Pamela K. Johnson, who edits the NWUsletter of the National Writers Union (USA), asked me for some words of wisdom on building a writer platform. As a member since 2000, I was happy to oblige. You can find the story here.

National Writers Union

The NWU, an affiliate of the United Auto Workers, offers freelance writers of all genres a way to band together in this ever-changing world of publishing. Members receive contract advice, help with missing payments from clients, magazines, websites and traditional publishers. Go check it out!

The Great Chicago Fire, an artists rendering, ...
Chicago was on Fire! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a terrific time with the Independent Writers of Chicago last week. What a lively group! They took my instructions that this was an interactive presentation to heart. Folks were so engaged, and asked so many questions, I barely got halfway through my planned talk. Nonetheless, have a look at the complete slide deck (click the link if the embed isn’t working):

Build Your Author Platform talk at Independent Writers of Chicago

To those of you who attended, you’ll enjoy these slides  more than what you saw that night.

The Big Four social media sites

I focused my talk on why having a website (like this one) is important, and connecting with the most important social media sites:

The slides will give you a hint on why these are the most important, and pros and cons for each service.

But can you make money with it?

Karma as action and reaction: if we sow goodne...
Karma as action and reaction: if we sow goodness, we will reap goodness. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Much of the conversation focused on the fundamental question for any freelance writer: Is social media really a valuable investment in time? One writer noted that she set and achieved a goal to get 10,000 Twitter followers, but that she found it impossible to communicate effectively with that size crowd. Not discouraged, she divided her followers into lists based on who shared her content and other criteria. She, in turn, spent more time reading and sharing posts from the folks who supported her.

I also pointed out that many agents and publishers use audience size as a way to decide whether a new author is willing to do the marketing work needed to sell books today. No audience, no sale.

 New places to build platform

One thing I wish I could have shared is my time-honored advice for social media success: get in early! I’ve told this story often, learned by way of the Most Influential Person in Technical Communication, Tom Johnson.  In short: One of the main reasons I was once on the list of Most Influential that Tom was #1 on is that Tom and I both discovered – and posted to – Twitter early.

Eight years ago this month, some friends came back from South by Southwest to spread the word of the usefulness and fun quotient of the 140-character mini-blog tool. I signed up, and the rest is certainly history. (Psst…you can follow me using the button on the right).

So let me hook you up with two (relatively) new services that I’m on. I have no idea whether they will become household names over time, but if they do, I want to say I helped.

  • Ello: This service was the hottest thing in the blogosphere for a week or so late last year. Not unlike Google+, this ad-free zone was torched by the same bloggers and journalists for not dethroning Facebook quickly enough. Nonetheless, this beta service continues to grow, add features, and remains pretty interesting. I’ve got invites…
  • Known: I learned about this site by way of a comment on an article by Dan Gillmor
    Dan Gillmor, American technology writer and fo...
    Dan Gillmor, American technology writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    on Medium. I haven’t done much here, and don’t entirely get its purpose yet, but you might find it interesting too. Gillmor (one of my tech-journalist heroes, BTW) calls himself “a big fan.”

Thanks again to the Independent Writers of Chicago (especially Tom Kepler, James Kepler and David Steinkraus) for inviting me to speak, and providing such a great audience. Oh, the pizza was great, too!

It’s one of my stock phrases: “The world needs more writers, and fewer wannabe-writers.” Sometimes people think I’m being the crotchety published author telling all the new independent and self-published writers to give it all up.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Two fundamental characteristics define writers to my mind:

Writers write, wannabes dream of being writers

Embed from Getty Images

If you want to be a writer, open up a word processor, text editor, or pad of paper and start putting words down in some permanent form. Now you have a copyrighted work! Develop your writing habit by repeatedly putting words down in some permanent form; every day is best, but don’t beat yourself over the head if you miss a day now and then. You won’t get better unless and until writing becomes a habit.

Writers look for readers

Wannabes who take the first step (develop their writing habit) too often believe their work isn’t good enough for others to read. Too often,  we’re our own worst critic, but let me say this as clearly as I know how: the only way to succeed as a professional writer is to get readers! You have to find — and grow — an audience for your writing.

Today’s writers have a multitude of tools and places to try out their skills, and new ones pop up regularly. If you want to hone your fictional craft, try WattPad, or enter a contest. If you just want to describe your view of the world, head to WordPress.com and start blogging. Use your Facebook or Google+ space to find others interested in the same things you are and write to them.

English: Professional writers recruit for Wiki...
English: Professional writers recruit for Wikipedia writing classes for public (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the way, here’s a secret: if you do any of the above, you not only have a copyright, but you’re a published writer. No longer a wannabe.  And that’s what I mean by needing fewer wannabes.

Know someone who needs help finding readers?

Build Your Author PlatformNow it’s time for the mercenary part of this post. Perhaps you know a wannabe-writer (or maybe more than one). For many folks, December is a time for remembering your friends and family members.  You know the definition of “friend,” right?

The people who know you best, and hang around with you anyway

Often you thank these people at this time of year with gifts. Have I got a great idea for you! It’s a collection of words that Carole Jelen and I wrote called Build Your Author Platform: The New Rules. It came out in May, and it will help the wannabes in your life find the audience they’ve dreamed of, regardless of what they wanna write about. It comes in electronic and paper format (the paper is easier to wrap; some outlets may even be able to wrap it up for you).

I’ve got some handy links to the book on my Books page. You can also visit the Build Your Author Platform website for even more places to order.

May you all have a wonderful holiday season, and a 2015 where all the wannabes in your life become writers.