Weekly Musing: Standing on a Platform

Unless you live in a cave, social media is everywhere. Hell, even if you do live in a cave I think there’s access to social media. It’s unavoidable and like everything else, there are some advantages and disadvantages. Some of the advantages include the ability to connect with like-minded folks from all over the world, keeping in contact with friends, sharing life’s joys and disappoints, to name just a few. However, some of the disadvantages are people unwilling to restrain their verbal diarrhea, discussions that quickly turn into personal attacks, and everyone’s favorite, spam.

A big shock to me as a beginning writer was reading numerous articles espousing how critical it is for a writer to develop his platform long before he even considers getting an agent. Apparently in this digital age, a writer cannot make the transition into a successful author without being on Twitter, Facebook, having a blog, a website, reviewing books on other blogs and sites, Pinterest, LinkedIn, selling your first born to some writing god, whatever. You have to be active, whatever that is, on all of these or else YOU WON’T BE SUCCESSFUL these articles often loudly declare. What an exhausting thought.

Yet an important thing is often overlooked: the actual work. The pieces we labor over. The words we pour blood, sweat, and tears, loads of tears, into just hoping we’ve done justice to the characters and their story. Writing is a physically and emotionally draining activity so to ask, nay require, a writer to find additional strength to Tweet, Facebook, blog, etc. seems to me to create the potential for burn out.

I disagree with the assertion a writer must start building their brand early in their careers. Those terms, platform and branding, feel cold and sterile. I understand that we produce a consumable product in the form of a poem, story, or book with the purpose of making money however, incorporating terms dreamed up by some MBA student takes the main purpose of what writing is about. In my opinion, we start writing to express ourselves, to release the stories of characters banging a drum inside our heads, and to share those thoughts with others in the hopes they get something out of those words. We don’t write to view ourselves as a brand so why allow ourselves to become obsessed with metamorphosing from a person into a product?

Does a writer honestly need all of these social media tools? Recently, Anne R. Allen had a blog post regarding social media for writers.┬áIn it she argues that all of these isn’t as important as writers are led to believe. Number of likes on your Facebook page or number of followers on Twitter doesn’t usually translate into sales. The biggest thing that still drives sales is word of mouth. Of course it does make a lot of sense and is a good idea to let people know when your book is coming out and where it is available but believing that alone will get you sales is overlooking the importance of producing a quality story people will want to read and tell their friends about. Speaking from my own experience, it doesn’t matter if I like them on Facebook or subscribe to their blog; I still pick the vast majority of what I like to read from simply reading the back of the book or from recommendations.

Another point I agree with her is just participating in the forms of social media you want to be involved with. For example, I’m on Facebook and have a blog. I follow some authors, all of whom keep their posts mostly related to their work. Sure there are some posts about personal events, like Ken Follett mentioning playing with his band, or an amazing movie or book they’ve read. Those are the only two social media experiences I can stand and enjoy.

Because I’m a slow writer, I feel that my time is better spent writing. A novel concept but one that feels as if the focus has been lost by all of this social media. When used responsible and sparingly, I think whatever your ‘platform’ is can be of enormous use. At the end of the day, though, more effort should be put more into a manuscript than anything else.