Platform: ticket to creative freedom

What’s your view of this publishing necessity called platform? Do you resent having to cyberhobnob alongside writing? Do you wish it was just enough to write?

Let me phrase this another way. Look at the kind of novel you’re writing now. Look at the way it might be marketed – perhaps by a traditional publisher, perhaps by your own efforts as an indie. In five years’ time, will you be playing with the same ideas, treading the same themes? Writing the same genre, perhaps the same kind of characters?

If the answer is no, you definitely need a platform.

Genre rules

Traditionally in publishing, writers get tied to one genre. Careers are built in pigeonholes, set up by editors and marketers. That’s not surprising; it’s their job to decide where you fit in a bookshop, not to nurture your long-term art. After that, publishers want broadly similar works from you, a row of books like a matching set of table mats.

Actually, the readers want that too. A Big Six editor I know was telling me recently that [author of phenomenally big series] wanted to try a new direction. (Yes, those brackets are frightfully coy. Sorry.) She was disappointed to find her fans didn’t buy her ‘departure’ novel. It seems they wanted only [coyly bracketed phenomenally big series].

But look at the music industry. Musicians aren’t expected to stay the same. Their fans are far more forgiving when an artiste evolves. Writers, though, don’t get away with it. Why? Because we hide behind our disembodied words, or only emerge in targeted publicity campaigns built like DVD extras around our books. The books build the readership.

No room to hide

Of course, our books are what matters. But it seems there’s a danger in letting them do all the talking. It’s even worse if you leave platform-building to someone else, because they become the intermediary between your work and the world. Which might paint you into a very tiny corner.

Building a platform is an extra job. It doesn’t come easily to everyone. Ironically, it’s the genre authors who find it simplest – mainly because there are well defined templates to follow, established groups to hang out with. But if you’re not easily pigeonholed, you need it even more. You need to show people who you are under the books, where you go exploring for ideas. That relationship will keep readers with you when you venture to new places.

Writers now have a fantastic tool to own our creative identity. We can now be like the musicians who aren’t damned for developing or for reinventing ourselves – and indeed are respected for it.

If you know you will always be adding new tools to your repertoire, be stirred by new influences, will change the ways you seek escape and enlightenment – hell, if you might just get older and wiser, you need to build a platform.

It is your ticket to creative freedom.

Thanks for the pic Thuany Gabriela

Tiny bit of news. My Memories of a Future Life was nominated for an award at Underground Book Reviews last month – and I’ve just discovered it won a Reader’s Choice award. If you helped by giving it a vote, thank you very much

Do you think platform is just for one kind of writer and not another? Do you resent having to do it? Do you embrace it? And what are you doing to build it (assuming you are not about to leave a comment screaming ‘NOOOOOOO’)

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  1. #1 by Viv on June 3, 2012 - 12:09 pm

    I don’t like the term platform as it implies a kind of Simon Stylities pole-squatting kind of visibility. I prefer my platform to be a treehouse where people can climb up and join me. Like one of those Blyton-esque little clubs.

    • #2 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 3, 2012 - 12:55 pm

      Pole-squatting? Yuk, that sounds disgusting. I agree, though – platform is a horrid word. But it did make a good headline :)

  2. #3 by Catana on June 3, 2012 - 12:40 pm

    Maybe that’s another mark against traditional publishers and the way they operate. If a writer is contracted to write so many novels in such and such an amount of time, it may deprive them of the chance to explore in other directions in between. If an indie writer chooses to work strictly within a genre for a long time, they’re limiting themselves in the same way. The answer to platform is to make sure variety is built in right from the start.

    • #4 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 3, 2012 - 12:57 pm

      Catana, that’s a good point. If you show from the start that you have several sides to offer, no one feels like you pulled the rug away.

  3. #5 by Susan Schreyer on June 3, 2012 - 1:08 pm

    As usual, Roz, you’ve posted a thought-provoking blog. I don’t know that I actually resent having to market myself and platform-build, but I do find it frustrating — probably because I haven’t really figured it out yet. At the moment, I’ve been equating platform building with “getting known” even though I realize there are distinctions. Being an indie writer, I like being able to pursue directions that a traditional route may have denied me. Cantana’s suggestion of building variety from the start seems a good one. The mystery genre has numerous “subs” and I’ve been playing in several, the latest being humor/paranormal. I hope my readers have found my disregard for sub-genre entertaining. Time will tell. If I were to leap to another genre entirely, I might consider a pseudonym (which requires a whole new effort at platform building) (ugh).

    • #6 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 3, 2012 - 6:48 pm

      Hi Susan! ‘Getting known’ is a good way to start. I remember that to begin with I was blogging in the dark with no idea where audiences were to be found or how to appeal to anybody at all – let alone where I might fit.
      Like you, I enjoy having the freedom to decide where my muse takes me – which with books is quite a commitment because of the time they take to write. It’s not a decision to be taken willy-nilly!
      If you used a pseudonym, would you add your name as well – ie Susan Schreyer writing as Grey Eddie ..?

  4. #7 by Debbie on June 3, 2012 - 1:12 pm

    But it’s incredibly difficult to go in two directions at the same time. I write in two separate genres with two very different markets and I simply can’t build a platform for both at the same time. Which is probably why one book outsells the other by huge magnitudes.

    • #8 by Catana on June 3, 2012 - 1:30 pm

      Debbie, I think your platform needs to be more about *you* than about a particular genre. And from what I’ve been reading lately, a lot of writers feel the same way.

      • #9 by Debbie on June 3, 2012 - 1:53 pm

        But what is *me*? Sometimes I feel like a split personality. The people who read my blog because I write dark and nasty crime aren’t going to be remotely interested in anything I post about YA fantasy. And vice versa. And anything I post that fits both camps will be so bland that nobody would bother reading it anyway.

        • #10 by Catana on June 3, 2012 - 2:20 pm

          Are you sure that your readers are so limited in their reading choices that there might not be some cross over? Other than that, why do you feel like a split personality? Why do you write in two such different genres? How do your stories come to you? Readers are interested in all that, believe it or not. I don’t know if you blog, but it’s the best way to draw your readers in. If you write a post about YA fantasy and that’s not someone’s thing, they’ll skip it and wait for something about the dark and nasty. And you’d be surprised how writing about the process of writing and what it means to you can clarify things in your own mind. Blogging is my default platform, though I never thought about it that way until the subject started popping up everywhere. It’s a wonderful way to touch base with both readers and writers, and learn things, in the comments, that might not have come to you any other way.

          • #11 by Catana on June 3, 2012 - 2:21 pm

            Slight boo boo on my part. You did say you blog.

            • #12 by Debbie on June 3, 2012 - 3:54 pm

              Replying up here as wordpress has run out of space down below…. don’t worry – you’re not mouthing off – you’re giving me some really useful stuff to think about! :-)

          • #13 by Debbie on June 3, 2012 - 3:31 pm

            I’m not sure about the “writing about writing” – works for Roz since she’s written a book about writing and therefore her readers are writers, but I want to attract readers as well as writers and generally pure readers aren’t necessarily interested in the mechanics of writing. I blog with Roz on Authors Electric, so a lot of posts about writing go there. But I think the real problem stems from the fact that my crime writing is most definitely adult and I’m not sure I’d want the responsibility of a crossover audience that’s under 18. Sometimes I think life would be so much simpler if I wrote in just one genre! The other problem, of course, is that I’m just not very good at blogging!

            • #14 by Catana on June 3, 2012 - 3:48 pm

              I’ve found that my writing about writing attracts readers as well as writers, but I write more about inspiration and the learning process than about mechanics. But I can understand that if your genres clash as badly as yours obviously do, then reconciling them in one platform might not be possible. And I might not have mouthed off at such length if I’d been aware of that at the start. :-)

  5. #15 by tomburkhalter on June 3, 2012 - 1:17 pm

    {coyly brackets screaming NOOOOO!} Seriously, my problem is I have this hideous feeling I’m a cross-genre writer. Dearie me, is that going to be as hideous a problem as cross-dressing? The series I’m working on starts for now with characters set during World War 2, but may go back before that, all the way back to the American “Wild West,” where I’ll have to put my Zane Grey ten-gallon hat on while I write. From WW2 I go forward to the future, where the descendants of the WW2 characters build and fly the first starships, very definitely my R.A. Heinlein hat. Not easily pigeonholed. I have my own blog, but I tend to be somewhat philosophical — OK, long-winded, can’t help it, it’s in my nature. I love ideas and possibilities; bet you didn’t see that coming! Anyway…guess I’ll just plug on!

    • #16 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 3, 2012 - 7:05 pm

      Tom, you are not just cross-genre. You are tangled! But steampunk started as a daring experiment and if you can pull it together, good for you. Hooray for possibilities. There was a time when writers had a lot more freedom to experiment, and hopefully that spirit is still alive and kicking.

  6. #17 by Cynthia Robertson on June 3, 2012 - 1:28 pm

    While I do agree we must have a platform, and you are completely correct about that need, I do resent it, Roz. Any time I spend blogging, Tweeting etc, is time I am not writing. While I love the internet for its easy access to research information, and I have enjoyed the last couple of years building my platform and all the friends I’ve made, I find myself spending less and less time on that now, and much more on the actual writing. It really has held up my completing my current novel. And that’s what’s important. If I am completely honest, I wish all I had to do was just be a great writer and the rest would be taken care of by others. But I recognize that’s not the case.

    • #18 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 3, 2012 - 7:12 pm

      Cynthia, I do understand. Blogging, tweeting etc takes a lot of time – and a different sort of mindset from straightforward writing.
      When I’m finishing a book, I find ‘platforming’ too disruptive, though. I usually have to put a post up explaining I’m going to be quiet for a while. I’ve been collecting a lot of intriguing pictures of locked doors for the purpose…
      But put it this way. In the old days, we used to have to go to a lot of meetings and book launches to meet useful contacts and likeminded creatives. The internet has handed this opportunity to us on a desktop.

  7. #19 by DRMarvello on June 3, 2012 - 1:31 pm

    For whatever reason, the term “platform” seems to scare a lot of authors. I think the reason for that is because the term is so vague and sounds like a lot of work (which it can be.) As it is used today, platform is a blanket term that describes all you do to establish a following and get the word out about your work. In other words, platform is all about marketing. Most of the authors I know want to spend their time writing, not marketing, so “building a platform” is a distasteful task on many levels.

    The problem with trying to build flexibility or variety into your platform is that you are diluting your message. As a marketing endeavor, your platform needs to target a particular audience in order to be effective. It’s the book marketing problem taken to a macro level: if you write your book for everyone, you are truly writing it for no one.

    From a marketing standpoint, you did the right thing yourself, Roz, when you started the Red Blog and established a separate Twitter identity, @ByRozMorris. This blog is all about Roz Morris the editor and non-fiction author of Nail Your Novel. The Undercover Soundtrack is all about Roz Morris the ficiton author. I’m sure setting that up was a tough decision because it is difficult to do justice to multiple online identities, let alone one.

    What I’m getting at here is that focusing your platform on a particular market (call it pigeonholing yourself if you must) is the best way to make a strong connection with your target audience. If you want to change your genre later, that’s fine, just create another platform. You don’t have to be secretive about it, and some of your fans will cross over to the new platform with you. Erotica writers maintain this kind of separation as a matter of course, but it works for the rest of us too regardless of which genres we write.

    The problem with trying to build multiple audiences into your platform from the beginning is that the resulting following is more likely to be an intersection of those audiences, not a union (to borrow a couple of set theory terms.)

    • #20 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 3, 2012 - 7:22 pm

      Hi Daniel! You’re right – platform development is a lot of work, and as Viv says above it’s rather an ugly word. (Treehouse is much better.)
      I’m glad you think I did the right thing with my multiple personalities, Red Blogs and Purple Blogs. Yes it is tough, and for a while I wasn’t sure I’d keep the Red Blog as anything other than a site for MMOAFL. I’m sure some people think it’s a bonkers distinction, but I’ve worked in magazines for decades and I find it intrinsic to keep to a focused editorial policy.
      I also think it’s important to remind people of all your identities, if you have them. I signpost a lot from this blog to the other – again like magazines with sister titles. This means people are aware the other exists, but they don’t have to bother with it if it doesn’t appeal to them.

  8. #21 by John Logan on June 3, 2012 - 6:38 pm

    Roz…you have pre-figured the subject matter of the AE blog I am doing on the 11th. Didn’t we do this once before, but the other way around? “My Memories of a Future Blog Post”
    You’ve also crystallized for me a semi-conscious idea I’ve had all through this year….especially sometimes while witnessing online squabbles between “genre” and “literary” authors…
    It seems to me that the genre authors have beaten a path in epublishing where now the literary authors can very easily follow.
    A literary author willing to invest a few hours a week on learning a genre authors “platforming” techniques, has a real opportunity to reach eager readers now, independently.
    All best,
    John

    • #22 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 3, 2012 - 7:30 pm

      Ha John – we could get ourselves seriously in cross-posting knots here. Sorry to steal your thunder, that’s what happens if you dabble with fictional futures…
      Yes, it’s interesting how genre authors have blazed a trail, or have they? Are they the only blogging authors we have heard of? It’s easier for genre authors to sell themselves and find an audience, but as Mr Disvan says below, if all you have to offer is ‘good writing’ it’s incredibly hard to get noticed.
      Nice to see you here, and I look forward to your post on the 11th. I shall close my eyes and try not to inadvertently channel any of it before then.

  9. #23 by mrdisvan on June 3, 2012 - 6:41 pm

    One problem is that readers are often unwilling to follow a writer outside the genre they first encountered them in. Building a platform for non-genre is incredibly hard as the only place to hook people who enjoy quality writing rather than a set of formalized tropes is via the book pages of the established media. Online, everything very quickly collapses into narrow little silos of specialized interest. So I would say, if you want to build a platform you probably need to be very clear what kind of book you’re going to be offering, and write the same kind of book (ideally with the same characters) every time. (I know, it sounds absolutely ghastly…)

    • #24 by Catana on June 3, 2012 - 6:56 pm

      So ghastly that if I seriously thought it was necessary, I’d stop writing.

    • #26 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 3, 2012 - 7:35 pm

      Stirring thoughts, Mr Disvan. I’m hoping the time will soon come when the established media will take literary indie writers seriously, because as you say there’s a gap we can’t jump at the moment. There will also be respected and rigorous gatekeepers/curators to guide readers to this kind of work.

  10. #27 by John Logan on June 3, 2012 - 6:42 pm

    PS!
    Oh, and of course, this also makes it possible to break down the often-illusory genre/literary distinction itself…creating a new epub hybrid author!

  11. #28 by Melanie Marttila on June 3, 2012 - 7:02 pm

    I’ve been working on my platform since November of last year. I tried to do it sensibly, slowly, incorporating it into my writing routine. Then in February, my blog was hacked and I made some major changes, for the better I hope. So my 2.0 platform restarted in March, and in April, I joined Robert Lee Brewer’s Platform challenge.
    Needless to say, from that point out, my platform building efforts have taken up a proportionally larger chunk of my writing time (day-job writer here …) to the point that I haven’t actually worked much at all on my novel in the last month (!) Yikes! Wake up call! I haven’t got my first book “out there” yet! What the heck am I doing?
    So now I’m in the process of putting my platform in its place. Reduced the number of blog posts I make per week to from 6 to 4, use Google reader to manage my subscriptions, use FB primarily for curation, use Hootsuite to schedule repostings of older material, stuff like that. Things are slowly falling into place and I’m starting to work on my novel again. If I don’t have a product, what use is the platform? Seriously.
    It’s a tricky business, and a creative person can get wrapped up in the world of platform too soon.
    I’m a baby at this. My follows for my blog are just over 30 (good for only 68 posts in its renewed lifetime) and my other SoMe connections only run in the hundreds, not the thousands. I haven’t put an author page on FB yet (don’t think there’s any reason to at this point), but I’m working at building platform back in the slowly, senibly mode.
    Love your blog and always appreciate your posts.

    • #29 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 3, 2012 - 7:42 pm

      Hi Melanie – delighted you like my blog! You’ve highlighted what’s often a scary point – that setting up a platform takes a frightening lot of time. But hopefully once you’ve got it running it will be less demanding and will give you space to get back to creativity.
      It’s just as bad when you launch a book, too. When I launched my novel, I did no other work for six entire weeks. I was amazed at how shepherding it into the world was so all consuming. (Part of the problem, though, was that I split it in four, effectively meaning I had to juggle four separate launches. So it was self inflicted.) Once I had the novel out, though, my blog subscriptions rocketed. It was as if I’d finally proved I could walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
      Balance does return, honestly – soon you’ll be taking it all in your stride.

  12. #30 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 3, 2012 - 7:03 pm

    Catana and Debbie – great discussion there, especially Debbie’s point about boundaries and what’s appropriate for different audiences. Perhaps you do need a pseudonym if you want to make the distinction, then it’s simply a case of ‘reader beware’.
    Blogging about writing seems almost to be the default for writers, and as Daniel says in a comment above, once I’d started doing that I thought it was best to split that off from my fiction work because I didn’t want to dilute a formula that seemed to work.
    There’s a huge debate about whether you should blog about writing if you’re hoping to appeal to a wider audience than just fellow scribblers. What I aim to do is make my posts accessible to anyone who’s reasonably curious about how creative people work. Years ago the British writer and academic David Lodge did a series in The Sunday Times about writing, a little like a weekly English literature lecture. I thought that was a nice model to follow – although I’m way too practical to have much patience for academic Eng lit. But that’s what I’m generally aiming for with this blog.

  13. #31 by Teddi Deppner on June 3, 2012 - 9:51 pm

    When mrdisvan said, “One problem is that readers are often unwilling to follow a writer outside the genre they first encountered them in”, I immediately thought of Dr. Who and the squabbles people have about their favorite Doctor. Most people bond with the first Doctor (actor) they encounter when they start watching the series. Finding out there are different actors later is often a bit of a hurdle. I tried to have a very open mind, but it still took me quite a while to truly warm up to Matt Smith. I liked him for his energy and acting, but missed “my” Doctor.

    Yes, if you think you’ll be multi-genre, then set that expectation from the start if you can. But that’s not always easy to do. Often, you want to run with a series for a while (or you’re contracted to do so). And all your readers aren’t going to keep up with your blog, so even if you try to use your platform (blog, etc) to set expectations and talk about your other interests or works-in-progress, there’s probably 80% of your readership who didn’t get the memo and are disappointed when you publish a story outside what they’ve come to love from you.

    Nonetheless, I think the Internet makes this problem marvelously easy to handle! Do you write in two incompatible genres? (e.g., gritty murder mystery and Amish Christian romance) No problem. Build your platform on two different websites, two different Facebook pages, etc. Use a pseudonym if you want, or just brand it like this: “Teddi Deppner: Thrillers” at teddideppnerthrillers.com and “Teddi Deppner: Romance in Amish times” at teddideppnerromance.com. Or whatever!

    You can get as narrowly focused as you like, or stay eclectic and get your readers used to that. This isn’t a theoretical discussion for me, as my projects span somewhat incompatible groups of readers. My non-fiction is half business-related and half conservative Christian. And my fiction is paranormal action that paints werewolves and vampires in a way highly offensive to the mainstream conservative Christian worldview. Haven’t gone far enough into that story to know whether it’s considered teen fiction or if its going to be too gritty and wrestle with issues considered too mature for that audience. For me, I’ll probably use a pseudonym to make it easier for each readership to easily find what they’re looking for without getting confused (or offended).

    • #32 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 4, 2012 - 7:24 pm

      Teddi, the Doctor Who problem is a brilliant example. I even had problems when they changed the companions ;)
      You could always follow the Iain Banks example, by adding a middle initial to some of your books. That way you keep the overall identification of yourself as the author and make it easy for readers to find you, but indicate that certain books may have a different flavour.

  14. #33 by Teddi Deppner on June 3, 2012 - 10:02 pm

    As for the primary question of platform, I’d say I’m glad there’s more opportunity to interact with my readers… but I don’t like the burden of doing all that when I should be writing the stories!

    I do have an intriguing thought, based on things I’ve seen on the Net over the years. The Internet has encouraged a sort of reverse-platform phenomenon, have you noticed? The fans themselves have the opportunity to create a HUGE buzz with their fan sites and fan pages.

    What if we can engage and somehow utilize this more consciously, as authors? What if we make an effort to notice those of our fans who follow us from blog to blog or who share our Facebook posts the most? What if we reward them and encourage them and empower them to do more?

    I don’t think this would mean every author could sit back and let their fans do all the work. But I think that sometimes we might find ourselves in a great position to leverage the power of the fans themselves. Sometimes we might find that perfect combination: a rabid fan who also happens to be a website hobbyist and who might just create a wonderful fan site if we offered them some exclusive interviews and access, or even if we just patted them on the head a few times. (Don’t take that the wrong way — I’m a fan, myself, and get super excited at opportunities to interact online with my favorite authors and wag my tail pretty fast at the chance to promote them to friends.)

    An example of a great fan site that I enjoy is http://www.dendarii.com. It’s not pretty, and it’s getting a little outdated, but “back in the day” it was the most amazing collection of information about my favorite author that I could find. Interviews, awards, chronologies, tons of fascinating info. Lois Bujold didn’t have to create a massive website platform — her fan(s) did it for her. I love that idea.

    What do you guys think? There’s got to be a lot of creative platforming ideas we could come up with that save us time and still help people to find us and our books. Other ideas, anybody?

    • #34 by DRMarvello on June 3, 2012 - 10:39 pm

      Your example is interesting in a couple of ways, Teddi. For one thing, notice what the fans do when they create their own site: they rally around a particular series or character, not really the author (although Dendarii claims to be about the author, it’s really about her fantasy world, as the name suggests.)

      Your comments also raise a point that I think is worth noting: once you have a large fan base and are truly a household name, your name can be your brand. Until then, your book/series is your brand. Even a brand name doesn’t necessarily carry you outside your genre. For example, I would argue that John Grisham is a brand name, but I have no interest in his work outside of the legal thriller genre.

      Many successful authors with name recognition realize that a name can be a brand, but only if it is used consistently. Nora Roberts is a classic example. She uses the pen name J.D. Robb for her mystery novels. Joe Konrath has something like three names, depending upon the type of stories he’s writing. He’s very open about the fact that they are all him, but the names give his fans a way to quickly find his books using the appropriate brand.

      I think we all need to remember what it is that captures the imagination and loyalty of our fans: it’s our stories. Our readers are mostly interested in the worlds we create. They become interested in us *after* that. And at that point, their interest is mostly about, “When will the next book be available?” The fan who loves everything you write, regardless of genre, is a fan who happens to like all of those genres.

      Developing a relationship with your fans and becoming friends is fine, but just remember what brought them to you in the first place.

      • #35 by Teddi Deppner on June 4, 2012 - 12:04 am

        DRMarvello — I totally agree. And honestly, the idea that my readers fall in love with my characters or story world rather than with me is not only totally acceptable, it’s marvelous!

        This reminds me of the conversation marketers have around the idea of branding and how the laundry soap “Tide” has its own life, its own name. People don’t buy every product that Proctor & Gamble make simply because they make it. They buy the brands they’ve come to like, trust, and/or believe in and those brands have a life of their own separate from the parent company’s brand.

        The book “Primal Branding” talks about this a bit (here’s the author’s blog on the topic: http://primalbranding.blogs.com/). As authors, we’d be wise to understand what makes our readers tick. And in the end, you’re right — it’s their enjoyment of our stories. Thinking of my own tastes, this is so very true. I don’t love a book simply because Bujold wrote it, although she’s a masterful writer. I love the ones that are in the genre I like best. Her science fiction captures me totally. Her fantasy is “nice” but somehow doesn’t ring my bell.

        Maybe someday we’ll have options for differentiating books in different genres by the same author other than using pseudonyms, which somehow seems clumsy and slightly untruthful (even when you’re open about it). Bujold:Sci-Fi and Bujold:Fantasy and Bujold:Literary, etc. Of course, some stories span genres or are difficult to define, so that gets inexact, too.

        Maybe that’s why we have series labels. “The Vorkosigan Series” by Bujold, etc. This is where book covers and cover copy and promotional materials become so important. When you’re an author whose works vary widely, you’ve GOT to have an effective way to communicate to people what THIS book is about. The person looking at it might be completely new to you, they could be a rabid fan of one series without knowledge that you write anything else, they could be considering which second book to read because they liked the first one they found with your name on it. Tricky.

        But doable. ‘Twould be interesting to see statistics on how many authors tend to write a single genre vs. how many span several. And, of course, how many would like to try something new but feel boxed in by previous successes and fan/publisher expectations. Heh.

      • #36 by DRMarvello on June 4, 2012 - 12:48 pm

        It’s funny you should mention Proctor & Gamble vs. Tide with regard to branding. That is the exact same example that came to mind when I was thinking about this issue!

        I believe authors already have several choices regarding how to brand themselves, but the best approach depends upon how your writing develops, so it can be hard to tell which way to go at the beginning.

        Pseudonyms are a tried and true way to brand, and it works great for authors who write multiple, stand-alone novels in a particular genre. One of the best features of a pseudonym is discoverability: author name is the number one way readers search for new reading material. Book stores arrange fiction by author name, and every online retailer lets you search by author name.

        Series names can work as a brand too. I would argue that “Dragonriders of Pern” is a more effective brand than “Anne McCaffrey” because it is more specific, and the more specific your brand, the more identifiable it is with a particular group of readers. But authors rarely develop a series name as a brand until it becomes popular. I think that is mostly due to the historical influences of traditional publishing, which plays down the series aspect until the first book proves itself. Today’s self publishing authors have the choice of series branding from the outset.

        I’ve noticed that series branding can develop around either a specific character, a story world, or even a particular multi-volume set. The “Pern” example is all about the story world. Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series is all about the character. David Eddings distinguishes The Belgariad from The Malloreon, even though the books are all set in the same story world–and readers identify with the books by those series names.

        I originallly chose a pen name because I didn’t want my fiction work confused with my non-fiction work. That decision made, I’ve been developing my brand around my name. I believe that choice limits how I can use Daniel R. Marvello (he only writes magical fantasy), but that’s okay. If I decide to write in some other genre some day, I’ll choose another pseudonym!

        I don’t think there is a single, “right” way to go about branding, but I do think it works best if it is done deliberately.

        • #37 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 4, 2012 - 7:38 pm

          Guys, this whole business of what builds the brand and the relationship with the reader is fascinating. Daniel, I certainly believe that having built Nail Your Novel as a writing advice brand, I’ll damage it if I then use it for rambles about my own fiction. I’m wondering whether to make this question another post…

        • #38 by DRMarvello on June 4, 2012 - 8:36 pm

          Please do turn it into a post! Branding is an important issue that comes up again and again. It is closely related to platform, and it is just as confusing for most authors.

          I like to think that I “get it” because I have a business background and a solid foundation in marketing theory. But like many decisions we self-publishers have to make, the best answer for each of us depends upon our goals for our books and our writing careers.

    • #39 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 4, 2012 - 7:27 pm

      Teddi, I think what you’re talking about here is the good old-fashioned fan club. Special interviews, giveaways and news are granted to the inner few, who enjoy the kudos of the privileged access and adore spreading it to the fans. It certainly is powerful.
      Trouble is, you have to wait for someone else to set it up…

  15. #40 by CG Blake on June 3, 2012 - 11:42 pm

    So true, Roz. I was struck by your comment about musical artists. I saw Radiohead in concert Friday night and what hit me was how they abandoned the guitar-basd rock anthems that dominated their first three albums. The set list was built around Kid A and The King of Limbs and featured lots of syncopated rhythyms and intricate drum beats. Beginning with Kid A in 2000, Radiohead reinvented themselves and they’re still doing it. I guess Thom Yorke would never make it as a writer, but he is a genius who never gets stuck in a formula. Too bad writers can’t get away with writing where their passions take them.

    • #41 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 4, 2012 - 7:51 pm

      Chris, I think music has much to teach publishing. They had a revolution with distribution, production software and new ways to build audiences. It seems music is good at staying fresh and experimental, whereas conventional publishing still has its brain in its bottom. But that’s conventional publishing. There are – and always have been – many writers who aren’t conventional … Does music get away with this because music is so much more consumable, and therefore intrinsic to people’s lives? Can we hope for reading to be as well?

  16. #42 by Laura Pauling (@laurapauling) on June 5, 2012 - 1:07 pm

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using slight variations of your name to denote a different kind of writing even if it’s close. I’d like to say that branding your theme/genre doesn’t matter but I think it does.

  17. #43 by Dan Holloway on June 5, 2012 - 6:37 pm

    The term platform feels repressive but I think you’re right, that it’s important for writers working across genres to let raders get to know them and what they stand for because that quite probably won’t change (just as a serial killer will change their MO but not their signature). What is it an author stands for? At a fundamental level. I think that’s something we hide from – and often our novels give us something to hide behind, and we spend our time talking book by book without ever asking ourselves that fundamental question.

    • #44 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 5, 2012 - 8:43 pm

      ‘What an author stands for…’ that’s a good way to think about it, Dan. I hope to give a flavour of what I stand for from what interests me, from the kind of idea that drives my artistic sensibilities. Whether that works I don’t know – perhaps I just look like another mad scribbler finding writing lessons in the dregs at the bottom of a teacup!

  18. #45 by jennymilch on June 8, 2012 - 12:22 pm

    I know it’s true that readers want what they love from an author to be repeated, but sometimes I wonder if not following along to other incarnations is because those books just don’t have the same oomph or magic that the beloved ones do. Or just don’t suit the same audience. Some very successful writers do flex their artistic muscles and branch out–Stephen King, Pulitzer winner Jennifer Egan, thriller writer Greg Iles come to mind–and I wonder how that happens. Maybe you have to reach a certain level of establishment. Anyway, your point on platform building is well taken–and though I don’t have one myself, I do think that communing with writers and readers is one of the best parts of the job, second only to writing :)

    • #46 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 8, 2012 - 12:50 pm

      Hi Jenny! So many good points. Do the stand-out books stand out because they were better, or because they were the first time that readers encountered that author’s unique way with a story? Are stand-out books like a stand-out first single – beguiling because of their freshness? Then you find that subsequent songs/albums/books all have a similar quality. That’s fine if you want the same, but disappointing if part of the fun was to be startled.

  19. #47 by Stacy Green on June 9, 2012 - 6:53 pm

    Hi, Roz. Platform is still something that I struggle with, although some of it’s in my head. I write suspense and thrillers, and my blog feature has always been on true crime and some of the topics we touch in our writing. But I’m looking into broadening into more about thriller writers, craft, readers, topics, etc. I hope that’s not a mistake, lol. The only thing I really know how to do is talk about things I really like and to be myself.

    • #48 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on June 10, 2012 - 3:35 pm

      Hi Stacy! This must be a pressing question for you as you’re reaching a pivot point in your writing career. Your plan sounds good – you’re not veering too far off topic but introducing variety. One thing you could do is test the water by slipping in one of your new types of post and seeing what the response is. For a long time I posted only about writing or inspiration, but then found when I posted on self-publishing (or publishing in general) a lot of people wanted to read it. So that told me no one would be cancelling their subscription if I talked about those topics from time to time.
      Hope you’re enjoying your path towards publication!

      • #49 by Stacy Green on June 10, 2012 - 3:40 pm

        Thanks, Roz. I’m leaving for vacation on Friday morning, and I thought I’d introduce the new idea on Thursday. I was thinking of devoting one Thriller Thursday post a week to some form of thriller/suspense writing craft, being research, forensic, etc. And then ask my readers if they’d like that. I suppose that’s not really branching out past the writing crowd, but it’s something different.

        I’m enjoying it, but I’m very nervous about making the right decisions, you know?

        Thanks!

  20. #50 by Ileandra Young on June 25, 2012 - 8:00 am

    I was having this debate with myself a short while ago. I feel that having a platform, or rather a way for readers to get to know me, is really important so long as it doesn’t distract from writing. And that’s always the danger for me.
    And, similar to some of the other comments, the genres I write in are rather different; fantasy and erotica. I’m lucky that I may get away with a fair amount of crossover, but I would still write the erotica under another name which means, possibly, a second platform.

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