"Writing itself becomes the subject of the writing course..."

 — Michael Carter       

On Building a Platform: Two Cases

April 27th, 2015 by

I sometimes suspect that some things are easier to do than they look. I’m not talking about playing piano, hitting a major league fastball, or doing brain surgery. For at least two of these skills, you might try going to college for starters. But sometimes, it just takes a good example or two to help shape your own ideas.

I came back from a writers’ conference this past weekend, where the message was clear: to be a successfully published writer, I need a platform. Oh, it was also stressed that I need to write a really good “product” (that word was used more than “book” or “novel”). But the message was clear. Have a platform. And then have a good product (mine is a book).

The advice was not really followed by any clear teaching of how to build a platform, other than “go order and read these books” or go look at “this particular website.” These are helpful suggestions for people not familiar with the books, but they didn’t really make the platform idea do-able. I have by now more or less figured out on my own that for different writers, the platform will be different. Some will benefit from Twitter, others from doing conferences, and still others from doing both, or neither.

Different Folks, Different Strokes
One retired psychologist at one of the sessions I attended asked the leading question, “How do I build a platform? I am interested in publishing case study research in my field.”

No one in the session had any answers for her. They were all interested in writing “how-to” books or romance novels. A few people muttered that she should try to write something more interesting or anecdotal.

But this wasn’t helpful, being told that she should write what everyone else is writing. And it only made things seem more difficult. Because I’m an academic, I talked to her and shared what little I knew. “Find the audiences interested in what you are doing. They are out there, but where are they? When you find them, through websites or correspondence or conferences, communicate with them about what they are doing and what you are doing. Build bridges to them. Then let them know about your research.”

That didn’t seem too hard to say. I know it’s harder to do. It’s the same thing I need to do. Find out where my audience “hangs out.” Use whatever means you have at your disposal to build a bridge to them—Twitter, Facebook, a website, a blog, a yard sale, a morning walk. Perhaps all of them work.

I say morning walk because I have recently met another person who serves as another wonderful example of platform building. We talk many mornings because we both walk in the same park most days. He is 90. He’s writing a book about how to retire. And his website is all about helping people to retire.

Walking Your Talk
I’m not trying to be glib or flippant. William (that’s not his real name) is very impressive.

On several recent morning walks, I have listened to his inspiring stories about his life after retirement, when he and his wife decided together to teach in Kenya, China, and Japan. I should add that he talks and walks without being winded.

He has a target audience in me, of course. I’m nearing retirement. I wonder how I will do it. William is clear-eyed, humorous, and a good listener. And he is doing what he writes about—even as we speak, he is getting out and doing exercises every day.

Again, this is the start for him of a platform. He gave me a card to his website. I’m sure he talks to everyone he meets about his passion, and it is a passion for him. You can see it in how much he enjoys what he’s talking about.

He’s not writing a novel, but he is an encouragement to me to think about who my audience might be for my novel. He is an example of bridge building.

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