Blogging, Leanne D. Baldwin News, Life stuff

When the platform must take a backseat

Astute readers (or anyone proficient in the use of a calendar) will note that this is the first blog post I’ve written in a long time. Specifically, I haven’t posted since August 31. In blogging, that’s equivalent to half an eternity, especially if one is trying to build what we writers call “a platform.”

If you research how to break into the world of writing, you are going to run into a lot of material about building a writer’s platform and how critical it is these days. You quickly learn that publishers expect their writers to supply their own marketing of their books – unless they are among the handful of authors who are already household words whose works get most of the promotional budgets.

Some people even go so far as to say that an unpublished writer who has an existing platform – in the form of a blog with a lot of subscribers, a Facebook page with hundreds of friends, a Twitter account with hundreds of followers – is more likely to get a contract than writer with an equally good book who doesn’t have any of those things.

And if you’re going the self-publishing / e-publishing route, the platform becomes even more critical, because you not only have to do your own marketing, you have to make up for the fact that your book isn’t being stocked in bricks-and-mortar bookstores. There are no bookstore owners to charm into displaying the book and no book signing tours.

In this climate, it is easy to become absolutely obsessed with building the platform. I know that I have been. I worked very hard setting up this blog (not my first one, by a long shot, but perhaps the one I took the most care in setting up) and spent a lot of time trying to brainstorm ideas for posts. Additionally, I was diligent about trying to forge relationships with other writers, visiting their blogs and trying to comment on them. I even joined a platform-building campaign (along with hundreds of other writers) in pursuit of that goal. And in the several weeks that followed, I tried to keep up with everyone’s blog posts and to come up with things to post about on mine.

But I quickly found myself overwhelmed. I’m not claiming to have more commitments or to be busier than any other writers out there; the truth is, an awful of lot us are not just balancing writing activities, but also raising families, running businesses or holding down jobs, and all sorts of other things. In my case, I was starting a new job (albeit at part-time hours), being a single parent to my teenager, doing volunteer grassroots political organizing, trying to stay abreast of local and national politics, and helping to found a local writing critique group. This is in addition to keeping up with tens of blogs each day, maintaining friendships and contact with family members across the country, and writing entries to a few different fiction-writing contests.

Oh yeah, and writing a novel. Somehow, that managed to slide down the priority list as more and more obligations crowded onto my agenda.

I received a wake-up call a couple of weeks ago when I attended a meeting of the Willamette Writers (the oldest wrters organization in Oregon). The speaker was WW president and longtime professional writer Cynthia Whitcomb. While she’s primarily a screenwriter, she’s also written books, stage plays – pretty much whatever you can name. And she’s won awards doing it. So when she’s giving a talk on “Breaking into the writing business,” it’s a good idea to listen to her.

And while I listened, I realized that a whole lot of her advice boiled down to this: Write a whole lot of material. When Cynthia Whitcomb decided to become a screenwriter, she wrote twelve different screenplays (each in a different genre), one after the other. As each one was ready for submission, she sent it off. With each completed work, she gained more experience and got better at the craft. She didn’t worry about whether she was getting rejected (which she was, a lot). She just kept writing.

That night, I realized that while a platform is important, I had to stop giving it so much of my time. It’s not as though I was even creating very much content – most of my time has been spent reading everybody else’s. And the pressure to come up with really striking posts actually backfired on me; I’ve had a lot more stress-related migraines recently.

On top of everything, I haven’t been racking up the daily word counts on my novel as I had been before. I have been creating some shorter works as a result of the prompt-driven competitions I’ve been entering, so I consider those a very good use of my time. But it’s very clear that I need to shake up my priorities.

Long story short: the writing is Job One. I have a very exciting novel in the works, about half-way through the first draft. In the realm of work related to writing, this is the top priority. I can and will make exceptions when I have to produce a short story or something on a deadline for a contest, but that’s it. Writing the actual fiction is more important than blogging, more important than social media, more important than platform-building. Because without the finished novel and other fiction, I won’t have much use for a platform, will I?

I will also make time for critique groups and building relationships with writers face-to-face, because this is something that I’ve neglected and that I think is important. And I will resume building relationships with other writers online, because that is also important. I’m just not going to let it consume me.

I’m hoping that this revised approach to my life will make me more prolific, more interesting, and more fun. But I’ll settle for having fewer migraines!

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Discussion

14 thoughts on “When the platform must take a backseat

  1. This reminds me of my friend’s Ford Ranchero, where we used a plywood platform as the backseat.

    Posted by Brian Cekoric | September 23, 2011, 12:25 am
  2. Writers and platform-building is a big topic of discussion, these days, one close to me because I’m in the same boat. I discussed this here: http://amloki.blogspot.com/2011/09/writing-wednesdays-do-you-recommend.html

    Posted by Damyanti | September 23, 2011, 3:22 am
  3. Bravo Leanne! It could become very easy for writers to develop *tunnel vision*. I’m proud of you for keeping the focus on the writing! Personally, I would much rather see the occasional post that is well written while taking a professional approach taken to blogs and status updates as opposed to a constant stream of *fluff* πŸ™‚

    Posted by Christy Farmer | September 23, 2011, 5:28 am
  4. Well said, Leanne, well said! Also – welcome back! Lol… πŸ˜‰

    Posted by Crystal | September 23, 2011, 7:59 am
  5. “Some people even go so far as to say that an unpublished writer who has an existing platform – in the form of a blog with a lot of subscribers, a Facebook page with hundreds of friends, a Twitter account with hundreds of followers – is more likely to get a contract than writer with an equally good book who doesn’t have any of those things.”

    This is true. I just gave $16 and several hours of my life to an author who is riding a platform all the way to the bank, but the writing was not good.

    I love your approach to the blog. Quality wins.

    Posted by Kristin | September 24, 2011, 12:14 am
  6. The platform campaign has been a lot of fun and I’ve loved connecting with all these new authors. I knew it would be a time sink, so I thought long and hard before signing up this time around. I’m still amazed at how much time it does consume. In order to do all the things I’m supposed to do, I ended up creating a check list. By the time you add their blog link to your blog, find their Twitter account and follow it (which is sometimes impossible), add their blog to your RSS reader, find a post you want to comment on, and tweet a link to that post, about a half hour has gone by. Even if you can’t do the Twitter steps because the authors don’t show their Twitter account on their blog, it still takes a good 15 minutes. I figure it will take me all of the two months of the campaign just to visit all the blogs in my group. And that doesn’t count the challenges!

    I’m not complaining, just observing. This is what I signed up for, and the social networking benefits have been worth the effort, not to mention all the great authors and potential friends I’ve discovered.

    However, as you say, the writing is everything. I haven’t compromised my writing time to do this campaign; the time has come out of other things. I’m still making good forward progress on my novel, and I applaud your decision to make your writing your first priority. Best of luck to you!

    Posted by Daniel R. Marvello | September 25, 2011, 2:25 pm
    • Sorry I missed this comment until just now, Daniel.

      I think part of the problem with this networking stuff is that being proactive socially is always difficult for me. I have a deeply ingrained tendency to never make the first move out of a desire not to annoy people with unwanted contact, so I usually hang back and only interact when someone else initiates it. Therefore, I not only get overwhelmed by the enormous amount of time this networking takes – and you’re right that it really adds up – I’m also getting overwhelmed by a negative reaction for doing something that goes so blatantly against my grain.

      So I admit that my resolve to make writing the top priority is partially a response to the intense discomfort I’ve felt in trying to network, but I’m not completely letting myself off the hook. I’m still making some efforts to reach out to others, but in a scaled-back manner that I can maintain without falling apart. πŸ™‚

      Posted by Leanne D Baldwin | October 4, 2011, 11:21 am
  7. Thanks, Leanne — You put into words what I’ve been thinking — you gotta have PRODUCT. I have files full of product IDEAS. But “product”? Not so much! Your post is a good reminder. Best, Sylvia

    Posted by Sylvia Cary | October 4, 2011, 1:56 am
    • Hi, Sylvia! Thanks so much; I’m glad you got something out of the post.

      What a fascinating blog you have! (The Therapist Writer, http://thetherapistwriter.wordpress.com/ – check it out, folks!) You may be my first nonfiction-writing follower. It may interest you to know, as a therapist, that the protagonist of my novel in progress is a clinical psychologist.

      So what sort of product ideas do you have that you haven’t yet written?

      Posted by Leanne D Baldwin | October 4, 2011, 11:30 am

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