Filed under: For Writers
Your author platform is your most valuable asset as a writer. To understand why this is the case, let’s walk up to the front gate of the publishing industry and have a word with the Gatekeeper. He’s been standing there in position for years, making sure that very few get in. It was one of the most important jobs in the industry.
Today, he’s no longer necessary. I use the word “necessary” with intent. His job may be the same, and Gatekeepers like him will continue to serve a useful purpose – but the cool thing about today is that you don’t have to wait for his approval. You can walk straight past the Gatekeeper and connect with your audience directly. The tools are out there, and most of them are free.
The Gatekeeper is not really on your side anyway. In reality, Gatekeepers serve the audience – which is the way is should be. They use their expertise and market savvy to curate what they think is the best stuff. But why does it have to be up to them alone? They make mistakes. They produce duds. They miss other talent entirely.
Perhaps that’s the way you feel. You’ve been passed by. You know that your writing is good enough, or maybe even great. If you could just get someone to read your book proposal, or page through your first chapter – surely they would see how great your work is. They’d sign you on the spot.
With this scenario, there are two truths in today’s world:
- Waiting for an “industry person” to take notice of you isn’t a winning strategy. Artists of all types still play this game, because it was the ONLY game in years past.
- You don’t have to wait for their approval. It doesn’t matter if they say it’s good or not. Getting 50 rejection letters means nothing if your audience likes what you do and is willing to pay for it.
So let’s go direct. You and your audience, in direct contact – no Gatekeepers needed.
But even though you don’t need Gatekeepers, they sure are nice to have. For instance, when a gallery shows a photographer’s work, they are vouching for its quality. A musician on a respected label gets instant credibility by association. It’s the same way for writers: When a publisher puts out your book, readers are more likely to give you a chance.
That would be great, right? Here’s the other cool thing. Even if your goal is to work with those Gatekeepers (i.e. agents, editors, publishers), the activities are the same. You still need to 1) produce really good work and 2) do the work of connecting with an audience. This is where the magic happens, and making these connections can start to unlock the elusive success you crave as a writer.
Why? A devoted fan base makes you look really attractive to a publisher. And if you have the audience, you’ll have the power – not the other way around.
Get started developing your fan base right now with this free ebook: A Guide to Marketing Your Creative Work.
Old vs. New Creative Environment
In the “old” model, success was completely dependent on getting “discovered” by someone in the publishing industry. The channels were scarce because producing and distributing creative work was difficult and expensive. For instance:
- Musicians: Expensive studio time, pressing vinyl, packaging and distribution, and touring.
- Visual artists: Each gallery is limited by space and time – how many artists can they feature each year?
- Writers: Agents, editors, designers, marketers, and the hardest part – getting into bookstores.
This made life insanely difficult for creatives of all types. The barrier to entry used to be incredibly high. If you couldn’t get an “in” on one of these channels – game over. If you didn’t have someone who could fund your project, there was no way to “buy yourself in.” The cost was too high. And thus, the mighty Gatekeepers held all the power.
Then, everything changed. Digital distribution democratized the process, and we found out that working with a publisher, label, or curator wasn’t the only way to get your work out in the market. The channels were now open. The noise level got loud. And worse yet for the Gatekeepers, some of the new products were actually good.
That’s where you come in. You know your work is good. Now it’s just about taking advantage of those open channels. The opportunity is out there. You just need an action plan to seize that opportunity.
The Power Dynamic Has Shifted
You should feel really empowered. Armed with the power of the Internet, you can go around these Gatekeepers and create your own path to success. Democratization has tipped the scales in your favor, and the industry is still trying to catch up.
In every sector of today’s publishing industry, we see even more pressure on the Gatekeepers. I remember this well from when I was an editor in the publishing industry. We relied on our experience and intuition in curating the best talent, but the battlefield changed significantly. It pushed the industry to get very conservative in our decisions. We tended to lean closer to the tried-and-true, banking on predictable performance from established talent.
Today you can see it more than ever – the industry takes fewer chances on new authors. This puts the whole system at risk. No new talent, no new growth. And – it means that you as a writer are even less likely to get noticed.
Unless, of course, you make yourself into a sure bet. What’s the best way to show that? When you have what’s called a platform. Your author platform is a collection of all the people who are paying attention to you.
Why do industry folks care so much about this?
1. It shows that you are a low-risk investment.
If you have a large, engaged group of fans who interact with you online, come to your events, and even purchase your work – that’s a ready-made customer base for an industry partner. While it’s not a guarantee that investing in you will pay off, it ups the chances of success. Any partnership between a creative and the industry looks the same – you create the work, and your industry partner helps fund, produce, distribute, and sell it. If an agent or publisher doesn’t see a clear path of getting a return on that investment, they won’t make the deal. The more you can prove that you’re a good investment upfront, the better your chances with a Gatekeeper. It’s a very simple business arrangement, when you boil it down.
2. Publishers can’t do it themselves.
This is the dirty little secret of the industry, and is the root of the industry’s problem: Publishers don’t have a direct relationship with their customers. They ceded that to retailers and other “middlemen” years ago. Now there’s one retailer: Amazon. Oops.
This is where you can seize the power. Your relationship with your readers is something that a publisher can’t replicate. Your fans want a relationship with YOU – they don’t care who your publisher is. They don’t care who your agent is. They don’t care who your editor is. They care about you and the work you create.
Here’s a little exercise to prove my point:
Take a moment to think of your favorite movie in the past year. Once you have it in mind, we’ll ask you a simple question: Who was the production company? Chances are, you don’t know – even if you are a huge fan of the leading actress or the director. You can do the same exercise with your favorite book or favorite album. You may be able to name the publisher or label, but only a small percentage can.
This underscores a really important point. Your fans are there because of YOU. And what’s different about today is that you have direct access to your fans and can build a relationship with them in a way that no industry partner can.
Time to Turn the Tables
Publishers don’t unlock the chance to grow your audience. Your audience unlocks the chance to work with a publisher. Gather an audience, and the industry people will come to you. To them, you are a safe bet now.
Gatekeepers may still position themselves as the tastemakers, but they are not. Consumers are. Empowered by the Web, consumers got a lot more powerful. They started to look to one another for recommendations – they didn’t rely exclusively on “expert” curators anymore.
Think of your new favorite writer. How did you find out about her? Most likely, it was from a recommendation. This is called word-of-mouth marketing, and it’s absolutely critical if you want to scale your business as a writer. While it’s not something you can control, it is something that you can foster. And when it starts to happen, you’ll literally have fans enlisting new readers on your behalf. It’s a core tenet of content marketing, and only you can make this happen – industry partners are powerless in this regard.
Now, all this makes it sound like Gatekeepers are not valuable anymore. Let me be very clear here – they are. There are things that a Gatekeeper can do that you simply can’t. Ever try to get your book placed in a local bookstore? If so, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
The Gatekeepers still own these channel relationships. And they still matter. But think of them more like business partners than your ticket to success. You’ll earn the relationship if it’s a win-win for both sides:
- For them, their investment in you and your work will pay off in profits.
- For you, access to exclusive channels will expand your opportunity.
Despite some of the horror stories out there, when this relationship works – it can be life-changing. It’s worth pursuing, but just hoping it will happen is not a sound business strategy. You need a path to get there.
Next up in this series, I’ll break it down into a 5-Step Strategy for Writers: How to Market Yourself. Subscribe here if you want me to email you when it publishes.
Or you can get started right away with this mini-course for writers:
Building Your Author Platform: Creating a Pathway to Purchase
Building your author platform is the single most important thing you can do for your business as a writer. In fact, it’s almost impossible to achieve any measurable success without it. This mini-course helps you set up all the elements of this pathway: Your website, blog, social, email, and online store.
Photo credit: meesh on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0. Changed from original: Cropped, added tint and text overlays.
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