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Recommended Reading: “Platforms Are Overrated”

Today’s reading recommendation, primarily for authors and writers with publishing goals, considers — and questions — various platforms used to build a web presence and brand.

Image by Jason Howie (CC BY 2.0)

When you have to make a choice about how to spend your writing time, choose your book first. Every. Single. Time. To approach your writing career any other way is a mistake.

— Stephanie Bane, “‘Platforms’ Are Overrated

Note: We share this reading recommendation with our entire readership, but the ideas and suggestions here are targeted to authors, writers, and even NaNoWriMo participants whose primary goal is book publishing.

In our Recommended Reading series, we’ve focused on book recommendations, but I wanted to highlight a recent article in Creative Nonfiction by Stephanie Bane, “‘Platforms’ Are Overrated,” which might be of interest to authors, self-publishers, and professional writers working on books and long-term projects. The piece resonated with me because ultimately, it asks writers to evaluate where they invest and how they budget their time, and I think this is worth thinking about, no matter your goals and reasons for blogging.

We talk a lot on The Daily Post about building your blog and personal brand and using social media — including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram — to expand your online presence. These resources are meant to educate and introduce you to different options, and it’s up to you to decide whether creating a Facebook fan page, connecting your blog to your LinkedIn profile, and using other platforms makes sense for you.

When considering their web presence, Bane pushes authors and professional writers to evaluate the best use of time and money:

As a recent MFA graduate who’s wading into the world of publishing, I’ve been counseled to start a blog, scare up a couple thousand Facebook friends, consider Twitter. This pressure to promote myself, in addition to writing a book and working full-time, could break my will, make me consider giving up writing altogether. . . .

So I feel lucky to recognize this advice about “platform building” for what it is: bullshit.

First, Bane considers Facebook. If you have a brand/author page on Facebook and aren’t using paid posts to build your audience, not many people actually see your content. Roughly six percent of your fans see your unpaid posts organically, and the more fans you have, the lower this percentage gets!

The bottom line is that managing a separate author page — unless you or your publisher is paying to build your fan base and promote posts to your fans — is almost a complete waste of your time, especially when you consider the number of books you can expect to sell.

Don’t have the money to spend? Leverage your personal Facebook profile instead, says Bane. You’re limited to a maximum of five-thousand friends and can have unlimited followers, while research conducted at Stanford University suggests that you have a better chance of promoting your content within your network as an individual — rather than as an author or brand.

Bane also discusses Twitter, which might be a better digital marketing tool for an author: it takes less time to generate content, but is also a rich community for authors who take part in current conversations around writing and publishing, and use the platform in innovative ways. (Think @MargaretAtwood, @tejucole, and @neilhimself.)

Twitter is the best place to start. If you’re diligent about following agents, publishers, and fellow authors, and about commenting on relevant conversations, you can build a meaningful personal network in the same amount of time you already spend goofing off online.

When it comes to blogging, Bane ultimately questions its effectiveness. Unless you’re selling something expensive that’s profitable, is blogging worth all the time you invest each month?

Spending twenty hours blogging every month is worth it if you’re selling something expensive and high-margin, like consulting services, and if you can feed yourself from the proceeds. It’s not worth it if you’re selling books.

Remember: These ideas are primarily for writers working on books and looking for the best ways to promote themselves and their work.

The best reason to blog? You have a compelling angle and unique story worthy of a book deal, she says. (The WordPress.com bloggers at Raising My Rainbow, Mommy Man, and Moon Over Marlborough are examples of people who have landed book deals.)

Bane on the blog-to-book process:

The blogs came first and got the authors’ creative energy. The books came later. For most of us MFA types, the books come first. The blogs are a publishing industry marketing suggestion, a means to an end.

Forget about blogging, she says, unless your Big Idea for a blog translates into a book.

You might not agree with some of these points — and hearing the message not to blog might feel strange — but it’s worth a read, especially for those of you working hard writing books, promoting yourselves, and figuring out the most effective ways to spend your time. Ultimately, The Daily Post is here to provide resources and create discussions that push you to think critically about your work.

Read the entire article at Creative Nonfiction.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this perspective. I have used blogging as a way to ensure that I write on a more regular basis, but I can see where it might be a distraction if I were writing a book. So if my great novel idea springs from one of my posts you may see less of me! 😉

    There are good tips included about how much time and resources to spend on social media. I’m heading over to read the entire article now. Thanks! Karen 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  2. This is some great info, especially regarding facebook pages vs. personal accounts. (Also, yes Neil is a beast with social media)

    Thank you for sharing this article, I feel it’s quite useful even outside of writing circles.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting points. I have received nearly opposite advice from other authors recently concerning social media. I have to wonder if the MFA elite have a far different experience from those of us who can’t pay for a master’s degree to get our first books published. It seems to me that the number of authors able to use that route would be few. For writers like myself, blogging is a good way to get a following of readers, and Facebook and Twitter are great places to share blog posts that give a taste of what might be coming once publication finally occurs.

    I’m sure that those who can afford a master’s degree these days have other ways to market their work and get attention, and that’s cool. I’d love to have the chance to further my education and get the bonus networking and publicity that comes with it. Maybe that can happen someday. For now, I’m using the free opportunities in social media to grow my readership. How’s that going? Well, in 12 days, I’ve reached nearly 300 people from my new Facebook page for my web content business, Complete Picture Content. Hits to my blog are up considerably this week also. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say. I’m pretty happy with my way right now.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say.

      Indeed 🙂

      Thank you so much for sharing your perspective and own experience. I wanted to share this article with everyone because I thought it was interesting, but I wanted to be clear that it’s one writer’s opinion, and that our readers could decide for themselves if some of her ideas apply to them — no matter where they’re at in their writing and blogging lives.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Absolutely. And I could have gone on much longer in my explanation here. There is one piece of advice from successful writers that I think bears recognition–Never let promotion keep you from writing. One of the keynote speakers at a recent writers workshop that I attended said that he makes sure to spend a full hour writing for every hour he spends promoting. I think that’s a great key to success.

        All my best,
        MG

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    2. There’s not one solution to this is there? Blog to book, or book to blog, blog to practice, blog to promote etc… We all use blogs in different ways, proof of that is right here in how we are interacting.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with @storydivamg. Blogging is a means of building readership, engage creative practice, to get ideas out there to a public audience. The process of writing a blog is part of the writing practice for me. And it feeds my “other” writing – (two pieces I’ve been working on) because I think my blog keeps my mind in that fertile area of creativity when I’m not working on the books. Like taking a day off from the gym and taking a walk instead that day because you still want to get some exercise .

      Liked by 2 people

  4. For heaven’s sake,

    You blog because you want to share something valuable. You tweet because you want to share something valuable. You facebook because you want to share something valuable. Not because you want to sell something (book or otherwise).

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes- we share thoughts, ideas and elements of life through writing.That is why we write anything- book, blog or tweet. It’s a vehicle for self expression. It doesn’t matter what a bloggers “intent” for the end product is. Writing is writing. 🙂

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  5. With NaNiWriMo coming up this week and my own anxiety acting up because of time constraints, this is a great tip for what I should be doing instead of blogging. I will still try to blog but Most of my time will be dedicated to my story.

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  6. Well the article at least sheds more light on Facebook promotion tackling brand page versus personal packaging; it also says Twitter is better for writers.

    The article is helpful whether one seeks to publish a book or not. I don’t, and I always say an online presence is enough for me. Still, the article added to my general knowledge of platforms and promotion. Very useful.

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  7. I keep vacillating between polishing my manuscript and then publishing it, or blogging it piece-by-polished-piece. Thanks for giving me more to consider. Would love to hear pros and cons from anyone who has blogged their manuscript.

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  8. In my personal experience over the years, I’ve found that social media has not increased my book sales significantly. It has provided me with a couple of avenues for making more friends and acquaintances — and thereby having a “following,” (if you will) of people who seem to genuinely enjoy my writing. And that result, in itself feeds me as an author and adds to my journalistic health.

    But, over all, I’ve found that most of the people who read blogs are either interested in interacting and reading other people’s work when it has no real cost involved — or they are also authors who want to be recognized and get their books sold. Neither of those groups of people buy books because they learn about them on someone’s blog or facebook page.

    So I’d have to say that, in general, I agree with the points made in the article about it being important not to devote time and energy to the social media thinking it will sell your books. I disagree, however, about it being a waste. Because, as I mentioned above, the connections can add a lot to an author’s sense of well-being — even to her real well-being — and that gives her a step up toward more success.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I agree. I can’t say that I’ve made a lot of sales through my Social Media ventures (I have made some though), but by using these avenues I’ve made some fantastic connections with people I would have otherwise never encountered. Having said that, being a writer is often about appropriate and effective time management, and writing your next book is the best thing you can do for yourself.

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  9. Thank you for stating my thoughts on buidling a platform: it’s bullshit. I don’t have a MFA, but my writing does come before social media. And I cannot stand being called a “brand”. The word genre is good enough for the writing industry without having to brand the authors. It makes it sound like writers are selling cheap goods rather than quality literature to be taken seriously.

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    1. I agree so much with you on the “brand” issue, I wrote a reply on another blog that was about that very topic recently. Brand, in my view, are for companies, consumables, and celebrities. We all have a style, a sense of morals and ethics that defines us, but that makes us individuals – a brand suggest a shiny veneer on the reality, creating an acceptable public facing image, rather than pursuing ones own individual style.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. An interesting commentary. Just as some have already commented I first started to blog in order to give me some discipline in writing in a regular basis – practice for writing my book which is now well underway. But because my book is not directly related to my blog (maybe I should do that) I still find I want to keep the blog going as it offers me an opportunity to write in a very different style. Pros and cons for writing both I am sure. Good luck to everyone writing their books, especially those participating in NaNoWriMo.

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  11. I have to agree with “Destination Infinity.” I believe it was Victor Frankl who urged people to stop the pursuit of success, and allow success to ensue. That being said, this is an excellent post, and I thank you for it. But we are writers because we feel as if we have something of value to share with the world. And I firmly believe that if it is truly valuable and from the heart (and it doesn’t necessarily have to be original), then people will begin to take notice of who YOU are. And once the reader buys into YOU, “the rest,” as they say, “is history.”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. The best reason for blogging is because you like to blog.

    That being said, I believe every human being should follow his or her own path within the limits of responsibilities.

    TALENT and RESPONSIBILITIES are the most important factors to consider when allocating the finite time in a person’s life. Talent, if you have it, often drives a person. (So I’ve read. I wouldn’t know myself.) 🙂

    If one has great talent for playing the violin, one will most likely love practicing and playing the violin. It would seem foolish to spend time blogging when you could be enjoying and polishing your musical talent.

    UNLESS the blog is related to the talent. Say you want to share your insights about playing the violin with other violinists. Or you need to establish yourself as a violin teacher. Or you simply want to share your joy of the violin with the blogging world.

    Of course, most of us are not one-dimensional. Usually, our lives have several facets. We have our work, our families, and hopefully time for some diversions.

    RESPONSIBILITY is a good measure. If a parent is neglecting the children, or neglecting paying work that feeds the children, then excessive time playing the violin — or blogging — seems wrong. Ideally, responsible people are able to juggle competing responsibilities, talent, and have some time left over for recreation. Ideally.

    Personally, I get satisfaction from writing news stories and essays. It’s always made me happy to see my byline over a news story in the morning paper. Now it makes me happy to publish a new post on my blog. I blog for the pleasure of it. I suppose I am blessed.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. As a blogger and a woman in the process of self-publishing my memoir, I am impressed with this Daily Post and the highlighted articles. I was told to build a platform also, but I found that blogging became a form of expression on its own terms; fulfilling creative and emotional needs, and connecting me (in that blogoshpere way) with a handful of exceptional bloggers I never would have ‘met’ otherwise.I am pleased to be part of a blogging community that shares information for information’s sake, even if it appears contrary. I found the information useful and important, and I will continue to blog. Thank you, Cheri.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am pleased to be part of a blogging community that shares information for information’s sake, even if it appears contrary.

      Good to hear. I wasn’t sure how this would be received, but ultimately, The Daily Post is a resource. I hope that we don’t tell you what to do, but rather give you the information and tools you need to figure out what’s best for you.

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      1. That’s what you did, Cheri – you offered information. If this dissuades people from blogging, so be it. I found it interesting and liberating, and I will assuredly continue to blog. Although it’s a fine line, I believe you chose appropriately.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Agreed. Agreed. Agreed!
    There is always something you can do that is related to improving what you’ve already written (reviewing and editing and re-configuring) what you will write in the future (reading and absorbing the work of great writers) and housekeeping like doing routine data backup (which doesn’t happen often enough). The platforming thing is indeed overrated…especially if you never have time to make anything to have a platform for!

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  15. This was a very interesting read, acted full of information and I for one appreciated the post. I too, struggle at times with priorities between writing and developing a social platform/presence. These platforms while helpful in developing networks can be time consuming and divert ones energy and focus from writing. It was good to here some validation in the conflicting feelings i have experienced. Thanks for the post.

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  16. I must admit. I am a virgin when it comes to writing. I am only just stepping into the unknown by attempting to start my own blog. Im only doing it to share what i am passionate about. I wont ever try to convince myself or anyone else that it’s something im remotely talented out. I simply scribble the words that run through my head at that very moment in time. If that is deemed by anyone to be poorly worded/written or what ever the tough shit really. I dont see the point in discovering specific places or moments in time to make your writing better. If its in my head i’ll write it and try my best not to use text speak.

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