Hey, Writers, Stop Building Your Online Platform NOW

Apples - Stop Building an Online Platform

Writers must stand out from the crowd. Many choose to build an online platform to find readers.

Why must you stop building your online platform now? You need to write, damn it.

Years ago, I went to see one of my favorite authors, Paul Theroux, read at a Barnes & Noble in New York City’s Union Square. He was middle-aged and accomplished already and, during his talk, bemoaned the changed status of the writer. Back in the 1960s, he quipped, the writer was a strange, anonymous figure known only by a somewhat rumpled and perhaps cantankerous-seeming photograph on the back of the book jacket. Now, he pointed out in a tired voice, writers need to get out there, be visible, give readings and talks, and generally have a public presence.

The Times They Are A’Changing

This was in 1998: an age well before social networking. The Internet had only been around a short time, at least to the general public, and today’s flourishing culture of online connectivity was still years in the future. (And judging by his frugal and not-quite-user-friendly website, one guesses Theroux just can’t bring himself to adapt to today’s times).

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So now, beyond anything Theroux criticized way back in the late 20th century, the expectations of writers are even more unforgiving and, as he might grumble, unreasonable. More and more, literary agents may be factoring into the attractiveness of potential writer clients their success or not of successfully building an online platform.

Do you have a website? Are you active on social networks? Do you have a blog? Answer these questions three.

These expectations take a significant amount of time and effort to fulfill. First of all, writers tend to be storytelling types, not technology types. Now writers must learn how to develop skills for a series of online tools. WordPress, anyone? Care to purchase server space and a domain name from GoDaddy.com? You must also, by the way, learn how to market yourself in both the online and offline world. (In this area, incidentally, I may be blessed as my day job is in marketing. But I doubt this is the case for most other writers).

And you’d better hope your marketing is sufficiently attractive to engage a broad and potential audience of readers in an increasingly competitive environment. The world of writers would seem to be even more thankless now than ever before.

With all these obligations, then, when do writers find time to write anymore?

So What’s This About An Online Platform?

The fact that I was facing this new publishing environment came shortly after I finished writing my novel, Billy Maddox Takes His Shot, and began seeking agency representation. As I sought out agents, and read articles and blog posts on strategies to attract them, I kept coming up across this recommendation: build an online platform.

For a while, that advice was just something I tucked in the back of my mind. I didn’t act on it immediately. But I was getting exasperated. I was getting so caught up in the business side of publishing–that is, trying to find an agent–that I wasn’t writing anymore.

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My friend and fellow writer, Beth Christopher, suggested I go easy on myself and write something new. So I did. I’ve always been a fan of horror fiction and horror films, and I had been carrying this image around in my head for a long time of skeletal creatures storming a castle wall, scaling the battlements and slaughtering a line of sentries set to stand guard. I wasn’t sure what they were guarding against but I sat down and wrote The Curse of Jaxx, a horror novella over the period of about two months.

I just self-published The Curse of Jaxx on Amazon.com as an e-book.

So that was good and I figured I had scored a victory. Even though I was seeking agency representation, I still could write. I could still do what I ENJOYED.

Fine…I’ll Do It!

And yet, the advice to build an online platform kept nagging me. The marketer in me knew that so much more of everything was happening online. And while I might take selfish satisfaction from the fact that I had gone around the humiliating process of pitching my story left and right and had published my novella on Amazon, writing Billy Maddox Takes His Shot required significant research and sweat equity. THAT was the book that really needed to get out there, and I wasn’t about to self-publish that.

Which led to the inevitable: it was time to start a blog. And so over the past few months, since late 2013 in fact, everything has been a blur of content creation, social networking, worrying about search engine optimization, checking out reader stats, finding and following influencers within the online writing community, and learning ever more about WordPress than I ever cared to.

Time Keeps Slipping Into the Future

A few paragraphs ago, I alluded to my professional background as a marketer as a kind of blessing, since it meant I might have likely developed certain instincts regarding promotion that it will take non-marketer writers more time to develop. It might take me less time to reach out and engage audiences of readers.

But the flip side of the coin–there often is one, right?–is that it becomes just a tad easier for the marketing wheels in my head to keep spinning even when I want them to just stop!

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So while I might say to myself at any time, I will just work on my online platform a few more days and get back to the writing, the reality is that the more marketing I do, the easier it is to just keep considering new opportunities. Hey, what about this new strategy to engage readers on Twitter? I also need to consider the importance of guest blogging. Hm, commenting on other blogs seems to be increasing the readership of The Write Place, so maybe I should do more of that.

I was recently told that the pinnacle of genius lies somewhere between the mid-30s and mid-40s. I don’t know how true that is. Malcolm Gladwell would know, I suppose, so maybe I should ask him?!

I happen to be 41 years old. You can also say I’ve written either two or three novels–Journeying Away, my first novel. A version of Billy Maddox that I finished in 2006. The current version of Billy Maddox, which was a significant rewrite of the first.

I feel stronger with my writing now than ever before. I understand scene, setting, character arc, plot development, suspense and a million different other components of writing that even five years ago were likely weaknesses.

And if an online platform is meant to be the foundation for my writing, I need to figure out: where is my current writing and what have I done since Billy Maddox? Aside from the Curse of Jaxx and another barely started horror novella, Under the Sea, not much at all.

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At such moments, when I feel it’s time to just drop all this online platform building so that I may not just write but also take advantage of the golden years of genius, I then stop to consider other writers who despise marketing and just want to write. Ha-ha, the deep, dark, haughty marketer inside me wants to say, who will see their writing in the long term? You won’t be like that, oh no!

Nevertheless, that voice ends up unconvincing. At the end of the day, one of the hardest truths a writer must face is that what they do has nothing to do with public accolades, status or reputation. In some ways, it doesn’t even have to do with readers!

The simple truth is that writing is an act of self-expression, the indefatigable statements of individuals who believe value exists in an indifferent world. I am here. I exist. This is what I have to say. Most writers (including myself, most times) can’t extricate themselves from the public exercise of writing: an act of finding people to read our words to great acclaim.

We all know the world is full of fame, celebrities, wealth, accomplishment. It is everywhere and it is sought everywhere. But the core of writing has nothing to do with any of this. Nothing of true value is a trinket or a bauble. Writing is a rose growing out of the hard pan.

So stop. Stop building your online platform for at least a month, a week, or a day. Your optimized website may slip a little; the number of your blog readers may take a shallow downward turn. People may wonder if you lost your dedication and commitment.

But no, the truth is that you have found your commitment. You are a writer and writing is what you do. You can always go back to building your online platform next month, next week, tomorrow.

Probably, if I had to admit it, I would say Paul Theroux was right. Writers should just stay home and stay off the social networks. All they need to do is write.

At least for now…

About Joe Kovacs

I write literary fiction and am currently pursuing literary representation for my novel, Billy Maddox Takes His Shot, which is about a young Border Patrol agent in southern Arizona. Subscribe to The Write Place Blog by submitting your email address in the box in the right column of this page.
This entry was posted in Billy Maddox Takes His Shot, Literary agents, Writers and Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hey, Writers, Stop Building Your Online Platform NOW

  1. Ar Braun says:

    I am one of the authors who hate having to do social media. Before the Internet, those were the days. I just want to write. Lucky for me, when I started I had a computer without Internet, and I wrote, wrote, wrote. That’s the number one thing a writer has to spend his time on, obviously. One does meet good people online, but also some psychos.

    And why wouldn’t you want to self-publish your novel if all the agents reject it? Ania Ahlborn self-pubbed her debut novel, Seed, and outsold Stephen King on the Amazon horror sales list. A lot of times, agents reject good novels because they don’t think they can sell them, and they end up getting proved wrong.

    BTW, according to Janet Reid, the agent who writes the Query Shark blog, only non-fiction authors need a platform. But I know what you mean. We have to have an online presence.

    Let me know if you want to guest blog on my blog and me on yours.

    • Joe Kovacs says:

      Thanks for the comment. I had no idea about that Ania Ahlborn stat. I think it would be great if someone put together a blog post of the top 10 or 15 books that were initially rejected by agents and then found future success, especially if that success came from self-publication. Two that pop into mind are James Redfield’s Celestine Prophecy and Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle. Both were self-published, I believe, then found significant success and were picked up by traditional publishers. The guest posting option sounds good; I’ll email you to discuss.


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