Thanks to COVID-19, most of us are safely ensconced in our homes. For those who are healthy and now battling interminable boredom, you may also be tapping away at your keyboards, creating your masterpieces. This past month was the perfect time to begin building your author platform via social media, since that’s the most interaction most of us are getting right now, and the vast majority of people are looking to social media for information and distractions.
Although the importance of social media can’t be stressed enough, there are additional ways to build a platform and a following for your work before your book is published.
There are three main points to consider from the beginning.
Your Story: Avoid falling prey to spending so much time trying to develop your platform that you forget to write. Quality writing will always be the determining factor in generating followers as well as securing a publishing contract. Make sure that your story is unique, well-written, and edited.
Your Strengths: Don’t underestimate what you bring to the table just by being you: Your talent, experiences, personality, and ability to execute are all qualities that you need to highlight and build upon for your followers.
Your Target Readers: Know and understand your readers. This means reading books in your genre, following blogs written by those authors, and knowing exactly who you want reading your book. Fantasy, for example, is a very broad category: high/epic, sword and sorcery, dark fantasy, magical realism, young adult, erotic, world building or real life, etc. Know what subsect of this genre you are writing.
Once you know your story, your strengths, and your readers,
it’s time to decide how best to connect with others and push yourself outside
of your comfort zone.
Improve on what you know
While you likely know you can write, what can you do to improve your writing or deepen your understanding of different aspects of your craft?
It is almost always beneficial to join a writing group. Most communities offer these groups and gather at places like the local library or coffee shop. The groups are usually free and feature like-minded individuals sharing their stories and offering peer critique. Members often follow a loosely structured curriculum and the groups may be ongoing with anyone joining at any time, or you may have to wait for the next round of meetings to begin.
A great option is to sign up for actual writing classes. These are offered at community colleges or online and presented by writers themselves, publishers, or organized writing groups. There are a number of options in a wide price range and various levels of commitment on your end. Masterclass features some fabulous authors in a range of genres, including Margaret Atwood, David Baldacci, and Neil Gaiman.
Throughout the year, there are numerous book conferences, writing conferences, and writing retreats. These are a perfect opportunity to meet, mingle, and learn. They range in size, price, and duration and have different focuses and speakers. Many of these events are currently on hold, including my own annual retreat in Newfoundland, because of the coronavirus, but many are also being offered virtually. See what you can find online but also take some time to figure out which ones interest you to attend live in the future.
Becoming a beta reader can be a excellent learning experience as well as an introduction of your name and work to a wider audience. Social media platforms that are specific to writers, such as the #writingcommunity on Twitter, are always on the lookout for readers – and once you join, you can offer your own work up for critique. This is another great way to build connections and learn from others all for free!
Get out there
How are people going to find you? How are they going to know who you are and what you do? How can you establish some “cred”?
If you work, and your book has nothing to do with your job, look into ways of contributing to your workplace. For example, can you write an article related to a topic in your field? Can you contribute to the company blog or news article? Consider researching magazines, blogs, or newspapers that publish in your area of expertise and submitting your work.
There are an abundance of literary forums that range from niche to general that may accept your articles (and some even pay you!). Just make sure you’ve done your research: Invest some time reading the publications you wish to target so you have an understanding of the style they publish. This will also help spark ideas for your own submissions.
After a submission, follow up, although you should be aware of what the publication has indicated as acceptable. In some cases, their submission guidelines clearly state that they will contact you or they will at least indicate the amount of time it may take them to respond. When you do follow up, keep the call or email short, sweet, and to the point. Depending on the circumstances, continue to follow up, particularly if there’s been some interest. I suggest doing this politely yet persistently until you receive a direct “no” or the threat of a restraining order.
Writing contests are another way to continue to hone your craft and maybe even explore new genres. Contests range from community-based to provincial and country-wide. Many magazines and literary groups also offer contests. While they don’t all provide feedback, just committing and going through the submission process is an excellent learning opportunity and a stepping stone if you’ve been too nervous to actually reach out to an agent. Many contests include an entry fee, which is usually reasonable and necessary to cover the costs of prizes, readers, and marketing. Just ensure that the contest sponsor is a legitimate and positive source for printing your work.
A final suggestion here for getting your name out there is to take stock of your circle of friends and acquaintances and see if there’s anyone you can partner with or who may be willing to lend a helping hand.
It all comes down to you
Scoring an agent and publisher usually isn’t about how good your book is, but about the powers-that-be deciding if they think it’s going to sell thousands of copies. While this may sound disheartening, it all begins with you and continues with how dedicated you are to building your platform.
Use this time while the world is still on pause to reflect on how you want your work to be seen and with which outlets you want to be identified.
Your platform is only as useful as it is visible. Be active, be consistent, and I want to add “be safe,” but only as it relates to the pandemic. Otherwise be courageous. Your future readers will thank you for it.