Tonight I'm giving a lecture (with Brian Keaney - it's one of our double-acts) on living as a professional writer. I'm not going to tell you what we'll say, partly because we don't know until we plan it over a coffee at 5pm and partly because the students might not come if they can read it all in advance. But what we won't be doing is insisting that it's vital to have a platform to succeed as a writer.
No one seems to have any idea whether a platform - as in a regular blog, twittering away, a Facebook author page and all that shiz - makes any difference to book sales. It's a general assumption that it's vital if you are marketing self-e-published books. After all, how else are you going to get any publicity? But for mainstream publishing? Publishers like us to do it, but unless you already have a significant following, does it make much difference? It's an impossible question to answer, of course, because there's no control: we can't compare sales of book A with and without the author's platform.
I have a Facebook author page but pay relatively little attention to it. I comment on new books, occasionally on books in progress, occasionally on reviews or mentions. I can't really imagine anyone is interested. I have never asked all my friends to like it. That seems to me both rude and pointless. I wouldn't go up to someone (except a very close friend who would give an honest opinion) and say 'do I like nice in this?' or 'do you like me?' So why would I do it online?
And I have a blog, obviously. But this blog doesn't identify me. OK, it's not hard to work out who I am. It used to be a lot more secret than it is now. But when one of my editors identified me from the writing style alone, I gave up on the pretence that it's actually anonymous. Besides, this blog doesn't promote my books. Occasionally, I even anti-promote them. I once suggested people did NOT buy my books unless they had actually checked that they wanted them, as I thought the Amazon write-up missed out crucial information and I don't want people to be disappointed. (The books in question were short.)
If anything, this blog reduces my income. At least one publisher has said he'd never consider publishing someone who called themselves Stroppy Author. I can't decide whether to rise to the challenge and try to sneak a book to him or whether to say 'I wouldn't want to be published by someone so cowardly and insecure.' But actually, he's a very fine publisher, so probably the former. And I have argued with publishers more than once about things I've posted here (not recently, but it happens). Publishers like an author to have a platform, but they don't like it to be built on their own books. It's a sort of virtual NIMBYism. That all makes my platform a negative platform - more like standing in a hole in the ground.
Does it affect sales? Who knows? My best-selling book has sold over 350,000 copies. I have never mentioned it on this blog. I don't think the two are connected (though maybe if it's a negative platform, they are!) I think, rather, that it's a popular sort of book that will always sell. And some others are not. And no amount of shouting about them will make people suddenly want them. So I don't. I hate shouty things anyway. I can just about cope with being publicly facetious in text but I always turn down requests for radio or TV. To my shame, I didn't even return the call to the last TV person who wanted to talk to me.
So I'm not really qualified to talk about platform. As I said at the Society of Authors the other day, I have a kind of e-agoraphobia - fear of the virtual market place. Perhaps I would be a mega-bestselling author with lots of money if I didn't. But then again - I think I'd just have pissed off more people. Even more people.
But to the point. When new, young writers ask how they should be building their platform, my answer is 'You shouldn't. You should be writing decent books.' Or, as Nicola Morgan puts it, Write the damn book. No one likes to look up to a platform, anyway. We all prefer to peer down into a hole. I'll be in there.
Please, all you pro-platform people, put your case so that my students can get a balanced view!
Nicola - please add a link to your stuff on platform as I can't find it!