Last week on tumblr, I asked whether it was better for a writer to focus on building a platform (getting fans) or networking (finding colleagues and collaborators), and I got some very thoughtful responses:
nyctopterus said: Publishing isn’t what it used to be. I’d be tempted to forget it. I say the best way to build a platform is improving your craft, and keep producing. Raise your prices too.
linguisten answered: why should that be mutually exclusive?
skywhaler answered: In my personal experience it’s not viable to build a fanbase prior to releasing substantial work. The kind of audience gained when substance is lacking isn’t generally the kind to stick around when the substance comes
exxos-von-steamboldt answered: I think you need at least one published work first to act as the foundation/presentation of yourself and your work. Otherwise it is an unstructured, ephemeral concept. You’ll get stronger support through people knowing what they are supporting.
The moral: practice until you produce something good, and you’ll attract fans.
This is a rather different moral from what I absorbed when I first started researching the publishing industry. I thought then that I needed a “platform” that I could show to potential publishers as a guaranteed fan-base. Hi, I’m Dan Bensen, but you may know me better as the guy who edited the wildly successful Speculative Dinosaur Project. I’ve written a science fiction novel about dinosaurs, and if you publish it, lots of people will definitely buy it from you! But that didn’t work. And two years later, I don’t think platform building can work for me.
If I was already a web celebrity, publishing a book might make sense as one of many ways to monetize my fame. But I’m a novelist. Getting my novels published is the end in and of itself. I don’t want to put time and energy into reviving the Speculative Dinosaur Project, I want to write books! That’s what I enjoy, and (as I get more practice) that’s what I’m good at.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a lot of luck the past two years with reaching out and getting in touch with fellow writers and creative types, but that’s not the same thing as fans. Colleagues help you because they know you’ll help them. Fans help you because they love your work and want to see more of it. You can make colleagues by paying it forward and participating proactively and so forth, but you can only make fans by producing stuff for them to enjoy.
So I have been producing the podcast and the Wonderful, Awful Ideas, but while the WAIdeas are fun and the podcast has been useful in a colleague-gathering way, I don’t think I have all that many fans of either of them. If I have any fans, it’s from my art and The Kingdoms of Evil. In other words, things that were my primary focus, not stuff I churned out on the side to serve some other purpose. That shows me that platforming is something that only happens AFTER you’ve produced good work. After all, I can’t attract fans if I don’t produce anything for them to be fans of.
So my resolution going forward is to make more stuff that you can put up on the refrigerator. That’ll be art, short stories, and maybe even something longer…?
Stay tuned for more.