Writers: How to Succeed at Building Platform Without Really Trying

by Anne R. Allen

Welcome to all our new subscribers! We had one of those crazy lucky streaks this week when one of my older posts 10 Things that Red-Flag a Newbie Novelist, suddenly went viral. Somehow moving the blog made some of the old posts hit social media radar as if they were brand new. We had nearly 20,000 hits on the one post in a couple of days. Thanks everybody!

A viral post like that can really raise what marketers call an author's "platform." And whether you're planning to self-publish or go the traditional route, every author needs "platform" sooner or later.

Sooner is better.

When should you think about your platform?

Definitely as soon as you're ready to send out a story or submit a manuscript to an agent. I'm not saying you'll automatically get rejected if you have no platform, but editors and agents will Google you, and if they can't find you on the first SERP (Search Engine Results Page) they may send an automatic rejection. Not all agents and editors are that harsh, but I've heard from many who are.

On the other hand some authors obsess too much about platform and waste time on pointless overkill. (More about how to skip the time-wasting stuff in my post, 7 Ways Authors Waste Time Building Platform.)

But many writers ignore platform-building entirely, often because they're not quite clear on what it means.

It's true that "platform" isn't easy to define. Jane Friedman, former Writer's Digest editor has written extensively about it. She says when agents say they're looking for author with platform:

"They’re looking for someone with visibility and authority who has proven reach to a target audience."

This is especially true for nonfiction authors. But no matter what you write, agents, editors, reviewers and even bloggers you're querying about a guest post are going to put your name into Google and hit the "search" button.

The results are a good indication of your platform.

If you don't appear on that first page, or nothing comes up but your letter to the editor protesting the cancellation of Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23, or that picture of you partying at Señor Frog's in Mazatlán on Spring Break in 2010, your career is probably not going anywhere.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but chances are:

I know some excellent writers who never even get a nibble on their query letters, and will spend thousands on writers' conferences and courses, but won't put in even a few minutes a day on social media. They won't bother with anything online because they're "serious" authors.

Well, they're probably going to remain serious, unpublished/unread authors unless they start doing something about their online profile.

Yes, I can hear the moaning, especially from my fellow Boomers:

But there's something quick, easy and relatively painless you can do right now to raise your search engine profile that won't take more than a couple of minutes from your writing time.

Ready for it?


Comment on blogs!

With your real name. (Or whatever name you write under.)

Yup. Comments on high-profile blogs that are on Google's radar get your name onto that search page. (Also on not-so-high-profile blogs that have been set up by somebody schooled in SEO.)

I'm not just talking about writing blogs like this one. Any blog that interests you will do (although I advise against anything controversial, unless you write about that controversy, because you're going to alienate a big chunk of your potential readership and seriously diminish the number of possible agents.)

I know writers new to the world of social media and blogging have lots of reasons for not commenting. I hear them a lot.

"But I can't even find the comments half the time!"

A lot of newly retired Boomers find the whole concept of blogging weird and unfathomable. I remember being frustrated when I first started. Sometimes I'd find comments, and sometimes I wouldn't. Sometimes I'd land on one post with a thread of comments after it, but sometimes I'd get a whole string of posts with nothing but a thingy at the end saying "37 comments".

Here's the little trick "everybody knows" so they don't bother to tell you—

Click on the "37 comments" (or whatever number) and that will open the post in a new page where all the comments appear at the end of the post. Some blog formats make you hunt around in the sidebar for the "comments" link, but it's there. Keep looking.

Some blogs, like this one, will allow you to reply to a particular comment if you hit the "reply" button under that comment.

Or you can leave a general comment if you hit "reply" at the bottom of the whole thread. (On some Wordpress blogs the reply button is at the top of the thread.)

Click on the header (title of the blog) or the word "blog", or or the "home" page and it will take you back to the comment-less stream of blogposts.

See? It's not so hard when somebody tells you what to look for.

"Why should I comment on your blog, (or Kristen Lamb's or Chuck Wendig's or Jami Gold's?) You guys never comment on mine."

Jami Gold talked about this in her great post last week, "Writer Sanity: Recognizing Takers and Setting Boundaries." Some commenters feel that high profile bloggers are obligated to comment on the blogs of everybody who leaves a comment. I've certainly heard from a number of them. They sometimes even leave a comment saying "I'm commenting here, so now you need to visit my blog and comment."

This may come from a simple kindergarten sense of "fairness," but Jami thinks it may come from a misunderstanding of the kind of advice I'm giving here.

So please! Don't think I'm saying you should comment on big blogs only to get the blogger to reciprocate on yours!!

That's not the reason to do it. You're writing a comment to get the attention of:

1) Search engines

It helps you get the attention of search engines, so Google will know who you are

2) Blog readers

You get to network with other bloggers this way. If they like a comment, they may look you up and maybe even buy your book.

I need to apologize for our comment program here on the new blog. At the moment, it doesn't allow you to click on a commenter's profile and go to their website. Some programs do that and it's really nice. But our webmaster is going through a major family crisis and that kind of thing is way above my pay grade. We do hope to add that function in the future.

On blogs with that kind of comment program, all a person has to do is click on your photo, and they can find out all about you. Thats a big plus for YOU.

A comment may also get the attention of the host blogger, which is a good thing, not so they'll comment on your blog, but maybe you'll be invited to guest post, or they might mention you in a future post.

However, there can't be a quid pro quo for all comments, even though that might seem "unfair". This is because nobody can read and comment on 10,000 blogs a day.

I do stop by the blogs of regular commenters when I have time. I don't always comment, but I do try to keep track of you, but remember everybody only has 24 hours in a day and some of us occasionally require food and sleep and exercise and IRL contact with other humans. :-) Sometimes we even like to write the books that we rely on for income.

But here's the thing: if you comment on this blog, or Jami's, or Chuck's, Google will notice YOU. Because this blog is on their radar, your name will become part of its "content".

That means you get a bump in YOUR search profile. We don't benefit that much from one more comment, but YOU do.

"I'd rather send the blogger a personal email and get a personal answer."

Sure. That's fine. Sometimes the blogger will have time to give you a personal answer. I try to answer all our readers' emails, even though it gets pretty time-consuming.

But my e-mailed answer is no more personal than my answer in a comment thread, and nobody will see it but you and me.

Every week, dozens of people send me personal emails saying they liked a post from me or Ruth or one of our guests, and of course we appreciate it. We always like to hear that people are benefiting from our posts.

But many writers mention their own books and pitch them to me.

So let's stop a minute and think about this: what's better for YOU?

1) Getting your book title in front of me, the world's slowest reader, who has over 500 unread books in my TBR list?

2) Getting your book title in front of the thousands of people who read this blog?

Are you seeing why it's better to put your feedback (and name) into a comment?

Plus, if you have a question, you can be pretty sure other readers have it too. If I answer in the comments, rather than in a personal email, that's helping ALL our readers, not just you.

"I can't figure out how to leave a comment. They want some kind of ID and I don't know how to jump through all those hoops."

Okay: this is a biggie. New tech can be daunting, especially for Boomers like me. And nobody likes to be rejected, especially by a #%&! machine.

Blog software likes people who have blogs, so if you have a blog ID you're in without a problem. 

(Usually. Sometimes there are tech wars and Google blocks Wordpress IDs and vice versa. One blog I've read for years recently told me I'd been banned for life for spamming even though I've never even put a link in a comment. Then McAfee told me the blog was dangerous and I shouldn't go there anyway. Tech wars are a big pain in the patoot.)

But there are two simple things you can do that will allow you to comment on almost all blogs even if you have no Web presence right now.

1) Get a Gravatar ID

Gravatar is a universally recognized avatar. If you sign up (it's free), you can comment on any blog and people can find you.

It's easy. Just go to Gravatar.com and post a profile. Have a short bio prepared (info on how to write an author bio here), and choose a photo from your files before you go. The best kind of photo is a friendly, smiling picture of yourself in tight close-up. If you don't have an author photo, you might be able to crop an existing photo (You can crop for free at PicMonkey ), or even use a selfie, as long as it's professional and friendly looking.

And please do use a picture of yourself. Not you and your hubby in fond embrace. Not your cat or a baby picture. It needs to be a grown-up, professional-looking picture of you. With clothes on. Beachy photos end up looking like porn spam in thumbnails. Even if you write erotica, save the skin for your website.

Here's more advice on how to sign up for Gravatar from Joel Friedlander.

2) Join Google Plus

The "Blogger" blogging platform is owned by Google and Google is doing everything they can to force everyone on Blogger to join Google Plus. For people who blog on that platform, your "followers" now need to follow you on Google Plus instead of a dedicated Blogger feed. (At least when you start a new blog, which I just did.) They're also making it increasingly hard to comment on Blogger blogs without a Google Plus ID.

Unfortunately, Google Plus has also rolled out an awful, user-unfriendly new format that may very well sound its own death-knell, but at the moment, the network is still mildly useful, if only to get your name on Google's radar.

But before you jump in, make sure the name you're using is the "brand" name you want for your writing career.

Start by Googling yourself (put your name in "quotes" for a more accurate search.) This will tell you if somebody is out there making a name for herself that happens to be the same as yours.

If your name is as dirt-common as Anne Allen, you don't need Google to tell you there are hundreds of thousands of women with the same name as you. There are three Anne Allens in my small town doctor's practice alone.

To stand out, I added my middle initial. Everywhere I go on the Web, I'm annerallen. There are other Anne R. Allens but not as many, and at the moment Google gives me top billing.

Making your name unique is especially important if you share it with somebody famous. So if your real name is Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, or Justin Bieber, choose a pseudonym or trot out a middle name, initial, or use a nickname. Try Don Q. Trump, K. C. Kardashian or J. Montague Bieber.

You want to make this decision before you start to set up your profiles, or you're going to be adding to the other Justin Bieber's platform, not building your own.

And don't use a cutsie moniker. Unless you plan to write all your books under the nom de plume "scribblersally" or "kitticatsmom", you don't want to comment on blogs with that handle. Use your professional name, because you're building a professional platform.

Most people think of Google Plus as a slightly geeky version of Facebook, but you don't actually have to use it for socializing. If you don't want the hassle of dealing with another social media site, simply turn off all "notifications" and they won't bother you.

Until recently, they offered a nice profile where people could find out about you, with links to your website/book pages/and any blogs you contribute to.

But the new Google Plus has no way for visitors to see your bio or website links, so it's about as useful for networking as a dead mackerel. But being there is still good for SEO.

Make sure you put "writer" in your "employment" even if you're not getting paid to write yet. If you flag yourself as a writer, that will come up in a Google search.

Here's a video from Johnny Base that tells you how to sign up for Google Plus. He has you start by getting a gmail address if you don't already have one. It's a great idea to have a dedicated email address for your writing business, anyway.

Seriously, the only hard part of any of this is choosing a good password and then remembering it (at least if you're a geezerette like me.) But that's true of anything on the Web, alas.
"I don't know what to say!"

I understand. Writers are shy persons. We'd rather lurk in the shadows. I lurked for about a year before I started commenting on blogs. That's fine. Do lurk for a while if you're just starting in the blogosphere.

But eventually you'll probably feel moved to say something.

Most bloggers will put some questions at the bottom or the post to invite comments. Good questions will invite you to share your own opinions or experiences with the topic.

And read the comments. You may want to respond to one of them. That's a good place to start.

You don't have to heap praise on the blogger. Bloggers like praise as much as anybody, but it's best to say something that adds to the discussion. That doesn't mean you should be confrontational or put the blogger down, either. (That's a good way to get deleted.) But say something like, "Love these 10 tips for getting your cat to eat dry food, and I'd like to add a #11..."

Or you can say, "I understand what you're saying about blogging nonfiction only ...but I blog daily cat haikus, and I have 400 followers who love them." You can even include a link to the blog. One link is usually acceptable in a blog comment.

Every rule has an exception and if you're it, let people know.

You can even say something like, "I'm glad you say it's okay to be a slow writer. It took me 23 years to write Love is a Cat from Hell but I finally launched it last week." Don't put in a link to a retail buy page, but a mention of your book is fine.

Or start a discussion with other commenters with something like, "I love what ScribblerSally said about Maine Coon cats in her comment."

This can bring the added perk that ScribblerSally might click on your name to find out more about you and your cat. If the blog has the right comment program (yes, we're working on it) and you've joined Gravatar or have the old Google Plus, that will take her to a profile with an address for your blog and an email address. Then Sally may follow your blog or even buy your book.

You can also say, "I've quoted this post on my blog today and we're having a lively discussion."

The most useful comments add something to your"authority." Remember what Jane Friedman said in her definition of platform. So if you can say stuff like, "I was in law enforcement for 20 years and this is what really happens when somebody reports a missing cat..." Or "I'm a health practitioner who also writes cat haiku and I have proof that cat poetry has healing properties."

An added perk comes when that little fragment of text comes up in the Google search of your name. It will show your name and "I was in law enforcement for 20 years..." or "I'm a health practitioner..."

This is a huge help to agents, reviewers, and other people who are trying to find out if you're a reliable person they want to work with.

A good blog comment can be anything from 10 to 300 words. I wouldn't go much longer. If you feel the need to go on and on, you probably have a blogpost of your own there.
Other than that, almost anything goes in a blog comment, with a few caveats:

1) Don't spam.

Bringing up your book when it isn't relevant to the discussion is spamming. Ditto links to your website or buy pages if they don't illustrate a relevant point. Begging people to read your blog is spammy, too.

2) Don't be a troll.

Saying insulting things about the blogger or other commenters, or using language that's inappropriate will get you deleted. Ditto political diatribes or religious screeds. Be professional and polite.

3) Read the other comments.

Sometimes there are 100s, so you'll probably only be able to skim them, but do be aware of what other people are saying so you don't repeat what somebody else has said. Comments are meant for discussion, so remember you're talking to everybody who's reading and commenting, not just the host blogger.

4) Don't use emotional blackmail.

Don't say, "I just followed this blog, so now you have to follow my five blogs, like my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter and get me a double decaf latte while you pick up my dry cleaning." If you demand any kind of quid pro quo for a comment or a follow, you'll look like a doofus to the whole community. Remember everybody who reads the blogpost will see your comment.

5) Don't whine.

Dissing Amazon, agents, the publishing business, or trash-talking a bestselling author will generally not work in your favor. Ditto complaining about how nobody reads your blog. Getting your blog noticed by search engines involves many factors: SEO, tech savvy, Tweetable headlines, and original, general-interest content. Nobody owes you readership.

Besides, every author does not need a high profile blog. You simply need a place where fans can find you. High profile blogs have their disadvantages. Like pirates hijack your content and try to steal your traffic by rewriting links to your blog, which keeps happening to us.

That's why I've started a cozy little blog for The Camilla Randall Mysteries. It's a fun blog for readers who may not be writers. 

6) Don't expect high profile bloggers to follow you back or critique your blog.

This isn't because they're snotty. But as I mentioned above, even bloggers only have 24 hours in our days. Most bloggers work for free, so we have to spend some of those hours doing stuff that pays.

How To Find Blogs Where a Comment Will be Noticed

To find the big blogs in the publishing industry, just go around to a few writers' blogs. Many will have a "blogroll" in the sidebar.

On our "resources" page, you'll find a list of blogs I recommend. But don't feel you have to read them all. Subscribe to a handful and drop in on others when you see them mentioned elsewhere. Reading blogs can become a time-suck and writing your WIP has to be your #1 priority, always.

Followers. Blogs that have more than 500 followers have probably been around a while, so the search engines will have found them. Unfortunately, the new Blogger blogs don't list blog followers. They only list Google Plus connections, which is pretty irrelevant. My new blog says I have almost 4000 followers, but only 27 people read it yesterday.

Comments. Blogs with a lot of comments are probably being read by many people, since less than 2% of readers comment.

But often top blogs don't get many comments. Joel Friedlander's and Jane Friedman's don't, but they're a great place for Google to find you.

Check out the blog with Alexa. It's the most-used website ranking system worldwide. Just copy the url (web address) for any website and paste it in their search window.

Or you can download an icon for your own toolbar (go to "toolbar" on the Alexa site and choose the one for your operating system.) It takes seconds to install, and then you can click on it to automatically see the ranking of any website you visit. Also, if you have the Alexa icon on your toolbar, your own site will rise in the Alexa ratings more quickly, because they'll know you're there.

Alexa lists the top 10 websites in the world as #1 Google, #2 Facebook, #3 You Tube, #4 Baidu (the Chinese language search engine) #5 Yahoo, #6 Amazon, #7 Wikipedia #8 Qq (another Chinese site), #9 Twitter, #10 Google India (no I didn't know India had its own Google either.)

A blog with an Alexa rating of 900K or less is getting a lot of readers, since there are billions of websites. (Alexa measures all websites, not just blogs.)

But don't just comment on the biggest blogs! Comment on the blogs that interest you. Comment on your favorite author's blog. Comment on cat blogs. Or food blogs. (But avoid the snark-infested waters of political blogs unless you're using a pseudonym.) Alexa ratings rise and fall, but your comment is forever. It may be picked up years from now by some search engine that hasn't even been invented yet

And be aware that a smaller blog with an engaged audience can be much more useful to you in the long run.

For more info on how to research blogs, check out this great post from Brian Dean at Boost Blog Traffic.

Commenting on blogs is also a great way to make friends. And in the end, that's what a platform REALLY is: how many people feel they "know" you well enough to want to buy one of your books.

Posted by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) January 17, 2016

Anne R. Allen is the author of ten books, including the bestselling CAMILLA RANDALL MYSTERIES and HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE, co-written with NYT bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde.

What about you, scriveners? Are you out there lurking, not knowing how to comment on a blog? Does this help? Does anybody remember when they made their first blog comment? Was it scary? How did you learn the basics of blogging? What writing blogs are on your "must-read" list?


No Place Like Home

Available at all the Amazons and NOOK, Page Foundry, Kobo and iTunes It's also available in paperback from Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Barnes and Noble, in regular and LARGE PRINT. LARGE PRINT is also available at Barnes and Noble.

It's also available in an audiobook, narrated by Anne and award-winning narrator, C.S. Perryess. You can find it at Audible and iTunes UK. It's also available at iTunes US
"A warp-speed, lighthearted comedy-mystery"...Abigail Padgett
"A fun, charming novel about the rich and less so" ...Karen Doering
"A cross of dry British humor and American wackiness, and it all adds up to a fun read." ...Deborah Bayles.
"It's comedy about a dark topic – homelessness – and it succeeds without ever descending into tasteless insensitivity, or tipping over into sentimentality."...Lucinda Elliot

Narrated by award-winner C. S. Perryess and Anne R. Allen (as Camilla)
Set in San Luis Obispo. Great for that morning commute...

Nearly 8 hours of hilarious entertainment!Only $1.99 if you buy the Kindle ebook--that's three bucks for both!
Available at Audible and iTunes

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