Chapter ten in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101.
Imagine with me a whirlpool.
You know, Charybdis from the Odyssey. Whitecaps, blue water, maybe a ship or two getting sucked down to Atlantis.
At the top of this whirlpool sits a current. It’s mild way out there on the fringe where the marshes lie. There sit people you’ve never met in little airboats and canoes. Maybe some of them have kiddie wings. Maybe pool noodles get involved. They’re having a good time but they haven’t met YOU yet.
A little further in, some people do laps in the deeper water. These people have seen your face. They might have gotten ahold of your headshot in an agency office or saw you comment on a Facebook thread or ran across your name in a profile piece or saw you walking the dog while passing through your hood. They’re not acquaintances. Chance meetings, that’s all.
The current gets stronger and here float your regular strangers. These people come across you in an interview with a podcast, a chance meeting at a conference, your local indy bookstore, or a hundred other places where large groups meet. These people have potential to get swept up into the current that’s you, in the orbit of your system’s gravity, assuming you get that whirlpool churning strong enough.
From there, strangers turn into followers and get swept up in the current. Maybe they know they’re moving in a circular pattern, orbiting your whirlpool. Maybe they don’t. But they begin to lean into the general momentum you’re building. They take note of the other people on the same trajectory and enjoy the ride.
And then they buy something and get swept over the edge, spinning down into your whirlpool. Your follower is now a fan. They either react poorly and try to swim out of the current or they swim with the current and go deeper.
Down and down…
Where many Argonauts have come to join you in Atlantis. No broken ships down here. No destruction. But a whole life of people who have come not to meet you, but rather to participate in this other world you’re building — a hopeful world, a beautiful world. They are your citizens and compatriots.
That’s the point. You’re trying, bit by bit, to suck people into the vision you have for what our world might become. Bring them from the swamps to Atlantis.
Build your platform by turning strangers into advocates for your work. Read everything Tim Grahl has to say about this — the guy had five clients on the New York Times Bestseller List at the same time. If you don’t, at least know this:
Outreach means finding people outside your normal sphere.
- Podcast interviews
- Guest articles and posts
- Speaking at conferences
- Taking classes in other disciplines
- Being friendly everywhere you go and asking people about their work first — not because you have ulterior motives but because you actually love them as fellow human beings
Permission means getting people to agree to hearing from you more often.
- Get an email address (or a phone number — some piece of direct contact)
- Add it to your list.
Substance means provide free work — great work — that people will want to keep coming back to read. This will help:
- Prompt people to share your work (for new outreach)
- Prompt people to give you permission (for new points of contact)
- Keep people subscribed and engaged (for existing audience)
- HELP those who are long-time fans and advocates
Sell means you simply make an ask.
- Let them know your work is available early.
- For early buyers, offer them bonus rewards to help them further in their own work.
- Include in the work other chances to buy other work — outreach, permission, and substance for those who stumble upon your work and pay for it on a whim.
Advocacy means turning buyers into people who help you push forward into broader uncontested marketspace. You can:
- Ask them if you can meet any more of their needs.
- Ask them to share specific social media blasts that you aggregate in one, easy, sharable place.
- Ask them to review your work.
- Ask them to recruit others to your team of advocates.
- Ask them to support you regularly as patrons.
- Ask them to join your team of beta testers or beta readers.
- Finally: the best advocates come to you and ask you where they can help. Some of my best advocates are other writers, photographers, sculptors, and musicians. You know why they advocate for me? Because I advocate for them. I am in their corner fighting hard.
In short “building a platform” is less about marketing and more about developing people — you’re building up and pouring into a community. You’re giving of yourself over and over again and, just like rich soil, eventually it’ll give back to you. That’s not your motivation or end goal, mind you: the land could lie fallow and you’d still have emptied yourself in a worthy cause. The point is we must give more than we take.
We must give to our kinfolk.
Or be kinslayers.
When you read this post, you need to know you aren’t some random click on a screen for me. When every now and again, I click over to my Google Analytics for the day and see “shutterbugs — 4% of audience,” I know that Mark Neuenschwander or Drew Kimble or Matthew Kern or Derek Hammeke or Shawn Willis or one of hundreds of photographers I know and love and support has clicked over to read. And I ask myself: did I help them?
When I click over now and again and see “film buffs — 2.7% of audience,” I know that Kyle or Doug Welch, Joshua Schwartz or Natalie Gee, Lily Ann or Ise White have visited. And I ask myself: did I help them?
Or maybe it’s “musicians — 1.9%,” I know that Ben Grace or Lindsey Luff or Caleb Paxton or a dozen others might have come to visit. Did I help them?
Your audience is more than your income.
Your platform is more than followers and fans.
They’re your kinfolk — advocates and the people for whom you advocate. And your options are either kinslaying or kindercare. I want to take care of them and many others. I want to advocate for them.
And often, when I empty myself, I find them advocating right back for me.
Don’t have time for the whole series?
That’s okay, I made you a…
Here’s our outline for upcoming posts:
- The Gateway Drug: Poetry
- Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club
- Where and How to Sell What You Write
- From Daydreams to Written Dreams
- Rejection Slips
- Any Money Makes a Professional Writer
- Regular Writing Assignments
- Making Good Money… in a shadow career
- Kinfolk and Advocates or “How to Build a Platform”
- Draconian Contracts
- Author Earnings
- Succeeding for Others
- Blaze a Trail All Your Own
cover image from Gordon Wrigley