Platform and Social Media Must Not Be Your Center

The Writer's Workout

Today’s post is excerpted from The Writer’s Workout: 366 Tips, Tasks, & Techniques From Your Writing Career Coach (Writer’s Digest, 2011) by Christina Katz.

With so much emphasis on the social networking aspects of creative careers these days, you might expect an expert on author platform building to promote an extremely social approach. But I focus on the creative person as an expressive individual instead. I want to help you cultivate creative confidence and express literary ability through writing. This is what belongs at the center of your writing career. Period. Here are three tips on author platform that give you an idea of my philosophy.

1. Eschew Branding

The second you put “my brand” at the center of your writing career is the second you suck all the air right out of your creative process. Many preach the gospel of branding for the benefit of creating fans, but from the perspective of creating, branding is the kiss of death.

Being a brand is like having to walk around wearing a sandwich board. No sooner do you become a brand and it’s going to get old, bring you down, weigh heavy on your creativity, and potentially even hurt business.

So don’t let those who insist that writers brand themselves take away the expressive, evolving pleasure of your natural dynamic and turn it into something packaged, phony, and forced.

As soon as you feel like you can’t follow your creative spark, you are going to wonder why all the branding baloney being served up all over the place ever sounded like a good idea.

Put your natural creative dynamic at the center of your writing career and you will soon wonder how you became so engaged, prolific, and productive. Your career will evolve naturally, unhindered by labels. Most importantly, you will be able to serve your audience and grow in a natural way.

2. Maybe You Should Work on Your Platform Later

Are you eternally frustrated by the siren calls to hurry up and build your platform before you’ve had a chance to find your legs as a writer?

Forget that nonsense! Find your writing legs first and work on your platform later, when the timing feels right to you.

There is only one logical time to start working on your platform and that is when you feel moved to do so. Even if you are the most reclusive writer in town, I believe that you know on an intuitive level when the time is right to start ramping up your platform.

The right timing usually coincides with the desire to take your work public. But don’t forget to give yourself time to adjust to the learning curve. Just because we decide we are ready to learn about something, it still takes time to absorb and apply all the lessons.

When I built my platform in advance of my first book deal, nobody told me to do it. I did it because it was a natural part of my creative momentum. What was bubbling up inside was ready to come out and be shared. I was seeking and building an audience intuitively.

Would it help your writing to shut out all of the yammer and calls to action that can be found everywhere and that only serve to throw you off your game?

Now that we have the Internet, we had better get used to the chronic calls to action. And we better get used to ignoring all but the quality messages we don’t want to miss.

Because the alternative is living in a constant state of overwhelm.

3. You Should Not Be  Constantly Available or Accessible

For writers, social networking represents excellent opportunities. We can poll our networks, create hubs of students, and participate in a virtual roundtable discussion that never could have happened in the past.

There are benefits for our networks, as well. They can connect with people whose work they admire and discover what they are actually like in real life. For example, if you are my friend on Facebook right now, you know my husband is directing a musical, my daughter is playing her first leading role, and that I am very busy writing this book on top of my regular teaching and writing load.

But what I’m not is constantly accessible because if I were constantly available I would not be able to run my writing career. Instead, I use social networking as a way to be in touch with those I want to connect with without taking on any pressure in the relationship to perform tasks or accommodate behavior I did not explicitly intend or invite.

I do not follow the advice of marketing gurus, who might advise me to milk every ounce of tolerance out of my network of friends and followers. Instead my behavior is professional and consistent, while occasionally sharing some of my personal life plus some of my offerings.

I use the Internet as a tool to connect with others where we can hang out, take a break, blow off steam, vent, and find refreshment. And that’s why I don’t get sick of it, because I don’t abuse it or worship it. I see social networking as a tool that we are very fortunate to have.

Social networking is a place to chat, to share, to decompress—and the folks who want to turn this lovely water-cooler break into a constant marketing machine are going to wear out its good graces.

The following two tabs change content below.
Christina Katz has been coaching all types of writers for fourteen years both online and offline. She specializes in helping writers prosper within a constantly evolving publishing marketplace. Her mission is to inspire writers to take ownership of their writing careers without diminishing the joy and satisfaction they experience in the creative process. Christina offers video courses on helpful aspects of professional success, e-mail prompt challenges, and phone consultations for authors and aspiring authors by appointment. She lives in Oregon with her multi-talented husband, Jason, her delightful daughter, Samantha, and their four rather spoiled pets. Why not swing by for a visit?
Posted in Guest Post, Marketing & Promotion, Social Media, Writing Advice.


  1. Thanks for this information. This is very interesting. Marketing is in the forefront of my mind at the moment. I uploaded my unpublished novel Tiger Hugs on the Harper Collins site authonomy. It was hard to raise its profile, and I felt alone and alienated in there. Until I started posting one sentence titles on the moral purpose of my novel to the Shameless Plug forum. I guessed that the forum was occupied by bullies, and that other less confident folk were looking in but not daring to contribute. 

    So I now have a silent following who I connect with through my viral messages. The exposure’s inspired some negative comments, but mostly silence and a steady rise up the charts. It’s made me think about the nature of the web itself and how scared it makes people. As you say, silence isn’t a bad thing. Best wishes. – Ian

  2. Disagree wildly about the idea that writers shouldn’t “brand” themselves. To brand oneself is to stand out from the crowd, to make oneself individual and different from all other writers. I agree that writing is first priority but to say that writers don’t need an identity is foolish; how will the story that only you, as a writer can tell, be known as something a reader would want to read? Maybe it would help to think of the branding task as “identity building.” Companies have brands; writers have identities. If you as a writer are just a generalized person with a pen, you can’t build the audience you need for your work.

    • Oh my, I’m sorry, Two Pens, but I am chuckling at your comment. Not because I disagree, but because I am not sure you realize that I literally wrote a book about the very topic you are describing. It’s called Get Known Before the Book Deal, and it says basically what you are saying.

      Jane’s post contains 3 out of 366 selections from the book. The selections Jane chose are in sequence but are completely out of their original context (in the remaining 363 chapters you will find plenty of discussion on writers and identity development).

      Here’s how I feel in a nutshell about writers finding an identity:

      Identitiy + writer = good

      Branding + writer = uncomfortable box quickly outgrown

      Teaching writers to “brand themselves” = teaching writers to put themselves into a box that they will eventually need to bust out of

      That’s a gross, reductionist summary of my perspective on the topic, but hopefully it helps to explain where I am coming from and where I’ve come from. :)

    • Agree w/Two Pens. Having spent 10 years in corporate marketing, I know the importance of branding. Branding helps readers identify you as the author of certain types of books (genre) that appeal to a particular target market. If you write a book with no intention to market it, then this doesn’t apply. But make no mistake. If you write for publication, you are marketing a product. You can either do nothing and hope for the best or you can be smart about the process. I chose to be smart about it and sold the second book I wrote. 

      • Hi Vicky,
        I think a writer can be smart without branding themselves too tidily and neatly. Sure a clear, contagious identity is helpful for selling books. But a hard-and-fast brand that is inflexible and can’t grow with your career is not only unnecessary, it’s expensive. Writers are better served by thinking about how to leverage the work they have done into their next step than by investing overly in “branding” the way corporations do it. Writers are not corporations with a view notable exceptions. We are “cottage industries” of one serving many readers. Serving readers is all the “branding” we need, for me.

  3. “3. You Should Not Be  Constantly Available or Accessible” — exactly! people gripe because i don’t always leave twitter on or my email and don’t always answer my phone or texts. i don’t have to, and i’m not going to.

    • Sounds like it would creative suicide if you did. Congrats! I tackled a lot of tough topics in the book on boundary setting and partnering wisely that I’m sure will raise a lot of hackles…meanwhile I’m so much happier–and more creatively productive–with stronger boundaries than I had in the past. Let’s here it for writers having solid boundaries!

  4. What a breath of fresh air! I’ve been arguing for months with the agent dictum that no author should query without the equivalent of Justin Beiber’s Social Media stats and a platform that would made Lady Gaga envious. 

    Learn to write really, really well. Find your voice. It takes at least 5 years. Worry about brands and sales later.

    • Thanks, Anne. I wrote about the distinction between voice and platform dynamic recently in my blog. I think a lot of writers think that voice and platform are the same thing, while of course they are not. And I agree with you that writing and developing that strong voice are central to any writers career, and without that crucial aspect in place, writers tend to really struggle and get lost in the agendas of others.

  5. Christina, I totally agree with you.  It’s a lesson that many haven’t learned.  In the last blogfest I participated in, several of the bloggers did nothing but blast their promotion message on every participants’ blog.  No individual message, just the same one – visit me, follow me. 

    It’s refreshing to hear someone who doesn’t advise writers to jump off the cliff and into the marketing pool before they know how to swim.

    Now I’d like to look for your book.  Enjoyed this post!

    My blog: (DG Hudson – Rainforest Writing)

    • Thanks, DG. I’m against SPAM in any form…but I’m not against conscientious offering. When writers figure out the difference between the two, they tend to make sales. SPAM techniques, even if they work in the short run, are going to undermine a career in the long run. And that’s always unfortunate.

  6. Thanks so much to Jane and her amazing curating skills that created this post. These are actually three separate chapters that appear in a progression of 366 chapters. So, while they are out of context, the way Jane has juxtaposed them is fairly brilliant. Of course, I’m not surprised, I’m sure we all know how brilliant Jane is…and generous and patient and kind. Honored to be here, and grateful for Jane this Thanksgiving.

  7. Christina, you’ve hit the nail on the head once again, and I look forward to reading all 366 gems!
    I had to go public early, to introduce my concept and create buzz (which I’ve done). The agents I pitched at WDC in January all liked the book idea, but wanted a stronger platform. Thanks to you and Dan Blank, I have one. but the book itself (and the two in the planning stages) comes first and foremost. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Viki. It’s hard to predict in advance how long a platform needs to ripen before a book deal becomes a possibility. But if you enjoy the journey, it won’t feel like work, right?

      • Absolutely! I knew I needed certain components, and almost a year later, they’re all there (and then some). I have measurable successes that point to continued expansion of my platform. I can say ‘I’ve done this’ instead of ‘I’m going to do this’. Big difference, both in fact and in my confidence. It’s been hard work, but so gratifying to see the results. And yes, I do enjoy it!

  8. Christine.
    Are we in synch … cosmically speaking?
    I’ve written a guide to Twitter for writer-type folks, and here’s quote from an early page: “… One cardinal rule before we go any further:  Your story must remain the main focus, not social media or building your ‘author brand’.  It’s always about the story. The brand will follow, and must remain a reflection, never your central author persona. Without your creative outpouring there is nothing.  In fact, I would rather you never used Twitter or built a social-media platform if there was the slightest chance it might take priority over writing.  It cannot, will not, must not.  The ultimate author’s strategy, without which none of the other strategies will work, is that it all starts with a great story.  There’s no way around it, the storyteller rules all.”  It seems we’re on the same page – as it were. My best as alwaysJonathan

    • Hi Jonathan,

      LOL. What I really like is if we were ALL in synch–meaning all writers putting our names at the center of our platforms and viewing our platforms as a creative process that we grow just as we view our writing craft that way.

      Looks like we do differ somewhat in point of view. You put “story” in the center and I put “writing” in the center. Not necessarily one story or even one great story, but a steady flow of writing across genres with the platform focus being the writers name rather than a brand.

      For me, this kind of focus is what creates a prosperous, satisfied writer. Let me know if we are saying the same thing. :)

      • Hi Christina

        I THINK we’re in accord: Our platform grows with us.

        But ‘brand’ talk enrages me!  

        Most people are confused about the meaning of ‘ brand’. Especially an ‘author brand’, which cannot be artificially constructed, like a ‘logo’ on a Shell gas station.   A brand is simply an enjoyable, unique experience, that people come to trust. It can be relied on to constantly reproduce that unique experience … yes?  

        The bottom line is if an author focuses on story and writing, the ‘author brand’ will be created naturally.  That’s authenticity and trust.  Can’t be copied, bought, faked, counterfeited, or stolen.

        But work is also required to build readership, to draw attention to an author’s work, to ignite word-of-mouth referral, and that’s where the author platform comes into play, as it grows contiguously with the writing. 

        I suspect we are still in accord.


  9. I agree! finding the balance between finding your writer legs and building a platform can get blurred. I have learned from a few people who have friended me on Facebook how not to build a platform. They are just obnoxious in their self-promoting. But others are so friendly and human in their posting that when they do mention a book or an article I want to check it out.

  10. One thing I wonder about is those whose platform seems to consist of giving advice to writers, yet their own publishing credentials, particularly in fiction, are lean at best.  Sometimes I feel it’s the do as I teach, rather than I do.  That’s not to say such advice isn’t useful, but I’ve always found first-hand experience to be the best preparation for teaching others.
    As noted in this blog, content must lead the way for writers.  The best platform and promotion in the world can only go so far with a pile of dung.

    • Thanks for commenting, Bob. I agree that the best folks to learn from are people who do rather than talk about doing.

      I think a caveat to this is that everyone has to start somewhere. So to dismiss someone giving sound advice just because they don’t have the same creds as someone else is probably a mistake.

      The combination of an excellent writer and an excellent teacher are
      pretty rare, but certainly folks will find them here, in Jane’s
      blog, because she has a real knack for recognizing not only ability but also sincerity.

      As far as influence goes, it’s also probably a mistake to assume that only folks who write fiction give sound advice. In my experience, some do and some don’t, whether they are published or not. Honestly, I think good advice has more to do with sincerity and intention than credentials. Folks respond positively to sincerity and intention, regardless of credentials.

      And, for me, as an author and a writing instructor, it’s writing, not content that belongs in the center of a writer’s career.

      The process and not the products.

      • Absolutely, Christina.

        I’ve been editing fiction for years and  writing the stuff for decades, and I’ve had both nonfiction and poetry published, but now that I’m a fiction editor I’m intensely grateful I never published any of my own fiction. I wouldn’t want my clients to compare themselves to me, and I know too much about the ups-&-downs of writers’ self-confidence to assume they wouldn’t. This work is hard enough without aspiring writers putting that kind of pressure on themselves.

        Were the great editors in publishing history—Robert Gottlieb, Pat Covici, Diana Athill, Malcolm Cowley, etc, etc—fiction authors? Of course not. They were fiction editors.

        Even great authors are not necessarily great editors. It takes two different skill sets to create literature.

    • Bob, you’ve started your own press, Who Dares Wins Publishing, which offers some books of advice for writers. One is by Kristen Lamb, who has been a wonderful guest on this blog on the topic of platform. However, as far as I know, she has not published any fiction. But I don’t think this makes her advice any less worthwhile.

      I point this out because I take your comment to mean that because Christina hasn’t published fiction, that her advice isn’t as good as yours. But why wouldn’t Christina’s advice be as solid as Kristen’s (whom you publish)?

      But perhaps I’ve misunderstood your meaning!

      • Not at all.  I’m just saying everyone has an expertise and the consumer has to consider who is giving it.  There are excellent football coaches who have never played football.  I end up disagreeing with my advice over time as I learn more.  Those who are not willing to change and adapt are doomed in the current publishing world.

        • I think you are responding quickly and without careful consideration, Bob. I never said that I was going to teach fiction writers how to write fiction (although I certainly could, since I have an MFA in fiction writing). Nor am I advising writers to stay stuck in the past. I would, however, and do advise them to stand up to people who use divide and conquer techniques to accomplish short term strategies without regard to long term effects.

          See you around, Bob. It’s a small writing community, when it comes right down to it. No doubt our paths will cross again.

  11. Thanks so much for this, Christina. I think I’ll quote you on my blog soon :)
    Not yet there, I have been perflexed and in a fog about much of the social media craze. What I loved about writing, what I continue to love about writing is the exploration of “stuff” as Carlin put it. I don’t know that the day will come that I will ever feel comfortable with twitter. I love my blog and the wonderful people I have met because of it and Facebook is how I keep in touch with my kids and their friends. This is good advice for writers on all levels :)

  12. Pingback: Breaking News From Christina Katz

  13. These are such wise comments! I am so lucky to be old! I’ve created my works over decades. One story I’m soon to publish started in 1975 and wasn’t finished until 1997. Nothing forced. I have a body of work to promote and time now to promote it. I do not understand how a writer today can create and also spend so much time with social networking, branding, etc. This post goes to the core: creativity and what it takes and the patience it takes and the faith in self it takes. I hope more young writers see this post.

    • Thanks, Randy. I too hope that the importance of slowing down and not being in such a hurry to publish long works will catch on. Writing short and micro-publishing are great ideas for new/young writers and can create results just as profitable and effective as writing long. Stack short writing on top of short writing and pretty soon you have a nice solid writing foundation.

    • Thank you, Austin. I had about 18 months to get my thoughts together for this book and excellent editorial support from Writer’s Digest, so I feel good about sharing it and hope it sparks lots of interesting discussions.

  14. Christina is a master at this topic.  Reading her books has changed both my mindset and perception of “Getting Known Before the Book Deal.”  Thanks, Christina!

  15. Pingback: Blog Treasures 11-26 « Gene Lempp's Blog

  16. Thank you, Jane and Christina!
    There’s so much emphasis these days on marketing yourself and creating an online presence, which, I realize, is extremely important.
    We writers can get so caught up in it all though that, if we’re not careful, our writing can end up taking a back seat or even standing alongside the highway with its thumb up.
    It was so refreshing to read that we don’t always have to be available; that our writing should come first!

    • Thanks, Patricia. There are times, certainly, that my writing gets a bit of a breather, and that’s usually times like this when I’m launching a new book. But there are still plenty of things to write — press releases, webs site updates, presentation materials, curriculum — and it’s all part of my professional development. So, I think there are times when it’s allowable to give the writing a rest, but probably not when one is gearing up to get known for it, unless it’s just a temporary break.

  17. Very well said, Christina! Lately, this has been one of the things on my mind–mostly the fear of sacrificing the creative process in the name of “what must be done.” It’s good to know that the voice of reason can and does prevail.

  18. I recently took a 101-day social media break. At first, I was concerned because I thought, “I’ll lose my momentum and miss out on things.” It was hard at first, but a little while in, a focus I forgot I once had returned. A couple months in, I was producing the best writing of my life. Sure, with each big project we get better, but it was such a huge leap forward. And when I really thought about it, I was writing the way I’ve only dreamed of because there was no thought of staying relevant online. Branding be damned, I’d rather write the best books I’m able to write than be known for something just below the best of my abilities.

    The break helped me find a happy medium. Gone is that desperation to be heard, and in its place even more love for writing. When there’s a lull in anything I do, I no longer think about jumping online–I think about what I’m writing. I’m reminded that at every writing conference I’ve been to that agents say an online presence is nice, but that it’s not as important as many think. (For fiction; everybody representing non fiction I’ve chatted with has admitted that a platform/brand/whatever we want to call it is almost everything.)

    Louis CK was recently on Conan O’Brien’s show and talked about social media. He really hit on the third point of this entry…just because something’s available to do, it doesn’t mean we have to do it.

    Now that my social media break is over, I’m really looking at how it factors into what I do. A part of me wants to turn it all off again and never return, but I DO like chatting with others and sharing ideas. But I also really saw just how much of a distraction it was [for me] all this time. Being the best writer I can be–whether I’m known or never read by another person–is much more important to me than branding myself as something.

    Things often swing back and forth, and I wonder if there will come a day when being a writer who shuns the noise of social media will become a brand in its own right…

    • I think these are good points, Christopher, and thanks for sharing them. I also think, not to break into song or anything, that for everything there is a season. I don’t disappear and stay disappeared. I also don’t get really active on social media and stay really active forever.

      What I do is mix things up. It’s by mixing things up that I stay relevant and informed while also progressing and evolving as a creative professional. One of the reasons The Writer’s Workout is broken into four seasonal sections is to emphasize the importance of timing. What to do and when to do it and how to do it and who to do it with…these are ALL important aspects of a writers career in the long run.

      Therefore there is not much point in trying to oversimplify the arc. A professional writing career is a long, complex arc involving wise decisions on the writer’s part every single day. So, take your time, and take your breaks, but please don’t forget that coming back around to connect with your readers once in a while is extremely important.

      And if a writer does not yet have readers, then establishing readers is the first step…regardless of what genre you write in, if you want to establish a career that will experience lasting success.

      This is perhaps a long way of saying that writers experience cycles of creativity followed by the necessity of other phases…whether we like them or not. So we may as well try to enjoy them. I actually enjoy all of them, so long as they are not all happening at once.

      • I totally agree about cycles. I tend to get more quiet and do some of my best writing when it begins getting cooler. I meet more writers and readers in person in the spring and summer it seems. The seasons definitely affect what I do as a writer.

        While I’ve always been more likely to reply to others posting things on social networks than being the one posting things, I go through phases with speaking up a bit more and then fading away. There are those who are always on who are able to pull it off without seeming like they do nothing but promote themselves. While I’m different, I respect those writers who do it well–sometimes even wishing that were more my style. Other times, I love that I have the ability to disconnect from it all and come back with something new.

        For some, always being in touch works. For me, it’s solitude when I’m really working on something. One thing I love about writers being online is reading about what works for others and seeing if it can work for me…or sharing something that’s helped me in the hope it helps somebody else.

        As long as we’re writing, good things will happen.

        •  Christopher (and Christina), last year, I decided to take a social media break for the entirety of the Lenten season.   I did it in part because I felt like I needed to make some changes in my life and wanted to listen to my own voice, not the chatter of so many others.  At first I worried about stepping aside, particularly when I had just started onto twitter, but you know what? Nothing horrible happened, and I even gained a few followers!  I think as long as we take periodic breaks, social media can be a good thing, but like Christina says, it can’t become our center, and nor can it dictate what we do in our writing lives.

  19. Pingback: Weekly Writer’s Round-Up; Week of 11/20/11 | Chris Devlin's Blog

  20. Pingback: Weekly Roundup of Interesting Articles and Blogsites « Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

  21. Thank you so much for this!  I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately, getting ready to query, keeping up with social networking, teaching, and building my own (rapidly growing!) business as a writing coach.  It’s been such a wonderful whirlwind of a quarter, and positively the most invigorating time of my life, but I’ve often wondered how writers do all of this and stay sane, without periodically retreating to the well.  This lets me let go of all the (often) inane shoulds and lets me just let things BE.  And really, I’ve noticed that when I do that, the rest tends to take care of itself anyway . . .

  22. Pingback: News You Can Use – Nov. 29, 2011 | The Steve Laube Agency

  23. Wow. Could  you possibly know how liberating this post is? It mirrors what was down in the deepest part of my heart, something I knew all along, but stopped listening to in the depressing din of online gurus. Thank you, thank you!

  24. The voice of reason speaks! My sentiments exactly. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels drawn inward to my craft rather than outward to the masses. I can’t imagine Hemingway on Facebook. Gina Gates, the only partially socially visible author of “Falling in October”. 

    • The writer is constantly pulled between the tensions of the craft, selling, specializing, continuing ed, and self-promotion. All angles are explored in The Writer’s Workout. :)

  25. Very cool and fresh perspective. Yes, I have heard the marching orders to develop a brand and then to stick in that groove, regardless of what other stories come to mind. Sometimes, though, it’s been a straitjacket. Your post is liberating, Christina!

    • Thanks, Rick. The creative imp is going to go nuts if we box him in too tightly. Luckily, there are usually ways to find an outlet for our creative muscles, even if we have to tear down our own box or add onto it a bit to accomplish this. Creative impulses usually come with their own inherent wisdom…we can learn to trust it and harness it.

  26. Pingback: What sells a blog post and drives traffic on your blog? | Lisa McKay Writing

  27. Pingback: What sells a blog post and drives traffic on your blog? | LisaMcKayWriting

  28. Pingback: Happy Summer! My 2011-2012 Year In Review

Join the conversation