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Home » A Writer's Platform » Decoding the Writer’s Platform: Part IV

Decoding the Writer’s Platform: Part IV

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“Community”

Eight years old and sitting in Mrs. Coyan’s living room, she served me sugar cookies and tea in real china cups with dainty pink flowers. On the hillside below her house I found broken purple glass, square nails and chips of china. It was a trail I used to get to the creek that flowed through the town where I had recently moved. I never missed an opportunity to pick up old broken bits.

Mrs. Coyan who was my age times ten, with her tightly curled white perm and silver-rimmed glasses, smiled at me when I compared the cup to my collected treasure. She confided that the hillside was once a household dump. Imagine that! Who would throw away china? I held on tighter to my cup lest it became a casualty to refuse.

A lonely child in a mountain mining town found community among the old-timers. Each was housebound so I did the walking and visiting. Visits meant cookies, tea, sometimes beer, and always stories. I learned that if you wanted to better yourself in life you got an education. Mrs. Coyan told me that. To get an education, you had to read or so Mr. Parker said and he told me which books to check out from the library.

Eloise paid me a quarter to deliver her beer. She’d pop the top on her Coors, adjust the patch over her one missing eye and tell me how she used to ride her horse over the rugged Sierra Mountains to inspect the telegraph lines between towns that no longer existed.

From my first memorable community, I gained stories, a craving for adventure and a life-long love of learning and history. And a taste for tea in china cups.

In this series, Decoding the Writer’s Platform, we are examining four components of the platform itself. Later we will discuss how to apply the platform to gain greater visibility. Part II and Part III cover the basic foundation for branding. This is who you are as a writer. The next step is to build a solid community.

Blocks as Steps

Blocks as Steps

Your social media followers are not your audience.

This is what a keynote speaker said at a writers conference I attended in LA. It’s the comment that got me puzzling over just what is a writer’s platform and what’s the difference between community, followers and audience? If social media followers are not my audience, then why am I working so hard to get them?

Before attending the conference, my manuscript received a rejection from a publisher because I needed to “shore up my social media presence.” To me, this meant I didn’t have enough audience and the publisher had concerns regarding my contribution to selling copies of my book.

However, after hearing the keynote, I was no longer certain. At this same time, several of my writing peers were also pondering their commitment to social media. While many enjoy the social aspects, they questioned its effectiveness for their platform.

Using my marketing background and insight gained from the conference, I turned the phrases in my mind like a Rubik’s Cube. If we are building a writer’s platform what is the basic goal? Visibility. That’s when it finally occurred to me that there were two crucial steps between who we are as writers and who will read our books.

Between branding and audience is community and credibility.

Furthermore, I could clearly see how traditional publishing relies more on credibility and independent publishing relies more on community. Everyone is reaching for the prize — audience. Yet, we don’t take time to clearly define our audience. We confuse it with followers and friendly networks. Coming from a retail marketing background I know the importance of defining a target audience.

Coming from the cooperative industry, I also know the importance of building community around an authentic brand. So the keynote was right — your followers are not your audience. They are either your credibility (the more followers, the more likely you have influence) or your community (followers that you network among).

It’s important that you are authentic in your writer’s brand and clear about who you are and why you write because you will engage in many important communities as you build visibility. Successful engagement can lead to credibility and expand your audience.

We have countless clusters of community over a lifetime.

Community Clusters

My childhood community of old-timers was relevant to shaping the person I’d become and the writer I would later be. We have these influences surrounding us including, our family of origin, grammar schooling, work experience, college, career, partnerships, extended family, friends, associates, social media. We could brainstorm extensive lists based on our specific interests alone.

With so many spheres of influence, no wonder we get overwhelmed. Community requires relationship building, and different communities require more or less levels of engagement. We also have the power to influence the spheres that influence us.

So which communities matter?

Each person might answer differently, but our personal, spiritual and professional communities most likely take priority. How our writing fits into our lives makes a difference too. For example, when I was raising three children and working full-time, fiction writing was a sporadic luxury. Now I write full-time and stay mindful of my spouse. We each find our balance within our primary communities.

The communities that matter to your writer’s platform are ones that:

  1. help you learn the industry,
  2. keep you growing in your craft,
  3. form the beginnings of your readership and fan-base,
  4. become trusted peers who can help you achieve your goals.

Your writing community is made up of many sub communities (think of those clusters). For every community yours touches, you extend your reach. It’s a hierarchy that begins to look like a robust family tree.

Hierarchy

You want to build your community thoughtfully. Explore other writers within your genre and from other genres. Look for value. Whether you write romance, humor or educational materials, you want to connect with others who value your writing and whose writing you value. Look for peers and mentors. Offer assistance to someone who asks. Be polite. If another blogger follows your blog, at least look at theirs. Follow if it appeals to you, engage if you feel a connection and move on if you don’t.

The best core community to build is one of kindred spirits.

We each might define kindred spirits differently, and I define mine as writers who are enthusiastic about the craft of creative writing; who uphold the pillars of literature through shared reading, writing and discussion; who want to publish the best they can; and who inspire and encourage others.

Why? Because my goal is to publish novels, but my vision is to connect with writers and readers in a meaningful way. I believe in the power of imagination to create literature that moves hearts, minds and feet.

You might define kindred spirits as cat-loving romance writers who are shy. Or bold steampunk writers who want to shake up the institutional genres. Or occasional writers with casual ambitions. What matters is that you seek a core community that best fits your brand. Not only will it bring you personal enjoyment, but it makes professional sense, too.

After I left my job and moved back out west, I also left a trusted writer’s critique group. I couldn’t find one in my small community. My first year in Idaho, I drove two hours through a snowstorm to attend the closest NaNoWriMo launch party only to discover writers that had different goals and ideas about writing. I thought about attending Boise State’s MFA program but I didn’t want the debt. I found friendly content writers online, but only a few wrote creatively.

Not only did I yearn for a community of kindred spirits, I needed a core community to build literary credibility. My career had veered far from my creative writing undergrad degree. I also wanted to practice craft with other writers the way musicians get together and jam for fun.

So I created my own sandbox community, and transformed my business writing website into an imaginary literary ranch. Yes, Carrot Ranch was an intentional community. However, I had no idea who would show up. I believe that my brand — who I am as a writer — attracted those kindred writers who connected with the idea of weekly jam sessions, are talented creative writers who challenge themselves in craft and benefit from the discussion-oriented community.

From that, the Congress of Rough Writers was born, creating a core literary community of writers from around the globe.

RoughWriters_Map2_Jan12

From my core community, I have gained much value. Experience, knowledge and open discussions. I’ve engaged with other communities that have led to important connections, such as #1000Speak and a better understanding of both the traditional and indie publishing paths.

Community matters. It’s the fuel you need to drive your craft into creation.

Even big traditional publishers are overhauling their websites to improve reader engagement because they recognize the importance of community to audience. We all have communities. Feed the ones that influence you in important ways, just as those old-timers once shaped my young life. And be influential in a way that benefits others.

And consider this: it’s easier to grow exponentially within a community than it is on your own.


18 Comments

  1. Annecdotist says:

    Thanks for another useful lesson, Charli!
    In paving the way to promote my forthcoming novel, I’m drawing on my various real-life communities with some surprises along the way in terms of who will be and who won’t be interested. And how those interested communities can connect me with others.
    And it’s similar online, with those connections like a family tree.
    Thank you for building such a great community at Carrot Ranch

    Liked by 3 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Anne, this is such an exciting time for you and be sure to draw upon every community you touch (on-line and in-life). Think about who your target audience is (the ideal reader of your book who doesn’t yet know about it). Then enlist all communities for help in reaching those readers. Not everyone in your communities will be your target audience, but everyone in your communities has the potential to know someone. When you approach your communities (in person, by email, on blogs, through social media) have a press release kit available (your bio, cover art, synopsis, a description of who would read your book and specific ways community members can help).

      You have the distinct advantage of being well-read. Think about the most popular books that your your book is similar to. Make a list of SEO terms (such as “books like Gone Girl”) and tag your page and posts with the best terms. Round up reviewers you can reach out to, including the top that you qualify for (like The Guardian). When anyone in your community reviews your book or posts a debut announcement, offer SEO tags for them to use. Here’s a good article on the topic: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2015/researching-reader-intent-to-fine-tune-book-seo/.

      Also, make sure you list your bio on your G+ profile and when you get the links, link to where your book can be purchased. It would be beneficial to list every single online publication that has published your fiction under the G+ Contributor. This authenticates your authorship. Worth doing before your debut!

      All this will prepare you and your communities for a BIG successful book launch! And do what your publishers advise, which I’m sure you are. They connect you to an even wider distribution community. Traditional publishers and their distributors rely on credibility, so beef up that G+ page with prior literary contributions and a strong bio that echoes what your publishers have, and what include on Good Reads and on your Amazon Author page.

      And let me know if you want to update your Rough Writer page and any SEO tags I can use!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. jeanne229 says:

    Great clarification here Charli on just what part social media plays versus a deeper community. What draws me to your blog is exactly what you expressed: a desire to find “those kindred writers who connected with the idea of weekly jam sessions, are talented creative writers who challenge themselves in craft and benefit from the discussion-oriented community.” Great pointers too in your reply to Anne!!! Wish I could just put a shunt in my head and download all this into permanent memory.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you! This is not a large community, but it is deep and therefor meaningful to me. I write best in that kind of environment. Your flash based on your managerial experience was the kind of environment I was in — diplomacy and tension and bridging personality gaps to get work accomplished — and it depleted me. Carrot Ranch fill the well that Julia Cameron speaks of and I hope it fills your well, too! 🙂 Ah, a shunt would be nice, especially when my thoughts are faster than my fingers.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Great advice and clarification here (and also in your reply to Anne). You have certainly made sense of the role of social networking and blogging. I had come to realise that my followers were on the whole not my audience so you you have clarified for me the purpose of the blog as far as an author platform goes. Like you I searched for a good writers group similar to the one that I left when we moved here. It seems that they are few and far between. I love the weekly jam sessions and being part of carrot ranch. Another thing that I think these achieve is improving your writing over time. Whether it is a good thing to improve publicly I don’t know but it is certainly a good thing to happen. Loved your history of the old folks and the community you felt with them giving you your lifelong passions.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      A good writer’s group (one that fits) is rare gold, and so are old folks willing to share stories and life. That’s why I’m grateful for the Rough Writers! You bring up an interesting point. I agree that weekly craft practice does lead to improvement. I’ve read different perspectives about drafting or practicing publicly and I think the split has to do with how community or credibility is implemented in your platform. You can use community to build credibility, thus sharing drafts and practice is a part of that. Yet, in the traditional publishing industry, authors do not practice publicly; they publish. It’s two perspectives. The traditionalists need to get better at engaging readers thus they need to build community and the indies need to build more credibility and that can come through their community. I’ll expand those thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree to find a good writers group is indeed like finding rare gold. I love the community you have created and although I would still like to find a compatible group to critique my work (because I do think that also leads to improvement) I enjoy the community, the sharing of self and life and stories and conversations that the Carrot Ranch and Rough writers engage in.
        I’ll look forward to your expansion on those thoughts.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Charli Mills says:

        Critique groups or beta readers are something that you can search for among the community. I know that there have been several exchanges. Maybe a critique forum would be of interest. My writer’s group would exchange pages on a schedule and send critiques back by the date we met. Perhaps a similar model could work online?

        Like

  4. Sherri says:

    We share a love of china tea cups Charli 🙂 I want to come back to this post and comment properly as I’m running out of time and still not packed, arrrgh!! I will be thinking a lot about all you share here though, and thank you for the clarification, really helps alot.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Blimey – what a great amount of thoughtful information is in this post. I appreciate your comment about kindred spirits – somehow that speaks to authenticity which seems to, if I understand your post, leads to both credibility and audience. I know that’s not the whole equation but it seems a key part. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks for reading! And yes, it’s part of the equation. Start with branding (which is expressing who your are as a writer and why you write). It is important that your brand be authentic; you know the old saying, “be yourself.” Then you engage with others — kindred spirits inspire us, but down the road they will also give validation of your credibility as a writer. I’ll write more about credibility next week (by May 15). From this process you build audience and that’s another future post. And that’s is what a writer’s platform is. The next part is how to apply that platform to build visibility. It’s that visibility from where you launch your book, blog or other creations of writing.

      Like

  6. ChristineR says:

    I’m taking this all in … thanks Charli.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. TanGental says:

    You’ve already given me some great ideas as yet unimplemented as my time is soaked up revising my next book and, well, life (as you well understand). The social media conundrum is interesting I think, as with so much, you need to get stuck in, realise some works, some doesn’t and grow to the next level, like some writer’s Gameboy, but some trial and error and the occasional cheat tat someone else tells you about. Google + is something I must get to and the link you gave Anne was vey interesting. But it will help. The other is the debate you had around writers groups and beta readers. Maybe your community could have a request and offer facility for people needing and/or prepared to be beta readers and reviewers of early chapters. No reason why it shouldn’t work on line.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Charli Mills says:

      Social media is a great balancing act, but as long as we have a reason and metric for what we are doing (and “it’s fun” is a valid metric in my book). Google+ is worth setting up. It doesn’t have to be time consuming beyond the initial set up. I’m thinking our online community can certainly help network with tips and beta readers.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. […] enjoyed Charli’s posts on writer branding, even as I bristled at the idea of considering myself, or my output, a commodity. Yet now I have a […]

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  9. […] If you don’t believe me, Charli Mills is a marketeer by profession, she wrote a fantastic series on decoding your author platform 18 months ago, I read it way back then and although it was some time ago, I haven’t forgotten the impact the series had on me. If you haven’t read them, you really, REALLY should. Find her posts here: Decoding the platform, Branding, Why, Voice, Community. […]

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