The P word

If you’ve begun to query agents and editors, you’ve heard the dreaded P word dropped.

Platform.

The rumored King of the successful book deal, wherein an author is assured a potential six figure contract if only they have a mere following of 100,000 or more fans. That should be easy, right? I mean with Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat it’s never been easier to connect with our readers. It’s also never been more difficult.

It’s no secret that Facebook and Instagram have the power in the social media game. At one time users could expect to build a decent audience that connected and commented daily. But as algorithms change, almost on a monthly basis, writers are feeling more hopeless than ever at securing their social media status.

Facebook pages saw a drastic decrease in fans as they culled the platform for false users. Engagement is down with pages struggling to have their posts seen.

To succeed on Instagram popular users report spending 1-2 hours per day liking, commenting, and following new accounts. There’s also Instagram Pods where similar businesses team up to like and comment on everyone’s posts. When it comes to beautiful prose, is social media the mean girl that screams, ‘You can’t sit with us!’ unless we have over 100,000 adoring fans?

Do publishers want a writer or a YouTube star? Agents suggest picking one social media platform and focus on posting consistently there. Use scheduling tools like Buffer or Meet Edgar to plan a month’s worth of posts. Be sure to respond to every comment your followers leave. The more likes and comments received in the first few moments of posting bumps your post up in rankings.

When it comes to building an online platform, writers are encouraged to submit personal essays to popular online and print publications. Contrary to the recent article featured in The New Yorker, which stated the personal essay is dead, ask the handful of authors getting lucrative book deals as the result of publishing those essays in places like The New York Times’ ‘Modern Love’ column. Not only are they building an online platform as an expert, but they’re building a fan base and grabbing the attention of literary agents everywhere.

The question of whether or not we should pay to play remains. I’ve seen plenty an aspiring author suddenly gain 50,000 fans overnight on Twitter or Facebook. But do those click farms actually work or impress publishers? Sure the beefed up numbers will be impressive on a quick glance, but upon closer review none of those click farm likes are going to buy your book.

Followers can be bought. Engagement, however, cannot. And isn’t engagement what we’re really looking for? Fans who are rooting for us to succeed and beautiful prose people rave about.

It would appear now more than ever the word platform still has the power. In a world of auto-schedulers, click farms and robo-likes, will the real meaning of platform please stand up?

Crystal-lee Quibell is the host of Literary Speaking: The Writer’s Guide to Publishing Podcast. She has a published essay in The Magic of Memoir: Inspiration for the Writer’s Journey and just completed writing her first memoir. She also offers a variety of free resources for writers on her website – www.crystalleequibell.com

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