What are the three most important things you are doing to grow your platform?
You know, the word "platforming" has all of these negative connotations in my mind because it always makes me think of video games. You know, Donkey Kong or Crash Bandicoot -- jumping, climbing, dodging, evading. Platformers aren't quite as popular as they used to be, but they still exist.
Like Alice: The Madness Returns? That's definitely a platformer. Much moreso than the original version, which I think is why I set down Madness Returns halfway through and haven't come back to it yet. I mean, the original did have some platforming elements, like the Vale of Tears, but it was much more centered around boss battles, which is how I prefer my games. I hate having to run through the same challenges over and over again until I memorize all the threats before I can even get anywhere. When I play platform games, there's usually lots of cursing and frustration involved.
Anyway, I digress. Writer's platforms have much less jumping and climbing, and you don't need nearly as much hand-eye coordination. There's still ample amounts of cursing and frustration, though, so it definitely has that in common ;)
The good thing about being a fiction writer is that you don't technically need a platform. You can sell youf writing on its own merit without needing to be an "expert" or anything. The bad part is that's not actually true, and it's less and less true these days. The responsibility of marketing is resting more and more on the shoulders of the people writing books rather than on the publishers. Whether you're self-published, traditionally published, big house, small house...you're stuck having to sell yourself. So you may as well get used to it.
I'm still wading in that particular pond. It's a fine line to walk. If you have no product to sell, you don't want to go nuts marketing yourself -- you'll just end up with a bunch of frustrated buyers. It's like running a commercial for a store that's not open yet. You can get by with that a few weeks or months before the shop opens, but if you're running ads before you even have funding, by the time the store opens all your shoppers will go somewhere else.
On the other hand, you can't wait too long. If your book's already on the shelves, it's too late. By the time you get your act together, you're already old news and book stores are sending back books. This whole marketing business is an on-going, time-consuming process.
Now, I say all of this as though I know what I'm talking about. Honestly, I've just read a bunch of things from more experienced, smarter writers than myself who seem to know what they're doing.
But I do know a thing or two about networking, and at the end of the day I think that networking and marketing are essentially the same thing, just on different scales. It all comes down to meeting people, communicating with people. Making friends. And while I never really considered myself that good at making friends, I'm surprisingly good at networking.
I discovered this when I started rescuing rats. I started super small -- just answering ads on Craigslist -- but after awhile I started joining mailing lists, forums, talking to rescues, etc. Pretty soon I was the most well-connected person in the rat-rescuing field in the whole state. I won't tell the whole story, (because it's my favorite story and it's really really long) but I ended up using my networking abilities to find homes for 42 rats in four states and two countries, all from my living room.
I have to use networking skills daily. That's one thing nobody warned me about being a freelance writer: you are ALWAYS looking for more work. Every day you're answering ads, applying for gigs, cold-calling potential clients, sending query letters. Sometimes all of it ends up nowhere, but sometimes you end up with shockingly good connections.
For example, someone I met through the rat rescue hooked me up with the writing gig that enabled me to quit my full-time job. A post at a writer's forum led me to a pretty sweet video game writing gig. Entering a query contest gave me contacts with several other awesome writers. I randomly emailed someone whose blog I followed out of the blue and now we're Facebook friends.
No matter what you're doing to build your platform, I think it's important to remember that there's people -- real people -- out there that you're ultimately just trying to connect with. Stop thinking for a second about selling books or getting famous and just think about it in terms of meeting people and making friends. You never know where it might lead.
** Blog post drinking game: Take a shot every time I mix metaphors in this post. Take two shots whenever I wander off topic completely.