When am I supposed to start my writing platform? After I’m established? Right before my first book comes out? Before I even finish a first draft? While starting a platform without even having a start to a book seems a little premature (especially for fiction), the rest of it tends to vary just as much as the rest of the “rules” of writing.
I know it’s important to have a platform as an author, but for all the articles I’ve read and the books I’ve perused, it’s remarkably unclear when exactly I should construct said platform. (Believe me, I would cite a few but most of this article is my own conjecture and piecing things together so it wouldn’t matter even if I could hunt down most of them.) Most articles cover how, not when (which is a sensible approach and I’m not complaining). I’m making a start on mine, but the idea that I could have started it too soon nags at me.
The articles that do mention when to start a platform tend to vary between two camps: start it now and build to a book, and start it before you’re published. The former, start it now, tends to apply more to nonfiction. With that genre you’re expected to have a book proposal rather than a full book to query, and part of that proposal is demonstrating what qualifies you to write the book and what you might use to sell the book. Having a website that reaches thousands of people, or a hefty online profile demonstrating your mastery of your topic, that’s the kind of thing that goes in a proposal. That’s also a big part of a platform. For fiction, I believe it’s a better idea to wait a little. Focus on the book or books themselves first, and then once you’re ready to sell those books start building up a platform.
So it seems the two approaches split between fiction and nonfiction, in general. Now I’m curious about the nuance of “before you’re published.” Does this mean after there’s a publisher all lined up and the book will hit the shelves in a few months? Probably not. Most articles agree it’s a little too late to build the credibility that makes a good platform to sell something on. So a little earlier.
Honestly, what I really wish I had figured out is whether or not to have a platform before or after querying an agent. Having a platform before gives something to show agents that could impress them. It could also be something that would need fixing in a major way after signing with someone. Having a platform after would mean having help setting it up, and expert advice on which social media to use. It could also mean relying heavily on someone else for something that should be your vision. There would appear to be pros and cons.
As evidenced by this blog, I’m a fan of the idea that writers should be proactive. If nothing else, start a blog and get a Twitter account and get used to interacting with total strangers online, because that’s kind of a part of the whole writing career. Getting practice now, even if I crash and burn, means I know one more way not to do it later.