Decoding the Writer’s Platform: Part 1

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

April 10, 2015

“The 4 Building Blocks of a Writer’s Platform”

You will find a surplus of media discussing the writer’s platform. It’s a writer’s visibility and what a writer uses to sell books. It stands in the balance between craft and creation.

Mostly, articles on the topic agree, but each article offers different examples of building blocks. It can seem overwhelming. You might look at all the gathered lists and think, “I have to do all that?”

First, understand two points of differentiation:

  1. You build a writer’s platform.
  2. You use your platform to sell books.

Often articles about platforms mesh these two points, combining building with application. Yet, if you were to build a boat, you wouldn’t include steps in your blueprint that described how to sail it. Sailing the boat is different.

What can get confusing with platform building is that we continue to build after we’ve set sail. Think of these two aspects (building and application) as separate systems that work together in harmony with our writing craft.

Working in Harmony by Charli Mills 2015

As you can see in the graphic, a platform is a two-cog accompaniment to the big gear of writing. This series will examine what a writer’s platform is and define it’s components clearly before getting to the system of application.

A writer’s platform is characterized by four building blocks:

4 Building Blocks by Charli Mills 2015

4 Building Blocks by Charli Mills 2015

All those ways to build platform listed in most articles can be placed in one of these four categories. It might bring relief to know that you have four blocks with which to build. It also might encourage you to know that different writers can focus successfully on different block configurations or thickness.

Writers don’t need to conform to one platform fits all.

A tactic is a means to an end. In marketing, a tactic is the action to accomplish a goal. When you read articles that list ways to build platform, you can categorize the tactics before deciding if it is one for you. Use the ones that fit your goals.

Not all writers write for the same reasons or expect the same outcomes.

For example, the following is from a Writer’s Digest blog article about building a writer’s platform:

  1. A website and/or blog with a large readership
  2. An e-newsletter and/or mailing list with a large number of subscribers/recipients
  3. Article/column writing (or correspondent involvement) for the media—preferably for larger outlets and outlets within the writer’s specialty
  4. Guest contributions to successful websites, blogs, and periodical
  5. A track record of strong past book sales
  6. Individuals of influence that you know—personal contacts (organizational, media, celebrity, relatives) who can help you market at no cost to yourself, whether through blurbs, promotion, or other means
  7. Public speaking appearances—the bigger, the better
  8. An impressive social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, and the like)
  9. Membership in organizations that support the successes of their own
  10. Recurring media appearances and interviews—in print, on the radio, on TV, or online

All ten tactics are valid and from an expert, Chuck Sambuchino, who wrote an entire book on the topic. However, I don’t know about you, but when I read this I feel doomed to fail already. Public speaking appearances? A track record? Impressive?

Let me break down the list for you and then you’ll understand why it’s intimidating. Numbers 1 and 2 are audience. Numbers 3-10 are credibility. No one starts out an expert, yet this list reflects that level of expertise.

If you are an aspiring, new or emerging author it can be discouraging to believe this is what you have to do to build a platform. You start with what materials you have and you build up.

You don’t get to the master level without a platform.

This is why it’s important to understand that all those articles list tactics that you can categorize. Some articles confuse audience with community or brand with credibility. It’s important to recognize the difference and be able to pick and choose tactics according to your purpose.

From a marketing perspective, a successful writer’s platform is like a staircase building up from the bottom:

Blocks as Steps

Blocks as Steps by Charli Mills 2015

First you establish your brand because the platform is about who you are as a writer. This is your platform, not your cat’s. You build community, credibility and eventually that ever-so-important audience. This would be a strategy for building your platform.

In truth, our efforts probably look more like a game of Tetris:

Mixed Blocks by Charli Mills 2015

Mixed Blocks by Charli Mills 2015

And, we might focus more on building with one block category over the other. That’s fine as long as you understand that different tactics achieve different results. Once you get building, you’ll also notice that certain tactics overlap others.

Be sure to give thought to each building block in your platform.

Over the next four weeks, I will focus on each category. I am also looking for volunteers to use as case studies. The benefit to you is that I will help you understand your own platform building efforts. If you are interested, please shoot me an email at

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  1. jan

    I have to admit I’m probably doing everything wrong but I’ll be interested to read what you have to say on the subject and hopefully learn something!

    • Charli Mills

      That feeling of “doing it wrong” worried me too, especially once I began shopping my manuscript around without result. So I went back to the basics, and started from there. I hope this series will give us all an understanding that will lead to feeling more confident in what we are doing.

  2. Annecdotist

    It’s all sounding very interesting and potentially extremely useful, Charli. I wonder if I’d be a good guinea pig in view of the fact that I’m considering my author platform in relation to the launch of my first novel in July? I have lots of ideas, but I imagine you’ll have more!

    • Charli Mills

      I’m glad you asked because I already had you in mind!

      • Annecdotist


  3. Sarah Brentyn

    This is brilliant, Charli. I’ve read [insert any absurd number here] articles about platform and branding and they are all &^%$#@! I can’t stand them. They all contradict each other violently and your take on this is probably the most user-friendly approach I’ve seen. Can not WAIT to see where you go with this.

    • Charli Mills

      They all agree on one point: visibility, but from there they tell you what to do without creating a foundation of understanding first. It was driving me crazy to read articles on building audience with a writer’s platform when really they were showing how to build community without showing why community is important. I hope to break the merry-go-round cycle! User-friendly is my aim!

  4. Jeanne Lombardo

    Ditto on earlier comments, and very timely post for me. I keep avoiding the move from my obscure little memoir crafting blog over to a WordPress website, and this schematic is extremely helpful as I plan it out. If you are in need of someone on the ground floor (no the basement) of a platform project, keep me in mind.

    • Charli Mills

      I’d love to do a case study with you, Jeanne because you actually have a good writer’s platform going — your CV alone is a wealth of credibility blocks. It’s a matter of identifying other building blocks and reaching toward audience.

  5. Let's CUT the Crap!

    Overwhelming but I like you bite-size breakdown. Thank you, Charli. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks! Stick with me and I’ll get to how all this makes sense! I hope you’ll have an a-ha moment. 🙂

      • Let's CUT the Crap!

        I sure hope so. I’ve been working to keep on top of all these changes…it’s still a little f.o.r.e.i.g.n.

      • Charli Mills

        Once we get the basics down, you’ll be able to roll with the changes.

  6. Norah

    Charli, Thank you. This is brilliant. You have cut through the confusion and made it all so clear. I love your graphics – the cogs work well together (just as they should) and the four building blocks lay a firm foundation. Separating the parts out makes it so clear. And, what is especially great, and timely, for me, is that I can see myself in there. Slowly, I have been working on all four. It is the audience block that was beginning to discourage me, and that I wrote about on my blog; but I can see from this that the other three really need to be strong and perhaps (hopefully) the audience will follow.
    Actually it is interesting that after writing those posts I have had comments from new more education oriented bloggers, but not the ones I had been commenting on. I do have something I could say it is analogous to, but it would make the comment too long – maybe another time! 🙂
    Thank you for your reassurance and encouragement. I would love to be a guinea pig but fear my timeline may be too long for your “study” at this stage. I definitely look forward to enriching my learning through this series of posts. Thank you for sharing so generously. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      In the simplest configuration, our platform works like a staircase from who we are as a writer to who would most likely read our creations. Once we get involved in building and applying, it feels like we are constant brick layers. 🙂 If we can understand what makes up our platform and works best for our goals, we can begin to pick and choose our activities just like you decided to reduce community building efforts to some degree. You have steadily maintained your brand (creating possibilities for learning in a joyful and compassionate environment) and you commit to writing about education. Even Marnie is a fictional representation of the struggles you write about between schooling, education and children who may not fit in the system. What you can do next is to use your platform to increase its visibility to your target audience. In a way, I suspect that all the community building you have done while maintaining your branding and credibility has led to notice from audiences you want to attract. I hope you do continue to write about your experiences. And I’d love to have you as a case study; timeline won’t impact what I’m putting together. I’m developing some worksheets and you can look them over once they are drafted to see if you want to use them and let me develop a case study from your responses.

      • Norah

        Thanks Charli. That sounds amazing. I’d be honoured to be included.
        From the beginning I did make a decision about my brand and had my banner designed to portray the joy of learning. I really had it designed for my website (which is still in the planning stages), but have used it for my blog, Twitter and Facebook author page as well for branding purposes. I have been tempted to “drift” into other genres and topics. I notice others write posts on a variety of topics and in a variety of styles, but until I get my website established, education is my focus, so there it will stay until I either achieve my goal, or decide the path I am treading is unnavigable. My intention is that it be the former rather than the latter! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        You’ve been thoughtfully deliberate, committed to your purpose, yet open to expressing your creativity. Without knowing your intended brand (joy of learning) I used both those words to describe how I experience your branding. Not only do you discuss education within that framework, you link to others (Rosen, TedTalks, Edutopia) that also uphold or challenge your views. Yet, it is through the creation of a character, Marnie, that I’ve seen your commitment unfold in a imaginative way — I can imagine the lives of miserable children changed by joyful learning through her story. That’s powerful and adds to your brand. So you are doing a good job! It’s not that our paths to our goals become unnavigable so much, but the process can seem to slow down. I do believe we can try other tactics to get our platforms visible to our intended audiences without it feeling overwhelmed by the effort. You will achieve your goal! 🙂

  7. Sherri

    Ahh Charli, you said it for me: after I read those ten tactics, I felt utterly doomed 🙁 So I’m more than a little relieved that you followed them up with your own brand of positive and realistic pointers. thank you, thank you, thank you…
    Your excellent charts too are so helpful as you guide us through this jumbled Tetris. I’ve read from several authors that they didn’t start their blog until after they had written their book. As you know, I started my blog over 2 years ago and hadn’t even started writing my book at that time, having had just my first article and short story published in a magazine.
    So while trying to build my blog and my community, I’ve been writing my book and also submitting articles to magazines and competitions here and there. I saw this as a way to have ‘clippings’ for my portfolio, trying to build it up, albeit slowly, but now I am understanding that this is part of building credibilty, an important step in the building of author platform.
    I am happy humming along as I am with my blog…to a point. I wonder now if I need to step things up a bit. But then my priority has to be getting my book written…so I need to do both! I panic…but feel so much better knowing that you are going to help me/us through this maze.
    I am so looking forward to reading your other posts and please feel free to use my blog as a case study if you need another one 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      You have the right idea! Writing a blog allows us to show who we are as a writer, build our community, demonstrate our credibility and increase our audience. As it builds, we get busy! So, learning which blocks work best for us is to leverage what we have built. Identifying areas we need to develop more helps us focus our activities. We’ll get this dance with tertis down! And, yes, I’d love to have you as a case study. I’m working on worksheets and will include you when I have them finished. 🙂

      • Sherri

        Thanks again Charli 🙂

  8. wccunningham

    I have to admit that branding is something I haven’t given enough attention to nor am I aware of how I might be branding myself; intentionally or unintentionally.

    • Charli Mills

      That’s such a good point — branding is something that happens with out without our intentions. It’s not only how you see your brand, but how others experience it. Some people think branding is difficult, but it is by far my favorite building block. Stay tuned for next week!

  9. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    A great article Charli which simplifies the whole process. I too am looking forward to your next posts as you look at each of these step by step. I too am happy to do be a guinea pig for your case study if you need any more. Building an author platform was the reason I started blogging in the first place and am interested as to the value of it from that perspective.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Irene! I’d love to have you as a guinea pig! I’m working on the worksheets, so I’ll keep you posted. Many writers start blogging fr that reason and a blog is so versatile that it can house all the building blocks. It’s a great tool! I’ll talk more about blogging in the application of the brand, too.

  10. TanGental

    I have to sit back and admire your forensic abilities here. You’ve split a porridge in my head into oats, milk, sugar and raisins and that is some achievement. Never occurred to me how the constituent parts had been conflated into one. So big thank you for doing that. Like others I came to blogging as part of advice on preparing to launch a book on the unsuspecting world and then found out that blogging is both a pleasure and an education in its on right. And oddly, of course, because my focus on blogging as to blog well – ie it had become its own purpose rather than an adjunct to publishing, community, brand building and what have you, it feels like I’ve rather distracted myself from my original purpose. I’m not unhappy about that, just that I have compromised myself possibly because that is easier than actually building a platform.
    If you thought I might add something as a case study – probably a how not to – then I’d be delighted (humbled actually) to join our merry band of studistes (we few, we happy few, we band of brothers – and sistas!). But you have a lot of willing applicants so add me to the reserve list.

    • Charli Mills

      With a line like this, “You’ve split a porridge in my head into oats, milk, sugar and raisins…” how could I not have you as a study? The Rough Writers all have such interesting but divergent brands! Once we get into application, this becomes porridge again and you’ll see how raisins enhance the milk. I’m working on worksheets and will include you!

      • TanGental

        ooo thanks; I kinda hoped you would…

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