In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss practicalities, personal experiences, and spiritual ethics of marketing our writing online.
Scroll down for audio, video, and a full transcript, or find the podcast on Apple Podcasts here: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/gracewriters-podcast/id1519376330
In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, accredited editor with quals in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- What the research has to say
- Our experiences and discoveries
- An alternative way to look at marketing our writing
- The spiritual implications of marketing our writing.
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters podcast – Christian writers changing popular culture. Connect with us at gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, Help! What is an Author Platform. I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my books, blogs, and courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a romance writer and I live in Brisbane. I have four adult children and I’m a former early childhood educator. And you can find all my information under my pen name alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Good morning, I’m Donita Bundy. For the last 20 years I’ve been using my theology and ministry training to inform my preaching and teaching. And more recently, my blogging and writing. You can find out more about me at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: So, our topic today, Help! What is an Author Platform. My, don’t writers love marketing! That was a joke, by the way. Lots of us don’t but we’re going to try through this series on author platform to perhaps make it a little bit easier. So, under this topic today we’re going to look at what the research has to say about what an author platform is and how it operates. Share a few of our own experiences and discoveries. Some of which will be positive and some of which we might be honest about what’s been going on for us. And an alternative way to look at marketing our writing and the spiritual implications of marketing our writing. Alison, can you share with us first? What have you found regarding what a platform is? What’s in it? How people feel about it?
Alison Joy: Yes, I think the easiest thing I can suggest is to use a writing guru or indie publishing guru by the name of David Gaughran, to use his definition which cuts out all the excess stuff and just gets down to the bare basics, which is a writing platform is a writer’s collective presence on the internet. Now, I’d like to think of it as maybe like you go to the train station and there’s a platform there and the platform is a way for people to get on and off the train. So, I’m thinking, well, maybe an author platform is like where people can get on and off and see what they like, and find out about you as an author.
Now, what is the purpose of having an author platform? We all hear that we need one but why do we need one? Okay, we need a presence on the internet but why do we need a presence on the internet? It’s to entice new readers and to engage existing ones and to build community. So, there’s lots of places you can go to build a platform and it’s like, “My goodness! It’s so overwhelming.” Where do you start? What do you do? Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Snapchat, Tik Tok, YouTube. It keeps going. It keeps going. And you go, “Oh, my goodness!”
Belinda Pollard: And when do I find time to write?!
Alison Joy: Exactly! It’s like it’s taking time away from writing. And do you have to be on everything? Should you be on everything? Is it necessary? Where do you go? And you go here and there, and you’ll find everybody’s got different opinions about where you should go or what you should be doing with all the platforms. So, look, I’ll just defer back to David Gaughran because I just think what he says makes sense. And he just says, you really only need three things. The main thing is the website, a mailing list, and a Facebook page. And he says Facebook because, to be honest, there’s three billion monthly users so it’s still the place where most people are.
He said, yes, all the other things are good and yes, you can add them if you want depending on your personal preference or maybe where your readers hang out. And it’s probably a good idea to get the basics down and then add the other bits as you see fit.
And probably a good idea to master each one before you add. Don’t add them all at once. Do the one. When you get your head around that one then maybe add another one and then maybe add another one, if you want. But he just said just stick to those three, for the basics, and then go from there.
Now, I know people often say writers need to blog. But, of course, blogging takes up a lot of time, a lot of headspace, when you could be writing. Now, I’m a bit hit and miss with my blogging. Donita, I know you really enjoy blogging and you found that beneficial. So, I think David Gaughran was the same. He doesn’t advocate blogging, as such, but having said that, he blogs. He finds it very beneficial because he finds lots of opportunities while blogging. He gets commercial opportunities and other speaking engagements and things like that from his blogging. So, he finds it very beneficial. I’m still figuring out whether it’s beneficial to me. I sort of enjoy it, but I don’t. So, still figuring that one out.
Belinda Pollard: Yes. Yes, I think he’s Irish. Is that correct? An Irish guy?
Alison Joy: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: And we will put the link to his name because it’s not that easy to spell.
Another one that I’ve found a bit useful is an American guy called Michael Hyatt who has been in the publishing industry for many years and he actually wrote a book called, Platform. Some of the information in it is a little bit dated now because it’s all of five years old. Which makes some of the social media suggestions and things dated because this stuff is moving so fast. But I think he’s got some quite useful stuff in there regarding the basics of marketing which is good for us to remember because marketing, and I remember learning this at university 17 billion years ago! The marketing mix of the four P’s which is: Product, Place, Pricing and Promotion. And it starts with Product. And I quite like the way that he’s bringing that into it. We need to think about what this writing is initially that we’re selling.
That’s great. Thanks Alison. And can you tell us a little bit about your personal experiences, both positive and negative, if you wish.
Alison Joy: Well, I’m still trying to figure everything out because I’m really new at this. So, I’ve got a website and I’m working on that. I’m doing a little bit of blogging; not a whole lot at the moment. I’m finding that a bit of a struggle, to be honest.
I like Instagram. I love photos. So that was a no brainer for me. I had to have Instagram. I’ve added a few of the others and I’m still figuring out how to do those. But it’s just basically having a presence there. Not so much a hugely active presence but just to actually have a presence there.
Belinda Pollard: At least be there.
Alison Joy: Well, the other thing he says is to have a mailing list. So that’s my big goal for the next year is to actually figure that out and get it up and running.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, good stuff. What about you, Donita? What’s your experience been so far?
Donita Bundy: Well, as you know and I’ve shared before on the podcast, I came into writing completely ignorant and late. I sent it off to an editor and I thought, “Right, now I’m ready to publish!” So, I went and researched an agent because I believed that I couldn’t get published without an agent. I researched all agents all over the world and I found out who might be interested in working with my manuscript. I narrowed it down to just a few people and emailed that off. And everyone said you might get a response within three months and it probably won’t be positive.
So, I was all ready but two days later I got a response from an agent. So excited. And he said, “Love the premise. Would like to work with you. Just a couple of things you need to do. So, could you start a website, start a blog, get on social media, start doing public speaking and get back to me in six months and we’ll talk.” Yes! Alright.
So, I climbed that learning cliff which is actually a backward kind of cliff with my fingernails. And I learnt how to create a website. I started a blog not knowing what to blog about. I got on social media – and I was previously a social media-phobe. I had no presence, at all, on any site.
So, I got into Facebook and Instagram. Tried Twitter. I’m not a Twitterer!
And then I started getting, because I was used to public speaking with preaching and I had a teaching degree, I was offered a position teaching creative writing in the schools. And that ticked the public speaking box.
So, I did all this, and I raced back. I reedited my work and I did everything I was supposed to do, and I presented my package to the agent. I had grown from negative numbers in my social media up to about 100. So, I had on my email list, from my website, I was around 20 to 30 people and I presented my package back to the agent and it was that sound of one hand clapping in the desert. I’m afraid he was looking for tens of thousands of followers. And I must admit, I was shattered.
I just thought, I can’t do this. And I came away thinking I cannot be a writer because I can’t do social media and I cannot do this platform therefore I’m ruled out. I just want to write stories. I just want to write a book. But I can’t do that because I have failed in creating an author platform in six months! And I now realise that it’s kind of unrealistic.
So, that was my experience of author platform and I’m a couple of years down the track now. I think that was back in 2016.
Since then, I’ve had a complete website crash and rebuilt from scratch which is also building everything, my email list and everything as well, from scratch. And just learning how I fit into a platform and how a platform fits around me. So that’s been my experience.
Belinda Pollard: What a story! And there are so many things that I’d like to unpick from your story, and we will do that in future episodes. Particularly that idea that you’ve got to have tens of thousands of followers.
Donita Bundy: I don’t know enough about the publishing industry and mainstream traditional publishing, but I do know it’s very difficult, especially with the growth of indie publishing. And so, I believe what this agent was doing was trying to guarantee an element of success. If I already had done the marketing. If I already had the following. If I already had all of that presence that I had created, his job was to come along and represent my books and sell me as a package to one of the Big Five, the work was done, and it would be more acceptable.
So, as I was reflecting on all of that, I thought, “Well, you know what, if I’m going to have to do all the work anyway, if I’m going to have to be the one who’s constantly promoting myself and I’m the one who has to take that up as part of my business then, potentially, I’m thinking why do I need an agent, anyway?”
So, I decided then to, instead of sharing all of my ‘grand profit’ of an income with others, I thought, “Well, if I’m going to do all the work, you know what, I’m just going to just plod along by myself and go the indie route and try that.”
Belinda Pollard: Thank you for sharing that fascinating story. My own personal story regarding building a platform, mine was probably what I would call the ‘stumbling discovery model’ of building an online platform. And I’m not ashamed to say that. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing.
I did start doing it in 2010 which gives me a little bit of a head start on some people who are newer to it. But I knew I had to have a website because I had a business, and in 2010 it was becoming clear that you couldn’t have a business and not have a website. So, I kind of did that. I worked out how to set it up myself. I anguished over it. Spent hours on it. Figured it out. Got it moving.
Then I knew you had to do social media, whatever the heck that was! Back in 2010 how many of us really were that involved in it or knew what it was?
So, I found a course about Twitter and I put on my serious frowny face and I sat down, and I tried to work out how to do Twitter. Which I actually discovered, over time, was a powerhouse of writerly connections and turned out to be actually what built my blog following as well.
But it’s an interesting thing. It’s a constant voyage of discovery. I’ve been thinking a lot about this because I know that, a) writers often don’t really love the marketing side, and b) for Christian writers we often feel that concern that we’re big-noting ourselves. Where’s the humility? Where’s the godliness? Where’s the care for others when we’re out there spruiking ourselves and pushing our books and writing down people’s throats?
And I was thinking about this and I was thinking, how about we think about it a different way? How about we think about it not as building a platform to elevate ourselves but a bridge. What if we build a bridge to connect ourselves with other humans, which is valuable, in and of itself, in this time of such alienation and loneliness. What if we look at it not as an imposition, you know, all this time that’s involved in it but as an opportunity. An opportunity to connect. We have an extraordinary opportunity as writers in this particularly point in history to connect directly with our readers. This was not available to writers in the past. They would get some letters from people, but this kind of instant conversation and connection was not available.
And I think one of the things about building a bridge rather than a platform is that you don’t need to be perfect and you don’t need to be famous and you don’t need to be some glorious, up-there person that everybody needs to look up to. You just need to be yourself when you’re building a bridge.
And I was also thinking with our writing, what if we’re not creating a rocket to propel ourselves to superstardom and power but an airliner to take others where they want or need to go? To lift people.
If we’re writing fiction, one of the functions of fiction is that it helps lift people out of the daily grind and the things that are making them stressed or miserable or whatever in this particular day.
For non-fiction, we might be helping people learn new skills, creating new opportunities in their lives, giving them increased understanding of things.
If we’re writing self-help or devotionals, we might be bringing them to greater healing or holiness and metaphorically lifting people closer to God. Now I know that God is not in a white suit sitting on a cloud. We know theologically that is not true and He is here present with us. But just using that airliner image to think about the lifting of people closer to God and where our goal is not to force people to buy our writing against their will, to make them get something they don’t want. To trick them into getting something they don’t want, but help them to find something that they do want and need.
So, we’re not forcing or tricking. We’re helping and connecting and lifting. So those are just some ideas that I was having as I was thinking about that. What do you guys think?
Alison Joy: Yes, I think that’s a really good analogy. Well done!
Belinda Pollard: Just a different way of thinking because we do get, sometimes, so caught up.
Donita Bundy: I think, too, if we come back to why we’re writing. Number 1, regardless of who we are, I think, especially for the people who are writing fiction, number 1 is to entertain. Number 2, in non-fiction, is to inform. So, when we entertain, we do transport people away from where they currently are. You’re offering them an escape into an alternate place where their mind can go for a break. And so, yes, I think of it as a bridge and it’s a gift. Look at our writing as a gift that we’re offering.
Belinda Pollard: Yes.
Donita Bundy: You transport people or inform people and because we’re Gracewriters we are also offering a gift of truth. So, when we are marketing our book, we can see ourselves as gift-givers as well as that transporting people. Lifting them higher, as you said Belinda, or transporting them to a place they need to go or like to go for a while, a holiday.
Belinda Pollard: A little mini mental holiday.
Donita Bundy: Yes!
Belinda Pollard: And what about those kind of deeper, spiritual underpinnings of this whole concept of marketing our writing, Donita?
Donita Bundy: I think, first of all, when we come to author platform we are actually representing or creating a present of who we are out into the world. And now, obviously, with the internet we just go everywhere. There’s no place we can’t go with the internet. So, we are creating a brand. Some writers or wordsmiths will have a brand around their work. But for a lot of us our brand is ourselves. Like Alison and I also enjoy photography. So, kind of our brand will be including these different aspects. But ultimately our brand, whether it’s our work or ourselves, comes from who we are.
So, we’re building a representation of ourselves in our author platform and whether we are writing for a Christian audience or a mainstream audience we are children of God. So that has to underpin who we are and how we present ourselves on our author platform. So, what we do and how we do it, regardless of the mode we write in, it will have to reflect back on that. We talk about not wanting to force things down people’s neck, Belinda, I see it kind of like missionaries who are overseas working in countries where they cannot mention that they are Christians. They can’t mention God’s name.
So, for people who are writing gracenotes in work to a non-Christian audience there are so many things we can do in our writing, in our platform, that still reveal who we are to the world. And so, I think it comes down to letting who we are filter through our platform and how we do that and how we represent ourself. I like to think, even though this verse, 1 Timothy 3:2, is talking about leadership in the church, I think it’s a great indicator for all of us to hold ourselves up to. It’s where Paul’s taking to Timothy about what an overseer should be. An overseer is to be above reproach, faithful, temperate, self-controlled, respectful, and hospitable, able to teach.
And whilst we don’t like to add to scripture, I’d love to add to that that we are able to be taught, as well. So, if we encompass that as we step forward into the public then whatever we do is not going to be offensive and it will be open to all and honouring God. But in saying that, it’s only fair to admit that we will offend. I mean, we can’t be human and interacting in the world, even with the best intentions, without causing offence. That if we are doing that unintentionally, well then, we can learn and be taught how to interact better.
But if we approach everything knowing that God is with us, God is overlooking and is within us as we work, then as we put ourselves out there with our brand, however we do that, God is there and honoured in what we do. So, I think the pressure that we are tempted to fall into is to be doing whatever we need to do to get clicks and ticks and followers and that can be tempting to do things that aren’t God-honouring. Even if we are presenting for a non-Christian audience, we still need to be God-honouring in what we do. And be faithful and patient as we honour God with who we are and what we do. And I’m afraid that for me, comes back to that Romans 12:1, it’s an act of worship.
So being mindful of how we are presenting ourselves to the world. Whether we’re for a Christian or non-Christian audience. Being prayerful about how we go about this because, believe it or not, God knows marketing and He’s been at it for a while and He’s pretty good at it! And I think that if you look, again, the classic example, Jesus when he died. How many people did He have around him and yet His work and His work ethic and who He was, and His word has exploded through time.
So, we don’t necessarily have to be chasing the click. I think we need to be chasing that honour and glory of God and then allow that development of our brands and our author platform to grow in a dynamic, unique way that represents us and who we are in God, regardless of who our audience is.
Belinda Pollard: Great thoughts. Thank you, Donita. Alison, have you got any final thoughts on this topic of marketing, building a platform?
Alison Joy: I just think we have to just get in there and have a go and not beat ourselves up too much because we’re not going to get it right the first time. Probably not even going to get it right the second or third time. It’s just get in there and have a go and learn as you go and maybe you can find other people to ask questions of. I mean, I know, that’s another thing finding other writers that you can compare notes with. And say, “Okay, well, what did you do? What worked for you? This is what I’ve done. It has worked. It hasn’t worked.”
It’s just trial and error and some people will say, “Well, this is the blueprint, and this is what you need to do.” And, “No, no, no, this is the blueprint. This is what you need.” And everybody’s different.
Belinda Pollard: You need to have your own blueprint, yes.
Alison Joy: Yes, you’ve got to make your own blueprint. You’ve got to figure it out as you go along. And what works for Alison may not work for Belinda and may not work for Donita. So, everyone’s got to find their own way. And it’s just a trial-and-error process, I guess, now.
Belinda Pollard: Good thoughts. Donita, anything final to add?
Donita Bundy: Yes, just finally I’d like to say that be mindful that our platform will change as we change. None of us is set in concrete. We’re all growing, we’re all learning, we’re all developing and as we travel through our writing journey, we will develop more things or drop things off. And so, what we create today will not necessarily be relevant for what we’re doing next year or the year after it. And it’s okay for those blueprints to be edited.
So, don’t feel that we’re stuck, even to our own brand or author platform that we have created. We have permission to develop and grow and edit and blossom as we grow as a writer. Just like as we grow as Christians and are transformed so too will that be reflected in how we present to the world our author platform.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, thank you. How about I pray for us and the Gracewriters before we finish.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that you do actually understand all of this stuff. You know what matters about it. You know that sometimes we will make mistakes in it. Sometimes they’ll be quite bad mistakes but with you there is always second chances and new opportunities. And we pray that you might help us all to keep that focus on what you want from our writing and for our writing and building those connections with other people. And letting go, to a certain extent, of what the world says we should want. Please help us, Lord, and strengthen us and give us wisdom and creativity and peace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Alison Joy: Amen.
Donita Bundy: Amen
Belinda Pollard: Thank you for joining us today on the Gracewriters podcast. Thank you, Alison Joy, and Donita Bundy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time as we continue with this author platform series.
Thank you for joining us today at the Gracewriters podcast – Christian writers changing popular culture. Subscribe to the blog to receive an invitation to our monthly catch-up on Zoom and to our free private online forum where members discuss topics that affect Christian writers. Connect with us at gracewriters.com. We’d love to see you there.