Platformation

(Continuing my series of blog posts about the Writer’s Digest Conference 2016 in New York City.)

In a previous entry, I discussed the jargon word “platform,” and Fauzia Burke‘s presentation at the Writer’s Digest Conference even had the word in the title:  “Online Marketing:  Three Ways to Build a Successful Author Platform.”*  She is a book publicist with her own firm, and has worked in publishing (Holt) for over twenty years; she has a blog on Huffington Post with a lot of useful information.It is apparently now the responsibility of the writer not only to sell the book to the agent but to bring a pre-made audience of readers as well, and with all of this work falling on the writer’s shoulders I understand even more the appeal of self-publishing.**

The presentation was thorough and comprehensive, if a little jargony.  She talked about PPC (pay-per-click) and SEO (search engine optimization) and presented us with the formula:

Design + Engagement + Visibility = Book Marketing Success.

Design.  The design of a book includes the photo, book jacket, website, social media profile, and graphics, and she strongly urged the audience to remember that first impressions take 1/10th of a second.  She helped us understand that by showing us several author photos and asking us which one we liked best; it was obvious.  In other words, get a professional or similar author photo done, and make your website look professional.  People judge a book based on their first glance.

Engagement.  You need to be likeable if you want people to work with you.***  She told us that likeable people ask questions, are honest, don’t seek too much attention, are consistent, and smile.  Agents, editors, and other professionals who have to work with you will be more agreeable if you are not self-absorbed or difficult.  You’re seeking “connection not attention,” she said, and you can’t disappear on people.  Don’t just pop up when you want something.+

Visibility.  In your social media marketing, you want to identify and match your demographic.  She recommends blogging, doing publicity and advertising, paying attention to distribution, and doing events — and start today.  Don’t wait for the publisher to put things in motion.  Blogs build an audience, drive traffic, show expertise, and make connections.  Google Search tends to drive traffic to fresh and long content.  She also suggested blogging for other sites, and recommended a length of 700-1000 words for entries.  The sweet spot for blog posts is about once every two weeks.  You can blog on your own site, or on LinkedIn, Medium.com, Huffington Post, Fast Company, Forbes, or mariashriver.com.++

If you blog from a site that asks for an exclusive, don’t repost, but otherwise you can post on your own site first and a week later you can post elsewhere.  She recommends against using Huffington Post’s general “submit” button to start with, and strongly suggests turning off comments.  Another part of visibility is your pre-existing social network.  The friendships you have built up are your own best asset. .+++

The old method of creating press kits for publicity is no longer effective.  Journalists are unlikely to look at press releases.  Instead, research a journalist and send him or her a note.  As for hiring a publicist, she strongly suggested doing your homework.  There are many publicists around, but only some of them are worth the money (which can be substantial).

In sum:  A thorough presentation that convinced me that if you can afford it, you should probably hire Fauzia Burke because she is a nice person, thoroughly professional and knowledgeable, and because you probably get good value for your money.^

Takeaways:  Oh, hell.  I should get a professional author photo done, but I don’t have any money and I want to lose some weight.  And my website is a scandal and a hissing because you can get away with self-created templates and framesets if you’re a teacher.  I have a website (I got my own domain in about 1998), but it is very much not professional.

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* The metaphor of “building a platform” must be what made me start yearning for a roof-deck.  I suppose the writer’s platform could be a raft instead of a deck, or a rostrum.  The implication of the metaphor seems to be that you have to be rather solidly based at a lofty height, so the platform could be a pedestal.  Or a fire tower.  Don’t mind me.

** However, everybody seems to have to market themselves these days, including book publicists, editors, and agents.  Fauzia Burke has a mailing list that she asked us to subscribe to.  We’re all selling something.  All marketing ourselves.  Also, authors who self-publish have to do even more marketing in order to sell more than fifty copies or so.  So there’s that.

***The price of being public is that you have to seem appealing. But what if I’m an asshole, you may ask?  Well, then, be a likeable asshole.  Not a “real character.”  You can’t be a “real character” until you’re dead, because “real character” usually means “horrible monster, but we survived.”

+We are talking about writers here, aren’t we?  Aren’t they all self-absorbed introverts?  Well, I suppose one can pretend.

++I sense a disconnect here.  I suppose I ought to look into these sites, because she was not the first speaker to offhandedly recommend posting on some Huge Public Internet Site as if it was a thing.

+++ I am disinclined to think of my Facebook friends as any kind of market, but then I’m a bit of a throwback.  I suppose I could ask all my friends to buy my book, but from my previous publishing experience my friends are more likely to ask me for a free copy.

^She provided me with a link to her PowerPoint when I asked her for it.  Also, in return for subscribing to her online newsletter, I received a list of her favorite links:  Hootsuite, Social Mention, TweetReach, Twitter Counter, and Google Trends.

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