The One Thing an Author Must Do to Expand their Platform

  

GREY MAGIC is out in audiobook! All three Bonds of Magic books are now live on Audible for your glomming pleasure!

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re offering tips for expanding your author platform.

“Platform” is one of those words I’m not terribly fond of, seeing as how it comes from the world of sales and legal wrangling. If you do a bit of digging (but please don’t go down that rabbit hole!) you’ll find that the term arose in the early 90s, along with the advent and burgeoning of the internet, and originally applied to nonfiction works and proposals. (Jane Friedman has a great write-up on it here.) Nowadays it seems like the term gets thrown about by all sorts of agent, editor, and marketing types in seeking the ideal author for them to make money off of.
(Note: there’s nothing wrong with trad-publishing folks making money off of authors. That’s the business model and it can work for everyone involved. I just feel that the ‘must have a great platform’ folks are more interested in the generating moolah side of things than, you know, books.)
Anyway, as Jane succinctly defines it, an author platform is an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.
So… not all of us, right? Most authors of fiction sell books because of our voice and the stories we write, not who we are. However! What we write is what reaches people, so who we can reach is within reasonable grasp for a writer of fiction.
Are you ready for this? The great secret??

Write more books!

Or short stories. Or create games or draw comics. Whatever medium is floating your creative boat at the moment, do more of that!
I know, I know – the answer is always the same. But that’s because this is the very best advice out there. The most effective marketing for any author is to create more. The more stuff you have out there, the more people you can reach.
Seriously, over the years I’ve seen SO MANY AUTHORS get sucked into focusing on flogging a single work or series to the exclusion of all other efforts. Sure, it can be easy to get focused on wanting a particular work to succeed, and yes, marketing can feel like a clearer path, with lots of vultures vendors out there waiting to take your money with glowing promises of high sales. Writing more stuff is hard.
But creating stuff is why you got into the gig in the first place, yes? So go do it, my friend.

Two Pieces of Advice on Crafting the Perfect Opening Line

Ah, the much-discussed, celebrated, and labored over first line… Is it that important?

(See what I did there?)

Many in the writing and publishing world will go on at length on the critical importance of the opening line of any work, long or short. There are long-standing contests for opening lines – brilliant or cringingly terrible. Writers are expected to trot our their favorite first lines (which I notice is also part of this week’s assignment at the SFF Seven). But do those opening lines deserve the significance they’re given?

Yes and no. The thing is, first lines are low-hanging fruit. They’re easy to pick on. They require very little reading and it’s easy to analyze a single line of text. For the teachers, coaches, and advice-givers of all stripes, an opening line is a simple aspect of a work to assess. In that way, they’re probably given far more emphasis than they deserve.

Unfortunately, a whole lot of the advice out there – not unlike a lot of writing advice – isn’t terribly helpful. Writers are told that their opening line must “hook” the reader, who is presumably like a fish in this analogy, and reel them in to keep reading more. And hopefully buy the work in question.

And people rhapsodize over favorite opening lines, analyzing brilliance, but – again – this rarely yields useful advice on how to write them.

I spent a lot of years not sure what made an opening line a good one or not. Only recently, with a bunch of published works behind me, have I come across actually useful advice on how to craft an opening line: It needs to establish the sort of story it is, and pose some sort of question. It doesn’t have to be a literal question, but it should invite the reader to wonder about something of interest to them.

A famous example of this is Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem How Do I Love Thee. (Those who listen to my podcast, First Cup of Coffee, know I’ve been going down an Elizabeth Barrett Browning/Robert Browning rabbit hole lately. I blame Connie Willis.) Almost anyone can quote the opening line, even if they don’t know the rest of the poem:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

What does this line do? It establishes that the work is a love poem, and invites the reader to wonder about what those ways are.

Thus, my opening line above: I established what sort of writing this is – an informational article on first lines – and I posed a literal question that I’d be addressing.

Once I figured out this was all I needed to do, it made crafting that opening line much easier! Here’s one of the first ones that I used this technique to write, from DARK WIZARD.

Gabriel Phel crested the last ridge of the notorious Knifeblade Mountains that guarded Elal lands on nearly three sides, and faced the final barrier.

This first line isn’t brilliant by any stretch. What it does, however, is inform the reader that this is an alternate fantasy world, and it invites them to wonder about who Gabriel Phel is, why he’s in this inhospitable land, and what this final barrier is. That’s it. And you know what? It works. That book has done a better job of hooking new readers than anything else of mine. I think there are other reasons for that book’s success, but I think that opening helps.

What’s most important to remember is: just because the first line comes first, that doesn’t mean it has to be written first. Certainly not perfected first. A lot of writers spend forever crafting that opening, trying to get it perfect – possibly because of this emphasis on first lines – and can circle that effort endlessly. That’s my second piece of advice. Craft the opening once the work is finished, or at least drafted. It will wait. And that gives that low-hanging fruit time to ripen.

 

First Cup of Coffee – September 29, 2021

I go long today talking mostly to the authors out there about buying ads, marketing, and promo – and why putting time, money and attention into writing instead will not only make you happier but more successful in the long run.



How to Write Shorter Works Successfully

THE SORCERESS QUEEN AND THE PIRATE ROGUE comes out April 19! This is Book Two in Heirs of Magic, and you can preorder a copy at the links below or via my website. 🙂

   

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re examining the differences between writing a short story, novella, novel, series. We’re asking each other: Do you prepare for length beforehand or edit down (or add new stuff) afterward?

So, I have Strong Opinions about this. Something that may come as a surprise to exactly none of you. Come on over for more!