A Pervasive Writing Fallacy Revealed.
Among writing gurus and publishing gatekeepers, much is made of what is called a “platform,” as one of the keys to success as an author. This platform is said to be built via a writer’s social media exposure. But despite its aura of importance, there is no definition of any such kind of platform in the major dictionaries that are available online. Here’s an example:
platform (ˈplætfɔːm) n.
- (Architecture) a raised floor or other horizontal surface, such as a stage for speakers
- (Railways) a raised area at a railway station, from which passengers have access to the trains
- (Mining & Quarrying) See drilling platform, production platform
- (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) the declared principles, aims, etc, of a political party, an organization, or an individual
- (Physical Geography) a level raised area of ground
- (Clothing & Fashion)
- the thick raised sole of some high-heeled shoes
- (as modifier): platform shoes.
- (Military) a vehicle or level place on which weapons are mounted and fired
- (Computer Science) a specific type of computer hardware or computer operating system
[C16: from French plateforme, from plat flat + forme form, layout]
platform. (n.d.) Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014. (1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014). Retrieved June 18 2016 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/platform
Complicating this situation are the conflicting reports of authors about the effectiveness of social media as a way to successfully market writing: for every author who claims that social media exposure has brought hordes of buyers, another author can be found who relates negative results. In addition, there is a growing amount of advice that contradicts the endorsement of social media marketing, maintaining that sales messages sent via social media constitute buyer-alienating spam.
Perhaps by examining more closely the established examples of platforms that appear in the dictionary definition, we can learn something about how the the concept could be more realistically be applied to the marketing of writing.
Each of these real platforms possesses a characteristic that’s missing from social media:
This large speaker’s platform includes a lectern and podium on a raked rostrum in an auditorium that seats 20,000 people.
The lectern behind the podium on the rostrum in the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City effectively focuses attention on the speaker who is addressing the audience.
Social media are swamped with competing messages, precluding any focus.
A Metro subway platform uniquely notifies Parisian rail commuters that they’ve arrived at the Louvre station.
You can’t see it really well in this photo, but the Louvre Metro station is stunningly decorated with evocative artwork that transforms the platform into a portal to the museum. I’ve been there, and the lure to get off the subway and make a detour to the museum is very strong.
Social media cannot be similarly set up to showcase a writer’s work, because the programming exists to serve the ends of the owners of the service, which is to sell advertising.
An oil platform mines the seabed.
The oil platform obtains valuable petroleum that is already there for the taking.
Social media can provide no such tangible product.
Tickets to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions permitted guests to hear the party’s official political platform.
Political party platforms proclaimed at the Republican and Democratic conventions were expounded by authoritative members of cohesive, organized groups.
As collections of random individuals, social media exhibit no cohesiveness, neither can they present messages that are recognized as authoritative.
A geologic rock platform endures for millennia.
It takes a very long time for a geologic rock platform to erode and disappear.
Social media is ephemeral: depending on the volume of traffic, a message may remain visible from mere seconds to a few hours.
Platform shoes elevate their wearer above the crowd.
Carmen Miranda’s tall, shiny platform shoes were part of an undeniably attention-grabbing costume that set her apart from all other entertainers.
Social media formats reduce all users to the same size and style.
During the First World War, an enormous siege gun located on this huge weapons platform threatened the entire city of Paris.
The “Paris Gun” fired in the neighborhood of 360 shells between March and August of 1918. At that time, the City of Paris numbered nearly 3 million people (almost 4.5 million if you include the surrounding urban area), and although there were fewer than 900 casualties due to the bombardment, the entire population of Paris knew about the siege gun, because the explosions could be heard across the city.
The odds of an individual Indie author successfully and effectively gaining the recognition of a social media audience in the millions rival the survival chances of a snowball in Hades; and as mentioned earlier, intensively bombarding social media with book sales pitches can make social media readers feel the same way about an author as the Parisians felt about the Germans.
The personal computer’s hardware and operating system made up the platform that broke the monopoly of traditional publishing houses over the distribution of the written word.
“Knowledge is power,” the saying goes, and for more than half a millennium, only the wealthiest people controlled the publication of all knowledge in print. The personal computer and its peripherals changed that, by putting the means of producing and distributing writing under the direct control of the Indie author-publisher.
Nevertheless, the personal computer platform’s most powerful influence does not reside in its access to personal social media, for all the reasons that have been given above. In addition, just as as it was for publishing in centuries past, only the well-heeled have the wherewithal to pour money into social media as a means of advertising.
There is no evidence that the average Indie author-publisher commands the personnel and pecuniary resources to exploit social media marketing at the necessary level of fiscal involvement.
If an individual social media “platform” isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, what, then, is the independently-published author to do, to gain effective exposure and discoverability?
Stay tuned, to consider an alternative to the “author’s platform”. . . .