a way that isn’t effected by the language barrier. Not a lot of authors get to connect with their international readers, but with a tool like Instagram… I was suddenly able to.
So, here’s to taking it a bit more seriously. And author friends, I really encourage you to hop on there, search for your books (in all editions, foreign or not) and your name. I think you’ll end up being pleasantly surprised.
Just take a look. Here are a few authors I’m friends with / work with at Quirk, that are great examples, just off the top of my head: