This is a post by Allison Tait, who is a presenter at the Australian Writers’ Centre and author of the successful series The Mapmaker Chronicles.
One of the things I love most about So you want to be a writer, my podcast with Valerie Khoo, is the opportunity to speak to so many different authors and publishing types. We talk about writing, yes, but we also discuss the myriad other things that go with being an author these days. And so, of course, the gnarly question of the author platform comes up.
But the interesting thing about the author platform is that everyone goes about it in different ways. Just as everyone writes their books in different ways.
So I thought I’d share the thoughts of five authors I’ve interviewed, to offer you a smorgasbord of ideas and opinions on how other authors do it.
“I’d love to be like Cormac McCarthy and never do anything, public speaking, and just hide away and write books they’d would sell. But, unfortunately, I think that now marketing and touring and meeting people and all of that stuff is really part of it. There’s some nice things, like book clubs and bookshops, lovely school talks, when you’ve got small groups that can actually interact with people. I get pretty nervous.
“With my Facebook page I like to just post photos of my Antarctic trip or different things like that. Just more of a photo thing, I don’t often say much. I’ll also put all of my tour dates and stuff, like, “You can see me in Sydney,” or here…
“There’s no pressure. We don’t have to do it, but it just is part of it now. Some of it is fun too, downtime fun.
But, it’s all time-consuming. I think you’ve got to be careful and not slip down the slope of doing it all the time, or you just never talk to your friends or family, or go for a walk or anything.”
“[About five years ago] my publisher [said]: ‘It’s time that you were on Twitter and Facebook,’ and then the blogging started a couple of years after that. I’m glad that I’m there now, and I have a lot of interactions that are really pretty rewarding. It is really useful to be in contact with people who might read the books to get a sense of how they think and how they operate. It’s also a good chance to discover new things. It’s got a lot to offer, but at the same time we’ve got to, as writers, I think, bear in mind that it can be a big time suck and we’ve got to manage that, because if we’re going to actually put time into the writing as well, we can’t spend all of our time playing on social media.
“I think the way it works is that if you’re setting out as a writer now, then if you can build a platform of people who will take an interest in you it can be good, but it’s an awful lot of work to do that.”
“[Social media] is vital. I mean to a degree — quite personally I resent it. In a perfect world, I would love a situation where you simply as a writer had to write the book and it would succeed or fail on the quality of the book. If it’s a good book it will be well-received, sell well, and if it’s not so good it won’t be. But the reality of life now is the very best of books can get overlooked or forgotten.”
“I’m not a fan [of the author platform]. I’m not sure why I’m not … I do feel a little resentful of the pressure to be on Facebook and to be on Twitter (which I’m not). I complain, but at the same time I adore the fact that I have readers. I love the fact that they’re saying nice things to me. I don’t complain about that.
“I think [it’s] because I only have limited time at the computer screen, [and] for me, I think I need to write. I normally only have three or four hours and I want to write in that time, not be sitting there responding to Facebook comments.
“I have marketing degree, I understand I’m a product and brand. I’m sure if they had social media when I was in marketing I would have been telling people to use it. You can lose your readers, there’s lots of competition out there.
“I think my publishers would still prefer me to do it. But, they’d also prefer me to keep writing, so I guess if it’s a choice between those they’d like the next book rather than blog.”
“I think [social media] is actually essential, for a number of different reasons. I don’t actually like the term ‘author platform’ or ‘branding’ or any of that marketing speak. For me, social media is all about reaching out and connecting with like-minded people. It’s all about finding kindred spirits, it’s all about sharing my passion and love for reading and writing, assuming that the people who want to connect with me share the same passion. It is true that I use social media as a way of people staying informed about if I’m teaching a workshop or running a writers’ retreat or if I have a new book coming out, but that’s primarily because it saves people from constantly emailing me and asking these questions. I say, ‘Just follow me on Twitter, then you don’t need to email me every couple of weeks.’
“I find for myself that when I read a book and love that book, the first thing I do is I go and look for the writer online. I go and check out their website. I see if they’re on Facebook, see if they’re on Twitter, I see if they would be interested in doing an interview with me. I see what I can do to help them reach an audience, and some the most wonderful friendships of my life have been built through this reaching out to other people and through them reaching out to me. I think it’s all about connection and communication. I think that’s why we write in the first place.
“I really don’t like it if I can’t find a writer, or if they have put up barbed wire around themselves to keep people away. If it’s too hard for me to contact them I don’t do it.”