"Platform" Doesn't Have to Be a Four-Letter Word

When I set out to write my first book, a humor memoir, I thought that writing the book would be the biggest hurdle on my inevitable ascent to the bestseller list. Then I started querying. I spent all of 2010 engaged in this most humbling of pursuits. Several agents requested a partial or the whole manuscript, but only one explained why I was receiving rejections: Nobody knew who in the hell I was. I had no platform.
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When I set out to write my first book, a humor memoir, I thought that writing the book would be the biggest hurdle on my inevitable ascent to the bestseller list.

Then I started querying...

I spent all of 2010 engaged in this most humbling of pursuits. Several agents requested a partial or the whole manuscript, but only one explained why I was receiving rejections: Nobody knew who in the hell Ted Fox was.

(The term "platform" defined -- learn how to sell more books.)

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This guest column by Ted Fox, who is represented by Janet Reid of New Leaf Literary
(formerly of FinePrint Literary Management). He tweets as @AuthorTedFox, and
his website is tedfoxisawesome.com. Ted's latest book is the humorous
YOU KNOW WHO'S AWESOME? (NOT YOU.), an Adams
Media release
in June 2012.

I’m paraphrasing, of course; she was much nicer about it—so nice, in fact, that we struck up a friendship over e-mail, and four months later, she offered me representation. But it wasn’t for that book I had now spent almost five years writing, editing, and querying.

No, market realities hadn’t changed, so what she suggested was that we work around my anonymity by going the novelty humor book route, where the execution of the hook matters more than the name of the author. Thus, You Know Who’s Awesome? (Not You.) was born, first as a Twitter feed and then as a book, published earlier this year by Adams Media.

I had done it: my first book—and a hardcover one at that—on the shelves, in Barnes & Nobles. It’s crazy. I could go there right now and just stare at it. Not that I ever do or anything.

But you know what? A Twitter feed for Angelina Jolie’s right leg still has approximately 130 times as many followers as @AuthorTedFox. If you’re scoring at home, that’s 41,900 to just over 300.

(When building your writer platform and online media, how much growth is enough?)

As a human being, I couldn’t care less. In fact, the idea of fame, even non-Stephen-King-level-author fame, kind of freaks me out. But as a human being who aspires to publish not only gift books but also “book” books, I can’t afford to don the online equivalent of Harry’s invisibility cloak, particularly because I work in nonfiction.

My current agent (my first has gone back to focusing on her own writing full-time) has given me a couple of valuable guidelines as I strive to overcome this.

Brand your name. First, the audience for the themed Twitter feed that led to You Know Who’s Awesome? was also modest, so she asked me to focus my efforts going forward on @AuthorTedFox since it bears my name.

Tag team with others. Second, as outlandishly hilarious as she thinks I am—again, paraphrasing—she suggested I find ways to highlight the work of others, the idea being that these folks and then hopefully their own readers would come check out my stuff.

That brings me to today, knee deep in a platform-building experiment, one where it’s difficult to even measure success considering someone with a large Twitter following may just have access to his mom’s credit card.

Assuming we can all agree that buying followers is the very definition of “shady,” not to mention a risky game to play with publishers, what’s our best option? My strategy—and please bear in mind it’s the strategy of a man who has increased his Twitter audience by more than 50 percent in the last two months and yet just recently got them to outnumber the Gerard Butler-led Spartans—is simple:

If we need to build platform, we might as well at least have fun along the way.

I’m happy when I can make people laugh on a one-on-one basis out in the real world, so I’ve transferred that over to the Twitter-verse, seeking out tweets I can and want to respond to.

I tweeted an offer, when I knew a number of my readers would be online, to write something resembling a haiku for every new follower they helped me get. I ended up writing around 40 and picking up 25 followers over the course of four oddly enjoyable hours.

(Literary terms defined -- the uncommon and common.)

Have a plan. And with my agent’s words still fresh in my ears, I decided to dedicate the blog on my website to an “Internet Win of the Day” Monday–Thursday, providing me with the opportunity to publish and then tweet about finds I think are awesome for real. On Fridays, I revisit my past in broadcasting and “interview” someone interesting in 50 words or less. Bonus: These two features allow me to update my blog five days a week while reducing the amount of creative heavy-lifting I have to do.

I trust that none of what I’ve said here has rocked your social media world. I’m not a Web guru; I’m a writer, just like many of you, and the only thing I know for sure is that there are no surefire tactics or (legitimate) shortcuts when it comes to building a platform.

In this sense, it’s a lot like the process we go through for our writing—which I think means it can’t be all bad.

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Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more.
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