Platform? Say What?
by Laura Munson
For all you writers out there, here’s the deal-- with a golden solution at the end:
(The news as it was delivered in June, 2009…and what happened when I paid attention)
“What’s that you said? Platform? I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you right. Must be the truck that just ran me over. Could you come again? I think what you said is that it’s practically impossible to get my books published in today’s market without a Platform. Is that correct?”
Big-time New York publishing-world person responds.
Turns out I heard right.
“I need to sit down. I think I’m going to throw up.”
Big-time New York publishing-world person says something about it being good news. That I don’t have to throw up. That social media is the new frontier and it’s full of Platforms. Exclamation point. Smiley face. Like she’s just come back from a blogger’s convention or took a hit of Ecstasy or something.
“Good news? It’s just that…well…I was under the impression, nay delusion, all these years that if you want to write books…uh…you write books. In the wee hours while the children sleep. During your break at the restaurant on the back of bar tabs. On your hand in the car. In hiding over Christmas break in your childhood closet. And if you’re lucky, at a proper desk with inspirational quotes around you and a dog at your feet. Sometimes for eight hours straight forsaking all others, even your sick mother. And at least for what it takes to get you five pages. Double-spaced. Times New Roman. 12pt. Every day, no matter what, for years and years. And years. What a fool am I.”
Daunting list is delivered in what sounds like a cross between Pig Latin and Sanskrit.
Shallow, rattled, authorly breath. “Huh? Blog? Social media? Brand development? Promotion? These words aren’t even in my dictionary. I’ve been neck-deep in narrative drive. Plot points. Characterization. Dramatic tension. Empathy. I need an aspirin.” I hang up less politely than I’d like.
I take to my bed with the covers up to my chin and stare at the ceiling for a good long time, watching my future flicker past in Blu-ray, and of course, I don’t know how to turn it off because of course, I’m a techno peasant, as my friend Lee Woodruff likes to say. But I don’t know her yet. I don’t know that I’m going to be published in a few years and meet fabulous people like Lee Woodruff. All I know is this: It’s true—I’m never going to get published.
Then I call big-time New York publishing-world person back. She answers; uses a tone I strike with my children when they’ve had a nightmare. She is kindly prodding me to join the world of the living breathing adult 21st-century writer. But I’m not exactly there yet.
“What do you mean no one will publish my books and short stories and essays and poems because, wait say it again—I just need to make sure I heard you right: I don’t have a Platform? Like a train platform, where lovers leave and re-join each other in tears and blowing hooded capes? Where soldiers return from war and businessmen and women go to and fro with briefcases and cell phones, tipping hats, politely nodding? Or like platform shoes? Tall and ankle-breaking and sure to go out of style? Or like platform tennis—a cage with hard paddles and balls that don’t bounce?”
Her voice is the voice of the adults in Peanuts holiday TV specials. Suddenly I want a Dolly Madison doughnut. Instead, I sit up and try to become mature.
“Okay. Platform,“ I say like I’m swallowing that aspirin, not that Ecstasy. “Could you please tell me just what the F*** you mean by a Platform? In the nicest sense of the word F***.”
And I learn. I learn fast. Because this is like an intervention and I realize I’m going to have to go to writing rehab and I know that if I don’t go, this writing dream might die. Here’s what I learn:
If I want to get my books published…it would behoove me to build a brand. To be an expert at something. To get on the speaking circuit. To have a website and to have something to sell there like a course on something. I have to blog. I have to Tweet. I have to Facebook. And I’m not gonna matter to anyone unless I have 20,000 followers who are waiting with bated breath for my monthly newsletter. Among other things. That’s what I hear for now. Nowhere is there any mention of novel-writing.
“I miss my typewriter,” I say, pulling the covers back up to my chin, grieving all my book babies who will likely never see the light of day. “What’s the world come to? What would John Cheever and Raymond Carver and JD Salinger do?”
She plays hardball: “Well you could try to send something to The New York Times. Or The New Yorker,” knowing full well that the chances of that something getting published in those somethings is thin. “But the social media Platform is easier to navigate.”
Good Lord. Say it ain’t so.
But if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a quitter. I know I have to at least investigate this modern world that I inhabit. In the traditional sense of the word, a platform is sturdy, if I think of it that way. A launching pad. A place for new beginnings. A place where helicopters land and take off. A place where triage happens. And my books are in critical condition.
So I start a blog and I find I actually have something to say. And a few people actually read it. I actually even like writing those posts. They’re short and great writing warm-ups and usually have a photo in them. I love photography and I’m very visual, so this genre sings for me. Not sure if anyone’s listening but at least I’m in control of getting my work out there wherever there is. At least I’m on a Platform. And I join Facebook and Twitter and I realize I’ve been really alone all these years in this office, writing books about made-up people in made-up lands. Social media is so…well…social. I actually like this Platform thing. I write something and I put it out there and people read it. Wow. Wow wow wow.
All-too-quickly the honeymoon is over. Because I learn that there is no Platform band wagon. You have to build it brick by brick and it takes time. Lots of time. A lot like writing a novel. But there isn’t really time to write a novel with all this finding friends on Facebook and Twitter, and blogging and newslettering…and why bother anyway, because apparently no one’s buying books by unknown authors and no one’s reading them. Even though I read them. But apparently I’m not “normal.” I am beginning to build up a whopping dose of resentment. Resentment is bad. I take a pause and go back to a novel I was working on before the Social Media witch landed on my house.
And then it happens. I get in some power tools and large machinery, and my platform is big and bright and shiny…because one afternoon, I decide to put my forehead on my writing desk and weep. And in total surrender, I write the short version of a memoir I finished a few months prior…and send it, yes, to the New York Times. The Modern Love column, to be exact. And the next day, I get an email: they want it. They actually want it.
The morning that essay hits the newsstands, I have three hits on my blog. By the end of the day I have 3,000. Major national television calls my home phone. I’m not even listed. My agent goes out with the full-length memoir. In forty-eight hours I get a book deal at a major publishing house. And my whole life as a writer changes. The Platform works, turns out.
But remember, I’m an English major type with absolutely no business experience, never mind sense. Two seconds ago I didn’t even know what a W-9 form was. Or an LLC. Or what the word “fiduciary” or even “fiscal” mean. And here I am, me and my Platform, and just like I didn’t know how to build one in the first place, now that I have one, I have no idea what to do with it! I learn the hard way. I learn alone. I hire my ex-nanny to be my assistant. We limp along together in the world of Platform and heck—we do okay.
And then I meet a woman called Arielle Ford. A writer. A publicity whiz. Here are a few of the people whose careers she has helped launch: Deepak Chopra, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Neale Donald Walsch, Debbie Ford, Wayne Dyer, Gary Zukav, Dean Ornish, Joan Borysenko, Louise Hay, Jorge Cruise, and don Miguel Ruiz.
Arielle generously teaches me a thing or two, and after a few years and a lot of hard work learning how to do triage on my Platform…I have the honor of participating in what I consider to be the single most helpful tool kit around when it comes to actually making sense of all this stuff writers are supposed to be doing when we’re not writing—pre-book and post-book. This tool kit is Arielle’s way of shining light on what feels like utter darkness for most of us writers. Oh how I wish I’d had what I am about to introduce to you years ago:
It’s called EVERYTHING YOU SHOULD KNOW and it’s an extensive course on the publishing world with pearls of wisdom from top-selling authors and speakers. I am thrilled to be able to give you this lifeline and I am honored to be one of its interviewees. Please…if you are in the dark, struggling and stubborn like yours truly… click here now. It very well may be the best money you’ve spent on your writing career. Conferences, retreats, lectures, how-to books all serve their purpose, but this is GOLDEN information that you won’t find anywhere else. I am not a salesperson. I get nervous laughter when I’m in that position. But I am so blown away by the power of the tools in this marvelous tool box Arielle has created, that I am happy to be a megaphone for it. CHECK IT OUT and tell all your writer friends that they don’t have to be in the dark!
Here’s to changing the tortured artist paradigm! Here’s to empowerment…and light where there was darkness.
Laura Munson is something of a publishing phenomenon. After writing fourteen novels for which she could not find a publisher, she wrote an article that crashed the New York Times’s website. Forty-eight hours later she had a publishing contract for her memoir, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is. Her paperback will be published in April and she will be touring the country doing events. For her schedule please visit Events: lauramunson.com