‘Platform’ and how to think about it

We’re told that all writers need a platform. This is not the creaky stage on which the Women’s Institute sings Jerusalem, but the underpinning material of a marketing strategy.

The very word makes most writers cringe like slugs threatened with salt because it sounds so very ugly to call the people you hope will love your book a ‘platform’. It also implies you are a mean and grasping cad who stands on the backs of your supporters to reach higher. No wonder then, that writers dread the ‘platform’ question.

There is a different way to approach it though. Think of your platform not as ‘your’ readers and supporters, but as your desires. This stops it being a hollow construction of materialistic greed, symbolised by the impressive Beijing 'flowerbed' and makes it into a trip through your hopes and visions.

For example, part of my platform is first time novelists. I don’t expect the ones I’m in touch with to dash out and buy my novel (although, hey guys, I dashed out and bought yours, okay?) but I wanted to understand how having a first novel published actually worked; to understand the business; to discover how it affected the writer; to brace myself for the good and bad when it eventually happens to me.

So although I do hope some of many writers whose first novels I’ve read and reviewed, and with whom I’ve corresponded over the past few years, will go and buy my book, will offer me a reciprocal review (if only on Amazon) and will, therefore, be ‘platform’, my purpose in engaging with them was not marketing, but wisdom – they had it, I didn’t. In return they wanted publicity and support and in a very small way I could provide it. It did not feel bad to engage in this relationship, in fact it felt very good to get to know excellent writers and people such as Charles Lambert and Sally Hinchcliffe, who turned out to be superb companions, whether in real life or online, and whose journeys in literature give me a vicarious thrill which will, one day, be a real thrill as I follow them up the path to noveldom.

Another part of my platform is environmentalists. I believe that the big issues for the world are environmental ones, and that good literature has to push them right to the front, by writing fantastic, gritty, sexy, demanding, thrilling and lovely stories about, or shaped by, what is happening to the natural world. But how to do that? Well some people have gone far down this road, like Barbara Kingsolver and – in a very different way – Cormac McCarthy - and others are making the journey, especially in genre fiction like the eco-thriller and the eco-scifi novel. Finding the best of these writers, talking to them, meeting their readership at events on online and seeing what their readers like and dislike is part of my platform.

It’s also fascinating and I’m learning a lot about how one weaves such themes into fiction in a way that doesn’t seem preachy or defeatist. And one day, maybe, the literally thousands of readers whom I’ve met in forums and with whom I’ve debated, and argued and laughed will see my novel … and there will be a familiarity (and, I hope, respect) that will cause them to reach for their wallet or paypal button. But that’s not why I got involved with them, I got involved because this subject is important to me, and it’s fun (for me) to argue about whose post-apocalypse world is more likely to come about: Cormac McCarthy’s or Margaret Atwood’s? And it does count as platform-building, even when you’re having fun.

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