Enjoy your author platform

In the final email, I sent out to newsletter subscribers last year, I shared how difficult I’ve found it to build an audience online.

I’m not writing about this problem here as a way to gain sympathy or vent, but because all writers (tradition, indie, and unpublished) are heavily encouraged to build and maintain an active online presence.

Like many creatives, or at least those who have read Cal Newport’s books or watched The Social Dilemma, my own relationship to social media is conflicted.

Similarly, I’ve been wondering where my blog and YouTube channel fit into this scheme.

Both would be described as content marketing, in that I am producing free content to strengthen my ‘know, like, and trust factors’ with existing readers/viewers, and as a way to introduce myself to new subscribers.

Alexandra Franzen and Joanna Penn describe their respective newsletters, blogs, and podcasts as art projects that form part of their body of work.

I’ve admired these two content producers for years, but I don’t know that I would describe my own blog and YouTube channel in this way.

Some weeks, I am really pleased with what I’ve written, and others I worry whether they are too idiosyncratic or reflective – a bit too ‘digital diary.’

I worry about the balance between foundational posts for beginner writers and technical information for advance writers and how best to serve these two audiences.

And at the same time, I’m aware that I don’t have a million subscribers or a castle in Scotland, so who really cares what I think about writing?

If I had a dollar for every person who read this blog, I could pay for the front door.

I have to be honest, I don’t really like how-to videos or listicles, and yet I worry that not publishing in this format would be to go against the grain.

A how-to video is super if you actually need to know something (like how to fix loose buttons, check the oil in your car, or make vegan butter chicken [all things I have Googled]) and listicles are a very tidy way to present information, but sweetness is lost in repetition, and I find these formats … off-putting, not to mention they encourage scanning and low engagement.

At the start of 2020, I set the goal to build my email list to 2000 subscribers.

I’ve been publishing on this blog weekly for four years, and loading videos onto my YouTube channel for two.

I spent money I didn’t have on an 8-week digital business course for online entrepreneurs (become I’m so millennial) and watched countless ‘how-to’ videos (ironically) regarding audience growth.

And I haven’t reached that goal.

Maybe the problem is that blogs are dead or that writing is a niche market who already has plenty of established voices.

Maybe my style doesn’t appeal to a ‘general’ audience.

Maybe I just need to get better at SEO or I ‘just’ need to pen an international best-seller that gets adapted into a Netflix series. (Why didn’t I think of that before?)

Who knows?

But those years have hardly been wasted because I’ve learnt so much in the process.

I know how to write a blog even when I sincerely think I have nothing to say.

I can write, film, edit, and upload videos to YouTube.

I figured out how to relax, and talk naturally to the camera.

I know how WordPress works.

I know how iMovies works and am learning the ropes of Premiere Pro.

I know how to avoid copyright infringement (pretty important, kiddies).

I developed the habit of releasing a blog, video, and newsletter every single week (except for holidays because come on man).

I’ve learnt that despite my best thinking, commenters will always point out something that I hadn’t considered (this is why writing works best as a collaborative experience). 

Perhaps the fault with my 2020 goal was the goal itself.

There was nothing I could do to guarantee I gained 2000 subscribers.

The truth is, I can only control what I make and how I make it.

One of the biggest lessons I learnt last year was how my rigidity around my writing practise was stopping me from growing and I plan on applying this same lesson to this space as well.

Going into 2021, I plan on being more open and loose around how I use this platform.

What will that look like?

Honestly, I’m not really sure, but I know that it won’t include how-to blogs or listicles unless that format genuinely fits the purpose and content of that post.

And don’t worry, I won’t be venturing into vlogging, mostly because I don’t want to and the internet is full of creeps who I don’t really wish to expose the inner works of my life too. 

Now THAT is a platform I can full get behind.

More than anything, I will be focussing on creating content that I personally find interesting rather than trying to guess what posts would interest readers.

I will continue to send out my newsletter, and post my videos and blogs every week (the habit is so ingrained at this point, it would be weird not to!), but I will likely shift away from posting on Instagram every day.

I enjoy the content I create on this blog every week – and no, I’m not being prim – but I do feel that I could enjoy it more.

I’m entering this year with one simple intention for this blog, to treat this work as if it were any other art project and a part of my body of work.

Like I said, I’ve been posting on this blog regularly for years now, and I’m ready to do something different with this space.

Perhaps from the outside, it will look much the same, but this shift in mindset and focus is already changing the shape of this space. At least, for me.

This blog doesn’t feel like a distraction from my writing, and yet I’m also hyperaware that the pressure to have a prolific author platform can mean that a writer or creative spends more time documenting there practise rather than actually practising.

In the aforementioned newsletter, I said that the best solution against the endless pressure to ‘do more’ in online spaces is to create clear boundaries.

For me, that means spending a bit of time on social media, a bit more time on this blog, my newsletter, and videos, while saving the bulk of my writing efforts for my novels and short fiction.

The point of this post is to tell you that there may be some changes coming.

It’s also my way of expressing something that’s been troubling me for, oh, two years now?

Maybe it’s troubling you too.

Maybe you’re also trying to figure out how to create a platform that feels … meaningful, useful, like it’s worthy of being described as an art project that forms part of your body of work.

Entering the new year, that is my goal. Please feel free to share yours too.

Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, please join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Is Social Media Killing Us?

When people talk about social media, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were describing a dysfunctional romantic relationship. We’ve all read countless articles and watched news segments about how harmful social media can be.

For some, these online platforms can cause the user to experience anxiety and depression as they compare their (supposedly) not-so-perfect lives to the (apparently) glitter-soaked-farting-rainbows-totally-perfect lives of others.

People talk about how they hate:

  • the shallowness of social media
  • the ease with which people can post uninformed/misinformed content
  • people’s ability to post nasty, hurtful and anonymous comments
  • that it’s a total time suck

And yet, we all use it.

Walk down the street, sit in an airport terminal, hang out in a waiting room, stand in line at your favourite coffee shop and what will you see? People scrolling on their phones.

We kind of hate social media—and let’s be honest, it’s ‘cool’ to hate on social—but we kind of love it too.

If you are a writer (or a creative of any kind) that having a social media presence is pretty much essential. (Though, some people argue against this point). While there are some authors who’ve achieved success without having a ‘platform’, these people are outliers. They are the exception, not the rule.

Social media is a part of our lives, but it doesn’t have to be. When and how we use social is the key to whether it supports or hinders our endeavours. The following blog discusses:

  • why having a social media presence is important
  • how these platforms are distractive and addictive
  • how to create boundaries around your social media use and why you should.

Author Platform

It doesn’t matter if you are a freelance writer, a traditionally published author or an indie. If you are a writer, you need an author platform. (More or less). An author platform is how you create trust with your audience and cultivate opportunities with other professionals and publishers in the industry. You could look at it as digital networking (socialising while staying at home in your jammies) or you could see it as another way to build relationships.

An author platform typically includes a stagnant(ish) website, an active blog and a presence on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and even YouTube.

To build an audience, you must create valuable (and free) content on your blog and social media pages. If you produce quality content on a consistent basis, then you will attract an audience over time because a) you are reliable and b) you are adding value to their lives.

If you have an active blog, frequently publish guest posts and chase freelance writing opportunities, you’ll quickly develop a solid body of work. This will add to your credibility as a writer. Plus, industry professionals will see you as reliable, proactive and prolific. In case you didn’t realise, these are good things to be seen as.

A healthy author platform can open doors to publishing opportunity, speaking gigs, invitations to networking events and collaborations with other creatives.

If you work your author platform, you can make it work for you.

Distraction & Addiction

Now that you understand the value of having an author platform, let’s address the elephant in the room.

Social Media (can) = Distraction & Addiction.

Writing an article, working on a novel or developing a short story takes time. These creative endeavours could be likened to a turtle race or a game of lawn bowls because they are so damn slow. Making something out of nothing requires hours of dedicated focus, research and considered revision. That being said, the completion of these tasks can lead to a deep sense of satisfaction.

You can’t bang out a novel in an afternoon.

Writing an article or publishing a short story or novel is delayed gratification. There may be a yearlong gap (likely longer) between your initial idea and the date of publication.

Social media is the complete opposite. You think of something, publish it and then experience immediate gratification in the form of heart symbols, thumbs up, and comments.

Hello, Love/Admiration/Acceptance/Acknowledgment-of-my-existence!

There is no delay with social media. That is why it’s so addictive. No doubt you’ve heard about the dopamine hit that occurs every time there is an increase in our number of followers, likes or comments.

Social media is easy and fun.

Writing a novel can be a lot of fun, but few would describe it as easy. Ever noticed how you may reach for your phone or open your web browser whenever you hit a difficult point in your story or are unsure what to say next?

Social media is a source of distract because it is easy and it offers immediate rewards.

This need to constant ‘check in’ causes our mind to become scattered making it that much more difficult to focus on our high priority tasks. Like you know, writing shit.

(If this part of the blog piques your interest, check out Cal Newport’s work).

Creating Boundaries

This is why we need to create rules and boundaries around how we use social media.

The one rule that ALL creatives should live by is to create before you consume. Let me say that again in a way that looks more official and Twitter-worthy …

Social Media Rule #1: Create Before You Consume.

That means you post your original content whether it be a piece of flash fiction, a photograph, a video, blog, article, short storysomethingbefore you start scrolling other people’s feeds, channels or websites.

In regards to boundaries, there is a slew of ways to reduce social media’s ability to distract you. Here’s just a few:

  • Keep your phone in your desk drawer during writing sessions
  • Use apps like Freedom.to to block specific sites/apps for set time periods
  • Schedule your social media time, for example, fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the afternoon
  • Spend one hour a week automating your social media posts using sites such as Hootsuite (that way you don’t HAVE to go on every day or at certain times of the day)
  • Make it a personal rule that you do not use social media before 8am or after 6pm and that you have one screen-free day a week.

Social media isn’t evil …. Okay, given the fact that it is literally DESIGNED to be addictive … it’s a little evil ….

The truth is, technology has created work opportunities that creative people couldn’t have had twenty years ago. It’s possible to go out there and to sell directly to your audience and to have full creative control over your product. And that is something worth celebrating!

But we also need to acknowledge that social media, if left unchecked, can become a hindrance to our creative process.

Milk this tool for all the golden latte deliciousness it can deliver, but also know that your Tweets, Instagram posts and YouTube videos will not exist forever.

The book that beats in your heart and that itches to escape through your fingers will outlive you, but only if you write and publish it.  

The difference between an author and an emerging writer is your resolve and dedication to the projects that really matter—the ones that are going to move the needle.

A solid author platform will help build an audience, but an audience is no good if you have nothing to sell them.

Your book has to be your top priority.

The work must always come first.

Create before you consume and you may wind up with a career beyond your wildest dreams. Write. Write a lot. And share those stories with the people who are hungry to read them.

How To Be A Consistent Content Creator

These days, if you’re an author then that also means you’re an entrepreneur. Your days may be spent pitching to magazines, revising articles for publication, researching, and maintaining an online presence through blog posts, YouTube videos and social media. You may even have a podcast! In terms of social media, the pressure to produce daily content is immense. Of course, you don’t HAVE to spend hours producing this content, no one is expecting you to solve all of the world’s problems in 280 characters. You can post photographs of you and your dog walking in the park or an image of your workstation followed by the hashtag #amwriting.

In terms of articles, videos, and blog posts, again the content doesn’t have to be revolutionary, but at the same time, it shouldn’t be hollow. If you notice that your content has started to become repetitive or if you’re starting to see it as a chore, then your readers are going to start dropping off. The pressure to consistently produce content can be a little overwhelming and there will be days when you struggle to produce. On those cold days, I hope you will find some inspiration, or at least direction, in the following suggestions.

As always, you can find the video version of this week’s blog here.

Read Other Blogs

This may seem obvious, but we don’t always do what is obvious, do we? If you’re struggling to come up with an idea for a blog, have a look at some of the recent (or not so recent) topics covered by the blogs you follow. By taking a little time to peruse other blogs, you will like come up with a broader range of ideas then if you’d tried to generate content from an uninspired mindset. Alternatively, you can simply take the title or topic of a post that you find interesting and write your own version. For example, you may come across an article about how to pitch to online magazines. You may have never covered that topic before, but you know quite a bit about it, maybe you could write an advice piece covering the dos and don’ts of pitching. Alternatively, you may come across a fresh or innovative article that inspires you to write a response piece. For instance, you might read Mark Mason’s blog about shit sandwiches* and realise that you have your own “Coming to Jesus” moment about life, responsibilities, happiness and the various pros and cons that come along with adulting.

Muse about something that has been bothering you

This is the avenue I personally tend to wander down. Writers tend to be ponderers. We like to reflect not only on our own opinions of world affairs, politics, social, environmental and cultural happenings but also about our own lives, behaviours, beliefs and the human condition. It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg scenario. Do people with a critical and reflective mind naturally gravitate towards writing as a way to express (and rationalise the copious amount of reading and research) the ideas, connections, and ponderings that keep them awake at night? Or does one develop the necessary skills of observation and deep thinking after they have awoken one morning and announced, “I’m going to be a writer! How do I do that?” The muse, snickering from her position on a chaise lounge in the corner, answers, “In my ethereal opinion, I recommend that you pay close attention to everyone and everything. Take the time to notice the nuances and details of life. Then spend a disturbing amount of time thinking about all that you have seen and ask yourself, ‘what does this really mean?’”

Hmmm wow. Sorry. Went off on a bit of a tangent there, didn’t I?

Anyway, I think you get the point. If you’re a writer, chances are you have a lot of opinions, observations, interests or reflections, waiting to be shared. Of course, if you’ve established a particular brand online, say a writing blog….then that platform may not be the best place to publish your political, environmental, mindful, cake-loving pieces…Fortunately, there are many other places where you can publish that content.

Start a Blog Series

This is another one I personally use. I started The Standard Writers Interrogation List a few years ago after noticing that writers are always asked the same types of questions. These questions range from the basic “are you a panster or a plotter?” to the meaningful “why do you write?” Series are great for a couple of reasons. If you’ve been blogging for a while, then you will have noticed that all your website traffic goes to the most recent posts. By starting a series, you can include the links to earlier posts within that series and redirect your readers to other content on your site. Incidentally, if you’d like to check out the posts in The Standard Writers Interrogation List series, I’ve included all the links at the bottom of this blog. See what I did there. 😉

If you are going to start a series, I recommend picking something that has a broad scope. For example, “How to” post and listicles are great as they provide a set structure while also giving plenty of wiggle room in terms of content. Of course, you can be more specific by focussing on umbrella topics like editing, publishing or craft. Though topics like book titles and copyright are interesting, the scope is too narrow for a series. These types of topics work better as one-off posts.

Interview Someone

Interviews are a great way to quickly broaden the content of your blog without jeopardising your brand or online voice. Of course, you want to interview someone who is in alignment with your brand. If you have a writing blog, for example, you may consider interviewing authors or professionals from the publishing industry. Ideally, an interview should be both educational and inspirational.

When interviewing someone, there are a few things you should be aiming for. Firstly, you need to establish why the interviewee is an authority on that topic. You can do this by asking questions about their current role, their experience in the industry/education, or by asking for their backstory. Secondly, you need to ask open-ended questions. That is questions that do not have a yes or no response. The aim here is to get your interviewee talking. Think of your questions as prompts. It’s not THAT important that your specific question gets answered, but what is important is that you get the interviewee talking about their experiences while also sharing their insider knowledge.

If you don’t have any experience with interviewing, then the simplest way to become familiar with the art form is to listen to podcasts! I highly recommend The Creative Penn (writing, publishing, book marketing) and The Rich Roll Podcast (entrepreneur, health, fitness, non-fiction writing, inspiration).

In terms of finding someone to interview, I recommend starting with your existing network. Do you have any writer friends that would be interested/open to being interviewed? Have you met any industry professionals through either mentorships or conferences with whom you have a rapport? Look towards the connections and relationships that you already have before you start flicking out cold emails to strangers which FYI I don’t recommend unless you have a VERY established online presence, in which case….Hi, how you doing? Welcome to my blog!

There you have it guys, those are my four strategies for producing online content regularly.

If you enjoyed this blog or if you have any tips of your own you’d like to add, please leave a comment below! If you’re into social media, you can find me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where I post daily pictures walking the dog, eating cake and musing about the craft.

*The idea that everything comes with a shit sandwich and you got to decide which ones you can put up with and which ones you can’t.

The Standard Writers Interrogation List

The Standard Writers interrogation List: Daily vs Binge

The Standard Writers Interrogation List: Larks vs Owls

The Standard Writers Interrogation List: Penmonkey vs Typist