Building Platform: What Most Writers are Getting Wrong

by Anne R. Allen

Writers know we need a "platform" these days.

That means we need to be on Twitter and FaceBook and Google+ and LinkedIn and Pinterest and Tumblr and have a blog with a ton of followers and get 100s of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and drive ourselves batty keeping up with all of it, because…who needs to write books? It's all about racking up those numbers, 24/7, right?

That would be a no.

Last year I wrote a post about 7 Ways Authors Waste Time Building Platform and it's been one of our most popular posts.

But the majority of writers are still running on the old social media hamster-wheel, pursuing those elusive numbers. I even see writers begging for money on IndieGoGo and Kickstarter, so they can "buy Twitter followers and Facebook likes." I hope nobody's silly enough to give it to them.

Because those numbers mean almost nothingeven less now than they did a year ago.

If you write narrative (novel or memoir), all you need is a social media presence, not huge numbers. (Nonfiction is a little different. More on that below.)

You do need to be Googleable. You can get Google's attention by commenting on blogs, having a Google Plus, Twitter and/or Facebook account and maybe a blog.

But guess what is the #1 thing an agent, editor or reviewer wants to find out when they Google you?

Whether you're a pain in the butt.


They don't care much about your Alexa, Klout or PeerIndex rating. They aren't all that interested in how many Tweeps, blog followers, LinkedIn contacts, Google Plus circles, or Facebook friends and/or likes you have.

I know you've heard otherwise, but that info probably came from marketers, not actual agents, editors or influential reviewers. Not recently anyway.

What Publishing Professionals Look for When they Google an Author

1) Is this person making the effort to network on social media?

2) Is this person volatile, entitled, disrespectful, or a self-involved jerk?

Don't just take my word for it:

In other words, no matter how good your numbers are, if you flame out on writing forums or use your blog to badmouth the publishing industry, complain about rejections, or put down other authors, it doesn't matter how many likes, hits, clicks or followers you have.

So be nice. Practice the Golden Rule. Don't be a whiner or a bully. And stop listening to marketers and system-gamers who tell you it's all about building up numbers. 

This is because:

Why You Should Stop Worrying About Social Media Numbers

Social media numbers are being gamed—and the problem is getting worse. They're also bought and sold from "click farm" sweatshops that have sprung up all over Asia.

This week Forrester Research reported that marketers and publishers are coming to believe, "The paid ads Facebook encourages them to buy often lead to 'fake' fans generated by 'like farms'."

And an article in the HuffPo on how social media "likes" are bought and sold says:

"While the Federal Trade Commission and several state attorney generals have cracked down on fake endorsements or reviews, they have not weighed in on clicks. Meanwhile, hundreds of online businesses sell clicks and social media accounts from around the world. BuyPlusFollowers sells 250 Google+ shares for $12.95. InstagramEngine sells 1,000 followers for $12. AuthenticHits sells 1,000 SoundCloud plays for $9."

In other words, this isn't even illegal, so everybody's doing it.

But that doesn't mean it's smart.

Because large numbers of clicks/likes/followers, etc, now mean absolutely nothing.

Here are some other iffy and pointless ways to waste time and money on meaningless numbers:

Purchasing LinkedIn connections and email addresses

This week I got an email from an author I'd connected with on LinkedIn. She claimed to write reviews for the Wall Street Journal. She offered (in all capsalways a bad sign) to give me a book review in exchange for… a list of all my LinkedIn contacts.

How's that for creepy?

Are there really people who will sell out their accountants and doctors and everybody they do business with in exchange for an iffy book "review" from a complete stranger?

But it gets worse. She also promised the names and contact info for "2000+ Amazon book reviewers".

Oooooh! I'd be able to spam 2000 Amazon book reviewers and get them to all hate me at once? Hmmm. That sounds like a good marketing plan…

My agent Pam noted this was probably a sock puppet who was gathering LinkedIn contacts to sell on those click-selling sites.

But the underlying assumption has a basis in a sad fact: many authors will pay to rack up meaningless numbers, whether a quantity of nonsense reviews or "likes" or "contacts".

And even if you're not paying cash for reviews and clicks, if you're trading with other authors, offering prizes for "likes", or whatever, you're wasting time.

Fake Facebook "likes" 

Many writers are duped by Facebook into paying to "boost" pages to get hits on their author page.

They tell me they do it because it gets "results". By which they mean they get more people to click on a "like" button.

But when I ask if those "likes" translate to book sales, the authors go strangely silent.


A handful of real friendships and loyal readers mean more than thousands of nameless, faceless numbers.

Author Jonathan Evison advised writers at the annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writers Programs, “If you don’t like Facebook, then just don’t do it … It’s not about broadcasting. It’s about connections.”

Unwilling Newsletter Subscribers

I've been "subscribed" to dozens of newsletters by authors I don't know in genres I don't read. Maybe because they've queried me for a guest blogpost, or we've communicated on another subject. Or I've commented on their blogs. Or they just take my contact info off this blog. They've got my email address, and dammit, they're going to use it! Their marketing consultants told them to!!

But this is what a lot of marketing people don't understand: annoying people with email spam does not move them to buy books.

As the lawyer known as The Passive Guy said on The Passive Voice this week, "Email lists! What an powerful concept! For 1996."

And Tony Hursh responded to PG in the thread, "Just this morning I was reflecting that I don’t have nearly enough spam in my life."

How about you? Not enough spam?

That's what I thought.

And yet every marketer says you must have a newsletter and send it to as many addresses as possible, regardless of who they are or whether they read your genre. It's NUMBERS, they tell you. NUMBERS!!

I think it's wiser to listen to Mr. Evison. He advises writers that instead of blasting out group emails about their books and events, they should take the time to write a personal email to each friend.

A personal email to a friend. Not a bunch of advertising aimed at some undefined "them" you imagine to be out there.

Auto-Tweets to Fake Tweeps

I think Twitter is probably the medium authors abuse the most. Hundreds of thousands seem to autotweet book spam 24/7. Often to "followers" who have been purchased (and probably don't even read their language.) 

And they can't figure out why their books aren't flying off the shelves.

That's because they don't understand that Twitter is not for direct marketing. People are on Twitter to get news and information. What gets retweeted most is links to original content or news stories.

Social media guru Jon Morrow at Boost Blog Traffic says this about boosting Twitter traffic,

"Consistently tweet the content of the other influencers in your niche (even if they’re your competition), making sure to mention their handle and, of course, include a link to their article."

That's right: the number one way to boost your own traffic is to share other people's linksboth unknowns and big influencers. Unknowns will probably thank you and follow you, and the influencer's Tweeps will notice you and you can become part of their clan. They start noticing your other tweets, they might even see one for your blog and come on over and make friends. And eventually take a look at one of your books.

Bestselling mystery author Elizabeth S. Craig (@elizabethscraig) has 26K Twitter followers. I'm willing to bet those are real people who have followed her voluntarily. That's because she tweets the best links in the publishing business. And she has never once tweeted ads for her books. She tweets great content. 

Obsessing about Blog Hits

It's my personal opinion that a blog is an author's most important tool on social media. My blog re-started my career after my first publisher went out of business. It got me two more publishers, an agent, and a blog partner I'd admired since she was on the NYT  bestseller list and I was a wannabe actress reading Ruth Harris novels in the greenroom of a little theater in Southern California.

But none of those things happened because of huge numbers of hits on this blog.

Those things happened because I made connections with people on many blogs: mine and theirs and Nathan Bransford's and Kristen Lamb's and Elizabeth S. Craig's and many, many more.

1) Blogs for Nonfiction Authors

Nonfiction writers need to follow slightly different rules from fiction writers. (And although memoirs are nonfiction, they're narrative, so they're marketed like novels.)

A nonfiction writer definitely needs to work at driving traffic to his blog, because a widely read blog is one of the best ways to establish yourself as an expert in your field.

I advise nonfiction authors to work on a blog for some time before you launch a book, and to comment on the blogs of "rivals" for some time before that. 

But you need an engaged readership, not fake numbers. An attack by a Moldovian spambot is going to boost your numbers through the roof, but it won't sell one person on your idea.

That's why you need to network with other bloggers in your field, and share their content, not sit alone on your blog waiting for hits like a spider waiting for flies.

2) Blogs for Fiction Writers and Memoirists

If you write fiction, you don't need a writing blog like this one, unless you also have a "how to write" book like, ahem, How to be a Writer in the E-Age: A Self-Help Guide.

Novel readers read novels. Blogs, not so much. So if you write fiction, you don't need worry about your stats or your Alexa rating.

Sure, it was fantastic for our egos when we got 50,000 hits last month. It's like the thrill you get from winning a videogame. With about the same real-world significance.

Yes, there was a bit of an uptick in sales of my novels. But I also had attack by the the Amazon sock puppet-trollsmaybe in retaliation for signing an anti-sock puppet petitionwhich probably helped my sales as much as the blog surge. It's funny how my sales go up when they leave their brainless 1-stars. I think any review gets a book some attention from the algos, no matter the star rating.

But I also see an uptick in novel sales when I visit smaller blogs. Almost any time you reach out to a new audience there will be a flurry of sales.

But the blog surge did put my nonfic book onto several bestseller lists. Nonfiction writers: take note. 

A fiction writer's blog is simply a place for your fans to find you, or if you're not published yet, a way for you to build up friendships in the blogosphere.

Neither of those goals is dependent on a huge number of blog hits. It's the number of engaged readers that matter. You're not going for a million hits. You're going for 1000 true fans. Or even 100, or 50. Real people, not pointless numbers.

Catherine Ryan Hyde is one of the top selling novelists on Amazon. Last summer she bumped J.K. Rowling off her perch at #1.

But Catherine's blog has an Alexa rating down around #4 million. As of this writing, this one is at #132 thousand. (Google, at #1, being the best-rated)

But I probably don't sell as many novels in a month as Catherine sells in a day. She sells books because she has a fantastic reputation, she's been a star since she wrote Pay it Forward a decade and a half ago, and readers feel they know her. People who visit her blog already love her books. They're coming to the blog to get to know her better.

The thing most marketers don't understand is that selling books isn't the same as selling collapsible hoses, Sham-Wows or Perfect Bacon Bowls.

Readers are quiet people. You need to gain their trust. You can't influence them by shouting at them.

Or by being a pain in the butt.

So don't.

And you can stop obsessing about all those silly numbers.

As I said in last year's post: If you're dealing with marketers who are in love with numbers for their own sake, I hereby bestow a rank of 10 million ARA points!!! on each of you. When somebody puts you down for not having a Klout rating over 80, just roll your eyes and say "Klout is so over. I have 10 million ARA points."

Doesn't that feel better? 

What about you, Scriveners? Have you been obsessing about numbers without really knowing why? Have you ever paid for Twitter followers or "boosted" a Facebook page? What do you find is the most effective way to boost your book sales? Or if you're unpublished, how much time do you spend building platform online?

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