Author Platform: Don’t jump from it. I promise it will be okay.

With the exception of a rejection letter, it seems there is little else that strikes as much fear in the hearts of fiction writers as marketing themselves. I, too, share this phobia. In college I was originally a marketing major. Then I remembered I was an introvert.

One of the things I adore about being a writer is that I can lock myself in a room for hours surrounded by complete silence. I had envisioned occasionally emerging from my writing cave to get something published, maybe do a book tour, and that was it. Wrong. Can I just take a moment here to say I was getting really tired of being wrong?

New mantra: research first, write second. Say it with me now!

To say that the world of publishing has changed a lot in the last ten years is a drastic understatement. It’s along the same lines of Monty Python’s Black Knight insisting that his loss of several limbs is “Only a flesh wound!” (See it here.) Authors are expected to market themselves, period. They do this by establishing what the industry calls a platform.

There are a number of definitions floating around out there for platform, but simply put, it’s about growing your audience. Former publisher of Writer’s Digest Jane Friedman has a great summary article on platform. She emphasizes that it’s not just about begging people to like you on social media. It’s about being authentic and producing quality work.

To be fair, unlike not knowing how to write well or not knowing your market, you do not absolutely have to start working on platform before you start writing (unless you’re writing non-fiction). However, every time I ask someone when is the best time to start working on platform, the answer always is, “Yesterday.”

Platform is easily the trickiest part of getting published that I have had to face thus far. It just seems like such an overwhelming task. Hiding under the covers with my cat and chocolate ice cream really is the only way of coping. I can’t do the Twitter! Insert hysterical sobbing noises here.

carolina disgust

What’s a girl to do? First of all, I told myself to get a grip and stop scaring the cat. Then I did what I always do. I read. Christina Katz has written a very helpful how-to book called Get Known Before the Book Deal. It skews very heavily toward non-fiction writers, but there’s still a lot of great advice that can be transferred to those of us in fiction, too. I found, an amazing website dedicated to teaching authors how to grow their platform, blog, use social media effectively, and create websites. I’m also slowly making my way through the encyclopedia that is CopyBlogger.

I started a blog.  I now have a Twitter account. I announced both steps on Facebook. I’m going to an event at my local bookstore tonight. I broke out in hives. Just kidding! I survived. You will, too. I promise.

Up Next:  Traditional vs. Self Publishing, or, Playing Emotional Ping Pong

Publishing First Steps: Finding Your Market or Lack Thereof

In a post last week, I mentioned that when I decided to start writing a novel, I made the rookie mistake of beginning the process by writing. One of the key steps I failed to take was researching which publishing market would want to buy what I was creating. I didn’t really see why it mattered. I just needed to write a great book with an intriguing premise and compelling characters. After that was done, then I’d do some research and send it off to the publishing houses most likely to be interested. Again, this seemed completely reasonable.

Note to self:  Do not assume anything in the publishing world is reasonable or logical. Assume you know nothing.

So what did I do that was so horrible? I made my heroine nineteen. Those of you who know about publishing are probably already gasping and clutching your chests. For the rest of you, who like me did not know about this huge faux pas, let me explain.

I love young adult fantasy, so I was aiming to write for that genre. However, I didn’t want to have to mess with my character going to high school. I could have solved this problem a la Vampire Dairies (the TV show, not the books) by having my characters simply never go to school. Seriously, how have they not all been expelled for truancy? They only show up for school dances.   I don’t mind that the teenagers in the show never go to school, since nothing interesting ever happens to them in history class anyway.

vampire diaries class

Still, this solution for the high school problem seemed like cheating to me, so I instead I made my main character a few measly years older. No biggie.

Wrong.  The young adult genre is one of the best for letting its authors take risks. There aren’t many hard and fast rules, but there is one:  your characters have to be between the ages of 12 to 18. When I finally stumbled upon this rule, I did not want to accept it.

But what about all the crossover success of Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter? I had just read an article about how 55% of young adult books were now being bought by adults.  Surely that huge adult audience of young adult fiction would not care that my protagonist was nineteen. In fact, they probably don’t, but YA publishers care a lot. Just because adults are reading them now doesn’t mean the 12 to 18 rule has changed.

I was discouraged, but not defeated. Okay, so YA wouldn’t want me anymore.  I’d just head over to the adult fantasy market. Not so fast. Publishers of adult fiction don’t want to read about nineteen-year-olds, either. I had stepped into a no man’s land that I didn’t know existed. Books are not written about characters in their early twenties. I dare you—try to think of one single book you’ve read where the characters were in their college years. If you think of any, leave a comment (button is to the left near the blog title), because I’d love to read it. I could only think of one: Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.

Only one option seemed to be available to me; namely, have a good cry and eat some chocolate. Thankfully, before I picked up the Kleenex and Edy’s Double Fudge Brownie, my stubbornness kicked in, and I did one last search for a market for my book. What I found was the emerging market called New Adult.

New Adult targets readers ages 18 to 30, appealing to both older teens and adults. The characters in New Adult usually face more mature challenges than in YA books. For a full description for the difference between New Adult and Young Adult, Writer’s Relief has an excellent write up.

So problem solved, right? Not quite. New Adult is so new that Publishers are still a little wary. So far the genre exists almost entirely in self publishing. Book sellers aren’t even sure where to shelve the books that are being published. Also, New Adult is currently almost entirely contemporary romance, with very little subgenre breakouts. While there is romance in my book, it’s first and foremost a fantasy novel. Perhaps the worst part is New Adult’s awful nickname, “YA with porn.” Ick.  That doesn’t seem like the best tagline for a genre trying to gain respect in the industry, although I’m sure someone other than the NA authors themselves saddled them with that label.

I haven’t given up, and I’m trying to explore New Adult more, as well as other options in adult fantasy fiction. However, much like exploring how to write better, this is a lesson I wish I had learned before I started writing. Would I have made my heroine 17 instead of 19? Maybe. At least I would have known I had an uphill battle ahead of me.

Research your potential market. Find out its rules and preferences. If you know of other such industry no-no’s, share your wisdom in the comments section.

Next Up:  Establishing Your Platform, or, When I Gave in and Reached for the Kleenex and Edy’s Double Fudge Brownie

Writing and Publishing: Where Do I Start?

I wanted to write a novel, so to begin, I wrote a novel.  I thought this made a terrific amount of sense.  Turns out, this might not have been the best first step.  In retrospect, I think it maybe should have been number four.  So what should have come first?

Learn How to Not Write Bad

I wish I had read more on how to write well.  I had two college degrees, could construct complete sentences, and read a lot.  In my mind, that was all I needed to be off and running.  Perhaps if I hadn’t had an idea for plot or characters, I might have slowed down enough to consult some writing guides or gone to a conference or two. 

It wasn’t until I began the process of editing that I bothered to do any research on the craft of writing.  This isn’t to say that my first draft was worthless.  Still, I could have saved myself a lot of revision time if I had just known beforehand simple rules like using “all right” not “alright.”  That correction might just take a minute or two with a find and replace command, but there were other errors that weren’t as quick fixes.  For example, I had incorrectly used the subjunctive case repeatedly.  What’s the subjunctive case you ask?  Yeah, I didn’t know either, and that was part of the problem. 


This is my current stack of reading.  Not only have I learned how to avoid common grammatical pitfalls, but I have gleaned a lot of wonderful advice on how to make my writing more precise, detailed, and clear.   As I make my way through all of them, I’ll be adding the helpful ones to a resources page on the blog.  For right now, if you only read one book, make it Ben Yagoda’s How to Not Write Bad.

Yagoda is a professor at the University of Delaware, and the book came out of the mistakes he observed students making over and over in his twenty years of teaching writing.  I am a notorious cheapskate when it comes to buying books.  Why do libraries exist if not for taxpayers to subsidize my book addiction?  After reading Yagoda’s book, however, I immediately bought a copy.  It’s a reference you’ll return to over and over.  He also has a helpful website.

Up Next:  Discover Your Market or How I Discovered I Wrote a Novel for a Nearly Nonexistent Market.  Oops.

In Progress

I have not arrived.  Neither have most people I know.  It is not their stories that I hear, however, but those of experts who already have everything figured out.  There is certainly wisdom to that logic.  As someone who had the misfortune of getting a resident (doctor in progress) on an emergency room visit that went comically wrong, I understand why expertise is important.

There is a danger to only telling the stories of those who have made it, though.  We lose the voices of those still slogging through, still trying to figure things out.  By the time the expert goes back to write about the process they have conquered, they are no longer experiencing the frustration, fear, or elation that was so real to them in the moment.

I am a novelist who has just started trying to navigate the publishing world.  As I figure it out, I’ll keep you updated, but not just about what went right.  I’ll tell you what went horribly wrong, too, so you can avoid making my mistakes.  I hope to not just share technical details, though, but help you get a sense of what life in progress as a writer feels like.

Part of what I find so powerful about fiction is finding yourself in the world the author has created.  A character most resonates with me when I’ve felt what they are feeling.  I have made it very easy to leave comments on this blog because I want readers to be able to engage with me.  Was a post encouraging or helpful?  Tell me.  Was it confusing gibberish?  Tell me that, too.  Have a question?  Ask it.