Own Your Platform

It is a truth universally acknowledged that nobody who has wiped your bottom much believes in your writing. Sure, moms will cheer for this writing thing as they did your various finger paint masterpieces. But relatives’ gentle, distant that’s nice will not sell books. No, you need fans. And to find fans, you must have a platform.

So of course get Twitter. Get Facebook. Hell, get Tumblr, why not? Someone must still use it. If you are lucky, you will shine on one of them (the house style of each website is not portable to another). If you are on Twitter, where most of the agents and editors are, you will get the following advice: You are a professional. Be inoffensive.

A professional what, though? Nobody ever complimented a writer by rhapsodizing about how benign they are. Me, I’m a mentally ill genderqueer communist woman. Just that sentence will get some blood up (good and bad). If me sitting here breathing is offensive, I might as well tell off folks who cross my boundaries and — if I’m really being bad — occasionally say “fuck.”

I did pretty well with this strategy. At one point, I had 4,500 Twitter followers. That is not bad for a novelist with no book out. The downside? Twitter has, twice, suspended me. Both times for being somewhat rude to overt racists.

And that is a shame. I am not on Twitter for its bad management. There are people there doing cool things and trying to find others doing cool things. On Twitter, I have, well, fans. There are few other ways to reach them. When I sell my book, I can’t rely entirely on my publisher to build my audience. Publishing is not like other retail sales because books aren’t particularly uniform. The Corrections is not interchangeable with The Hate U Give. So, outside of the more codified sales categories of YA and Romance (which fare very slightly better with traditional marketing), each author must pathfind their own marketing channel.

That is very difficult to do. New social media accounts are like shouting into a pit. Ads, as an investment, typically don’t break even for an author. They don’t sell books. What does sell books: endorsements from trusted individuals and Amazon reviews. Thirty Amazon reviews will get you more sales than a social media ad seen by a million people. So, all you need is a team of 30 people who believe in you enough to leave a review. Hard, but within reach for folks with friends. Right?

Maybe not. For years, Amazon has been pulling reviews of friends of authors from its page, without much explanation of how they know. Well, it turns out Facebook leaked friend and contact info to advertisers who sold it to Amazon. So I have half a dozen friends I made through writing, who I am friends with through my work, who would review because they believe in it, and those people can’t review my books now. Amazon has destroyed the first link in that word-of-mouth chain, and Facebook helped because they’d very much like it if we bought ads. But again: ads are a terrible investment.

What this all boils down to is that you can’t trust the powers that be. All are bad stewards of your data. If any one social media network or online bookseller decides they are not in the “you” business, you can lose all your contacts and your means of contacting them. Instantly. Without recourse.

Here is my solution, and it is one I advise you to take: treat social media not as your platform, but as a funnel into platforms you own. There are a lot of platforms you can own (a website, a Mastodon instance), but what you really want is a mailing list. I use MailChimp to send my newsletter and collect mailing list contacts, but fact is, I own that list. If I move to another service tomorrow, I have that list. If I have no service at all, I still have it.

A mailing list is a list of people who have explicitly said they want to hear from you about your writing. They have more engagement than any social media platform. They are more likely to be genuinely enthused to hear about your book. They’re more likely to buy, more likely to review, and more likely to tell others about you. The exchange of permission — “May I tell you about my writing whenever I have news?” “Yes, please do!” — is the difference between an evangelizing fan and that’s nice. Nice is nice, but if you are gonna spend decades learning to write, years writing a 100k word novel, edit, re-edit, query, write another novel, query again, you have bled for this book. You might as well sell that sumbitch like you mean it.

Merry Christmas, folks. Get out there and slay ’em in 2019.

M. K. Anderson is represented by Erik Hane. She will be pitching her literary novel about online fans behaving badly in 2019. You can join her mailing list here and follow her on Twitter @mk_author.

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