I’ve always known that building a platform is important to your writing career, but defining exactly what your platform is and how it functions was harder for me to understand. The best way I can explain it is a personal example.
It happened during work when I was doing research for an article at the Vallejo Times-Herald. I was sifting through our online archive, searching for an article I’d written a year ago when I noticed exactly how many times my byline appeared in the newspaper.
In the span of three years, my byline has appeared in the newspaper 340 times and given our circulation size of about 15,000 readers, that’s a lot of people who may view me as an expert on sports in Solano County.
I remember writing a fraction of those articles, but unknowingly I’d built a pretty sturdy platform as a sports reporter.
What is a Platform?
The idea of having a platform is not a new concept and many of my ideas on the subject come from reading about it. The two best sources I’ve found on the subject are in Sage Cohen’s book The Productive Writer and Christina Katz book Get Known Before the Book Deal: Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform. Katz’s book is great if you really want to get serious about this subject.
Platform is an expression of your expertise. It says to people ‘hey world, this is me and this is my experise.’ If you look at it from a business sense this is the organizing principal that will govern what you work on, how you work on it and who you work with.
Being clear about your platform brings focus to your writing life and gives you the criteria to evaluate what projects to work on, what type of research you need to do and allows you to take advantage of opportunities that may be staring you right in the face.
Creating multiple Platforms
The best example I’ve seen of exactly what your platform is actually supposed to look like and how it functions in your writing life is the website of job coach and professional geek Steven Savage.
You can find his website here.
I met Steven during the Animation on Display Festival in San Francisco two weeks ago. I was trying to network and develop a second platform as an anime and video game writer, when I stumbled upon his panel called “Fans Without a Dream Job.” His tips on leveraging your hobbies and interests into a career led to the creation of this blog and now this post.
If you’d never met Steven before you could figure out who he is and what he’s about by going to his website and taking a quick glance at the home page. It’s the perfect example of clearly defining your platform.
“I am Geek 2.0, where technology, culture, media, and career come together…”
These days, writers rarely have just one platform and many times people that get into writing are experts in something else and fall into writing. Steven has been an Technology Project Manager for the better part of 16 years. He’s also a fan of anime and all things geeky, which he’s leveraged into jobs as a career coach, freelance writer and public speaker.
Steven is also the author of five books that deal with helping anime fans turn their hobbies into careers.
“Any writing job is communication and any career is about communication so it’s not hard for everything you do to feed it back into itself,” Savage said. “It’s easy to think of these things as separate, but you have to tie them together.”
It’s not just important, but essential for writers develop multiple platforms. If your goal is to make a business out of your writing life, it’s important to use every opportunity to bring the service you provide to all the people who need it.
In other words, the more you write the more chances you have to get paid. The faster you produce work, the faster those dollars come.
“A writing job is a lot more complicated,” Steven said. “People think they are going to be one kind of writer, but the big thing is if you want to write for a living. Write as much as you can.”
Building your Platform
I think Steven Pressfield said it best in his book War of Art. He has a chapter called YOU INC, which expresses the idea that as a writer you are the President and CEO of your writing life. Thinking of yourself as a professional puts you in the proper mindset to think of your writing and work as a service. Your platform is the guiding principal that dictates where you put your time and effort.
In Steven’s case he was fortunate enough to be a Project Manager before being a writer.
“What I’m doing is applying project management skills to writing. What I like to do is start with the endpoint in mind. Ask yourself where your trying to go. This is something a lot of people miss. Look at where you’re trying to go then try to understand it. It helps to understand cause-and-effect once you understand how you’re getting there and where your trying to go. If you have a goal in mind then you can work back and get there much better.”
You have to decide what you are an expert at before you can tell people you are an expert at something. Sit down and figure out what subjects you know the most about and you may realize that is your expertise. If it’s something you have a passion for, but don’t know much about then figure out what you need to do in order to become an expert at that subject.
Once you’ve found your expertise, put it down on paper as a single statement of purpose. This will be your guide as you map out out exactly how you are going to get there.
Proper planning is essential no matter whether you see success as writing a book, running a successful blog or building a freelance career. “Planning is a creative process. The act of planning can be inspiring,” Savage said. “ It’s seeing what we can do. Creativity is something you have to take everywhere.”
The key to planning anything is having clear measurable goals and hard deadlines to get it done.
“The really difficult thing is knowing how long something is going to take. Even project managers at large companies have trouble estimating the size of a project,” Savage said. “The secret for planning a good project is to break things down to reasonably sized compliments. If you’re doing a book, go for X amount of work each day.”
The final and perhaps the most important step is to get started. Whether that is defining your platform, planning out how to reach your goals, or writing. Do something toward building your platform every day, because many times putting in steady consistent effort is the one thing that stops people from succeeding.