To tweet or not to tweet, is that the question?
As a writer, I've heard the conventional wisdom, spouted time and again at conferences, in articles and blog posts, and by fellow writers, about the importance of having a presence on the web. Establish your platform.
I first heard the expression "author's platform" in a conference workshop on writing nonfiction book proposals. In that context, it made perfect sense. At the time, I was outlining a supplemental biology text for high school and college use. For that sort of work, credentials are important; they establish credibility. They are a measure of how well the content may be accepted by the target audience because of their awareness, respect, and trust of the author.
Then the phrase "establish your platform" worked its way into the fiction world, right alongside the increasing capabilities and growing use of social media like Facebook, Twitter, and the expanding world of easy-to-use blog sites. Now, everyone can establish a platform to promote themselves and grow a fan-base before achieving anything worthy of having fans for, aside from perhaps, the ability to fire off a pithy, 140 character statement on a regular basis.
In nonfiction, one's platform is based on accomplishments and professional reputation: things that take years to build. In fiction, however, the current wisdom is that a prospective or aspiring writer should establish their platform first, then strive for success. That, to me, is akin to building a nonfiction platform on one's desire to, someday, learn about and achieve success in the field you're writing about. Why actually demonstrate capability and competence? Why actually acquire knowledge, information, and experience, when one can just want to maybe do those things, someday?
Maybe I'm old. Maybe I'm a curmudgeon. Okay, there's no doubt about that--I'm a curmudgeon. Maybe I'm a luddite. For whatever reason, I resist the idea of establishing a platform based on wanting to have a platform. Professionally, as a scientist and trainer with over twenty years working in the field of coastal resource management with NOAA and Sea Grant, having developed a broad network of colleagues, students, and former students who are now professionals with admirable reputations, I feel confident of my credentials and platform. I could not have established a platform in the field of marine and coastal resource management at twenty, when I only aspired to what I've achieved today.
As a novelist, that's exactly where I am. I'm still learning and growing, still aspiring to be accomplished in my new pursuit. My first novel has won me fans beyond family and friends. I write a blog and have a Facebook page to post information and updates, and to promote Marina Melee and talk about my work-in-progress, Chupacabra. I am in the process of establishing a platform. That process, in my mind, should run parallel to actual accomplishment and progress in the field of writing.
I suppose this trend toward establishing a platform based on nothing reflects our culture. Everyone gets a trophy just for showing up. Opinion are valued as much as, if not more than facts, and we've all heard that "perception is reality." Well, the truth is, more often than not, things are misperceived. In that case, they aren't reality, they're wrong. And "reality television" is a place where wannabe stars are famous for being famous, not for actually having star quality, acting ability, or competency in their craft.
I expect more from myself.
Am I shooting myself in the foot as an author by not buying into the idea that one's platform should be having a platform? I don't think so. A platform is something one stands on. It needs substance to support you over the long haul. Building a solid platform can't be rushed if you want it to last. I don't want to be known for being known. I want to be known as a good, or better yet, a great novelist.
I'll build my platform plank-by-plank, out of actual, writer platform materials: solid writing, constant study, growth, and improvement in my craft, quality publications, and a growing fan-base of an audience that admires and appreciates my work. Will that take more effort than Tweeting a bon mot or two each day? Probably. But I expect my platform--and my work--to have greater longevity than your average Tweet, status update, or blog post, too.