Platform Building Jargon Buster

Helping people get set up for the writing contest has caused me to realise just how much I take for granted. Not everyone knows what I know, which should be obvious.

The aim of this post is just to help you navigate what can be some confusion terminology for something that should otherwise be quite a lot of fun.

Author Platform

This is the sum total of all the people paying attention to you. Your audience, in other words. Not to be confused with your blog or website.

Blogging Platform

Blogging platform has to be the most confusing name anyone gave anything. This is just your blog, or rather, the technology that runs your blog.

I try to avoid using the phrase “Blogging Platform”. Instead, I like to call it blogging software or blog system which is a bit easier to understand.

Reach

This is usually a measure of the number of people you can reach. Also known as your audience. Some places, such as Facebook, have their own spin on what it means.

URL aka URI aka link

At the top of your screen is an address bar. It probably says something like http://www.example.com/stuff… most of the time. If you are asked to post a link, that is what you are being asked to share.

To share a link to a post, for example. Navigate to the public version of that post (WordPress and other systems often have a private version for you to edit and so forth). Then copy and paste the text from the address bar.

To add to the confusion, links my be referred to by any of the following names:

  • URL or URI
  • Link
  • (Web) Address
  • Web link
  • Web path

Whatever word you prefer it all amounts to the same thing.

Comment love

Comment love is a term bloggers often use which means to show appreciation for a blog post by posting a good comment. It can also mean to get traffic back (through the link your comment makes) due to leaving a good comment.

Leaving helpful comments that add value to a post can be a good way to grow your readership (and thus your author platform). Try to move beyond saying “nice post” to actually explaining what you liked or engaging the topic and other commenters in a discussion.

These days it is very easy to keep your comments to facebook but taking a moment to post directly on a blog is a way to show love and appreciation for the writer.

Pings and trackbacks

This is not one thing, but rather a bunch of technologies that do more or less the same thing. It is a way of saying “hey, I mentioned you”.

If you are using WordPress the pingback settings are found under settings, in the Discussion section and probably look something like this.

ping-backs

The exact system differs from system to system. For example, in NucleusCMS (which I use for my personal sites) this is an added feature which requires a plugin.

Like comments, pingbacks and trackbacks often need to be manually accepted on most sites. Which can mean that they take a little while to show up. Not all blogging systems support them and those that do might not send them. If yours does not, it is not the end of the world and I really would not worry too much about it.

For example, Tumblr and Blogger accounts generally don’t have that (they may have similar systems for internal use).

SEO

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. To be honest, until you are comfortable just writing good content and publishing it, don’t worry about SEO. SEO, is for the most part, about creating quality content.

There is a bit more to SEO than that, but quality content is the cornerstone of all SEO.

  • I have written a lot more about SEO here.

Guest Blogging

Again this is something that you don’t want to get stuck into until your own blog is well established. Once you are well established occasionally writing for another reputable blog, or having a blogger of good reputation write for you, can be a nice change of pace.

Outposts

Some experts describe things like your social media presence (pages, twitter accounts, profiles, etc) as your social media outposts. This is a way of simply recognising that your social media is not the centre of your platform but more like an outpost on foregn soil.

Thus, it follows, your best stuff should always be saved for serving to your own guests, at home. Most blog systems allow you to send a link out to your outposts when you publish. This can be very handy and cut down on your workload.

Spam

We all hate spam email but there are also spam comments and even spammy blog posts. They are just as devoid of value and reak of desperation. If what you were about to post feels “spammy” it might be time to rethink.

Spam is anything that is low quality and of no value to another human being. Spam is bad. Don’t do it.

Link love

Link love is a term bloggers often use when talking about linking to another blogger. Links are like votes to Google so by taking the time to link to another blog you are showing them some love by voting for them.

Link love is great and you should be fairly generous with it when you find a deserving blog or blog post. Don’t go silly. Remember, your readers need to understand why you posted that link and it needs to fit with what you are saying. However, spreading the love around makes the world a nicer place.

An appropriately placed link says to your readers, go here and read this. Make sure that is a deserved recommendation and your readers will thank you.

Bad neighbourhoods

This is a Google idea that has some merit. It is a way of describing those bits of the web which are low quality and spammy. You are unlikely to have to worry about bad neighbourhoods unless you being a bit shady yourself.

Your readers will not be happy if you link them to such nasty bits of the web and Google takes a dim view of it too. However, if you follow the recomendation to link to things that deserve it, you will almost never link to a bad neighbourhood.

Domains and Domain Names

Domain names are usually the part of a URL that you remember. Like facebook.com or thanetcreativewriters.wordpress.com. If you are willing to pay for it you can get a custom .com or .co.uk (or whatever).

Custom domain names are probably something you can leave until later. Unless, of course, you want to set up a custom website or self-host your blogging software.

Anything else?

Have I missed anything out? What else would you include in this list? Share your insights in the comments below.

Over to you.

What is an author platform?

Your author platform is what enables you to sell a lot of books, but what is it?

Very few agents know what an author platform is. Most publishers seem to be clueless about author platforms. Even successful authors are not always aware of their own platform or how they built it.

Over the course of this post I am going to explain what an author platform is and why it is so hard to explain.

I am also going to share the secret of a good authorial platform.

Defining an “Author Platform

Very few publishers truly understand the author platform. Even writers have a hard time explaining what one is.

It seems that even Jane Friedman, who has a very effective author website, has a hard a time as anyone defining what one is and she has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry behind her.

This difficulty is not a surprise. Author platforms are badly defined most of the time and most people only have a vague sense of what they are. This is because the idea of a platform is a marketing concept that has made a crude transition into the world of publishing.

As writers, we are often still trying to “get it”.

I have spent the last fifteen or so years in the world of marketing and SEO and might be one of the few writers that can explain author platforms to you properly.

What is a platform?

In marketing terms a platform is all the work you have done to get an audience. That audience is listening to you and while you have their attention – that is your platform.

If I had a hit chat show that I hosted, then that chat show would be my platform – millions of people would tune in each week and I could use that to push a message or promote something.

If I have any sense I would promote my product in such a way that I would gain rather than loose viewers. That gaining of viewers is know as building my platform.

A platform is the current attention that I have that I can use to address any topic I want.

A newspaper is a platform. Newspapers moguls often use that platform to play “kingmaker” in general elections.

A successful blog is a platform. Top bloggers often use their platform to make money and sell products or services.

Facebook and Google are a platforms, but they are not your platform. To use Facebook’s or Google’s platform you are going to have to pay money or be very good at viral marketing.

So what is an “Author Platform“?

When Jane Friedman defines an author platform as an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach, she pretty much summed it up.

An author platform is the platform (connection to a steady audience) that you have as an author.

That’s why blogs and social media play such a huge part in building an authorial platform. They enable you to address any topic you wish. Do that well, and your platform will grow.

There is a simple secret to all this.

Neil Gaiman’s “Author Platform

A perfect example of building a good author platform is Neil Gaiman. Mr Gaiman, aside from being an amazing writer and one of my literary heroes, is also genuinely interested in interacting with fans.

Neil Gaiman blogs about life, about writing, and about books that are coming out soon. When his beloved dog passed away millions of us mourned with him. Gaiman’s ability to put feelings into words let us share a personal moment with him; or at least feelt hat we did.

Not only does Neil Gaiman have his blog but he has a Tumblr account too. The by-line says The official Neil Gaiman Tumblr, but honestly no better than the unofficial Neil Gaiman Tumblrs out there. Will sometimes have stuff about my books or my wife in it.

Here, Gaiman will sometimes answer fan questions and give advice to young writers. That’s just the sort of awesome person he is.

Neil Gaiman’s platform is not the blog or the tumblr (although they are put of it). If they were to be deleted tomorrow he could set up shop somewhere else and still have the same platform.

Neil Gaiman’s platform is the loyalty and attention that he has earned from his fans and followers.

He got that by employing the one secret that I am going to share.

Your “Author Platform

When I wrote Setting Up Your Author Platform, I said that the core of your platform would be your own website. That’s because unless you are lucky enough to have a syndicated and popular chat show, a website (with a blog) is probably your best way to get started.

That’s not to say that your main presence might not be a Facebook page, a tumblr account, a youtube channel, a podcast, a web series, an endless series of speaking engagements, or something that no one has even invented yet. It might be any of those, or none of them.

There is also sorts of SEO, video editing, essay writing, networking, and social media management that can go into a good platform. But at the heart of it, the secret of a good authorial platform is so much simpler.

Want to know the secret?

The secret of a good authorial platform

Forbes tries, and makes a good effort, to explain what an author platform is. Read their explanation here. Yet even though they spend two pages explaining author platforms, they only skirt arround the issue.

Neil Gaiman instinctively employes the secret. If you study his platform you might work it out for yourself.

George R. R. Martin was given his platform by HBO (although, to be fair, he had one before that too).

The secret of a good authorial platform (aka your Author Platform) is this:

Give people a reason to spend their finite supply of attention on you, by providing value.

  • You provide value by being authentic.
  • You provide value by constantly connecting with people
  • You provide value by providing content that matters to the people you want to reach.

Neil Gaiman does this by being himself and connecting with other people who are like him. This works because those are exactly the sort of people that will want to read his books.

It helps that Gaiman has been writing a long time and his fans actively seek him out because they passionately love what he does. I know that because I am one of his fans.

George R. R. Martin’s platform works because there is a huge TV show based on his work and enough fans to remind the new fans that there are books they can read.

George R. R. Martin got there by writing solid books and working hard to build a fan base. I don’t know for sure, but it seems like he did that by being a regular guest at expos and festivals. That was what worked for him.

J. K. Rowling maintains a platform by being sassy on Twitter. The geekier news sites love her for it. Of course, it helps that she has a hit book series and a whole bunch of films to back her up. What Rowling is doing is capitalising on her success.

Rowling, Martin, and Gaiman have all found a way to give back to the people that love what they do. It is, very much, a two way relationship between author and fans.

These authors give people a reasons to invest attention on them by providing value.

Attention is finite – the last true limited resource. People do not give it away for no reason.

For example, the fact that you are still reading this article is evidence that I have been successful in sharing something that you have decided was worth your time to read. You are not reading this article because I have some magic way with words but because I have, I hope, shared something that you found helpful.

To make it as an author, we each need to provide a good reason why our content is worth other people’s attention.

Do that and then, when you have a book release coming up, there will be people that are willing to not only notice but care enough to go out and buy that book.

When you and the content you produce are worth attention, people will give it freely. The secret of keeping that attention is to keep giving value.

Of course, there are ways to leverage that attention and maximise your return from it but at the heart of it all is the simple fact – you need to be worth paying attention to.

That is your author platform in a nutshell.

Competition FAQ

Our competition has raised a few questions on the Facebook group. Here are as many answers as possible. All in one neat and tidy list.

Who can enter?

Anyone at all. Absolutely anyone. Charity members, group members, people who go to other groups, people that write, people that might like to write one day… Anyone who would like to can join in.

I’m not from Thanet, can I join in?

Yes, please do. Admittedly, when the theme is Thanet related you might need to do some homework but please don’t let that put you off.

How do I enter?

To enter the contest you need somewhere to post your entry. There are a lot of free sites that are ideal for this. By the end of the competition, you will have laid the foundations for a strong presence as a writer.

I already have a blog, can I use that?

Absolutely, yes. You will get the most out of this competition if the blog is wholly or mostly about you as a writer but feel free to use whatever you have.

I don’t have a blog, where do I post my entries?

There is a whole load of free services that you can use. They all count but some are easier to use than others.

Here are some ideas:

  • WordPress (will ping us with your entry)
  • Tumblr (remember to enable replies)
  • Quora (very easy to use)
  • Blogspot (popular but not always the best place to start)
  • Medium (the Facebook of blogging)
  • Weebly (a popular newcomer)

Do I have to write for all 12 themes?

Not if you do not want to. Although you will get the most mileage out of this competition by making an attempt at all 12. Each week is a sperate contest so there is no commitment to take part every week.

Do I have to comment on other people’s entries?

Of course not, however, this contest is all about building a sense of community and by giving a little love to others you will be more likely to receive love back. Love, in this context, being helpful feedback and nice comments.

Can I post a video instead of writing my entry?

Yes, if you want to. A video can be a great part of an authorial presence. I recommend posting a transcript if you can but you don’t have to.

Do I have to link to Thanet Creative Writers?

Linking is not an obligation as such but it does make it more likely that your platform will ping us to let us know about the post. A link also explains to your readers what you are doing and why you are writing for that topic which saves you from having to explain each week.

I’ve just made a WordPress blog for the contest, can I post other things too?

Absolutely, yes. The idea of this contest is that you get to build up a presence. If you have additional ideas then you should run with them.

Can’t I just post to my Facebook page (or my wall)?

You could and I will probably see it, but you will miss out on establishing a wider reach that owning your own content space provides. It is not very hard to set up a free blog or content space and publishers look for writers with an established presence so this should help you down the line.

I chose a platform that doesn’t ping, how do I make sure you see my entry?

Don’t panic. If you are not sure I have seen your entry at judging time, you can always share a link in the Facebook group or use the contact form to give us a heads up.

What do the winners get?

Winners get what everyone else gets – the joy of writing with the added benefit of building something to help you find a publisher down the line. Winners also get bragging rights, a prominent link, and probably everyone (or at least a lot of people) taking a look at their work to see what was so great about it.

What happens at the end?

When all 12 themes have had their winners announced I will explain how we are going to vote for an overall winning post. More on that later.

Do I have to keep my blog going after the competition?

That is up to you. Even if you post something once a month until the next contest you may find that having a creative outlet like that helps you stay focused on writing. Try it and see how it works out for you.

Any more questions?

If you have any more questions, please do feel free to ask. I will do my best to answer them all.

Telling Stories at GEEK 2017

This weekend I went to GEEK (Game Expo East Kent) which took place in Dreamland, Margate. While I was there I encountered three forms of storytelling – two that work well and one that does not.

The Story of GEEK

The first form of storytelling was the story of GEEK and Dreamland. On day two I met the storyteller in residence. His job was to record and tell the story of GEEK.

One of the ways he did that was to ask people to place stickers on boards. One board (shown), gave an impression of where people had come from. People, it turns out, have come from all parts of the country and other countries too, just to visit the game expo in Thanet. There were four stickers from people who had come from Romania to visit Thanet for GEEK.

IMG_3333-1000.JPG

While every one of the many thousands of people that came to GEEK has their story to tell, GEEK itself has a story. When it comes to writing that is something worth remembering – no matter who you are telling the story for, the place the story is set has it’s own march larger story. Or, to put it another way, individual characters have a story that is just a part of a richer tapestry of story.

I am glad that GEEK are tapping into the wider story and I am looking forward to reading the story of GEEK.

The story form that does not work

I got to talk to a whole bunch of games developers at GEEK. With some of them, I spoke, at length, about story.

One of the interesting topics to come out of those discussions was how games get pitched. More and more often there are games pitches which start and stop on the story the game will tell. More than one developer has wondered if these people are frustrated film producers.

Games are fundamentally things you play with. They can have story or not. A good story can lift a good game to new heights but a great story can do nothing for a poor game.

Between us, we listed several games where we would pay good money to see a film based on the plot but the game itself was not the least bit fun to play.

At the end of the day, games are a medium with priorities that do not always include storytelling. Yet, with the right foundations of play and mechanics, a good story adds a dimension to a game that can be created no other way.

It was, we agreed, best to start with the game first and follow up with the story.

Then we found an exception that proved us wrong.

The exception

Late in the day on Saturday, I got talking to John William Evelyn, an artist, who had stripped back the mechanics of gameplay to the bare minimum in order to convert the medium of game into a medium for story telling.

I sat and played an utterly compelling demo of The Collage Atlas which is an exceptionally beautiful and novel “game”.

You know me, I love story telling. It should not be a surprise to anyone that I was somewhat captivated by this relaxing game. I anticipate that The Collage Atlas will be a must have game for me when it comes out.

The lesson for us as writers here is this: Whatever form you tell your story in, make sure the story is allowed to shine.

5 Great Sites for Writers

When it comes to writing advice there is a lot of junk out there. There is also a lot of really good content hidden among the junk. If you are willing to search, there is truly amazing advice that will supercharge your writing with its insights. Here are five (ish) links that I think you will definitely want to bookmark.

1. Bane of Your Resistance

Bane of Your Resistance is a blog all about overcoming resistance to writing (such as writers block or being too busy to write). The tag line actually says so you can stop feeling guilty and really enjoy writing again.

Bane of Your Resistance is written by Rosanne Bane, TEDx speaker and general expert on such things. Rosanne Bane is a creativity coach, writing and creativity instructor, speaker and author. In other words, she knows what she is talking about.

If you struggle with not writing, and we all have at some point, then Rosanne Bane is the person that you need to be reading.

2. Funds for Writers

Funds for Writers is a website all about getting paid as a writer. It tells you all about grants you could apply for, competitions that pay well, and much more. While this would be of more use if you like American dollars and live in, say, the USA, it is nevertheless a great place to get inspired to think outside the box about funding your writing.

This will not be a site for everyone. Taking what you learn on Funds for Writers and the American market and applying it to the UK is going to take some personal effort and for some of us, that effort is just not worth it. For those us willing and able to put in the time, Funds for Writers can be a great source of inspiration.

3. Writers Helping Writers

Some of the best advice for writers I have read was found on Writers Helping Writers. If you are looking for advice on creating vivid characters, demonstrating motivation, dealing with difficult issues of pain in a story, or any other topic (those were just the ones on the front page when I looked just now), I assure you that you will come away feeling inspired and educated.

As the title of the website says, this is a site where writers offer advice and help to other writers. All of the articles are geared this way and the quality of advice is very high.

I have seen plenty of “me too” sites where the drive for daily content has resulted in a declining quality of articles and a general desperation that drives the editors to publish any half-baked junk they get sent. Writers Helping Writers is just the opposite. It is a website packed to the nines with high-quality advice. Advice that you could and should read.

4. Better Novel Project

The Better Novel Project is a blog that deconstructs best-selling novels scene by scene to show you why and how the novel works the way it does.

Take, for example, How to Write a Fight Scene (in 11 Steps). This is not just one writer’s personal opinion but a breakdown of how such scenes work in best-selling stories.

Before I wrote this guide I had not seen the fight scene breakdown. I stopped writing this guide and read the fight scene article intently. I can honestly say I have a better idea of how to write a fight than I ever did before.

If you only read one new blog this year, read this one.

5. Stack Overflow, no seriously.

“Can you really mean that?” you might be asking. “But Matt,” you might say, “SO is a geek website all about computers.” (Which it is).

Stay with me for a moment because I am about to let you in a secret. There are subsections of SO that are just perfect for writers. The first is called Writers and the second is Worldbuilding. I get lost reading these sites sometimes and have had some great feedback on many complicated issues. For example, the conditions under which a moon could be terraformed.

For example, in World Building, I got very good scientific insight into the conditions under which a moon could be terraformed and how that process might actually work in a very specific scenario.

Before you go and get stuck in, you need to understand that this is not a forum and chit chat is not well tolerated. SO is a question and answer site. The idea is that the best questions and the best answers rise to the top and the community is very active towards that goal.

Writers and Worldbuilding can be powerful friends to help you plan and write you great novel but it is worth taking the introductory tour first.

A bonus mention

With so many great sites that I could recommend (and a few I could recommend you avoid) there were always going to be ones I had to leave out. Here is a bonus link: Writers in the Storm it is a blog, every bit as good as the others I have already shared. With a title like that, I had to include it anyway.

How to receive advice

There is a lot of advice about how to give advice but not so much on how to receive it. This seems wrong to me. Giving advice is something we all know how to do (or we think we do); receiving advice is a skill that is not so easy to master.

Being given advice is a mixed bag and no mistake. You need to be tough enough not to let the criticism get you down and yet open enough to let the advice of others guide you.

Realise that all people will sometimes be wrong

I am pretty sure it was Stephen King who said something like, if one person says something is wrong with your work then they are mistaken but if several people say there is something wrong with the same part of your work then they are probably right.

From this, I take that you should apply a pinch of salt to any feedback you get. At least half of the advice you get is going to be wrong or at least wrong for you.

People will say you need to do this or you need to change that. Sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong.

It is even harder when you really respect the advice giver’s work. If King, Rowling, or Gaiman came to a Thanet Creative Writers event, (after they were done signing autographs), I would probably follow every correction and advice they offered me, without question. The chances are, though, they would be wrong (at least once).

Everyone who gives you advice is to some degree wrong. It is up to you to figure out what they are wrong about. A big clue, as King says, is if lots of people tell you a passage is broken, then it might be worth fixing that passage.

Not all advice should be followed

Another writer I admire, Neil Gaiman said something to the tune of, if someone says there is a problem with a passage you wrote then they are probably right but if they tell you how to fix it then they are certainly wrong.

Other writers will often tell you how they think you should write your work. This is because we writers often offer advice as if we were applying our own techniques to our own work. There is nothing wrong with that as such. However, it does mean that some writers will give you advice that does not fit, for your style.

Just like all advice is wrong about something, all advice does not apply to you. Learn how to silently discard advice that is wrong for you.

Don’t defend you work

Your work is your baby. It might be an ugly baby but it is your baby. I covered a similar point in the article about giving advice.

If your work was published, you would not be able to go to the home of every reader and explain it to them. Even so, the temptation can be to try and defend you work, to explain what you were doing, or to show the other fellow how they are wrong. This is rarely helpful but it eats up time that could be used for getting or giving more advice.

If the other person is wrong or does not “get” your work, thank them, make a note that you might need to help some readers “get it”, and move on to the next thing.

The best place your answer or clarification can go is in the writing itself. That need to explain your writing after the fact only goes to show that you have a bit more work to do. That inner voice is simply your internal writer getting ready to do more work. Don’t waste that muse on just one person, share it with us all via your writing.

Listen actively

Active listening is a skill. I am not sure if I have mastered it yet, if I am honest. When getting advice or feedback, the best thing I can do is shut up. The same probably goes for you too. Planning on not saying anything gives maximum chance for your brain to take on board what you are being told.

That said, if you don’t understand the advice then ask the person to clarify. Remember you are here to listen to other people talking to you so the shorter your question the sooner you can go back to getting feedback.

I would love to say this is easy to do. Frankly, when I am excited about a topic I can talk forever about it. I know full well that shutting my mouth so my ears can listen takes effort. If you know of a way to make this super easy, please tell me.

Learn how to ignore destructive criticism

Sooner or later you will get advice from someone that is four parts spite to three parts rubbish. Worse, is the critique that simply says this sucks. This sort of advice is all about how you suck and not a lot of advice on how you can stop sucking.

My own mother, who is as sarcastic as I am, once gave me feedback on a short story which went something like it has been done before by other people and they did it better.

I laughed because normally mums say it was very good dear, but my mum was being a bit more honest. Sadly, this was also advice with just as little value in it for me. I love my mum but I also know that this was not advice I could do anything with.

Don’t let praise go to your head

Recently I have received feedback on a chapter from a draft novel. More than one person made a positive comparison to Douglas Adams’ work. This did wonders for my ego and for a few days after I felt like I had made it and was about to be very rich.

I had made the mistake of letting praise go to my head.

I have no advice on how to do it but don’t let praise go to your head. Praise is nice. It builds confidence and feels wonderful but it rarely helps you figure out how to make a good work even better.

Over to you

Do you have any tips to add? Have you been given feedback that changed everything? Have you been given criticism that crushed you? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Advice on giving advice

Giving advice to another writer is often part of being in a writer’s group. Generally simply saying what worked for you and what you felt could be better is all that is needed. 

Here is some advice on giving advice.

Remember what you are giving feedback on

Suzannah Windsor Freeman’s first tip in her 5 Keys to Giving Constructive Writing Critiques is, read thoroughly. You are giving feedback on writing, not the person, the paper, or the font choice.

You are giving feedback on someone’s work. Sometimes this is a work that has come from deep within the writer and they are very attached to. For example, positivewriter.com describes some work as an ugly baby – no matter how hideous the baby, it is still someone’s baby, so be gentle.

For example, writingforward.com suggests you Devour the Food, Not the Hostess. In other words, focus on the writing, not the writer.

Don’t forget the positives too.

For example, writingforward.com suggests that When you are giving a critique, always start by emphasising the good and positivewriter.com suggests that you start with the positive.

Don’t insult someone’s ugly baby, especially early on in the writing process. Ask questions to help the author find their story. Sometimes they’re too close to their own words to achieve objectivity. says positivewriter.com

Seek balance in your feedback

Suzannah Windsor Freeman reminds us to Praise, but don’t sugarcoat. It is possible to be “too nice” as well as “too harsh”.

Put criticism between praise

If in doubt, there is always the feedback sandwich a shortcoming slipped between two positive points. This is something that Celes from personalexcellence.co suggests. She says, I refer to the feedback sandwich as PIP, which stands for Positive-Improvement-Positive.

Try using two pens

It might sound crazy but use two pens when giving feedback.This is a suggestion from weareteachers.com. If you have one colour for the positives you have noted and another for the things that need work, you can see instantly if you are being balanced.

Follow-up

Sometimes feedback can be a little crushing. Having handed out a dose of reality to a writer are you ready to follow up on it? This is why writingforward.com suggest that you Nurse the Hangover. In other words, contact the writer a few days later and see how they are getting on.

At Thanet Creative Writers some of our guests at Tea and Chat will bring back the same writing three or four times. While it can be a chore to read similar work over and over it also is a joy to see a story grow into something special. However, not everyone will do that so think about following up with people whose work you have given feedback on. After all, I am sure you would feel better if others did the same or you. I know I do.

Over to you

Do you have any tips to add? Have you given feedback that really helped? Have you had truly great or very bad feedback? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Setting up your author platform

Nothing else will sell your book to an agent or publisher like the idea that you have already set up the marketing and they simply need to cash in on it.

When we talked about getting a good agent and took a look at the advice out there, one of the top points was building a platform. That means gathering prospective enthusiastic readers who would buy your book if it came out today.

A strong platform is like catnip to agents and publishers. It means ready success and, more importantly for everyone, profits.

Creating an author platform is no small task. However, long before your book is ready, there are some foundations you could be putting into place.

In a single post, I could not possibly cover even half of the basics so this is going to be a very broad strokes picture. I will go into more detail on specifics in the future and the chances are that sooner or later I will run a seminar or two on the subject.

So you do not miss out I suggest that you follow or bookmark this blog and like the Thanet Creative Writers page so that you get those updates as soon as they come out.

Building an author platform

This is perhaps the most important single nugget of advice that I can give you – start with something that you completely control.

Facebook, Twitter and all that are great but at the end of the day they are owned by someone else. If you spend all your effort building a platform in someone else’s sandbox and, one day, they close up shop then you have nothing.

There are two things you can control. One on-line and one off-line. Both have legal and security considerations and can carry a small cost but they are worth doing and doing right.

Building an online platform

An online platform should be founded on a website. From here you are going to build a presence as an author. I suggest a setup that allows people to subscribe and allows you to make regular updates.

Those updates are very important. Without them, your site will appear dead and your support will become stale and useless in a matter of months. A great example to follow is Neil Gaiman a popular author who maintains a very open dialogue with his fans.

As part of this site, you are going to need a unique domain name. such as, for example, amazingauthorbob.com (or whatever). I can help with that.

This website should be on hosting that you can directly control. Even if you don’t really understand the ins and outs of it all you, personally, should have access to the files and the database that make up the website.

Hosting is going to set you back a few quid a month. Best value comes from a Linux based hosting deal which offers FTP access, PHP and some sort of database (MySQL for preference). These technologies are likely to cost your host nothing at all so the price of your package will be low. Furthermore, you will be able to run a CMS (content management system) or blog platform (such as WordPress, Joomla, or WebGUI).

Before picking a platform, decide what you want to do with it and then select a platform that does those things really well. You can take a huge number of open source (free) solutions) for a spin at opensourcecms.com. Best of all most of these packages are entirely free if you host them yourself.

If you are not a technical person and find the thought of setting up your own website horrific, it may pay to hire a local geek to do that for you. The chances are, these days, that the average teenager could set that up for you with their eyes closed. Alternatively, some hosting packages come with the option to press a button and have the setup done for you.

The reason for suggesting a CMS or blogging system is that the interface for putting up content is a whole lot friendlier than doing it with raw HTML and CSS files. What’s more, you are in control of the content. Being in control of your own content means that you are free to work on things whenever you have time, rather than waiting for some busy designer to get back to you.

Using an online platform

Now that you have a website with a domain name of your own, you have something that you can put on business cards. Not only that but if you set things up right you also have a custom email address with that domain name in it. Custom email addresses look more professional and inspire trust.

I am sorry to say but from the moment that you launch this platform you are committing to putting out something fresh at least once a week.

Make friends a with a cheap digital camera as photos bring content to life.

If you are part of a local writer’s group, you might consider promoting them. This shows that you are active as a writer and also is reasonably pretty likely to result in reciprocal promotion down the line.

There is one more thing that you need to set up and promote on your site – a contact form. With this you will make connections with possible fans and, assuming you get permission, you will start to build your list.

Building an offline platform

Offline, your best platform is your author’s address book. In marketing terms, we call this your “list”. It is a list of people that you have permission to contact. Ideally, people that will be pleased to hear from you.

As a safety measure do not store this list only in your web hosting. If anything goes wrong with the hosting, you want to keep hold of the list.

I could write from now up to the end of the year about list building, about ways to get people to subscribe to your mailing list, of getting people to sign up for newsletters. Of all that. What it boils down to is networking your behind off.

When you have a book signing, after you are published. Being able to email local fans and get them there will impress the publisher (and your agent) and also get you a lot of credit with local bookshop owners who will be very pleased to have you back next time.

Extending your platform into social media

Now you have the foundations in place, it is time to look at social media. A well established social media outpost represents you, as an author, in the social space but also serves to point people back to your site (home).

Social media users are not at all tolerant of spam – spam in this instance is posting the same thing more than once and also posting very similar things. Mix it up and keep it interesting. Share pictures (use that camera I suggested) as well as links to your new content on-site.

Each site has different amounts of effort required to make it work. Twitter, for example, is somewhat over-posting tolerant and is highly forgiving if you take random days off. Facebook (pages), on the other hand, are extremely intolerant of over posting and goes stale if more than 24 hours are left between updates. Choose what works for you.

Ideally, you are looking to start, not with big numbers, but quality fans or followers. Quality here means: Reacts to and interacts with you.

Try to connect with communities that are interested in the type of book you are finishing.

Conclusion

I could easily write a book about each area that I just covered. There is just so much that could be said. The most important is that building a good platform will make your work easier to get published.

On a side note, you are already doing a lot of free work “for the exposure” so don’t let anyone take advantage of the fact that you are just starting out. Big operations and small will often try to get you to work for nothing more than a link home. You are a professional writer – or will be once published – professionals get paid or at least make an even trade.

Finally, do not let all this distract you from actually writing but try to make a little time to build a valuable platform. You will be glad that you did.

What tips would you add?

Do you have an author website – tell us about it?

Do you promote on social media? Which sites worked best for you?

What this version of Careless Whisper can teach about telling stories

This is Careless Whisper on an acoustic guitar and it sounds amazing.

What has this got to do with writing? More than you might think.

It is often tempting to think that in order to “make it” as a writer we have to come up with entirely original stories, fresh settings, new and different characters and do something that no one has ever thought of before.

However, as demonstrated by the video above, taking a classic and putting it into a new setting can make something entirely great and unique to you.

  • Take Firefly as an example. The old done-to-death cowboy story but set on a spaceship. One of the greatest TV series that ended too soon (in my opinion).
  • What about A.I.: Artificial Intelligence? A.I. is pretty much an update of The Adventures of Pinocchio but set in a post-apocalyptic North America.
  • Edward Scissorhands is just Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein set in 1960s suburbia.
  • The Lion King, songs aside, is more or less William Shakespeare’s Hamlet told in the form of an animal fable.
  • The 1996 film, Independence Day is near enough a reworking of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds with a more modern setting. In both cases, a virus saves the day.

This is something you can do too. Take a classic, strip it down to the themes and narrative mechanics and rebuild it in a new setting.

Don’t copy; reinvent.

For example, what if you took Cinderella’s story – just the core elements – and set the whole thing aboard a pirate ship? Or recycled it in space? Or made it a young boy’s coming of age story set in the 1960s?

For example, what if you took the biblical parable of The Good Samaritan and respun it to tell the story of a white supremacist saved by a Caribbean man and the friendship that followed? You would have the platform to explore what it means to be a good neighbour as well as tell a very compelling story.

Reframing a classic is a time honoured tradition. Here is a list of reframed classics. Here is another list.

Why not try it for yourself? Find a much loved old classic and let it inspire you to tell a whole new story.

Here’s a geeky TV show theme tune on an acoustic guitar to show you anything can be reinterpreted into any setting and, with a little (or a lot) of skill, be amazing.

If you want to hear more amazing acoustic covers the guy in both these videos has a channel full of great tracks like this. Check it out.

Getting a good literary agent

Getting published is not easy. Getting a literary agent helps but getting an agent is no small task.

For example, 5 Easy Ways to Keep Your Work from Ending Up in an Agent’s Trash” by Bethany Cadman (author of Doctor Vanilla’s Sunflowers) lists not following the submission guidelines, poor spelling, and bad query letters among the reasons writers get rejected.

Assuming that you avoid the common mistakes here is a selection of advice from writers about getting a good literary agent.

Keep reading “Getting a good literary agent” on our new website.