Building Your Platform

This week we’ll talk about another topic from the writer’s conference I went to. Chuck Sambuchino of former Writer’s Digest fame talked to us about platforms.

  • What is platform? It’s your visibility in the market. Your influence and reach. The channels through which you speak, like a Facebook page, Twitter, or blog.
  • Elements of platform. It’s important to keep in mind that one successful thing is better than a bunch of small attempts. If your Facebook page is really working for you, continue with that rather than start ten attempts to build your platform that have little visibility. Elements include a website or blog of impressive size, an e-newsletter/mailing list of impressive size, article or column writing, guest contributions to successful websites or blogs, a track record of strong book sales, individuals of influence you know, public speaking appearances, an impressive social media presence, membership to an organization, recurring media appearances (TV, radio, online), and free books.
  • When is platform necessary? For nonfiction, always. You need to have a strong platform and social media presence to prove you have an audience for the book you are proposing. For memoir the answer is sometimes. You see more celebrity memoirs because they already have the people interested in hearing their stories. For fiction, platform is not necessary, but an added bonus. You don’t need a platform to get an agent or publisher when you’re writing fiction, but a bigger platform means more money and sales, so it’s a good thing to work on before you get published. And it can be a good bonus when you have an impressive platform when you’re looking for an agent. But your fiction should come first. Work on your platform on those days you just can’t write. And it’s all about the slow growth. Keep at it and keep your numbers growing. Self-published books, it’s important to translate into sales.
  • Important principles. It is in giving that we receive. You make content for others, not yourself. The more difficult the content is to produce, the more valuable it is. Create the content others would look for. Also, you don’t have to go it alone. If there is a successful blog, ask to create a guest post for it. If there’s a successful website, ask to become a contributor. If you want to start a blog, start it with several others and create content together. It’s less work for you but gets your name out there. Learn from what works. If someone is doing something that works, copy it. Start small and start early. Don’t wait until right when you want to publish. You should start building your platform yesterday. Have a plan, but analyze and evolve. Don’t doggedly stick to a plan that isn’t working. Always keep adapting. Direct people to your blog using social media. Incentivize people to click through. Use SEO effectively, be specific in your titles. Be open, likeable, and relatable. You’ll find your audience if you are. Be yourself. Be known as an authority for your chosen topic. Have a focus.
  • Don’t write a blog about your personal writing journey. There’s hundreds of them online, even more abandoned ones. And why would a stranger be interested in your journey when you aren’t published or know the only way to be published (there are many paths). Is your life really that interesting that hundreds or thousands of strangers will want to read your blog? Write about a topic related to your book or what you are most interested in. You start a blog to last, so you need something you’ll be able to write about for years and years to come and still be engaged in the topic. Be an authority in the topic you chose and make it interesting.

These are some tips for how to build and grow your platform. Get started with it as soon as possible and constantly evolve. What are your best tips for platforms? Share below and happy writing.


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On Craft and Rewriting

This week we have another installment of what I learned at the writing conference I attended. This talk was given by Dan E. Johnson and covers craft and revision.

  • Read widely and read deeply. Our first job as writers is to be good readers. And not just to read, but to read critically. Read a ton in your genre to understand the expectations and hallmarks of your genre. But don’t stop there, read widely. Read other genres. Learn pacing from thrillers, love subplots from romance, and world building from fantasy. Read beloved books with a critical eye. What works and why? How can you incorporate that into your own story? Read chapter by chapter and summarize the plot and each scene.
  • Write better. Take classes, go to workshops, join a writing group, read books on craft. And most importantly practice. The more you write, the better you’ll write. If you do join a writer’s group, make sure it’s actually helpful. You don’t want people’s critiques to simply say they liked your work. You don’t want them to be too polite or afraid to say what they think. You need honesty to get better. And you have to have a thick skin. You need to be able to take the criticism if you want to improve. It’s all to make you a better writer.
  • Write characters your readers will care about. An interesting character needs to want something. Content characters are boring. You want to fully develop your characters unless they are just placeholders, then you can use simple stereotypes. Write people, not characters. Real people are full of complexities and contradictions. And real people have flaws. Flaws shouldn’t be as simple as they seem at first. A character is what a character does, or more correctly, what they mean to do. The reader has to relate to your character’s motivation.
  • High stakes. You need conflict to make a story and character motivation is king. Put your character up a tree and throw rocks at her.
  • Character arcs. Readers want to see your character change and grow.
  • Plot and setting complexity. Your story is a part of a larger world, so you’ll have glimpses of the greater world behind the story. Subplots are also important. There’s always something going on and you need to create a rich world for your character. Weave the different subplots together. Subplots can increase or slow down your pace as needed and can emphasize something about your character.
  • Immerse your reader in the story. Details make all the difference. Sensory detail and small setting detail will flesh out your story. Load up on the five senses.
  • Good writing is rewriting. Focus on characters first. Do all your characters make sense? Are they consistent throughout? Then look at plot. Does it work with the character? Does it develop the character or move the plot forward? Then do the highlighter trick. Use a different color highlighter for each of the five senses to see what you need to incorporate. Finally, focus on language. Read your story aloud. You will hear the problems in your prose.

Do you agree with these tips? Share below and happy writing.


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Writing Young Adult

Young Adult novels are extremely popular right now. I myself write Young Adult fantasy. But there can be a lot of confusion around what YA is. At the writer’s conference I attended last month, one speaker talked about what makes good YA. Here’s what they discussed.

First of all, good writing is good writing. The same things that make writing successful in adult books will work to make good YA as well. Character, plotting, and theme apply to YA as much as they do adult books.

The biggest difference is the audience. YA actually has two audiences. One is the adult gatekeepers, like publishers, teachers, and parents. Two is the actual teenager who will read your story. This is children age 12 and up. Really successful YA fiction appeals to both adults and teenagers. To do this you need to have age appropriate subjects and adventures. This includes the vocabulary and language you choose. But don’t oversimplify and don’t talk down to your readers. Teenagers may be inexperienced, but they are not dumb.

Another key is character. The protagonist should be 13 to 17 years old, with most characters averaging 16 in YA books. They have to be likeable, relatable, or both for your readers to connect with your story. No one wants to follow a character they have no interest in for 200 pages. Your protagonist should also act their age and behave age appropriately. Remember your audience and write a character they’ll believe and will want to read about.

Next let’s talk about POV. YA books are usually in first or third limited POV. These are the POVs where the reader is very close to the character and are therefore more immersive, which teens prefer. Also, be sure to limit the number of different POVs you utilize in your story. Especially first person POVs, which can get confusing when there’s more than one.

Finally, we have tone and plotting. Listen to how teenagers really talk and write in that tone. When it comes to plot, YA books are simpler than adult books with less subplots. Once again this doesn’t mean to oversimplify. YA books are just more focused. Outline your story when you are finished (if you didn’t start with an outline) to make sure the story structure is strong and that you’ve hit all your plot points.

These keys should help you to better understand YA and how to write it. What are your best practices for writing YA? Share below and happy writing.


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