Recently I joined Ditchwalk (Storytelling in the Digital Age), an intelligent, well thought-out and written site…And tonight, it’s content hit me like a ton of sheep shit! It nailed me for the procrastinator-in-denial that I’ve become.
Mark Barrett is the author of Ditchwalk and, while exploring the question of how much time and energy should be spent on building an author’s online presence as opposed to actual writing and writing production, he philosophizes on using platform building (blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc) as an excuse to procrastinate on actual writing.
He exposed me in my own mind instantly!
I agree with Mark that you do, in fact, need something of an online presence…but, how much and at what time (before or after you write your book).
Mark has an incisive viewpoint on this writers conundrum and I am happy to direct my visitors to his wisdom:
Here’s a graph from my Twitter Quitter post:
A basic premise of independent authorship is that authors should establish their own platform in order to reach out to readers and potential customers. I believe in that premise. What constitutes a platform, however, remains undefined.
Implicit in the idea of an author’s platform is the creation of an online presence. Because the internet has become commonplace it’s easy to forget that an independent platform for individual artists would be impossible without it. (Prior to the internet an artist’s platform was limited by geography. Bands were limited not by their music but by their touring range.) While the advantages and opportunities provided by the internet are astounding relative to the pre-internet age, the internet is still a communications medium devised by human beings, with inherent strengths and weaknesses.
Understanding how the internet works in a business context is an ongoing process. Two days ago the New York Times put up a paywall, attempting for the second time to derive revenue from its own online platform. (The first attempt failed.) That one of the most prominent newspapers in the world is still struggling to monetize content despite almost unparalleled visibility and economic muscle is a reminder to everyone that the platform question has not been answered.
Depending on your perspective, the tendency of the human mind to cherry pick information can be seen as either a bug or a feature. In the context of online platforms, it’s easy to see successes like iTunes as indicative of potential and promise when it’s actually the result of a unique set of circumstances. Finding gold in a stream may spark a gold rush, but only a few people will stake claims that literally pan out. The internet is no different. As I noted in a post about the future of publishing:
In return for making distribution almost effortless and almost free, the internet promises nothing. No revenue. No readers. Nothing.
Possibilities are not promises. Possibilities are chances, which is why I always say that writing for profit is gambling — and gambling against terrible odds. Determining what your online platform should be, and how much time you should devote to that platform, is an important part of nudging the odds in your favor.
Lowering the Bar
Platform-services consultants, like marketing consultants, will always tell you that you can never do enough. Because the time you can devote to your platform is limited, but the time you should devote is infinite, these people will offer to bridge that gap on your behalf, for a fee. Because the internet is driven by technology, and because anything less than a cutting-edge platform means you’re falling short, platform consultants will also offer to sell you myriad apps and solutions, all of which they will teach you about, maintain and upgrade for a fee. (The New York Times was convinced by these same people to spend $40 million dollars on a paywall that can be easily circumvented.)
Approaching your platform as a vehicle of infinite possibility constrained only by your own feeble lack of determination is a recipe for failure. You do not have an infinite amount of time and resources to devote to your platform. Even if you did, there’s no guarantee that such a commitment would equal success. From part IV of my marketing and sales series:
In the real world, if you really did grab a pick and shovel and head out into your backyard to strike it rich, your friends and family would rightly think you a loon, no matter how deeply felt your convictions were. Why? Because it’s common knowledge that gold isn’t plentiful everywhere. Rather, it’s concentrated in veins of rock or in waterways that hold gold from eroded veins of rock.
If you try to dig in the wrong place it doesn’t matter how much time or money you spend, or how cutting-edge your tools are. You’re not going to get any gold even if you have infinite resources. Because the internet obviates geographical limits it seem to negate all limits, but as the NYT’s second attempt at a paywall makes clear that’s not the case. The internet is not an infinite vein of gold waiting to be exploited if only you’re smart enough to pick the right mix of apps, site functionality and marketing techniques.
(This false premise echoes the happiness industry’s determination to blame everyone for their own failings. If you’re not a happy person it’s your own fault: stop whining and try harder. If your platform isn’t racking up clicks and sales it’s your own fault: stop whining and try harder.)