What I Did and What I Didn’t–Author Platforms or Discoverability?

I know I’m vertically challenged at 5’1, but do I really need a platform?

According to this article from Writer’s Digest, a writer’s platform isn’t something to stand on at all, but rather refers to your ability to sell books through who you are, the personal and professional connections you have, and media outlets. If you’re an author today, you know perfectly well what author platform means, and if you’re anything like me you’ve been scratching your head about how to most effectively create one.

For some time now I’ve wondered what my platform is, or, more accurately, if I even have one. In 2011, when I began reading about book marketing, the general opinion was that an author platform was built on an altar of expertise. “Have a specialty” or “Become an expert” was the battle cry. It sounds simple enough, but become an expert in what? Underwater basket weaving? Chinese silk embroidery? Occasionally, I pretend to know a thing or two about writing, but writing is like blogging—there are no experts. Some people may be expert in forming and sharing their opinions about writing, but that’s all they are—opinions. When I’m writing about writing, I’m sharing my experiences and observations, that’s all. I’m not privy to any code that will unlock the secrets of the creative universe, and neither is anyone else. The hardest part of teaching writing or writing about writing is knowing that each writer has to find his or her own way. We can gather tips and quips from as many writers as we like, but at the end of the day it’s up to us to sit our bottoms in the chair and put our fingers to the keyboard (or pen) and figure out how we want to string words together.

Historical fiction is what I’m most known for, and I’ve been the executive editor of The Copperfield Review, a literary journal for readers and writers of historical fiction, for 13 years now, so any platform I have would include historical fiction, right? But even that never felt entirely right because I don’t write in one genre. My first three novels fell neatly into the historical fiction category (with different subcategories), but the Loving Husband Trilogy is harder to place. It has an historical fiction aspect with the background of the Salem Witch Trials in 1692, but there’s the modern story in present-day Salem too. The vampires and witches mean that the Loving Husband Trilogy is most commonly categorized as paranormal, though many of James and Sarah’s biggest fans are those who start their reviews with “I’m not usually into vampire books but…” The novel I’m currently dreaming up is completely present day and so off-topic from any other story I’ve written that even I can’t believe I’ve come up with the idea. Does that mean my platform goes away and no one will know who I am anymore? Will I have to wear a “Hello, my name is…” tag while I’m writing?

Recently, I saw this article from Dan Blank about one of the newer buzzwords in book marketing: discoverability. Discoverability means that readers can find your books. Blank argues that focusing on book discoverability is incorrect; instead, the focus should be on reader discoverability since readers are the ones who might buy your book if they know about it. Whether you call it book discoverability, author discoverability, or reader discoverability, I like the idea of discoverability better than author platforms, and I’m not the only one. I’ve read comments from other authors who balk at the idea of platforms, not from a fear of heights, but from the knowledge that there are only so many hours in the day, and if we’re writers then don’t we need time to write? How much time do we need to put into establishing ourselves as experts, and at what point are we considered experts anyway? The thought of building an author platform intimidated me, and though I plugged away at creating a social media presence, I was never sure how successful I was at building a platform. Eventually I gave up on the idea of building an author platform because I realized I was spending all my time reading about platforms and not getting any writing done.

For me, there’s less pressure with the idea of discoverability. Maybe it’s a matter of semantics, the difference between author platform and discoverability. Maybe they really are the same thing but for whatever reason discoverability is a friendlier sounding word to me. I don’t have to shout from the highest mountain top to proclaim myself an expert. I don’t have to worry about staying on message or selecting a specialty. I don’t have to limit my platform to historical fiction. I need to be discoverable, and I’ve been working toward that, little by little, one step at a time. I’m no longer concerned about building a platform. I’m making myself, and my books, discoverable by putting us out there whenever, however I can.

I’m here! Did you know that? Now you do.

2 thoughts on “What I Did and What I Didn’t–Author Platforms or Discoverability?

  1. I like the concept of discoverability too. The thing that appeals to me about it is that it be spun as mutual discoverability. Writers and readers discover each other, and both gain from the relationship. At least, I hope that’s how it works. (BTW, off topic, but I’m vertically challenged too. I started out at 5’1-7/8″, but I think I’ve lost a bit along the way.)

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