Marketing, Platform Building and the Question of Who?

by Kendra Bonnett on March 15, 2010

catnav-book-business-active-3Post #32 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Business – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

All last week, Matilda and I shared bits of our interview with Linda Joy Myers on the occasion of the publication of her new book The Power of Memoir and the start of her blog book tour to promote the book.

Linda-Joy-MyersI’ve chosen to save these last two questions and answers for my Women’s Memoirs Book Business post today because her experiences confirm what we’ve been talking about for the past few months. Linda Joy tells us that she is just back from the San Francisco Writers Conference where the biggest topic of discussion was “platform and blog.” She says attendees were barraged by these two words.

Perhaps the most telling thing she says is her admission that she didn’t have a platform when she first began writing…when her writing book, Becoming Whole, came out in 2003 or her memoir, Don’t Call Me Mother, in 2005. Shortly after that, however, she began teaching memoir writing. She also founded the National Association of Memoir Writers. Linda Joy may have thought she was starting a business; what she was doing, in fact, was creating a platform for herself and her writing. She didn’t see it at first, but when she went to the 2008 East of Eden Writers Conference and talked with agents, they knew. Linda Joy says that she believes it was her platform that garnered her an agent and, ultimately, a book deal.

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In The Power of Memoir, Linda Joy wrote directly to her platform–memoir writers. But where does that leave those of us who don’t have a business network that can serve as our platform? If we don’t have a built-in platform or celebrity, we must start from scratch…and that’s where most writers must begin.

Again, I turn to our discussion with Linda Joy. In the case of memoir, she fully expects the first pass of a book (or at least the first few chapters) to be a very personal story. But as quickly as possible writers must move beyond the personal and start digging for the larger theme and message. We started this process together in my last post when I sought to answer the question, What’s my message? for my hypothetical memoir All For the Sake of Cheap Lobster. So what comes next?

We Need a Who?

When we left off our quest for a platform for All For the Sake of Cheap Lobster, I had identified my message: “My hypothetical memoir, with anecdotes to entertain, can serve both as a point of comparison for my fellow uprooted urban dwellers and as a guide for preparing mind and soul for the culture shock–for those still dreaming of getting away from it all: what to expect, how to fit in, what to drive, things to bring, things to leave behind, etc.”goat

So who is my who? One thing I know for sure is it’s not everyone. My post on Story Circle Network’s “Telling HerStories” discusses this all-too-common mistake.

I spent about an hour noodling around on Google. I tried “simple life,” “hobby farmers,” “off the grid,” “moving from the city to the country.” I learned that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of hobby farms–those selling $10,000 or less in total goods. This is actually an interesting market because hobby farms represent more than half of all farms in the United States today. I started getting more interested, but then I realized that while I have three acres and a beautiful, two-story barn, I don’t have any chickens, turkeys, or goats. I don’t even have a vegetable garden. No, farming is not one of my hobbies; how can I possibly write a blog for this audience? I can’t. And while some hobby farmers might find my posts on other subjects interesting and might even buy my memoir, I can’t call them my platform.

In researching statistics and demographics about people leaving the city, I found that most were Boomers. I also realized that the large majority of these people fleeing the city and suburbs in search of a simpler life and certain aspects of country living, didn’t want to completely leave convenience and creature comforts behind. Many were buying land and homes just outside the second- and third-tier cities, such as Bangor and Portland. They sought the best of both worlds.

I was getting some ideas for blogging subjects now:

  • Exploring second- and third-tier cities
  • Comfort on a shoestring
  • Clothes, events, activities that can help the newly uprooted fit in
  • How to find the best local resources
  • Guides to local food and farmers’ markets

KayakingI hadn’t yet decided if I wanted to focus only on Maine subjects. I couldn’t find any statistics on the number of people moving to Maine, but I was struck by the many new Active Adult Communities being built up and down the Maine coast. I could connect with these people. Even they didn’t go the old house in the small town route, they’d probably find my stories of living in a small fishing village amusing. And I knew what these people were looking for…I was looking for many of the same things.

But who is my who? Boomers on the move. The numbers are staggering; more than 4 million will turn 50 this year and every year for the next decade and a half. According to a Del Webb Baby Boomer Survey (2004) 36 percent plan to move just as soon as the kids leave home. That’s about 1.4 million a year eager to relocate. Now that’s a platform I can pursue. Finally, I read that many Boomers find Maine more appealing than Florida because the new over-50 crowd isn’t interested in sedate retirement. They want snowmobiling, skiing, kayaking, hiking, and more. That’s me as well.lobster-cooking

We’re told, write what we know. I’m a Boomer. I know Maine. I have my Maine/old house experiences to draw upon. I enjoy the outdoor activities. I love the local food (lobster, scallops, clams, blueberries, apples, salmon) and exploring the back roads, small towns and seasonal festivals. My Who? is me! And there are enough people just like me to get started.

As I ask the remaining questions, where, when, why and how, I may find additional platforms. For now, though, I have my what and who.

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March 15, 2010 at

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Kendra Bonnett March 16, 2010 at

I was reading today’s daily post from marketer Seth Godin, and I think it’s instructive for those of us searching for our platform. I’m going to quote the last line of his post, give you a link, and then share my thoughts:

“In the race between ‘who’ and ‘how many’, who usually wins–if action is your goal. Find the right people, those that are willing to listen to what you have to say, and ignore the masses that are just going to race on, unchanged.”

The gist of Seth’s post is that as writers, bloggers, content developers, and publishers, we face the challenge of going for the ever-increasing audience of scanners, clickers and surfers versus the engaged reader who is genuinely interested in what you have to say and will stick around and read/listen to your ideas.

It’s not a particularly new problem; people have been talking about changing reading habits ever since I can remember. When my sister was little, the “I Can Read Books” came out, created as a new way to get youngsters to love to read…that’s how worried parents and educators were that people were not reading enough. They certainly worked for her; she’s an omnivorous reader today.

But in a world of Google Analytics and declining newsstand sales, many writers and publishers are obsessed with getting and keeping “eyes” on their page or appealing to the lowest common denominator of reader with eye candy, short blasts and lots of wow.

Seth maintains that in the long run catering to the “how many” is destructive because they are not really connecting with us. They’re merely looking for their next fix, the next thrill. They’re like casual daters; they’re not marriage material. We are better off knowing our “who” and giving them our all.

Identify your “who,” learn everything you can about these people and deliver the goods. These are the ones who will be our loyal followers. These are the ones who will actually spend money with you–buy your books, subscribe to your newsletters, and visit your site regularly. They may not represent as large a set as all the lookie-lous, but in the vast realm that is the Internet, you’ll find enough true followers to build a business, a following and sell your books and/or products.

Renee Cassese March 16, 2010 at

I heard a couple of years ago about the importance of having a platform and was advised to start a blog in order to build one. In fact the memoir writer who coached me at the time, David Henry Sterry, got on the band wagon convincing me that I needed a blog to market my book in process “Lessons Learned in Levittown.” Have to say I was convinced though I had no idea how to go about it. I’m learning and I appreciated these posts Kendra, because they are giving some concrete advice on building my platform into something I can describe to a prospective agent. As a low-tech, low-profile writer, I’m learning how to put myself out there.

Kendra Bonnett March 16, 2010 at

I’m glad you’re finding value in these posts. I feel that it’s one thing to talk about tools and concepts, but it’s quite another thing to sort of see the process put into action.

Sylvia Olson March 20, 2010 at

Platform is being preached everywhere it seems. I live in British Columbia, Canada. At a recent writers conference here it was THE topic as well. Thank you for keeping us memoir writers informed. I read all your post with great interest. I also liked Linda-Joy’s blog tour idea. I think that can reach more people than a book store tour.

Kendra Bonnett March 21, 2010 at

Thank you, Sylvia. And yes, you are right. Platform is a big issue that is being preached everywhere these days. While I think it’s fair to say that it has always been important, as authors become increasingly responsible for the success (sales) of their books, the concept gets more play. And yet still too many authors think their only responsibility is to write. It’s this lack of a platform and plan for marketing that results in some 79 percent of books selling fewer than 99 copies…a pitiful result.

Brian McMillan April 17, 2010 at

I’m beginning to work on my own platform, and it certainly feels like an uphill battle. I’m wondering whether my blog has to be the same topic as my book… I wrote a memoir about my relationship with a homeless man, and I’m working on the proposal, etc., with my agent. I have a blog that focuses on “hilarious and heartbreaking” things kids say, as well as short essays on family living. That’s not a big part of my memoir, but it’s something I plan to continue to write about in the future. If the blog isn’t all that related (other than being memoir-ish), will it still help my platform, if it grows large enough? And how many facebook fans/blog followers/ web site hits constitutes a strong platform?

Kendra Bonnett April 18, 2010 at

Brian, I agree, building a platform is not always easy…unless you famous, notorious or political…and that’s not most of us.

In your case, I do think that your blog and memoir have enough in common to work in your favor. They’re both human interest topics and probably will appeal equally to your audience. In fact, once the memoir is published, its readers will probably be happy to find your blog about “kidisms.”

I don’t know how old you are and whether you remember Art Linkletter’s books called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” They were very popular in, I’m guessing, the late 50s and early 60s. According to Wikipedia, Linkletter interviewed more than 23,000 children on his House Party TV show and a lot of what these kids said became content for the books.

My point in bringing this up is that House Party was a sort-of daytime variety/interview show for housewives. I don’t remember it very well. I was young, and my mother wasn’t a regular viewer. But the show appealed to a wide range of women and carried a little bit of everything. I think you’re working in much the same area.

Read my blog on the Levy Flight effect. You might get an idea for a second blog on the subject of the homeless…some aspect that doesn’t take directly from your memoir content. You might get a great reciprocal effect where people who visit one site find their way over to the other and vice versa.

As for size, there is no rule of thumb. I do know that the more the better. Also, word of mouth is critical. You’d be better with a smaller following of people who are so crazy in love with what you are blogging that they talk you up to their friends, fans and followers. I think my best advice to you is not to think numbers in the early stages. Focus on quality content and getting a core of rabidly supportive friends to follow and talk you up. Let it become a viral thing.

If you do this, and start the process early enough, because it does take time, then you should have a platform that will make a publisher salivate.

Hope this helps, Brian.

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